Thursday September 28, the French Academy will elect its 33rd Permanent Secretary to succeed Hélène Carrère d’Encausse. Two of the Immortals were candidates: Amin Maalouf and Jean-Christophe Rufin, both Goncourt Prize-winning writers.
Founded in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the French Academy’s mission is to “give certain rules to our language and make it pure, eloquent and capable of dealing with the arts and sciences”. A language that must be found between “use and the norm”. The academicians who compose it are scientists, priests, writers, historians or politicians, elected by an absolute majority. Among them were Montesquieu, Marivaux, Voltaire, Chateaubriand, Hugo, Pasteur, Clemenceau and even Pétain.
Today, only 35 of the 40 available seats are occupied, by 28 men and seven women. Hélène Carrère d’Encausse having passed away on August 5, after having directed the Academy for 24 years, the institution is preparing to appoint a new Permanent Secretary to represent it. Since its creation, it will only be the 33rd.
Two of the 35 Immortals applied. On one side, Amin Maalouf, 74-year-old Franco-Lebanese writer and winner of the 1993 Goncourt Prize for “Le Rocher de Tanios”. He has been a declared candidate for some time and is a favorite, notably because he is very involved in the activities of the institution, which he joined in 2011. Furthermore, his penchant for History, the Orient and the rapprochement of civilizations make it said of him that his succession would have pleased Carrère d’Encausse, she who was an eminent specialist on Russia.
In front of him, he will find his friend Jean-Christophe Rufin, a 71-year-old former diplomat and winner of the 2001 Goncourt Prize for “Rouge Brazil”. A trained doctor and academic since 2008, he hesitated before finally taking the plunge. “At first tempted to give up, I came to the conclusion that our great cause deserves some sacrifices,” he wrote in his application letter, cited by Le Monde. He had let it be known that he found it frustrating to have only one candidate.
Still, Jean-Christophe Rufin has less consensus, particularly because of his financial activities which would disturb his independence. As reported by AFP, last May he presented a report for the oil group TotalEnergies on the situation in Mozambique. And since 2020, he has chaired the Sanofi Espoir Corporate Foundation, from the pharmaceutical group.
One or the other, when elected, must take responsibility for the institution by ensuring its financial sustainability and trying to fill vacant seats judiciously.
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