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Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Baker Street Irregulars will recognize the name "Mycroft Holmes." Mycroft was Sherlock's brilliant, lazy older brother, whose mind worked with incredible rapidity but who could not be bothered to move his body from his favorite chair in the Diogenes Club. When the frenetic Sherlock was totally stymied by a case, he would lay the facts before his brother, who was, he maintained, the brains in the family, and Mycroft would invariably point him in a fruitful direction.

Having very little else to do save write my endless tutorial on the thought of Freud, I have been mulling over in my mind the Strauss-Kahn affair, which continues to mesmerize the French political classes and their journalistic appendages. Since I have no hard facts and no way of getting any, I am, in effect, in a Mycroftian situation, although I cannot claim that our little pied-a-terre here in Paris has the comforts of the Diogenes. Herewith, my analysis. If this inspires nothing by ennui in you, put it down to trans-Atlantic miscommunication.

There are essentially four possibilities. First, things may have gone exactly as the young hotel maid says. Second, the entire thing may have been a complete lie, a frame up, a non-event. Third [this one is attractive to French commentators, who know DSK's reputation], the maid may have come into the room [either intent upon carrying out a sting or not], and DSK, aware of his reputation and fearful that he was being set up by his political enemies, fled precipitously to avoid being found in a potentially compromising situation. And Fourth, sex may have occurred, presumably at DSK's instigation, but it was sufficiently "consensual" not to constitute attempted rape or sequestration or any of the other things with which he has been charged [this one is being floated by DSK's defense lawyers.]

What are the facts as we know them or think we know them? First, DSK made a side trip from Washington [where the International Monetary Fund is headquartered] to New York to have lunch with his daughter, who is a graduate student at Columbia, before flying back to Europe to meet with Angela Merkel about the Greek economic crisis. It seems pretty clear that he did indeed have lunch with her, at about 12:45 p.m. on Sunday, after which he took a cab to JFK to fly home. In the cab, he called his wife, Anne Sinclair, in Paris, and was overheard saying that there was a "grave problem."

Second, the timeline of events can to some extent be checked and established by the electronic evidence of the door key cards used both by DSK and the maid. Apparently a complete digital record is kept of what keys are used where and when [did you know that?]. The record even shows how long a door stands open before it is again shut. When a patron checks out, the door key is automatically disabled [by changing the code of the lock], so that even if you forget to turn in the key, it will not open anything.

Third, the police have examined both the accuser and the accused and their clothing, looking for DNA and other evidence. The analysis is expected to be available shortly.

So, here is where things stand. If the evidence of the keys shows that DSK checked out before the maid used her key to enter the room, or so soon afterward as not to allow time for anything at all to have happened, then clearly the whole thing is a lie, a sting, a put-up job. If the timeline of the keys makes it possible that the accusations are true, but if the electronic evidence shows that the door stood open for, let us say, half an hour, then the maid's story of DSK shutting her in shortly after she entered the room is false, and possibilities two or three above are suggested. If all of this electronic evidence is compatible with the truth of the accusations, then the question will be whether there any DNA or other physical evidence supporting the accusations. If there is clear evidence of physical contact [not necessarily semen, but possibly that], then either we have an attack or we have "consensual" sex.

That is where things stand until we have more evidence, but I have to say that on the face of it, the story about a sting is pretty implausible. I can easily believe that DSK's political enemies, knowing his reputation, would try to set him up on rape charges [not on charges of philandering -- that appears to be quite OK in France, even being taken, I kid you not, as evidence of manly vigor on his part and hence as confirming his suitability for the position of President of France.] But think about it for a moment His enemies would have to know that he was going to take a hastily arranged side trip to New York to lunch with his daughter. They would have to identify and get to the hotel maid. They would have to hope that DSK would be in his room when the maid showed up. And, they would have to have chosen as the bait in this honey trap not DSK's usual erotic fare -- attractive young women in positions inferior to him in some organizational or political hierarchy, but instead a not very attractive West African woman [according to press reports] who seems not even to have known who he was until the entire matter unfolded.

We shall wait, like Mycroft, to see what the bustling police and defense attorneys can rustle up in the way of facts.

Incidentally, in all of the French newspaper coverage, much of which now focuses on the superiority of the French over the American judicial system and on the appalling assault on the dignity of DSK constituted by the pictures of him in handcuffs, I was unable to find a single word of sympathy of any sort for the hotel maid. She is a poor, Black, working-class woman, and as far as the sophisticated left wing journalists, academic commentators, and psychoanalysts are concerned, she does not exist.


Michael said...

When I was a TA in a course that covered Sartre, a student asked the professor what ennui is. My professor's response was perfect, I thought: "French boredom."

This isn't especially relevant to your post, Professor Wolff, but your use of the term "ennui" and your current trip to Paris reminded me of it. And, it always gives me a chuckle, so I thought I'd share.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Very nice. Not "French for boredom" but "French boredom." Here is a new French word I learned while reading up on this story: "harcelement," which means "harassment." I mean, how often do you come across that in your casual French reading? Another is "piege," which means trap or sting. If I keep dredging the French press for gossip, my vocabulary is going to expand quite nicely.

Disgruntled Goat said...

sometimes the american judicial system can be appallingly elitist. one of my favorite court cases is wilson v. monarch paper, in which the vice president of a corporation received $3 million in damages for the emotional distress he suffered by being demoted to janitor. the fifth circuit court of appeals upheld the claim underlying the award of damages, saying, "We find it difficult to conceive a workplace scenario more painful and embarrassing than an executive, indeed a vice-president and the assistant to the president, being subjected before his fellow employees to the most menial janitorial services and duties of cleaning up after entry level employees"

Michael said...

Oh yes; if he had wanted a preposition there, it would have been there. (The professor in question is fluent in French and something like eight other languages.)

I don't have a lick of French myself; if I squint enough, I can use my knowledge of Latin, Spanish, and English to read it. But my girlfriend, who does know it, always complains when I insist that half of French is accents. I don't know how anybody actually speaks the damn tongue.

BenSix said...

The intellectual classes are desperately concerned with people who "matter". Why they matter, though, doesn't seem to be of so much interest.

I thought it wonderfully befitting of the inhumanity of much of their discourse that Henri-Levy's sneering treatment of S-K's accuser was bookended by a note than he was the author of Against the New Barbarism, which "discusses political and cultural affairs as an ongoing battle against the inhumane". Indeed.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

BenSix, very nice. Where did you see that?

BenSix said...

Here. He's also described as one of France's "most famed philosophers", which is a nice way of putting it.

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