Anxiety about the future haunts the tales of Saint-Exupéry. When the pilot in his plane (Vol de Nuit) feels the anguish of never landing again because he has lost his way, because he has drifted away, because now he sees nothing and understands that he lives his last minutes before his engine runs out of fuel that will hurl him into the sea, he also experiences the supreme test. Suddenly he understands. He evolves. He does not end in despair or a cry of distress.
He has reached to the end of his personal journey. When the pilot from the world of humans prepares to die under the machine gun, he does not experience the wet fear of those who observes their last hour approaching. He relishes the moment as the apotheosis of his life, as the most intense moment of his life, even it be the last: ‘I am alive. I’m still alive. I’m always alive. This is the big deal: to conspire against death.’
Since the novelist Michel Tournier, we have not come across the word ‘Paraclet’ in French literature. What is the relationship between the creative spirit, called “Paraclet” by the Evangelist Saint John, and the life and work of the famous creator of The Little Prince?
In the beginning there is a statement of fact, an acknowledgement: the tale of the Little Prince is not a witty little piece of composition. On the contrary, it is a melancholic text written by a man who became inconsolable because he had lost his childhood and the big holidays and who raises this serious spiritual question: How does one recover from the disappearance of childhood?
In the present book*, Sylvain Fort offers at the outset a metaphysical reading of Saint-Exupéry, trying to draw the legendary writer out of his anecdotal world of aviation and the war and give him the place that the author of Citadelle should occupy in our list of essential readings.
Saint-Exupéry shares with André Malraux and Georges Bernanos the same concern: what will be the future of human civilization in the coming era? Would progress lift it up or enslave it? What meaning does a human being find in life especially when, like Saint-Exupéry himself, he has lost his bimillennial compass: faith in the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? We know his cry: ‘I hate my age with all my strength: man is dying of thirst.’ Bernanos appealed to the Saints in response. Malraux sketched a blind belief in action: only commitment to the world would prove that life has a meaning. In his own way, Saint-Exupéry shared these intuitions. He spoke of leading a ‘strong life’. He assured, for example, that he can ‘only go into silence’ if ‘he does not make war’.
Saint-Exupéry, according to Sylvain Fort, is a Pascalian being. To borrow the words of Lamartine, he is ‘bound by his nature, infinite in his wishes’. We have forgotten how he was haunted by death — that of his loved ones, and then of his own: death not as an end but as the great ordeal, a mystery to face eye-to-eye, so we can finally comprehend the ‘craft of living’.
Sylvain Fort highlights Saint-Exupéry’s style — his clear and lucid prose that would be a pure delight if it was not for its inexhaustibility. There is truth in the fact that the author of Terre des hommes neither supports nor demonstrates but suggests lightly to infuse life into his subject in a manner that is almost poetic. ‘We do not die for the sheep nor for the goat, neither for the habitations, nor for the mountains, but we die to save the invisible knot that ties them and changes them…..’
Sylvain Fort’s remarkable attempt is not simply an exercise of admiration. He proposes a modern reading because our time always seeks to find a meaning behind the strange movement of the ages. Technology now seems to be boundless as it threatens humanity. So what about the woman or the man in 2017? Saint-Exupéry would have wanted to ‘set free the vocations’. He remarked: ‘Contemporary societies attach men to the raging necessity of making a living, making this simple requirement more and more inaccessible … The concessions that are essential to make for the sake of subsistence consume the most beautiful part of our lives. The assertion of virtues that can transcend social conformism is arrested by the general prejudice against everything that appears to be a risk.’
The author of Le Petit Prince had the spirit of untamed daring like the echo of someone who could blow where he wants.
* Saint-Exupéry, by Sylvain Fort, Éditions Pierre-Guillaume de Roux 93 P., €15
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