Archive for Paris Cafes

Renvoyer L’ascenseur…

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2012 by Mj Rains

I decide to move to Paris because of its cafes, its writers, and its cultural life. I discover that none of this exists anymore:  the cafes are full of tourists and photographs of the people who made those places famous. Most of the writers there are more concerned with style than content; they strive to be original, but succeed only in being dull. They are locked in their own little world, and I learn an interesting French expression:  renvoyer l’ascenseur, meaning literally “to send the elevator back,” but used metaphorically to mean “to return a favor.”  In practice, this means that I say nice things about your book, you say nice things about mine, and thus we create a whole new cultural life, a revolution, an apparently new philosophy; we suffer because no one understands us, but then that’s what happened with all the geniuses of the past: being misunderstood by one’s contemporaries is surely just part and parcel of being a great artist.

They “send the elevator back,” and, at first, such writers have some success: people don’t want to run the risk of openly criticizing something they don’t understand, but they soon realize they are being conned and stop believing what the critics say.

The Internet and its simple language are all that it takes to change the world. A parallel world emerges in Paris: new writers struggle to make their words and their souls understood. I join these new writers in cafes that no one has heard of, because neither the writers nor the cafes are as yet famous. I develop my style alone and I learn from a publisher all I need to know about mutual support.

~from The Zahir, A Novel of Obsession by Paulo Coelho

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