When introducing Alan Riding, Tom Bishop with New York University said Riding is a lucky man, having held some of the most “fabulous posts” in journalism, “Any of us would be happy to have had just one of them.” He said Riding’s latest book, And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris, “sets the record straight on a number of points about France and its intelligencia under German occupation in World War II.”
Riding mused that the secret to his successive jobs in places like Paris, Rome, Rio de Janiero and Mexico City is that he was never anyone’s boss, which enabled him to focus his efforts on writing and observation. Riding is an OPC member and was the European Cultural Correspondent for The New York Times for twelve years based in Paris where he continues to live.
The era and topic of And the Show Went On [Alfred A. Knopf], Riding said, was selected in part from the energy and times that preceded the Nazi regime. “France had the greatest concentration of artists. It was known to be a safe haven for artists and writers. An arena where creators and thinkers had a war of words, anticipating the battle to come.”
The French have been painted as accomplices to the Germans, but Riding said as the war took on different dimensions, so too did fears and political alliances. “The really bad guys were the journalists,” Riding said. “They attacked Jews. They wrote well and were vicious, like [Louis-Ferdinand] Céline. But we know they’re bad because they wrote it all down.” Blame gets murkier with artists and actors who were only sometimes photographed entertaining Nazi troops. “It was a difficult at the time to perform and not have Germans in the audience, but it was thought to be another matter all together to socialize with them.”
Riding said most artists were opportunists more than anything, who sought powerful people who could help promote their work. One of the most high-profile artists to stay in France during the time was Pablo Picasso. He kept a low profile and his staying “was seen as a political statement, an act of courage.”
“Occupation was a constant moving image as artists changed their positions as the war advanced,” Riding said. “The intellectual resistance grew as an Allied victory grew more probable.” Riding pointed out that when the war ended, artists and writers had “special punishments” because of their power to persuade. “Artists and writers do urge public discourse,” Riding said. “The question is, is anyone out there listening?”
The evening was co-sponsored by La Maison Francaise of NYU with the support of the Florence Gould Foundation and held at NYU’s La Maison Francaise.