How he Lost Contentment in the Work of his Hands

Henri-Irénée Marrou (1904–1977), who wrote Fondements d'une culture chrétienne in 1932, when he was 28 years old, under the pseudonym of Davenson.

Henri-Irénée Marrou (1904–1977), who wrote Fondements d’une culture chrétienne in 1932, when he was 28 years old, under the pseudonym of Davenson.

Henri Irénée Marrou (under the pseudonym Henri Davenson), on how his life was changed forever by an experience similar to that described by Socrates in Plato’s allegory of the cave (Republic 7). The work has never been translated into English, but unfortunately I do not have the French in front of me, only a translation I made a couple of years ago:

Our experience has a general value; the problem that we have met and tried to solve is not ours alone. It is that which the present time poses to all young intellectuals. I employ the word in its broader sense: I mean by it all intellectual workers [travailleurs intellectuels], all those who have been schoolboys first, then students, and whose character of life is founded on an activity of the mind [l’esprit].

It has often been noticed, it is scholarly selection and not social origin that among us recruits this class of “intellectuals”. The thing is strange, if one reflects, especially for those who, as I, are of plebeian origin. One day I left primary school; my parents brought me to high school [lycée] and said to me: “You must work hard.” And behold, it was done; I would never be a press-man or a farrier, as my father or my grandfather; I would never be able to take pride in the work of my hands; I would no longer be able to find a reason to live but in the work of the mind [de l’esprit].

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Why did Marrou lose the ability to be at peace with the work of his hands? And what is a travailleur intellectuel?

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.

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