Post from 01/10/12 - Nobel vs. Goncourt, Literary Evil

Nobel vs. Goncourt, Literary Evil

"People no longer read ... "
"... They write"

Every year the "Rentrée Littéraire" (the autumn's new titles) in France has its dose of scandals and polemics. This year was to be no exception, however, the controversy this year, is not so much about literature as it is about politics.
The cause that has sparked off what is seen in France, as an intellectual brawl, is a short (16-18 pages) pamphlet written by Richard Millet titled "In Literary Praise of Anders Breivik" – the Norwegian murderer who took the life of 77 innocents last Summer - in which the author, who is not at his first political pamphlet or provocation, depicts Breivik’s act as “formal perfection … in their literary dimension”.

The booklet, which many of his detractors admit to not having read, contains the author fears, xenophobia and arrogance. 
Fear, of what he calls the loss of Christian European civilization and culture, is the sole cause a Breivik came to be and will, undoubtedly, according to Millet, be followed by many others.  He does state clearly on more than one occasion his disapproval of the murders.
He bares his xenophobia when he blames all the ills in Europe on multiculturalism, immigration, the dominance of foreign customs, language and religion.  According to Millet, multiculturalism has been imported from the US and is the worst thing for Europe, creating “mosaics of ghettos in which the nation no longer exists”. Furthermore, he declares Sweden got what it deserves as Breivik is an “exemplary product of western decadence, a child of the ideologico-racial fracture” in Europe caused by the above factors.  He knows-it-all, knows-it-better and places himself as spokesperson of the assailed, white catholic civilization.  “European nations are dissolving socially at the same time as they are losing their Christian essence in favour of general relativism”.
In his arrogance seems proud of the reactions he has provoked claiming on France Info “I am one of the most hated French authors. It is an interesting position that makes me an exceptional being”.

As could have been expected, the booklet was not received very well in France.  Since its publication, Millet has been attacked on all fronts… almost all … Well, no, actually, mainly (only) by fellow authors as the debate seem to not interest the masses so much, which has its good and bad sides really; good if the masses do not care because they cannot for their life identify with what he wrote, bad if, the masses don't understand what he wrote or worse, silently agree with the text. The first contenders have been the Gallimard writers, where Millet works as an editor.
The main critical voice has been that of Annie Ernaux who wrote an impassioned answer to his pamphlet and collected more than a hundred signatures of fellow authors, amongst whom Tahar ben Jelloun who scandalized by the text said Millet had “lost his mind” and is living through some sort of depression “he believes that Christian civilization is falling, threatened by what he calls multiculturalism and adds:" Multiculturalism is Islam. ".  No less violent in his reaction is that of famous Literary Nobel Price, J.M.G Le Clézio who asks “in the name of what freedom of expression, for what purposes and for what benefit a mind in full possession of his means (at least we presume it is) chooses to write so repulsive a text? This question leads to another: in the name of what philosophy or which position, driven by what greed, can an editor decide to publish this pamphlet that glorifies one of the greatest criminals of the beginning of the century while violating the feelings of the relatives of the victims?” 
Finally there is the editorial of one France’s biggest literary magazine, by Joseph Macé-Scaron, author and editor-in-chief "Le Magazine Littéraire" who depicts Millet’s search for hatred to “a pig looking for truffles”.

France being the cradle of …"liberty, equality, fraternity", the author has had endless opportunities to defend himself and his opinion since the book came out and has been the prime guest of countless TV and radio programmes, as well as guest editor and prime interviewee of a myriad of newspapers and magazines.  His defence comes down to one, quite poor and pathetic line: I am being sacrificed!  He refutes all accusations pertaining to racism and insists his detractors, whom none have read his book, want, but his head by refusing to even consider the literary gesture behind the book.  Millet presents his book as about “understanding the decline of Literature and the deep modifications in France, and in the whole of Europe, operated by a massive and continued extra-European immigration, accompanied by intimidating elements of the armed Salafists and the ‘politically correct’ ethos at the heart of a globalized capitalism”.  He hoped to open a debate with his booklet, not to become a bait.
He is not alone in his defence and quite a few fellow authors agree with the fact he has indeed been sacrificed and the “affair has now eclipsed the text to focalize on its author”. 
Pierre Assouline, a famous and proliferous author, very familiar with Gallimard publishing house since, in 2010, he wrote a biography of the founding father of the prestigious House, Gaston Gallimard.  According to Assouline, the House is not foreign to political disagreement between its authors; they have been inscribed in its “genetic codes” since its first years of existence.  The House’s motto has always been to “host all voices”.
However, Millet is but an employee, a recognized, admired and esteemed editor, as well as being part of the Lecture Committee.  Moreover, it must be noted that his pamphlets were not published by Gallimard but by a small editing house that is barely ever mentioned. So that the sanction is not really against the writer but more against the editor, since Millet has since been forced to leave his post at Gallimard.  This will be a first in the history of Gallimard, that a group of writers manage to get the head of another writer and have him “quit” his post.  This is the most dangerous phase of this story. 
Another voice is that of Jean-Marie Laclavetine, who, even though is on opposing platform in the political arena and has voiced his indignation over “such cretinous and notorious statements” believes people and protestors should not become “Thought Police”.  “Everyone has the right to think as he wishes and write what he wants.  I think it would be very bad for Gallimard to fire him.  I too wish Richard did not think what he thinks and wrote, but that is his right”.
Bruno Chaouat, Professor at the Minnesota University, deplores the whole affair and writes that the true fear of Millet are not the immigrants, be they African or Arab, “because any minimally attentive reader will know Millet’s great admiration for the Arab culture”, but the USA.  According to Jenni, the second “Goncourt” Millet edited, Millet is first and foremost interested and worried about literature, “there is a French exception, a national passion for written literature. It is our music. Millet is mainly preoccupied with the way the existential conditions of this art are losing speed”. 
For Patrick Kéchichian, journalist at Le Monde, the attack against Millet is unacceptable and just as Breivik’s acts ought to and have been judged by a tribunal, Millet’s book ought to be judged for its literary value, reason and thought.
In the literary milieus, the booklet is no longer called by its full title; its literary part has been obliterated.

The pamphlet is not Millet’s first try in political essays, he has written a few prior to this one, the latest being about Syria, which, has made much less noise than the Breivik one… yet another sign that the conflict in Syria holds little interest for Europeans.

While Millet is known both for his work as an author and his exploits as an editor for the prestigious Gallimard Publishing House- he edited the Jonathan Little's "Kindly Ones", Goncourt 2006 and Alexis Jenni’s "The French Art of War", Goncourt 2011 - he is also known for his provocative and difficult attitudes and this political pamphlet is not his first in kind. In the meantime, little had already distanced himself from Millet due to political differences.  Jenni, as stated above, still supports his editor and praises him while admitting they do not share the same political opinions.  Jenni's" French Art of War" is definitely on the left side of the spectrum and stands as stark condemnation of France's cruel history and actions in Algeria as well as France's police and politics regarding foreigners today

The “Literary Praise” came as part of 3 books published by de Roux, the pamphlet on Breivik came in the form of an essay at the end of book called “Ghost Language” about the pauperisation of literature, a follow-up on a book for which the author won a Prize in 2008, called “The Feeling of Language”.  The first book is about a trip to Amsterdam, and the third, called “Antiracism as Literary Terror”. Last May he wrote yet another pamphlet called “Syrian Spring” …
With this latest, it seems he has pushed the envelope too far, provoking the angst and anger of one too many author and intellectual, which has cost him not only his post as editor, from which he has resigned beginning of September, but could also cost him his future as a writer.

Artistic freedom seems to be at the forefront of nearly every news outlet lately.  The culmination came in the form of the spectacular reactions to a chincy, '404' movie, followed straight thereafter by a popular French magazine's cartoon reaction to the 'movie-reaction, while in the background, intellectuals debate freedom of speech and of thought on the canvas put forward by a radical rightist writer who takes some pride in being forced to leave his job as an editor and has public orgasms about being uniquely hated.

Had all these events not cost the life of innocents, they might have been risible.  Sadly, they did kill, and are likely to continue killing in the near future, in a changing world unable to adapt to the growing interaction of its inhabitants where fear has taken the lead and actions have been usurped by reactions. Had all these events not had such tragic outcomes, one would not have had to stop and ponder for if but a moment, at the following questions:

Did Millet really enjoy the "literary aspects of Breivik? Isn't it a bit like writing a "literary Praise" of Mein Kampf? Can one forget the content of a literary work at the profit of its literary value and qualities?  Can, or should the two be dissociated?

What is the responsibility of the publisher?

The various artistic mediums, be they literary, 7th art, cartoons or ad companies all beg the same questions: what is art? What is freedom? How far can an artist go to expose his view of the world? Who is responsible when reactions get out of hand? Who ought to be crucified, the writer, who jots down his personal thoughts on a piece of paper, or the publisher who accepts to print and publicize it?  The "film-maker" who manages to frame 3rd rate actors or the TV channel and extremists groups who make the porn-like klutz available and viewable to thousands and thousands?  Who is responsible? What is worse, having a viewpoint or being the vehicle that spreads the viewpoint?

Because some of these works have had tragic outcomes, it is primordial that we, the public, the end recipient, and the ones who will act or react ponder these questions with as much independent thought and vision, as possible, if we want to avoid becoming victims ourselves.

While some willingly feed from a very few individuals' points of view, most of us are fed with them till we overdose on them, which in  an era where information is so readily available and varied is completely absurd.

Of all those who have crucified Millet over his pamphlet, very few have actually taken the pain of reading it. How many of the protesters in Jakarta, Athens, Cairo, Benghazi and elsewhere have seen the trailer?

We are told that it is all about the sacred freedom of speech our forefathers, in some case, our neighbours, ourselves in other cases fought/ are still fighting for. 
Should an author be martyred because his ideas do not please others? Should not those "others" reply in kind with wit and intelligence, should those "others" not debunk the martyred author's thesis with a clear and simple demonstration of how and why is thesis is laughable, instead of pressing him to quit his job while at the same time inviting him to every TV show and printing an endless number of interview pages?
Should the public not start acting as responsible adults if it believes it has the merits of being treated as adults?  Should the public not stop acting like a herd of sheep that will follow and act upon what any self-called illuminatus utters?

Evil is not created by authors and movie-makers. Evil is, and has always been a source of fascination to human kind. The search for the origins of evil, and the debates on whether evil is inherent or not, have been going on for ever. Literary works, but also paintings, sculptures, movies, are filled with evil. Mostly in order to better understand its sources, sometimes to exorcize a pain. 

The public needs to start better educate itself instead of blowing the 'extremists', 'Islamists' 'rightist' 'leftists' whistle every time some  cretin decides to vomit hate on a piece of paper or on a camera roll.  There will always be someone who will use any means they have at their disposal to spread hatred, bigotry and racism.  It is up to the public to stand up and stop behaving like sheep.  One has so many possibilities to inform oneself nowadays.

Shame lies not in the one or two individuals who write fanatical, radical, extremist texts, but in the masses that follow blindly because they choose to remain ignorant and venerate dogmatists filled with nothing but fear, hate and self-pity.


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