Glass Warfare

A French philosopher comes to Delhi

01 October 2011
French philosopher, writer and magician Yann Kerninon in New Delhi.
French philosopher, writer and magician Yann Kerninon in New Delhi.

IT ENDED WITH A MAD DASH to the wine bar, where an impatient crowd had gathered to drink away the humid late summer evening. A tangled mess of limbs wrangled for a third or even fourth glass of wine. Some whispering onlookers sneered and remarked that the scene was all too predictable after an event at New Delhi’s Alliance Francaise: overly eager men shamelessly shoving one another aside to booze it up for free. “How crass of them,” a snob muttered. ‘How non-bourgeois of me,’ the man gulping his fifth glass might have been thinking.

They had been ordered to drink, after all. Yann Kerninon, a studiedly eccentric French philosopher, writer, magician and self-help guru, had arrived in Delhi to promote his new book, An Attempt to Assassinate My Inner Bourgeois. Sporting suspenders before a packed auditorium, he declared that centuries of social movements which had struggled to topple the bourgeois domination of society were empty failures: the anti-bourgeois are preoccupied with “the bourgeois opposite—forgetting, or perhaps in order to forget, the bourgeois they carry within themselves”. The only way out of the binary of bourgeois and anti-bourgeois, Kerninon explained, is to assassinate our inner bourgeois and become non bourgeois, a path that, among other things, conveniently leads through several time-honoured French pastimes: drinking, having sex and being merry—oh, and cycling, too. And so, the Delhiites drank.

The curious French magician agreed to meet the next day at a coffee shop in decidedly bourgeois Khan Market. This was his first trip to India and after just one week, he was baffled by the gobs of attention he received in Chennai, Puducherry and now Delhi. “I thought that maybe a couple of people would come and listen to me,” he said. Kerninon’s book had received almost no media attention in France. The Leftwing progressive French daily Libération—which might be expected to sympathise with a project to assassinate any bourgeois—refused to review it, and Kerninon had the impression that the French press thought the book was a little ridiculous.

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    Jyothi Natarajan  is a former associate editor of The Caravan.

    Keywords: Delhi book Yann Kerninon French philosopher Allaince Francaise bourgeois anti-bourgeois Jyothi Natarajan