Wednesday, January 27, 2016

SHANE'S Excellent New Words: après moi le déluge.

Warm human beings everywhere. In Flanders Field, they’re piled 10 high. 
The Mekong, it’s just a long, soft river.
I’ll do this, I’ll do that –
You can’t fight City Hall, it keeps changing its name –

Ah pooey on 'em – you pays your taxes and you passes to your grave, why study their "matters"? Let them present their problematical matters before the zoning board, or present complaint SIX on matters before the kidnaped Dean (problem planning committees for planning problem solutions] 'cause "I've got," as Neal Cassady said, "my own lil' old bangtail mind."

-- Jack Kerouac, "After Me the Deluge," Chicago Tribune, 1969

Welcome to another installment of "SHANE's Excellent New Words," a regular Wednesday feature at NA Confidential.

Why new words?

Because a healthy vocabulary isn't about trying to show you're smarter than the rest. To the contrary, it's about selecting the right word and using it correctly, whatever one's pay grade or station in life.

Even municipal corporate attorneys are eligible for this enlightening expansion of personal horizons, and really, all we have is time during the period of the occupation. This week we'll up the ante and consider an idiom, and a French idiom at that.

après moi le déluge
[a-pre mwa luh dey-lyzh]

1. after me, the deluge (attributed to Louis XV, adapted from après nous le déluge “after us the deluge,” credited to Madame de Pompadour: said in reference to signs of the approaching Revolution).

Exactly what is meant by "after me, the deluge"?

It's more nuanced than you might think. For a tolerably brief yet incredibly detailed exploration of the idiom’s origins, it’s hard to beat this 2006 blog post, which has generated almost 450 comments. I’ll skip straight to the conclusion.

The Expression “Après moi le déluge”, and Its Classical Antecedents, by Gabriel Laguna (Tradición Clásica)

... In sum, from this journey through the classical (as well as modern) antecedents of the royal phrase issue two main facts: 1) practically all of the examples cited suggest that the French king’s phrase means: “It matter not at all to me whether, after my death, the flood or any other catastrophe comes”; 2) the idea that we must not worry about what happens after our death is quite widespread in classical antiquity, and belongs to the ideologies of several philosophical schools (Epicureanism, Cynicism) but, more specifically, the mention of the deluge in this context is documented in both Lucretius and Strato of Sardis. It is difficult to ascertain whether Louis XV (or Pompadour) was directly inspired by one of these two poets, or whether he coined the phrase independently.

The Free Dictionary takes it a step further, into how the idiom has been reinterpreted in more recent times. In short, there is an element of prophecy involved.

après moi le deluge

A disaster will follow. The French phrase, translated as “After me the deluge,” has been attributed to King Louis XVI or to his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. He or she was referring to the centuries of excessive living enjoyed by the aristocracy and paid for by the rest of France and what would happen as a result when His Majesty (or Madame) went to their heavenly rest. Whether the king or his main squeeze was predicting a cataclysm or simply indicating that he or she didn't care what came after them isn't clear. Nevertheless, whoever spoke the words was a prophet in his or her time: fourteen years after Louis's death came the revolution that swept away the old order, including Louis's son. No one could have been ideologically further from the Bourbon monarchy than Karl Marx, who repeated the phrase in his Das Kapital: “Après moi le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society.”

“Après moi le déluge,” Marxist-style. I'm enamored.

Personally, the prophetic element of this idiom has always suggested self-justification, in the sense of a powerful leader or dictator rationalizing excesses as necessary (paraphrasing): “Only my own skills and ability stand as a bulwark against catastrophe, so while I may need to be harsh at times, it’s better than what might follow in my absence – and surely will once I’m gone.”

Thanks for reading. I've reached my syllable limit for fancy-schmancy words, as mandated and enforced by the Bored of Works.

See you next time.

1 comment:

Aleksa G said...

Hello from Belgrade,

I'm reading Kerouac's article "After me, the Deluge" but I cannot understand this part: "Let them ... present complaint SIX on matters before the kidnaped Dean (...)". Can you please render that in some other way? Or to give me some hint? I'm stuck, please help!

Best regards,

Aleksa, Belgrade, Serbia