A new member elected to the Académie française: to apply, you must write "38 handwritten letters"

To enter at the French Academy, you must first forget your computer. The historian Pascal Ory, 73, last elected under the Cupola, in March 2021, tells how he made pto convince the Immortals to co-opt him. “You have to write each member of the Academy a handwritten letter. It is purely a custom. We recommend it. You can not do it but it is obvious that if you start to not respect the rules of the club, and in particular this effort which is to write by hand in the 21st century 35, 37, 38 personalized letters of candidacy to the various potential voters, if we do not make this effort, I find that to be a bad sign. You have to know that in a club there is the CV but there is also the good company “, says Pascal Ory. Un new member will be elected on Thursday 25 November at the Académie française for succeed Michel Serres in chair 18.

One elected, patience, it usually takes a year and a half before being received under the Cupola. In the meantime, you have to buy the sword and the green coat, which is no small matter, explains Dominique Fernandez, academician elected in 2007. “There is someone who is responsible for collecting sums of money that friends pay. This committee is used to finance the sword but also the costume. The lowest price is still 50,000 euros. Me. I took the army suit, that is to say the cheapest, it’s 50,000 euros. If you go to Cardin, for example, it’s 300,000 euros. “

The applicant will not be able to reimburse himself with his salary of 120 euros gross per month. Even if the Academy is very rich with a budget of 1 billion euros. The proof, it is self-financing, recalls the historian Pascal Ory. “It operates a bit like English universities. It has donations, bequests, resources of its own. We even get rents and rents. As a result, almost no financial dependence on the state.”

The French Academy defines the French language by notably developing a dictionary. It is the mission entrusted by Richelieu in 1635 that is still its raison d’être. The least we can say is that she takes her time to finish her eighth dictionary in just under 400 years, as Dominique Fernandez recounts. “They make fun of us because it’s very slow. It takes about 50 years, 60 years to make a dictionary. The Robert or the Larousse every year, they reprint so they can reintroduce a new word from the young by example which lasts very little, it lasts a year or two like ‘kiffer’. But if we introduce a word of youth, in 50 years it will be Chinese, it will be out of date “

At this rate, obviously we do not always follow the evolution of the language. “Prudence”, said Dominique Fernandez. “Conservatism”, replies the linguist Christophe Benziton, teacher at the University of Nancy. “For the verb ‘to remember’, it is recommended by the Academy, in particular, to use ‘to remember something’ while in contemporary French, most speakers will use ‘to remember something, I m ‘remember’ and not ‘I remember’. “

“The language has moved on certain sectors but the Academy no longer records the evolutions of use at all and continues to defend the previous forms for at least a century and a half.”

Christophe Benzitoun, linguist

to franceinfo

A dozen candidates are in the running to succeed Michel Serres, including one who stands out, presented as the favorite: Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010.

Some academics, outside the microphone, speak of a candidacy that symbolizes the crisis of the Academy. A contested authority, a prestige at half mast, she would like to establish a Nobel Prize under the Cupola. You should know that the French Nobel Prize for Literature Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio and Patrick Modiano, not to mention the Franco-Chinese Gao Xinjiang, are not interested and snub the old lady.

“Someone who has never written in French has no place at the Academy.”

Dominique Fernandez, academician

to franceinfo

We therefore referred to the 2010 Nobel Prize, Peruvian, French-speaking but it gets stuck with many immortals including Dominique Fernandez. “He knows French very well but he has not written in French. There are a lot of foreigners at the Academy since José-Maria de Heredia, Julien Green, Ionesco until today we have six or seven foreigners. They write in French. Andreï Makine, Russian, writes all these books in French while Vargas Llosa has never written in French. The main work of the Academy is work on the language, that supposes that one has the handling of the tongue. “

Five positions, five seats will remain to be filled after the election of November 25, 2021.

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