13 January 2011
You can find the letter in full, and in English, starting at page 43 of this book.
I'll just quote one nicely-turned passage here.
"Of course, there is the War Minister, General Mercier, whose intelligence seems to be on a mediocre level; and of course there is the Chief of the General Staff, General Gonse, whose conscience managed to make room for a good many things. But to begin with, there was really only Major du Paty de Clam. He led those men by the nose. He hypnotized them."
Is the word "intelligence" as ambiguous in French as it is in English here? Zola clearly means that the General's personal cognitive gifts were not great. He could have meant, though, (at least if he had been writing in English) that the General was not being well-served by the spies in his employ. To my reading, anyway, the possibility of the more 'innocent' meaning adds extra spice to the actual meaning.
I'm reminded, with the way my mind has of combining the sublime with the ridiculous, of a scene in Hogan's Heroes. General Burkhalter demands to know whether Colonel Klink is spying on him.
Klink: I assure you, General, I have nothing to do with intelligence.
General: Zat is obvious, Klink.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.