Since my partner has started posting again, I feel like it’s time to breath life into this blog again. A while back, the distinct pleasure of reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s A Flight to Arras fell to my lot. I stumbled upon this work in the WWII section of my local library, its yellow spine sticking out like a sore thumb. Since I loved The Little Prince but had never heard of any other works by this author, I avidly snatched it from the shelf. (Not that it was in danger of being snatched away by someone else.) It proved to be a great and fast-paced read. Certain philosophical sections of the work tended to drag, but Saint-Exupéry’s use of his reconnaissance flight to frame the story created an atmosphere of suspense throughout the work, which kept the reader moving at a swift pace even in its densest places.
At any rate, the story begins with the fact that Saint-Ex. (I shall use this abbreviation from now on–it’s from the book) has been given a reconnaissance mission from which he is not likely to survive. He simply responds “Yes, sir” and prepares for the mission, as all his fellow pilots do and as he has done dozens of times before. Saint-Ex. even refuses his Major’s offer to decline the mission.
This was the last kind of plane Saint.-Ex flew during the war.
This event sparks a meditation on the futility of the French Army’s resistance to the Blitzkrieg. Much of the philosophical digressions of the work attempt to find the reason behind this seeming futility. In regard to this particular mission, Saint-Ex. must avoid three levels of fighter coverage around Arras–an almost impossible feat–and have his navigator photograph enemy positions, which will likely not be the same tomorrow and the photographs of which the General Staff is unlikely to receive in the confusion of the French retreat anyway. How to draw reason out of this insanity of the French Army merely “playing war” and making useless sacrifices of men, material, towns, and villages?
Saint-Ex. has some wonderful passages describing the lethality of fighters.
For Saint-Ex., reason is incapable of solving this dilemma. He even refers to temptation as when intellectual arguments try to overcome the spirit. (I love how he wrote, “I know as much about temptation as a Church Father.”) He resolves the dilemma of the intellect seeing nothing but futility by showing how faith and simply living overcome all these doubts and give a super-rational motivation for carrying on a futile conflict. The effect is so beautiful and compelling in the work that one almost shouts “Vive la France!” by the end of it.
I say, “Vive la France!” because no other author combines French thought from medieval to modern into such cohesive beauty as Saint-Ex. He’s a stout Catholic, but he takes principles from French Existentialism and the Lost Generation writers and brings forth light in these schools of thought, where authors like Camus and Sartre could only see darkness. Narrative is unique because it can show meaning in a way that academic articles cannot come close, and Saint-Ex. combines narrative and philosophy in an inimitable combination. This work could easily bear and third or fourth reading, and I hope to reacquaint myself with it in the future. What a shame that this author died in 1944 at the age of 44!