Affaire Günter Grass: Vous devez faire partie de l’intelligentsia pour écrire des choses pareilles (The work of hell is entirely spiritual)

Pourquoi ai-je tu pendant trop longtemps ce qui est pourtant évident et a fait l’objet de tant de simulations dans lesquelles nous, les survivants, sommes au mieux des notes de bas de page. On évoque le droit à une frappe préventive, l’éradication du peuple iranien soumis, tenu à une liesse sans joie par un fort en gueule, sous prétexte que ce potentat construirait une bombe atomique. Mais alors, pourquoi m’interdis-je de nommer cet autre pays qui dispose depuis des années, certes dans le plus grand secret, d’un potentiel nucléaire croissant et échappant à tout contrôle, puisque aucun contrôle n’est permis ? Pourquoi ne dis-je que maintenant, vieux, dans un ultime soupir de mon stylo, que la puissance nucléaire d’Israël menace la paix mondiale déjà fragile? Günter Grass
J’ai lu votre poème d’avertissement, qui manifeste magnifiquement votre humanité et votre sens des responsabilités. Le fait de dire la vérité ne peut manquer de réveiller la conscience occidentale endormie et silencieuse. Les écrivains, avec leur seule plume, peuvent mieux que les armées empêcher les tragédies. Javad Shamaqdari (vice-ministre de la Culture iranien, lettre à Günther Grass)
Ce qui doit être dit, c’est qu’il est de tradition européenne de blâmer les Juifs avant la Pâque juive. Dans le passé, on les accusait de vouloir égorger les enfants chrétiens pour des messes sataniques. Aujourd’hui, il s’agirait de faire couler le sang du peuple iranien. Emmanuel Nahson (diplomate israélien)
Il y a quelque chose de frappant, et de peu commenté, dans le procédé de Günter Grass: son texte se présente comme un poème. Un poème sans poésie, ou presque, dans lequel le vocabulaire mobilisé appartient avant tout au registre politique. Pourquoi, dès lors, ne pas avoir écrit une simple tribune? Si Günter Grass avait écrit sans prétendre obéir aux neuf muses qu’Israël envisage «l’éradication du peuple iranien soumis», il aurait été comptable de cette erreur, puisqu’il faut rappeler qu’un éventuel bombardement ne concernerait que les installations nucléaires. Sans l’excuse de la licence poétique, il aurait dû développer lorsqu’il évoque l’«hypocrisie de l’Occident» qui refuse de voir qu’Israël «menace la paix mondiale» (il aurait dû au passage expliquer où est-ce qu’il constate une «paix mondiale»). Il aurait dû expliquer pourquoi il est honteux que l’Allemagne vende des sous-marins à Israël, sachant qu’elle est la troisième exportatrice d’armes aux monde, et qu’elle en livre déjà en Algérie, en Finlande, en Corée du Sud, en Brésil, en Grèce ou en Turquie. Il aurait enfin dû expliquer pourquoi tout cela «doit être dit», et quelles «chaînes du silence» s’opposent à ce que le projet belliqueux de Benyamin Netanyahou soit dénoncé. Beaucoup le dénoncent déjà. En Europe évidemment, mais en Israël aussi. Meir Dagan, ancien directeur du Mossad, s’est vigoureusement prononcé contre. L’écrivain David Grossman, il y a quelques semaines dans l’«Obs», écrivait «Israël ne doit pas attaquer l’Iran». C’était un long texte clair, argumenté, posé. Tout artiste qu’il est, il a compris que les crises internationales ne sont pas l’affaire des poètes imprécis. David Caviglioli (Nouvel Observateur)
Pour démoraliser un peuple, il faut le culpabiliser, le rendre non seulement responsable de ses actes mais des malheurs qui le frappent. L’affaire Merah en est l’illustration. Dans les commentaires consécutifs aux assassinats a vite prévalu l’idée que cet homme souriant fut poussé au crime par le désespoir social: enfant des quartiers relégués, il serait le produit d’une France qui laisse sa jeunesse d’origine immigrée dans le désespoir. Cette version a été reprise par toute la presse anglo-saxonne. Les clichés misérabilistes sur les banlieues ont fleuri dans les médias, omettant au passage que même dans les cités difficiles de nombreux jeunes gens font des études, réussissent, fondent des entreprises et échappent à la double malédiction de la racaille et des fous de Dieu. Bref le coupable serait un monstre mais aussi une victime de notre incroyable négligence, de notre racisme. Ce djihadiste festif qui évoluait sur les dance floors le soir et tirait au pistolet mitrailleur le lendemain n’avait pas le choix: il fallait qu’il descende des militaires et des juifs, c’était plus fort que lui. Dans le cas de Mohamed Merah, on a confondu la cause et les raisons invoquées: la guerre en Afghanistan, le sort des enfants palestiniens, l’affaire de la burqa ont été examinés avec un sérieux tout talmudique par de pieux sociologues et philosophes. Et pourquoi pas le réchauffement climatique ou la dérive des continents pendant qu’on y est? (…)Une transgression majeure a été accomplie avec les exécutions de Toulouse: pour la première fois depuis la Seconde guerre mondiale, un homme seul est allé dans une école abattre trois enfants juifs pour les punir d’être juifs. Ce que les nazis n’ont pu terminer, les islamistes s’en chargent. (..)Mais (…) le silence des musulmans dits modérés est assourdissant. Ils semblent si soucieux de n’être pas stigmatisés qu’ils en oublient l’image désastreuse que les actes d’un Merah offrent de la foi du Prophète. C’est à eux, nos compatriotes, de faire la police dans leurs propres rangs, de proposer une nouvelle exégèse du Coran, de favoriser l’éclosion de cet islam des Lumières que tant de croyants appellent de leurs vœux. Mais l’on dirait que la peur paralyse les esprits les plus évolués au moment où l’intégrisme gagne l’ensemble du monde arabe et sahélien, où la « chariacratie » progresse. Tout se passe comme si les fondamentalistes constituaient le Surmoi des instances musulmanes officielles dont ils blâment la tiédeur, le sens du compromis et le dialogue avec les autres confessions. Comment s’étonner que l’islam apparaisse, à tort ou à raison, à une majorité comme une religion de la revanche qui se croit supérieure à toutes les autres et veut faire payer aux « juifs et aux Croisés » sa longue décadence de plusieurs siècles ? Tant que l’ambiguïté ne sera pas levée, nous serons fondés à nous méfier.(…) Aux prêcheurs de haine correspondent chez nous les prêcheurs de honte: les premiers maudissent, menacent, condamnent, les seconds ne veulent pas voir, pas savoir, pas entendre. Les uns tuent et accusent, les autres se flagellent et s’excusent. C’est à cela que servent les experts en pénitence: à formater les esprits au cas où demain une bombe exploserait dans le métro, le train, où nos magistrats, nos policiers, nos enfants seraient fauchés par des tueurs. Ils proclameraient immédiatement: c’est affreux mais nous l’avons bien cherché ! Quoi qu’il arrive, le mal est de notre côté. Ainsi prépare-t-on les sociétés ouvertes au défaitisme, à se coucher devant tous les extrémismes. Pascal Bruckner
La source qui finance et motive toutes ces organisations internationales, en Orient comme en Occident, et en particulier dans le monde arabe… Ils sont dirigés par une seule organisation maléfique, connue sous le nom de « sionisme ». Elle est derrière tous ces mouvements, toutes ces guerres civiles, tous ces maux. Elle se sert des Occidentaux – aux Etats-Unis, en Europe – ou de leurs disciples. Toute personne intelligente qui lit le Protocole des Sages de Sion reconnaîtra l’étendue de son influence sur la politique de notre région et du monde. Monseigneur Saliba (évêque de l’Eglise Orthodoxe syrienne, membre du COE, juillet 2011)
Le Conseil oecuménique des Églises (COE) dénonce le sort des Palestiniens chrétiens sous occupation israélienne en Terre sainte, le berceau du christianisme, dans un rapport publié ce week-end. (…) Le but du document est d' »éclairer le fait que les chrétiens palestiniens sont les indigènes de Terre sainte. Ils ne sont pas des convertis récents ni des immigrants. Ils sont la plus ancienne communauté chrétienne sur terre et font partie intégrale de l’identité culturelle palestinienne ». Mais leur présence « vitale » est menacée du fait de la poursuite de l’occupation militaire israélienne, argue le rapport du COE, en soulignant que les Palestiniens chrétiens « sont aussi un pont entre l’Orient et l’Occident ». Réfutant l’idée que le conflit israélo-palestinien opposerait juifs et musulmans, il s’inscrit en faux contre « la propagande israélienne et chrétienne sioniste selon laquelle les chrétiens palestiniens se dépeuplent à cause du fondamentalisme musulman, en liant clairement leur émigration et leurs souffrances directement à l’occupation (israélienne) ». Dépêche AFP (26.03.12)
Tout au long de sa phénoménale carrière publique, il n’aura cessé d’adopter des postures consternantes. «Homme de gauche», absolument de gauche, il aura épousé toutes les mauvaises causes de sa génération sans en manquer aucune, aura approuvé toutes les révolutions sanguinaires, de Cuba à la Chine. Toujours disposé à accabler ces fascistes d’Américains, Ronald Reagan et, bien sûr, George W. Bush (c’est sans risque), l’a-t-on en revanche entendu, ne serait-ce qu’un peu, dénoncer le fascisme de Mao Zedong ? Ou celui des islamistes ? (…) comment s’interdire de songer à cette génération entière d’intellectuels et d’artistes en Europe, en France surtout, autoproclamée de gauche – au point que le mot ne fait plus sens –, qui n’ont cessé d’adopter des postures morales tout en illustrant des causes absolument immorales ? Comment ne pas voir surgir des spectres : ceux qui hier, ont aimé Staline et Mao et, bientôt, vont pleurer Castro ? Ceux qui n’ont rien vu à Moscou, Pékin, La Havane, Téhéran, Sarajevo, et Billancourt ? Ceux qui, maintenant, devinent dans l’islamisme une rédemption de l’0ccident ? Cette grande armée des spectres, de l’erreur absolue, dieu merci, elle n’a jamais cessé de se tromper d’avenir. (…) par-delà ce cas singulier, on ne se méfie pas assez du grand écrivain et de la star dès qu’ils abusent de leur séduction pour propager des opinions politiques, seulement politiques, mais déguisées autrement. (…) On se garde de l’homme politique, l’élu démocratique, beaucoup trop puisqu’il avance à découvert. On ne se garde pas assez, en revanche, de l’artiste quand son talent le dissimule, surtout quand le talent est grand : des magiciens, grimés en moralistes, on ne se méfie jamais assez. Guy Sorman
Le mensonge est plus fort que la vérité, car il comble l’attente. Hannah Arendt
Il est normal que les imbéciles profèrent des imbécilités comme les pommiers produisent des pommes, mais moi qui ai vu chaque jour depuis ma fenêtre le fleuve Jaune charrier des cadavres, je ne peux accepter cette présentation idyllique par madame de la Révolution culturelle. Simon Leys (réponse à Maria-Antonietta Macciocchi, émission Apostrophes, 1983)
Son nom même, en chinois Pilin-Pikong, tinte comme un grelot joyeux, et la campagne se divise en jeux inventés : une caricature, un poème, un sketch d’enfants au cours duquel, tout à coup, une petite fille fardée pourfend entre deux ballets le fantôme de Lin Biao : le Texte politique (mais lui seul) engendre ces mêmes happenings. Barthes (1974)
Le spectacle de cet immense pays terrorisé et crétinisé par la rhinocérite maoïste a-t-il entièrement anesthésié sa capacité d’indignation ? Non, mais il réserve celle-ci à la dénonciation de la détestable cuisine qu’Air France lui sert dans l’avion du retour : «Le déjeuner Air France est si infect (petits pains comme des poires, poulet avachi en sauce graillon, salade colorée, chou à la fécule chocolatée – et plus de champagne !) que je suis sur le point d’écrire une lettre de réclamation. Simon Leys
Le propos du livre, précise-t-il, consiste avant tout à mettre en lumière ce fait inattendu que les idées totalitaires naissent très souvent chez des intellectuels. 1984, c’est, au fond, le rêve secret des intellectuels de gauche britanniques !… (…)   ce que dit Orwell, c’est que les progrès technologiques ne suffisent pas pour établir un régime policier. Un tel régime suppose aussi certains mécanismes qui sont très souvent pensés et voulus par des intellectuels. Jean-Jacques Rosat
Vous devez faire partie de l’intelligentsia pour écrire des choses pareilles; nul homme ordinaire ne saurait être aussi stupide. Orwell
La liberté, c’est la liberté de dire que deux et deux font quatre. Lorsque cela est accordé, le reste suit. George Orwell (1984)
Les intellectuels sont portés au totalitarisme bien plus que les gens ordinaires. George Orwell
La démocratie, c’est comme quand on se mouche; même si vous ne le faites pas bien, vous devez le faire vous-même. Chesterton
Depuis que l’ordre religieux est ébranlé – comme le christianisme le fut sous la Réforme – les vices ne sont pas seuls à se trouver libérés. Certes les vices sont libérés et ils errent à l’aventure et ils font des ravages. Mais les vertus aussi sont libérées et elles errent, plus farouches encore, et elles font des ravages plus terribles encore. Le monde moderne est envahi des veilles vertus chrétiennes devenues folles. Les vertus sont devenues folles pour avoir été isolées les unes des autres, contraintes à errer chacune en sa solitudeChesterton
Les derniers en date de nos modernistes ont trouvé le moyen de proclamer une religion érotique qui simultanément exalte la luxure et interdit la fertilité (…) la prochaine grande hérésie sera tout simplement une attaque contre la moralité, et spécialement contre la moralité sexuelle. Et ça ne va pas venir des socialistes. La folie de demain n’est pas à Moscou, mais bien plutôt à Manhattan. Chesterton (1926)
Il y a des formes destructives dans notre société, qui ne sont rien d’autre que destructives, car elles ne cherchent pas à modifier l’état des choses, mais à l’annihiler, en se basant sur une anarchie interne qui rejette toutes les distinctions morales sur lesquelles même les simples rebelles s’appuient encore. A présent, le criminel le plus dangereux est le philosophe moderne qui ne connaît plus aucune loi. L’ennemi n’émane pas des masses populaires, il se recrute parmi les gens éduqués et aisés, qui allient intellectualisme et ignorance, et sont soutenus en chemin par le culte que la faiblesse rend à la force. Plus spécifiquement, il est certain que les milieux scientifiques et artistiques sont silencieusement unis dans une croisade dirigée contre la famille et l’Etat. Chesterton
Il n’y a pas de choses mauvaises, mais seulement de mauvaises utilisations des choses. En quelque sorte, il n’y a pas de choses mauvaises mais seulement de mauvaises pensées ; et surtout de mauvaises intentions … mais il est possible d’avoir de mauvaises intentions au sujet de bonnes choses ; et les bonnes choses, comme le monde et la chair, ont été tordues par une mauvaise intention appelée le diable. Mais le diable ne peut pas rendre les choses mauvaises; elles restent telles qu’elles étaient au premier jour de la création. L’oeuvre du ciel seule est matérielle – la fabrication d’un monde matériel. L’oeuvre de l’enfer est entièrement spirituelle.  Chesterton
L’intuition de Chesterton est que le christianisme a renversé la vieille croyance platonicienne que la matière est mauvaise et que le spirituel est bon. Simon Leys
S’il est une chose dont le Belge est pénétré, c’est de son insignifiance. Cela en revanche lui donne une incomparable liberté – un salubre irrespect, une tranquille impertinence, frisant l’inconscience. Simon Leys (à propos de Michaux)
Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat; But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth! Rudyard Kipling

Alors que sur ses vieux jours le Sartre allemand qui, à l’instar de son homologue français et selon le mot de Guy Sorman a passé sa vie à “épouser toutes les mauvaises causes de sa génération sans en manquer aucune”, se croit obligé de renouer avec une tradition multimillénaire  …

Et que, fidèle à lui-même, le Conseil Œcuménique des Églises se dévoue lui aussi pour prolonger ladite tradition pascale avec un nouveau rapport attribuant (surprise!) l’épuration religieuse des chrétiens palestiniens (« indigènes », s’il vous plait!) à « l’occupation israélienne » … 

Pendant qu’en Australie, on (devinez qui?) profane à nouveau un mémorial au génocide des chrétiens assyro-chaldéens

Retour, histoire de ne pas trop désespérer St Germain des prés, sur l’intellectuel occidental qui a probablement le plus fait (protégé par sa belgitude?) pour sauver l’honneur de la tribu des “mains à plume”.

A savoir, avec la sortie de sa dernière collection d’essais, le sinologue belge Simon Leys, pseudonyme de Pierre Rickerts que lui conseilla son éditeur pour préserver ses éventuelles entrées en Chine alors qu’il en dénonçait, contre les maolâtres occidentaux et notamment français, la prétendue Révolution culturelle.

Mais surtout, de Chesterton à Orwell, l’occasion de (re)découvrir une véritable mine de rafraichissantes et salutaires citations  …

Ou parfois tronquées, comme la Ballade de l’est et de l’ouest de Kipling, pour leur faire dire le contraire de ce qu’elles disent …

Le luxe vital de l’inutile

Bruno de Cessole

Valeurs actuelles

05/04/2012

En exergue de son nouveau recueil d’essais, Simon Leys a inscrit une citation d’un penseur taoïste du IVe siècle avant J.-C., Zhuang Zi : « Tous les gens comprennent l’utilité de ce qui est utile, mais ils ne peuvent comprendre l’utilité de l’inutile ».

Pensée qu’il cite à nouveau – dans un discours prononcé à l’université de Louvain lors de sa réception comme docteur honoris causa – dans le dessein de souligner que « l’université n’est pas une usine à fabriquer des diplômes, à la façon des usines à saucisses qui fabriquent des saucisses [mais] le lieu où une chance est donnée à des hommes de devenir ce qu’ils sont vraiment. » L’intérêt pour la philosophie, l’histoire, l’art ou la littérature, peut paraître superflu ou frivole en ces temps d’utilitarisme borné et de rentabilité à courte vue ; ces disciplines sont pourtant vitales pour tout homme qui entend être un peu plus qu’un “pourceau d’Épicure”, et ne pas se réduire à un simple rouage de la machine universelle à produire et à consommer.

Alors qu’il était étudiant à Hong Kong, le futur sinologue partageait avec un artiste calligraphe et deux autres étudiants une cahute misérable, baptisée “Studio de l’inutilité”, où « l’étude et la vie ne formaient plus qu’une seule et même entreprise ». À cette haute ambition, Simon Leys est resté fidèle, de même qu’à l’exigence de probité intellectuelle et à une conception surannée de l’honneur des “clercs”.

En témoigne cette brassée d’essais, partagés entre trois anciennes et pérennes passions : la littérature, la Chine et la mer. Qu’il aborde les uns et les autres, c’est toujours sous un angle inédit, sans déférence pour les idées reçues et le conformisme bêlant de la “rectitude” politico-morale. Ainsi loue-t-il en Henri Michaux le handicap de sa “belgitude”, cette “conscience d’un manque”, et déplore-t-il que, sur sa fin, l’auteur d’Un barbare en Asie, contaminé par le sens français des convenances, se soit laissé aller à corriger ses anciens écrits en les amputant de leur impertinence et de leur vive spontanéité. En Chesterton, méprisé ou ignoré en Angleterre, il se plaît à célébrer la vision prophétique mais aussi cette manière adorable de réconcilier l’amusant et le sérieux. À rebours de ses thuriféraires qui ne voient en lui qu’un écrivain de la mer, il confesse sa préférence pour les romans “terrestres” de Conrad, tandis qu’il dévoile en Victor Segalen les préjugés d’un Européen qui préféra sa vision de la Chine à la réalité d’une civilisation chinoise qu’il méconnut.

Très présente dans ces essais, la Chine est l’occasion pour lui d’exercer le tranchant de sa plume à l’encontre des “idiots utiles” occidentaux, tel Roland Barthes, dont les séjours sur place ont donné lieu à de consternantes ou révoltantes niaiseries. Surtout, l’évolution actuelle du régime vers un compromis entre capitalisme sauvage et totalitarisme politique lui inspire-t-elle un vibrant éloge du Prix Nobel de la paix 2010, Liu Xiaobo, toujours emprisonné pour avoir osé dénoncer les crimes et les turpitudes des “apparatchiks” au pouvoir dans sa patrie. Commentant, enfin, le procès du génocide cambodgien, l’auteur met en garde contre l’erreur de jugement qui consiste à ne voir en ce drame qu’un épisode exotique alors que cette histoire est aussi la nôtre. Aux antipodes de la figure calamiteuse de l’intellectuel occidental, Simon Leys est bel et bien l’honneur de la tribu des “mains à plume”.

Le Studio de l’inutilité, de Simon Leys, Flammarion, 296 pages, 20 €.

Voir aussi:

Livres. Vient de paraître…

Gérard Thomas

Libération

Essais

Simon Leys Le Studio de l’inutilité

Le Studio de l’inutilité est celui où on lit, menton en main. Que Simon Leys y mette une majuscule renseigne d’abord sur la taille du sien. Qu’il relise insolemment Michaux, célèbre Chesterton, Conrad, Orwell ou celui chez qui il prit son pseudonyme, Victor Segalen (auteur de René Leys), qu’il dénonce la sémiotique de Roland Barthes ou l’évolution politique de la Chine, Leys a un ton : celui du citoyen érudit contre les pouvoirs, mi-Don Quichotte mi-Sancho, à cheval entre enthousiasme et bon sens. Il s’affiche en lutte contre les lieux communs et les importants du sérail : on a rarement vu, réunies en un seul homme, autant de faculté critique et de vanité démocratique. Ses analyses, claires, joyeuses, agressives, donnent au lecteur l’impression d’être plus intelligent et plus libre que ceux qui ne le lisent pas, d’appartenir à un petit club. A propos de la mort de Segalen, il écrit : «Ceux qui le connaissaient conclurent au suicide ; ceux qui l’aimaient conclurent à un accident.» Mais on peut aimer et connaître, et on sent que Leys, renvoyant dos à dos sachants et sentimentaux, aimerait tous les surplomber.

Voir également:

Simon Leys: « L’intellectuel français ne sait pas comment on ouvre un parapluie »

Emmanuel Hecht

L’Express

06/04/2012

Flammarion publie un recueil de textes en forme de portrait du grand sinologue. Au menu, la Chine, la littérature, la mer… et la quête humaniste d’un esprit libre et iconoclaste.

Simon Leys (76 ans) est un écrivain de combat né avec Les Habits neufs du président Mao (1971), chronique accablante de la Révolution culturelle. Sans la maolâtrie ambiante et les idioties sur l' »homme nouveau chinois » proférées à l’Ouest, et particulièrement en France, Pierre Ryckmans -son vrai nom-, universitaire belge spécialiste de la littérature classique chinoise, ne serait pas sorti de ses gonds et n’aurait pas pris un pseudonyme pour éviter d’être persona non grata en Chine. Entré dans le pamphlet politique par indignation, Leys-Ryckmans n’aura de cesse de dénoncer l’imposture des gouvernants et l’aveuglement des intellectuels avec ce mélange d’honnêteté, de courage et de simplicité que George Orwell nommait « common decency ». Pour autant, le seul sinologue de l’Académie de Belgique (fauteuil 26, celui de Simenon) ne se départira jamais de ses premières amours: la Chine, la littérature, la mer. C’est tout naturellement autour de ces trois piliers qu’a été élaboré ce merveilleux recueil sous le sceau de « l’inutilité », au sens où l’entendait le poète du IVe siècle avant Jésus-Christ Zhuang Zi: gratuité, don de soi, générosité.

Lorsque vous évoquez les figures de Michaux, Chesterton, Orwell…, on voit se dessiner en creux votre autoportrait. Réel ou idéal…

Nos admirations nous définissent, mais parfois elles peuvent aussi cerner nos manques (par exemple, un bègue qui admire un éloquent causeur, un écrivain crispé et taciturne comme Jules Renard qui vénère la tonitruante prolixité de Victor Hugo, ou un romancier concis et pur comme Chardonne qui célèbre le formidable flot de Tolstoï…). Quand on rend visite à quelqu’un que l’on souhaiterait mieux connaître, on est naturellement tenté de regarder les livres de sa bibliothèque: ce n’est pas plus indiscret que de regarder son visage -c’est tout aussi révélateur (bien que parfois trompeur).

Les intellectuels de ce début de siècle se caractérisent-ils toujours par cet étrange cocktail de naïveté politique et de fascination pour les régimes totalitaires?

Je crois à l’universalité et à la permanence de la nature humaine; elle transcende l’espace et le temps. Comment expliquer sinon pourquoi les peintures de Lascaux ou la lecture de Zhuang Zi (Tchouang-tseu) ou de Montaigne peuvent nous toucher de façon plus immédiate que les informations du journal de ce matin? Pour le meilleur et pour le pire, je ne vois donc pas comment les intellectuels du XXIe siècle pourraient fort différer de ceux du siècle précédent. Malraux disait que l’intellectuel français est un homme qui ne sait pas comment on ouvre un parapluie (je soupçonne d’ailleurs qu’il parlait d’expérience; et personnellement je ne me flatte pas d’une bien grande dextérité). Du fait de leur maladresse et de leur faiblesse, certains intellectuels seraient-ils plus vulnérables devant les séductions du pouvoir, et de son incarnation dans des chefs totalitaires? Je me contente de constater mélancoliquement la récurrence du phénomène -je ne suis pas psychologue.

Quels sont vos projets?

Comme je l’évoque dans le post-scriptum de mon essai sur Liu Xiaobo, par la faute d’un agent consulaire belge, mes fils (jumeaux) se sont trouvés réduits à l’état d’apatrides. La faute aurait pu être rectifiée; malheureusement, elle était tellement grotesque que les autorités responsables n’auraient pu le reconnaître sans se rendre ridicules – aussi fallait-il la cacher. Comme toujours dans ce genre de mésaventure administrative, la tentative de camouflage est cent fois pire que ce qu’elle tente de dissimuler. Le problème devient monumental et rigide, il s’enfle et gonfle comme un monstrueux champignon vénéneux qui, en fin de compte, ne contient RIEN: un vide nauséabond. Ayant jadis passé pas mal de temps à analyser et à décrire divers aspects du phénomène bureaucratique au sein du totalitarisme marxiste, j’ai découvert avec stupeur qu’il avait son pendant naturel dans un ministère bruxellois: des bureaucrates belges placés dans le plus toxique des environnements pékinois se seraient aussitôt sentis comme des poissons dans l’eau.

Je voudrais tâcher de dépasser l’anecdote personnelle pour cerner une leçon universelle. De nombreux lecteurs, victimes d’expériences semblables, m’ont d’ailleurs offert des rapports d’une hallucinante absurdité. J’envisage donc de faire une petite physiologie du bureaucrate. Cela pourrait s’intituler Le Rêve de Zazie -par référence à l’héroïne de Queneau: comme on demande à Zazie ce qu’elle voudrait devenir quand elle sera grande, elle répond: « Institutrice! -Ah, fort bien et pourquoi? -Pour faire chier les mômes! »

Voir de même:

Orwell, selon Simon Leys

Propos recueillis par Sébastien Lapaque

02/11/2006

Fraîchement débarqué de La Rieuse, un patrouilleur de la Marine nationale à bord duquel il a navigué à l’occasion d’une mission de trois semaines à Madagascar et dans les îles Éparses du canal du Mozambique, l’auteur des Habits neufs du président Mao a répondu, depuis l’île de la Réunion, à quelques questions concernant un écrivain qui n’a pas cessé de l’accompagner, plus de vingt ans après la publication de son maître essai.

Le Figaro LITTÉRAIRE. – Lorsqu’ils évoquent le phénomène totalitaire, les philosophes de télévision font grand cas de l’oeuvre d’Hannah Arendt. Faut-il y voir une manoeuvre d’évitement de celle de George Orwell ?

Simon LEYS. – N’étant pas exposé aux « philosophes de télévision », je suis mal placé pour commenter. D’Hannah Arendt, je ne connais guère que le Système totalitaire. Comme elle y soulignait l’identité profonde entre nazisme et stalinisme, je vois mal comment on pourrait se servir d’elle pour évacuer George Orwell. Et il y a un propos d’Arendt qui me frappe particulièrement : « Le mensonge est plus fort que la vérité, car il comble l’attente. » C’est une phrase qu’Orwell aurait pu signer, il me semble.

« Au XXIe siècle, écriviez-vous en 1984, il faut souhaiter que l’évolution politique et la marche des événements auront finalement réussi à faire d’Orwell un écrivain définitivement dépassé. » Sentiez-vous déjà que c’était un voeu pieux ?

Orwell dépassé ? Il s’agit effectivement d’une figure de style. Le jour où Orwell sera « dépassé », on vivra dans un futur monde idéal, et, à ce moment-là, les courageux propos des gens intègres et des esprits lucides ne seront sans doute plus que des lieux communs.

L’oeuvre d’Orwell est souvent réduite à 1984. À l’exception de La Ferme des animaux et d’Hommage à la Catalogne, le reste est occulté. Quels sont ses livres « oubliés » qui vous touchent le plus ?

Down and out in Paris and London (1) avait été précédé de diverses tentatives littéraires (avortées ou disparues). Orwell a mis du temps pour trouver sa voie et sa voix, mais, dans ce premier livre publié (malgré certaines maladresses de composition), sa personnalité s’affirme de façon magistrale. Coming up for Air (2) – le dernier de ses quatre romans « conventionnels » (écrit juste à la veille de la Seconde Guerre mondiale) -, on le relit maintenant moins comme un roman (Orwell n’est pas vraiment romancier, c’est un essayiste imaginatif) que comme une superbe dénonciation des maux qui affligent aujourd’hui notre société, empoisonnée par le fast-food, abrutie par la publicité, asphyxiée par la surpopulation et dévastée par les promoteurs immobiliers… Enfin, tout son journalisme (3) : comme Chesterton et comme Bernanos (autres écrivains de génie qui ont montré quel art le journalisme peut et doit être), Orwell a semé des perles un peu partout ; là, il faut donc tout lire, ce n’est pas une obligation, c’est un régal.

George Orwell se présentait comme un « anarchiste conservateur ». D’autres ont évoqué un « patriote subversif et anticonformiste ». Ce sens dialectique de la contradiction est-il ce qu’il peut nous apporter de meilleur ?

Chez Orwell, la qualité qui frappe le plus, c’est l’originalité. La vraie originalité, c’est le fait d’un homme qui, ayant d’abord réussi à devenir lui-même, n’a plus qu’à écrire naturellement. L’originalité échappe invinciblement à qui la poursuit pour elle-même, ne trouvant que la fausse originalité – cette lèpre qui ronge les lettres… Or un homme vrai ne saurait se réduire à des simplifications abstraites, à des définitions à sens unique (gauche, droite, progressiste, réactionnaire) ; c’est un noeud naturel de contradictions, un vivant paradoxe, comme Orwell l’a bien suggéré en se décrivant lui-même comme un « anarchiste conservateur ».

Si un écrivain s’employait à composer une suite contemporaine à 1984, que devrait-il modifier par rapport à son modèle ?

Orwell a explicitement récusé une façon de lire 1984 comme une description d’événements à venir. Il a lui-même défini son livre comme une « satire », développant les implications logiques de la prémisse totalitaire. Il serait donc vain d’essayer de mettre 1984 à jour. Anthony Burgess a jadis commis un 1985 qui montrait seulement sa profonde incompréhension du livre. Le vrai maître d’Orwell, c’est Swift, qu’il lisait et relisait sans se lasser. Comment concevoir une révision des Voyages de Gulliver ? À la lecture d’une intéressante interview que le professeur Jacques Le Goff vient de donner au Point (n° 1777, 5 octobre), je suis frappé par cette remarque qu’exprime le grand historien en passant : « Je déteste un livre comme 1984 d’Orwell à cause de sa non-insertion dans l’histoire. » Mais, précisément, c’est là le sujet même dont traite Orwell. Car le totalitarisme en action, c’est la négation de l’histoire – à tout le moins, sa suspension effective et délibérée. Orwell en eut la première intuition lors de la guerre d’Espagne ; et l’on peut voir dans la révélation qu’il eut alors comme le premier germe de1984. Il en fit la réflexion à Arthur Koestler, qui avait partagé cette même expérience : « L’Histoire s’est arrêtée en 1936. » Ainsi, la propagande stalinienne effaça toutes traces de batailles gagnées par les républicains lorsqu’il s’agissait de milices anarchistes et inventa de grandes victoires communistes là où nul combat n’avait été livré. Dans la presse communiste, l’expérience du front qu’avaient vécue Orwell et ses camarades se trouva frappée de totale irréalité. L’exercice du pouvoir totalitaire ne peut tolérer l’existence d’une réalité historique.

(1) Dans la dèche à Paris et à Londres,10/18. (2) Un peu d’air frais, 10/18. (3) Essais, articles, lettres (1920-1950), 4 volumes, Éditions Ivrea/Éditions de l’Encyclopédie des nuisances. Les mêmes éditeurs ont également publié deux volumes d’essais choisis, «Dans le ventre de la baleine», 1931-1944 (348 p., 12 eur) et «Tels étaient nos plaisirs», 1944-1949 (312 p., 12 eur).

Voir aussi:

Cunning like a hedgehog.

 Cunning like a heldgehog. In memory of Jean-François Revel, man of letters, man of integrity, friend

Simon Leys

The Australian Literary Review, 1 August 2007

G K. CHESTERTON, whose formidable mind drew inspiration from a vast culture – literary, political, poetical, historical and philosophical – once received the naive praise of a lady: “Oh, Mr Chesterton, you know so many things!” He suavely replied: “Madam, I know nothing: I am a journalist.”

The many enemies of French philosopher Jean-François Revel (1924-2006) often attempted to dismiss him as a mere journalist which, of course, he was among many other things, and very much in the Chestertonian fashion.

At first he may seem odd to associate these two names: what could there be in common between the great Christian apologist and the staunch atheist, between the mystical poet and the strict rationalist, between the huge, benevolent man mountain and the short, fiery, nimble and pugnacious intellectual athlete (and, should we also add, between the devoted husband and the irrepressible ladies’ man)? One could multiply the contrasts, yet, on a deeper level, the essence of their genius was very much alike.

Revel was an extrovert who took daily delight in the company of his friends:

I am the most sociable creature; other people’s society is my joy. Though, for me, a happy day should have a part of solitude, it must also afford a few hours of the most intense of all the pleasures of the mind: conversation. Friendship has always occupied a central place in my life, as well as the keen desire to make new acquaintances, to hear them, to question them, to test their reactions to my own views.

Always sparring with his interlocutors, he was passionately commited to is ideas, but if he took his own beliefs with utter seriousness, he did not take his own person seriously. Again, one could apply to him what Chesterton’s brother said of his famous sibling: “He had a passionate need to express his opinions, but he would express them as readily and well to a man he met on a bus.”

Revel’s capacity for self-irony is the crowning grace of his memoirs, The Thief in an Empty House. Personal records can be a dangerous exercice, but in his case it eventuated in a triumphant masterpiece.

His humour enchanted his readers, but kept disconcerting the more pompous pundits. The French greatly value wit, which they display in profusion, but humour often makes them uneasy, especially when it is applied to important subjects; they do not have a word for it, they do not know the thing.

Whereas wit is a form of duelling – it aims to wound or to kill – the essence of humour is self-deprecatory. Once again, a Chestertonian saying could be apposite: “My critics think that I am not serious, but only funny, because they think that ‘funny’ is the opposite of ‘serious’. But ‘funny’ is the opposite of ‘not funny’ and nothing else. Whether a man chooses to tell the truth in long sentences or in short jokes is analogous to whether he chooses to tell the truth in French or German.”

What compounded the dismay of Revel’s pretentious critics was his implacable clarity. One of his close friends and collaborators said he doubted if Revel, in his entire career, had written a single sentence that was obscure. In the Parisian intellectual world such a habit can easily ruin a writer’s credit, for simple souls and solemn mediocrities are impressed only by what is couched in opaque jargon. And, in their eyes, how could one possibly say something important if one is not self-important?

With the accuracy of his information and the sharpness of his irony, Revel deflated the huge balloons of cant that elevate the chattering classes. They felt utterly threatened, for he was exposing the puffery of the latest intellectual fashions upon which their livehood depended. At times they could not hide their panic; for instance, the great guru of the intelligentsia, Jacques Lacan, during one of his psychoanalytical seminars at the Sorbonne, performed in front of his devotees a voodoo-like exorcism.

He frantically trampled underfoot and destroyed a copy of Revel’s book Why Philosophers?, in which Lacan’s charlatanism was analysed.

Yet such outbursts weere mere circus acts; far more vicious was the invisible conspiracy that surrounded Revel with a wall of silence, well documented in Pierre Boncenne’s Pour Jean-François Revel: Un esprit libre (Plon, Paris, 2006), a timely and perceptive book that takes the full measure of Revel’s intellectual, literary and human stature.

A paradoxical situation developed: Revel’s weekly newspaper columns were avidly read, nearly every one of his 30-odd books was an instant bestseller, and yet the most influential “progressive” critics studiously ignored his existence. His books were not reviewed, his ideas were not discussed, if his name was mentioned at all it was with a patronising sneer, if not downright slander.

Revel was quintessentially French in his literary tastes and sensitivity (his pages on Michel de Montaigne, Francois Rabelais and Marcel Proust marry intelligence with love; his anthology of French poetry mirrors his original appreciation of the poetic language), in his art of living (his great book on gastronomy is truly a “feast in words”) and in his conviviality (he truly cared for his friends).

And yet what strikingly set him apart from most other intellectuals of his generation was his genuinely cosmopolitan outlook.

He had spent abroad the best part of his formative and early creative years, mostly in Mexico and Italy. In addition to English (spoken by few educated Fench of his time) he was fluent in Italian, Spanish and German; until the end of his life he retained the healthy habit to start every day (he rose at 5am) by listening to he BBC news and reading six foreign newspapers.

On international affairs, on literature, art and ideas, he had universal perspectives that broke completely from the suffocating provincialism of the contemporary Parisian elites. In the 18th century, French was the common language of the leading minds of continental Europe; 20th-century French intellectuals hardly noticed that times had changed in this respect; they retained the dangerous belief that whatever was not expressed in French could hardly matter.

Revel never had enough sarcasm to denounce this sort of self-indulgence; on the bogus notion of le rayonnement français, he was scathing: “French culture has radiated for so long, it’s a wonder mankind has not died from sunstroke.” He fiercely fought against chauvinist cultural blindness, and especially against its most cretinous expression: irrational anti-Americanism. At the root of this attitude he detected a subconscious resentment: the french feel that when Americans are playing a leading role in the political-cultural world they are usurping what is by birthright a French prerogative.

By vocation and academic training Revel was originally a philosopher (he entered at an exceptionally early age the Ecole Normale Superieure, the apex of the French higher education system). He taught philosophy and eventually wrote a history of Western philosophy (eschewing all technical jargon, it is a model of lucid synthesis).

However, he became disenchanted with the contemporary philosophers who, he flet, had betrayed their calling by turning philosophy into a professional career and a mere literary genre. “Philosophy,” he wrote “ought to return to its original and fundamental question: How should I live?” he preferred simply to call himslef “a man of letters”.

Ancient Greek poet Archilochus famously said: “The fow knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Revel was the archetypical fox, but at the same time he held with all the determination of a hedgehog to one central idea that inspires, pervades and motivates all his endeavours:

The belief that each individual destiny, as well as the destiny of mankind, depends upon the accuracy – or the falsity – of the information at their disposal, and upon the way in which they put this information to use.

He devoted one of his books specifically to this issue, La Connaissance Inutile (Useless Knowledge), but this theme runs through nearly all his writings.

Politics naturally absorbed a great amount of his attention. From the outset he showed his willingness to commit himself personaly, and at great risk: as a young man in occupied France he joined the Resistance against the Nazis. After the war, his basic political allegiance was, and always remainded, to the Left and the principles of liberal democracy. He was sharply critical of Charles de Gaulle and of all saviours and providential leaders in military uniforms.

Yet, like George Orwell before him, he always believed that only an uncompromising denunciation of all forms of Stalinist totalitarianism can ensure the ultimate victory of socialism. Thus – again, like Orwell – he earned for himself the hostility of his starry-eyed comrades.

Revel’s attempt at entering into active politics was short-lived, but the experience gave him an invaluable insight into the essential intellectual dishonesty that is unavoidably attached to partisan politicking. He was briefly a Socialist Party candidate at the 1967 national elections, which put him in close contact with François Mitterrand (then leader of the Opposition). The portrait he paints of Mitterrand in his memoirs is hilarious and horrifying.

Mitterrand was the purest type of political animal: he had no politics at all. He had a brilliant intelligence, but for him ideas were neither right or wrong, they were only useful or useless in the pursuit of power. The object of power was not a possibility to enact certain policies; the object of all policies was simply attain and retain power.

Revel, having drafted a speech for his own electoral campaign, was invited by Mitterrand to read it to him. The speech started, “Although I cannot deny some of my opponent’s achievements…” Mitterand interrupted him at once, screaming: “No! Never, never! In politics never acknowledge that your opponent has any merit. This is the basic rule of the game.”

Revel understood once and for all that this game was not for him and it was the end of his political ambition. Which proved to be a blessing: had politics swallowed him at that early stage in his life how much poorer the world of ideas and letters would have been. (And one could have said exactly the same about his close friend Mario Vargas Llosa, who – luckily for literature – was defeated in presidential elections in Peru.)

Dead writers who were also friends never leave us: whenever we open their books, we hear again their very personal voices and our old exchanges are suddenly revived. I had many conversations (and discussions: different opinions are the memorable spices of friendship) with Revel; yet what I wish to record here is not something he said, but a silence that had slightly puzzled me at the time. The matter is trifling and frivolous (for which I apologise), but what touches me is that I found the answer many years later, in his writings.

A long time ago, as we were walking along a street in Paris, chatting as we went, he asked me about a film I had seen the night before, Federico Fellini’s Casanova (which he had not seen). I told him that one scene had impressed me, by its acute psychological insight into the truth that love-making without love is but a very grim sort of gymnastics. He stopped abruptly and gave me a long quizzical look, as if he was trying to find out whether I really believed that, or was merely pulling his leg.

Unable to decide, he said, “Hmmm” and we resumed our walk, chatting of other things.

Many years later, reading his autobiography, I suddenly understood. When he was a precocious adolescent of 15, at school in Marseilles, he was quite brilliant in all humanities subjects but hopeless in mathematics. Every Thursday, pretending to his mother that he was receiving extra tuition in maths, he used to go to a little brothel. He would first do his school work in the common lounge and, after that, go upstairs with one of the girls. The madam granted him a “beginner’s rebate”, and the tuition fee generously advanced by his mother covered the rest.

One Thursday, however, as he was walking up the stairs his maths teacher came down. The young man froze, but the teacher passed impassively, merely muttering between clenched teeth: “You will always get passing marks in maths.” The schoolboy kept their secret and the teacher honoured his part of the bargain; Revel’s mother was delighted by the sudden improvement in his school results.

I belatedly realised that, from a rather early age, Revel had acquired a fairly different perspective on the subject of our chat.

At the time of Revel’s death in April last year, Vargas Llosa concluded the eloquent and deeply felt obituary he wrote for our friend in Spanish newspaper El pais: “Jean-François Revel, we are going to miss you so much.” How true.

Simon Leys

Voir de enfin:

Grass fait scandale en accusant Israël de menacer la paix mondiale

Le Point

05/04/2012

Le Prix Nobel de littérature allemand a publié, sous forme de poème, un plaidoyer pour l’Iran.

Le Prix Nobel de littérature allemand Günter Grass, 84 ans, a déclenché un énorme scandale lundi en publiant, sous forme de poème, un plaidoyer pour l’Iran où il accuse Israël et son arme atomique de menacer la paix mondiale. Il s’est attiré de violentes accusations d’antisémitisme avec ce poème en prose intitulé « Ce qui doit être dit », paru dans le grand quotidien de Munich Süddeutsche Zeitung. Il y dénonce un « prétendu droit à attaquer le premier », faisant allusion à l’éventualité de frappes préventives israéliennes contre Téhéran, soupçonné de développer du nucléaire militaire malgré ses dénégations. Le Nobel de littérature 1999 affirme que ce projet pourrait mener à « l’éradication du peuple iranien ».

Grass, qui jouit d’une grande autorité en Allemagne, évoque « cet autre pays, qui dispose depuis des années d’un arsenal nucléaire croissant – même s’il est maintenu secret », qui bénéficie de livraisons de sous-marins nucléaires qui pourraient rendre les Allemands, « déjà suffisamment accablés », complices d’un « crime prévisible ». L’Allemagne et Israël ont conclu en 2005 un contrat de vente de sous-marins conventionnels de type Dolphin, dont un sixième exemplaire doit être livré prochainement. Ces sous-marins peuvent être équipés d’armes nucléaires.

« Mensonge pesant »

Grass dénonce un « silence généralisé » sur cette question, qu’il qualifie de « mensonge pesant » parce que « le verdict d’antisémitisme tombera automatiquement » sur qui le rompra. « Pourquoi ne dis-je que maintenant (…) que la puissance atomique d’Israël menace la paix mondiale déjà fragile ? » s’interroge Grass. « Parce qu’il faut dire ce qui pourrait être trop tard demain. »

Israël a vivement réagi. « Ce qui doit être dit, c’est qu’il est de tradition européenne de blâmer les Juifs avant la Pâques juive », a lancé le numéro deux de l’ambassade d’Israël à Berlin, Emmanuel Nahshon, dans un communiqué, reprenant le titre du texte de Grass. Le représentant israélien a regretté que l’État hébreu soit « le seul pays au monde remis en cause publiquement dans son droit d’exister », et a assuré que les Israéliens « voulaient vivre en paix avec leurs voisins de la région ». « Günter Grass retourne la situation en prenant la défense d’un régime brutal », a également regretté Deidre Berger, directrice de l’American Jewish Committee à Berlin.

« Érudit antisémite »

Henryk Broder, éditorialiste et polémiste juif renommé en Allemagne, a jugé dans le quotidien conservateur Die Welt que « Grass (avait) toujours eu un problème avec les Juifs, mais il ne l’avait jamais aussi clairement exprimé que dans ce poème ». Pour Broder, Grass est « l’archétype de l’érudit antisémite », de l’Allemand qui est « poursuivi par la honte et le remords ». « Jamais dans l’histoire de la République fédérale, un intellectuel renommé ne s’en est pris avec autant de clichés à Israël », a renchéri l’hebdomadaire Der Spiegel dans son édition en ligne.

Sans nommer Grass, le ministre des Affaires étrangères Guido Westerwelle a publié un communiqué expliquant que « minorer les dangers du programme nucléaire iranien reviendrait à nier la gravité de la situation ». Le porte-parole du gouvernement allemand Steffen Seibert s’est refusé à commenter, au nom de la « liberté de création ». Sur Internet, les réactions étaient enflammées entre défenseurs et détracteurs de Grass, les premiers invitant à réfléchir et discuter des propos de l’écrivain qualifié d' »antisémite » par les seconds. En 2006, Günter Grass, connu pour ses positions de gauche, avait admis avoir fait partie des Waffen SS dans sa jeunesse, lui qui renvoyait souvent l’Allemagne à son passé nazi et dont un des livres les plus connus, Le Tambour, est résolument contre la guerre.

 Ce qui doit être dit

Gunther Grass

Pourquoi je ne dis pas

Pourquoi ai-je tu pendant trop longtemps

ce qui est pourtant évident

et a fait l’objet de tant de simulations

dans lesquelles nous, les survivants,

sommes au mieux des notes de bas de page.

On évoque le droit à une frappe préventive,

l’éradication du peuple iranien soumis,

tenu à une liesse sans joie par un fort en gueule,

sous prétexte que ce potentat construirait une bombe atomique.

Mais alors, pourquoi m’interdis-je

de nommer cet autre pays

qui dispose depuis des années,

certes dans le plus grand secret,

d’un potentiel nucléaire croissant

et échappant à tout contrôle,

puisque aucun contrôle n’est permis ?

Le silence général autour de ce fait établi,

ce silence auquel j’ai moi-même souscrit,

je le ressens comme un mensonge pesant,

une règle que l’on ne peut rompre

qu’au risque d’une peine lourde et infâmante :

le verdict d’antisémitisme est assez courant.

Mais aujourd’hui, alors que mon pays

coupable de crimes sans commune mesure,

pour lesquels il doit rendre des comptes encore et encore,

mon pays donc, dans un geste purement commercial,

certains parlent un peu vite de réparation,

s’en va livrer un nouveau sous-marin à Israël,

un engin dont la spécialité est d’envoyer

des ogives capables de détruire toute vie

là où l’existence de ne serait-ce qu’une seule

bombe nucléaire n’est pas prouvée,

mais où le soupçon tient lieu de preuve,

je dis ce qui doit être dit.

Pourquoi me suis-je tu aussi longtemps ?

Parce que je croyais que mes origines,

entachées par des crimes à jamais impardonnables,

m’interdisaient d’exprimer cette vérité,

d’oser reprocher ce fait à Israël,

un pays dont je suis et veux rester l’ami.

Pourquoi ne dis-je que maintenant,

vieux, dans un ultime soupir de mon stylo,

que la puissance nucléaire d’Israël

menace la paix mondiale déjà fragile ?

Parce qu’il faut dire maintenant

ce qui pourrait être trop tard demain,

et parce que nous, Allemands, avec le poids de notre passé,

pourrions devenir les complices d’une crime,

prévisible et donc impossible

à justifier avec les excuses habituelles.

Pourquoi je ne dis pas

pourquoi ai-je tu pendant trop longtemps

ce qui est pourtant évident

et a fait l’objet de tant de simulations

dans lesquelles nous, les survivants,

sommes au mieux des notes de bas de page.

On évoque le droit à une frappe préventive,

l’éradication du peuple iranien soumis,

tenu à une liesse sans joie par un fort en gueule,

sous prétexte que ce potentat construirait une bombe atomique.

Mais alors, pourquoi m’interdis-je

de nommer cet autre pays

qui dispose depuis des années,

certes dans le plus grand secret,

d’un potentiel nucléaire croissant

et échappant à tout contrôle,

puisque aucun contrôle n’est permis ?

Le silence général autour de ce fait établi,

ce silence auquel j’ai moi-même souscrit,

je le ressens comme un mensonge pesant,

une règle que l’on ne peut rompre

qu’au risque d’une peine lourde et infâmante :

le verdict d’antisémitisme est assez courant.

Mais aujourd’hui, alors que mon pays

coupable de crimes sans commune mesure,

pour lesquels il doit rendre des comptes encore et encore,

mon pays donc, dans un geste purement commercial,

certains parlent un peu vite de réparation,

s’en va livrer un nouveau sous-marin à Israël,

un engin dont la spécialité est d’envoyer

des ogives capables de détruire toute vie

là où l’existence de ne serait-ce qu’une seule

bombe nucléaire n’est pas prouvée,

mais où le soupçon tient lieu de preuve,

je dis ce qui doit être dit.

Pourquoi me suis-je tu aussi longtemps ?

Parce que je croyais que mes origines,

entachées par des crimes à jamais impardonnables,

m’interdisaient d’exprimer cette vérité,

d’oser reprocher ce fait à Israël,

un pays dont je suis et veux rester l’ami.

Pourquoi ne dis-je que maintenant,

vieux, dans un ultime soupir de mon stylo,

que la puissance nucléaire d’Israël

menace la paix mondiale déjà fragile ?

Parce qu’il faut dire maintenant

ce qui pourrait être trop tard demain,

et parce que nous, Allemands, avec le poids de notre passé,

pourrions devenir les complices d’une crime,

prévisible et donc impossible

à justifier avec les excuses habituelles.

Je dois l’admettre aussi, je ne me tairai plus

parce que j’en ai assez de l’hypocrisie de l’Occident

et j’espère que nombreux seront ceux

prêts à se libérer des chaînes du silence,

pour appeler l’auteur d’une menace évidente

à renoncer à la violence tout en exigeant

un contrôle permanent et sans entraves

du potentiel atomique israélien

et des installations nucléaires iraniennes

par une instance internationale

acceptée par les deux gouvernements.

Ce n’est qu’ainsi que pourrons aider

les Israéliens et les Palestiniens,

mieux encore, tous les peuples,

frères ennemis vivant côte à côte

dans cette région guettée par la folie meurtrière,

et en fin de compte nous-mêmes.

Je dois l’admettre aussi, je ne me tairai plus

parce que j’en ai assez de l’hypocrisie de l’Occident

et j’espère que nombreux seront ceux

prêts à se libérer des chaînes du silence,

pour appeler l’auteur d’une menace évidente

à renoncer à la violence tout en exigeant

un contrôle permanent et sans entraves

du potentiel atomique israélien

et des installations nucléaires iraniennes

par une instance internationale

acceptée par les deux gouvernements.

Ce n’est qu’ainsi que pourrons aider

les Israéliens et les Palestiniens,

mieux encore, tous les peuples,

frères ennemis vivant côte à côte

dans cette région guettée par la folie meurtrière,

et en fin de compte nous-mêmes.

(Source Süddeutsche Zeitung)

Traduction Michel Klepper (Arte.tv)

T’IEN HSIA

An Interview with Pierre Ryckmans

Daniel Sanderson

The Australian National University

The following interview was originally published in the Chinese Studies Association of Australia Newsletter, No.41 (February 2011). It was conducted via correspondence between Daniel Sanderson, the editor of the Newsletter, and Pierre Ryckmans. China Heritage Quarterly takes pleasure in reproducing it here with permission and adding it to our archive related to New Sinology.

In The Hall of Uselessness: collected essays published in mid 2011, Professor Ryckmans includes the text of a speech he made in March 2006 entitled ‘The Idea of the University’. Discussing the tension between intellectual creativity at universities and the creep of managerialism that has increasingly benighted the life of the mind at universities he made the following observation:

Near to the end of his life, Gustave Flaubert wrote in one of his remarkable letters to his dear friend Ivan Turgenev a little phrase that could beautifully summarise my topic. ‘I have always tired to live in an ivory tower; but a tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it.’ These are indeed the two poles of our predicament: on one side, the need for an ‘ivory tower’, and on the other side, the threat of the ‘tide of shit’.

—’The Idea of the University’, in Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness—collected essays, Collingwood, Victoria: Black Inc., 2011, p.398.

From September 2011 over four issues of this e-journal we will serialize Professor Ryckmans’ Boyer Lectures, Aspects of Culture: A View From the Bridge, originally broadcast by ABC Radio National in 1996.—The Editor

An internationally renowned Sinologist, Professor Ryckmans spent seventeen years teaching at The Australian National University and six years as Professor of Chinese at the University of Sydney. Having retired from academic life in 1993, he remains a regular contributor to a range of publications including The New York Review of Books, Le Figaro Littéraire and The Monthly. Throughout his career, Ryckmans has combined meticulous scholarship and a vigorous public engagement with contemporary political and intellectual issues. His elegant yet forthright style is evident in these responses to questions submitted by the CSAA Newsletter.—Daniel Sanderson

Daniel Sanderson: Can you tell us about your childhood and teenage years? Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What kind of family life did you have as a child?

Pierre Ryckmans: I was born and grew up in Brussels; I had a happy childhood. To paraphrase Tolstoy: all happy childhoods are alike—(warm affection and much laughter—the recipe seems simple enough.)

The main benefit of this is that later on in life, one feels no compulsion to waste time in ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’—a rather foolish enterprise: as if happiness was something you could chase after.

DS: What form did your early education take?

PR: A traditional-classic education (Latin—Greek).

DS: Was China in any way an element of your childhood? Was there, for instance, any scope to study Chinese history or politics, or the Chinese language, at school?

PR: No—nothing at all (alas!).

DS: You studied law and art history at the Université Catholique de Louvain [now the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven]. This seems an unusual combination. What drew you to these subjects? Were you influenced particularly by any of your teachers?

PR: I studied Law to follow a family tradition, and Art History to follow my personal interest.

At university, personal contacts, intellectual debates and exchanges with friends and schoolmates (many of whom came from Asia and Latin America) were far more important, enriching and memorable than most lectures. Lately I noted with pleasure that John Henry Newman already made a similar observation in his great classic The Idea of a University (1852).

DS: I understand you visited the People’s Republic of China with a group of Belgian students in 1955. How was this visit arranged? What was your impression of the New China at that time? Did you ever return to the PRC? If so, under what circumstances? Do you think that some experience of living in China is necessary for the scholar of China?

PR: The Chinese Government had invited a delegation of Belgian Youth (10 delegates—I was the youngest, age nineteen) to visit China for one month (May 1955). The voyage—smoothly organized—took us to the usual famous spots, climaxing in a one-hour private audience with Zhou Enlai.

My overwhelming impression (a conclusion to which I remained faithful for the rest of my life) was that it would be inconceivable to live in this world, in our age, without a good knowledge of Chinese language and a direct access to Chinese culture.

DS: What did you do after completing your undergraduate degree? Did you progress directly to further study? Did you ever consider a career outside the academy?

PR: I started learning Chinese. Since, at that time, no scholarship was available to go to China, I went to Taiwan. I had no ‘career’ plan whatsoever. I simply wished to know Chinese and acquire a deeper appreciations of Chinese culture.

DS: I would like to learn something about your PhD. What was your topic? Why was it important to you?

PR: Loving Western painting, quite naturally I became enthralled with Chinese painting (and calligraphy) – and I developed a special interest for what the Chinese wrote on the subject of painting: traditionally, the greatest painters were also scholars, poets, men of letters – hence the development of an extraordinarily rich, eloquent and articulate literature on painting, philosophical, critical, historical and technical.

We are often tempted to do research on topics that are somewhat marginal and lesser-known, since, on these, it is easier to produce original work. But one of my Chinese masters gave me a most valuable advice: ‘Always devote yourself to the study of great works—works of fundamental importance—and your effort will never be wasted.’ Thus, for my PhD thesis, I chose to translate and comment what is generally considered as a masterpiece, the treatise on painting by Shitao, a creative genius of the early eighteenth century; he addresses the essential questions: Why does one paint? How should one paint? Among all my books, this one, first published forty years ago, has never gone out of print—and, to my delight, it is read by painters much more than by sinologists!

DS: You lived for some years in Taiwan, also spending time in Hong Kong and Singapore. Do you think your time spent on the ‘periphery’ of China has influenced your approach to the study of China?

PR: During some twelve years, I lived and worked successively in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong (plus six months in Japan). It was a happy period of intense activity—living and learning in an environment where all my friends became my teachers, and all my teachers, my friends. I am fond of a saying by Prince de Ligne (a writer I much admire): ‘Let each one examine what he has most desired. If he is happy, it is because his wishes have not been granted.’ For some years, I had wished I could study in China; but now, in retrospect, I realise that, had I been given such a chance at that particular time (1958-1970), I would never have been allowed to enjoy in China such rich, diverse, easy and close human contacts.

DS: You arrived in Australia in 1970 to take up a position at the Australian National University. How did this come about? What was your role? Can you tell me a little about the atmosphere at ANU during your early years there?

PR: Professor Liu Ts’un-yan (Head of the Chinese department at ANU) came to see me in Hong Kong and invited me to join his department. Thus, with my wife and four (very young) children, we moved to Canberra for what was supposed to be a three-year stay, but turned out to become our final, permanent home. Professor Liu was not only a great scholar, he was also an exquisite man; for me, working in his department till his own retirement (fifteen years later) was sheer bliss—it also coincided with what must have been the golden age of our universities. Later on, the atmosphere changed—for various politico-economic and other reasons—and I took early retirement. The crisis of Higher Education is a vast problem, and a world phenomenon; I have spoken and written on the subject—there is no need and no space to repeat it here.

DS: The 1970s were a period of great political division within the field of Chinese Studies, and across society at large. The iconoclasm of the Cultural Revolution was attractive to many in the West. It was in this context that your book, The Chairman’s New Clothes, appeared in 1971, bursting the Maoist bubble. This was followed in 1976 by the equally controversial Chinese Shadows. Both these works stirred considerable debate in Europe. What was the reaction in Australia, particularly within the Chinese Studies community? Were you ever attracted to the Maoist experiment yourself?

PR: My own interest, my own field of work is Chinese literature and Chinese painting. When commenting on Chinese contemporary politics, I was merely stating common sense evidence and common knowledge. But at that time, this may indeed have disturbed some fools here and there—which, in the end, did not matter very much.

DS: Do you think political engagement is a necessary part of the intellectual life?

PR: In a democracy, political engagement is a necessary part of everyone’s life. (The political views of the greatest philosopher on earth may well be more silly than those of his ignorant housekeeper.)

DS: You spent seventeen years at ANU and a further six years at the University of Sydney engaged in the study and teaching of Chinese literature. Can you comment on the changes you saw within Chinese Studies at those institutions, and in Australia more generally, during that time?

PR: I am poorly informed on more recent developments (I left academic life sixteen years ago). When things began to change (education becoming mere training) and took an orientation that corresponded no longer to what I always believed a university ought to be, I opted for early retirement. In front of younger colleagues who keep bravely fighting the good fight, I feel like a deserter, ill-qualified to make further comments.

DS: It is perhaps a reductive question, but I wonder whether you could tell me what it is about the literature of China that you find appealing?

PR: The virtue and power of the Chinese literary language culminates in its classical poetry. Chinese classical poetry seems to me the purest, the most perfect and complete form of poetry one could conceive of. Better that any other poetry, it fits Auden’s definition: ‘memorable speech’: and indeed, it carves itself effortlessly into your memory. Furthermore, like painting, it splendidly occupies a visual space in its calligraphic incarnations. It inhabits your mind, it accompanies your life, it sustains and illuminates your daily experiences.

DS: Why, in your opinion, is the study of China necessary in Australia? Or, indeed, is it necessary at all?

PR: Why is scholarly knowledge necessary in Australia? And why culture?

DS: A large proportion of your writing has been aimed at a general readership. Do you think academics, and China scholars in particular, bear a responsibility to communicate with the public?

PR: Sidney Hook said that the first moral obligation of an intellectual is to be intelligent. Regarding academics and China scholars one might paraphrase this statement and say that their first duty is to master their discipline. Yet communicating with the public is a special talent; very learned scholars do not necessarily possess it.

DS: Though based in Canberra, you continue to take part in European political and cultural life through your writings in French. Do you think your physical distance from Europe affects your approach to these issues?

PR: Distance also has its advantages.

DS: What are you reading at the moment?

PR: Leszek Kolekowski, My Correct Views of Everything; F.W. Mote, China and the Vocation of History in the Twentieth Century—A Personal Memoir; and for bedside reading, I keep constantly dipping into two huge collections of sardonic aphorisms (gloriously incorrect!) by two eccentric and lonely geniuses: Cioran’s posthumous notebooks (Cahiers) and Nicolás Gómez Dávila’s Escolios a un texto implícito (my Spanish is very primitive, but have the help of two volumes of French translations).

DS: When you reflect on your career as a whole, what makes you proudest?

PR: I had various (rather disjointed) activities—not exactly a ‘career’ on which I can ‘reflect’.

DS: Do you have any regrets?

PR: Regrets? Usually what we regret is what we did not do. Let me think about it.

DS: What are your thoughts on the current state of Chinese Studies in Australian universities? Do you think Australian scholars have particular strengths or weaknesses when it comes to the study of China?

PR: As I said earlier, I left academe some sixteen years ago. I am really not in a position to assess the current state of Chinese Studies in Australian universities.

DS: What are your hopes for the future?

PR: May cultural exchanges further develop! (In our capital city, ANU seems particularly well placed for discharging this important task.)

DS: Do you have any advice for aspiring scholars of China?

PR: First of all, learn the Chinese language to the best of your ability (and spend as much time as possible in a Chinese-speaking environment). Language fluency is the key which will open all doors for you—practically and spiritually.

Voir aussi:

Stages of History

THE BURNING FOREST

Simon Leys

« HUMAN RIGHTS IN CHINA »

(This essay was originally published in 1978.)

How much of this is known in the free countries of the West? The information is to be found in the daily papers. We are informed about everything. We know nothing.

-SAUL BELLOW, To Jerusalem and Back

On the question of human rights in China, an odd coalition has formed among « Old China hands » (left over from the colonial-imperialist era, starry-eyed Maoist adolescents, bright, ambitious technocrats, timid sinologists ever wary of being denied their visas for China, and even some overseas Chinese who like to partake from afar in the People’s Republic’s prestige without having to share any of their compatriots’ sacri-fices or sufferings). The basic position of this strange lobby can be summarized in two propositions: (1) Whether or not there is a human-rights problem in China remains uncertain-« we simply do not know »; and (2) even if such a problem should exist, it is none of our concern.

I shall attempt here to reply to the increasingly vocal and influential proponents of this theory; more simply, I shall try to remind my readers of certain commonplace and commonsense evidence that this line of thought seeks to conjure away. I do not apologize for being utterly banal; there are circumstances in which banality becomes the last refuge of decency and sanity.

The starting point of any reflection on contemporary China- – especially with regard to the human-rights question – should be the obvious yet unpopular observation that the Peking regime is a totalitarian system. My contention is that totalitarianism has a quite specific meaning and that, inasmuch as it is totalitarian, Maoism presents features that are foreign to Chinese political traditions (however despotic some of these traditions might have been), while it appears remarkably similar to otherwise foreign models, such as Stalinism and Nazism. Yet « totalitarianism » has become a taboo concept among fashionable political scientists, and especially among contemporary China scholars; they generally endeavor to describe and analyze the system of the People’s Republic without ever using the world « totalitarian »-no mean feat. It is akin to describing the North Pole without ever using the word « ice, » or the Sahara without using the word sand.

A convenient and generally acceptable definition of totalitarianism is provided by Leszek Kolakowski in his essay « Marxist Roots of Stalinism »:

I take the word « totalitarian » in a commonly used sense, meaning a political system where all social ties have been entirely replaced by state-imposed organization and where, consequently, all groups and all individuals are supposed to act only for goals which both are the goals of the state and were defined as such by the state. In other words, an ideal totalitarian system would consist in the utter destruction of civil society, whereas the state and its organizational instruments are the only forms of social life; all kinds of human activity-economical, intellectual, political, cultural-are allowed and ordered (the distinction between what is allowed and what is ordered tending to disappear) only to the extent of being at the service of state goals (again, as defined by the state). Every individual (including the rulers themselves) is considered the property of the state.

Kolakowski adds that this ideal conception has never been fully realized, and that perhaps an absolutely perfect totalitarian system would not be feasible; however, he sees Soviet and Chinese societies as very close to the ideal, and so was Nazi Germany: « There are forms of life which stubbornly resist the impact of the system, familial, emotional and sexual relationships among them; they were subjected strongly to all sorts of state pressure, but apparently never with full success (at least in the Soviet state; perhaps more was achieved in China). »

Lack of space prevents me from invoking a sufficient number of examples to show how well the above definition fits the Maoist reality. I shall provide only one illustration, selected from among hundreds and thousands, because this particular illustration is both typical and fully documented by one unimpeachable witness – I mean the noted writer Chen Jo-hsi, who is now free to express herself among us, and who reported it in a public lecture on the Chinese legal system, which she gave in 1978 at the University of Maryland. In 1971, when Chen was living in Nanking, she was forced with thousands of other people to attend and par-ticipate in a public accusation meeting. The accused person’s crime was the defacing of a portrait of Mao Zedong; the accused had been denounced by his own daughter, a twelve-year-old child. On the basis of the child’s testimony, he was convicted and sentenced to death; as was usually the case in these mass–accusation meetings, there was no right of appeal, and the sentence was carried out immediately, by firing squad. The child was officially extolled as a hero; she disclaimed any relationship with the dead man and proclaimed publicly her resolution to become from then on « with her whole heart and her whole will, the good daughter of the Party. »

This episode was neither exceptional nor accidental; it was a deliberate, well-planned occurrence, carefully staged in front of a large audience, in one of China’s in major cities. Similar « happenings » recur periodically and accompany most « mass campaigns. » They have a pedagogic purpose in that they fit into a coherent policy pattern and exemplify the state’s attempt to become the unique, all-encompassing organizer of all social and human relations. It should be remarked that whatever feeling of scandal a Westerner may experience when confronted with such an incident, it is still nothing compared with the revulsion, horror, and fear that it provokes among the Chinese themselves. The episode not only runs against human decency in general, but more specifically it runs against Chinese culture – a culture which, for more than 2,500 years, extolled filial piety as a cardinal virtue.

A second useful definition of totalitarianism is George Orwell’s (in his postface to Homage to Catalonia). According to his description, the totalitarian system is one in which there is no such thing as « objective truth » or « objective science. » There is only, for instance, « German science » as opposed to « Jewish science, » or « proletarian truth » as opposed to « bourgeois lies »: « The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future, but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event ‘It never happened’ – well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five, well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs. »

How does this definition square with Peking reality? Let us glance at Maoist theory. In one of its key documents (the so-called May 16 Circular) we read precisely:

The slogan « all men are equal before the truth » is a bourgeois slogan that absolutely denies the fact that truth has class-character. The class enemy uses this slogan to protect the bourgeoisie, to oppose himself to the proletariat, to Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. In the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, between Marxist truth and the lies of the bourgeois class and of all oppressive classes, if the east wind does not prevail over the west wind, the west wind will prevail over the east wind, and therefore no equality can exist between them.

In their latest book, Le Bonheur des pierres (Paris: Le Seuil, 1978), C. and J. Broyelle produce an interesting quotation from Mein Kampf and show that by merely substituting in Hitler’s text the words « bourgeois » and « antihumanism » for the words « Jews » and « antisemitism » one obtains orthodox, standard « Mao Zedong Thought. »

« Two and two are five. » We find countless variants of this type of proposition in the Chinese press: the downfall of the « Cultural Revolution » leaders and the rehabilitation of the « Cultural Revolution’s » opponents are currently described as the supreme victory of the « Cultural Revolution »; Deng Xiaoping was in turn a criminal, then a hero, then again a criminal, and then again a hero; Lin Biao was a traitor; Madame Mao was a Kuomintang agent, and so on. Of course, none of this is new; we heard it all more than forty years ago at the Moscow trials, and we also remember how, in Stalinist parlance, Trotsky used to be Hitler’s agent. Victor Serge, who experienced it all firsthand, analyzed it well: the very enormity of the lie is precisely designed to numb, paralyze, and crush all rationality and critical functioning of the mind.

« The leader controls the past. » In both Chinese Shadows and Broken Images I have described the constant rewriting of history that takes place in China (as it does in the Soviet Union) and in particular, the predicament of the wretched curators of the History Museums, who in recent years have been successively confronted with, for instance, the disgrace, rehabilitation, re-disgrace, and re-rehabilitation of Deng Xiaoping. These political turnabouts can be quite bewildering for the lower cadres, whose instructions do not always keep up with the latest shakeup of the ruling clique. As one hapless guide put it to a foreign visitor who was pressing him with tricky questions: « Excuse me, sir, but at this stage it is difficult to answer; the leadership has not yet had the time to decide what history was. »

There is nothing furtive or clandestine about history rewriting; it is done in broad daylight, and sometimes, at its most humble level, the public itself is invited to collaborate. Thus, at one stage of Deng’s political vicissitudes, journals that had already been printed before his latest successful somersault were sent to subscribers together with little slips of paper expatiating on his virtues, slips that were to be pasted by the readers themselves over various special passages that described him as a scoundrel.

The most spectacular example of this practice will be remembered by many. The day after Mao’s funeral, all Chinese newspapers carried photos of the top leadership standing in a long line in front of the crowd at the memorial ceremony. When it was the monthlies’ turn to carry the same photos, the « Gang of Four » had meanwhile been purged. The photos, already known to the Chinese public, were issued again, but this time the disgraced leaders had all disappeared from the pictures, leaving awkward gaps, like missing front teeth in an open mouth – the general effect being underlined rather than alleviated by the censor’s heavy handling of the airbrush, and by his clumsy retouching of the background. To crown the cynicism of such blatant manipulation, a little later, New China News Agency issued a report denouncing Madame Mao for the way in which, in her time, she had allegedly falsified various official photographs for political purposes!

The incident of the missing figures in the official photographs, though widely circulated, did not provoke any comments in the West (with the exception of C. and J. Broyelle’s remarkable book, from which I am borrowing freely here). After all, aren’t Chinese always supposed to behave in inscrutable and strange ways? What was not realized was the fact that however odd the incident may have appeared in our eves, the Chinese themselves felt it was even more grotesque and humiliating. The explanation for this bizarre episode did not lie in the Chinese mentality, but in totalitarian psychology.

The most masterly analysis of totalitarian psychology is cer-tainly the one provided by Bruno Bettelheim in his book The Informed Heart , which was rightly hailed as « a handbook for survival in our age. » The great psychiatrist observed the phenomenon firsthand in Buchenwald, where he was interned by the Nazis. The concentration camp is not marginal to the totalitarian world; on the contrary, it is its purest and most perfect projection, since there the various factors of resistance to the system – -the familial, emotional, and sexual relationships mentioned by Kolakowski – have all been removed, leaving the subject totally exposed to the totalitarian design.

Bettelheim noted that prisoners were subjected to a « ban on daring to notice anything. But to look and observe for oneself what went on in the camp – while absolutely necessary for survival – was even more dangerous than being noticed. Often this passive compliance – not to see or not to know – was not enough; in order to survive one had to actively pretend not to observe, not to know what the SS required one not to know. »

Bettelheim gives various examples of SS behavior that presented this apparent contradiction – « you have not seen what you have seen, because we decided so » (which could apply precisely to the blatantly falsified photo of the Chinese leaders) – and he adds this psychological commentary:

To know only what those in authority allow one to know is, more or less, all the infant can do. To be able to make one’s own observations and to draw pertinent conclusions from them is where independent existence begins. To forbid oneself to make observations, and take only the observations of others in their stead, is relegating to nonuse one’s own powers of reasoning, and the even more basic power of perception. Not observing where it counts most, not knowing where one wants so much to know, all this is most destructive to the functioning of one’s personality. . . . But if one gives up observing, reacting, and taking action, one gives up living one’s own life. And this is exactly what the SS wanted to happen.

Bettelheim describes striking instances of this personality disintegration – which again are of particular relevance for the Chinese situation. Western apologists for the Peking regime have argued that since the Chinese themselves, and particularly those who recently left China, did not show willingness to express dissent or criticism (a questionable assertion-I shall come back to this point later), we had better not try to speak for them and should simply infer from their silence that there is probably nothing to be said. According to Bettelheim, the camp inmates came progressively to see the world through SS eyes; they even es-poused SS values:

At one time, for instance, American and English newspapers were full of stories about cruelties committed in the camps. In discussing this event old prisoners insisted that foreign newspapers had no business bothering with internal German institutions and expressed their hatred of the journalists who tried to help them. When in 1938 I asked more than one hundred old political prisoners if they thought the story of the camp should be reported in foreign newspapers, many hesitated to agree that it was desirable. When asked if they would join a foreign power in a war to defeat National Socialism, only two made the unqualified statement that everyone escaping Germany ought to fight the Nazis to the best of his ability.

Jean Pasqualini -whose book Prisoner of Mao is the most fundamental document on the Maoist « Gulag » and, as such, is most studiously ignored by the lobby that maintains that there is no human-rights problem in the People’s Republic – notes a similar phenomenon. He confesses that after a few years in the labor camps, he came. if not exactly to love the system that was methodically destroying his personality, at least to feel gratitude for the patience and care with which the authorities were trying to reeducate worthless vermin like himself. Along the same lines, Orwell showed premonitory genius in the last sentence of Nineteen Eighty-four: when Winston Smith realizes that he loves Big Brother, that he has loved Big Brother all along. . . .

Seemingly, I have wandered away from my topic: instead of dealing with human rights, I have talked about the nature of totalitarianism, the falsification of the past, and the alteration of reality. In fact, all these observations are of direct relevance to our topic. We can summarize them by saying that totalitarianism is the apotheosis of subjectivism. In Nineteen Eighty-four, the starting point of Winston Smith’s revolt lies in this sudden awareness: « The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. » (Once more, see the falsified photos of the Chinese leadership on Tian’anmen!) « His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him. . . . And yet he was in the right! The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall toward the earth’s center. . . . If that is granted, all else follows. »

Objectivism – the belief that there is an objective truth whose existence is independent of arbitrary dogma and ideology – is thus the cornerstone of intellectual freedom and human dignity, and as such, it is the main stumbling block for totalitarianism.

Objectivism, as opposed to totalitarianism, can take essen-tially two forms: legality or morality. For historicocultural reasons, Western civilization seems to have put more emphasis on legality, while Chinese civilization was more inclined toward morality. Yet to oppose the two concepts, as some admirers of Maoism have attempted to do, betrays a complete misreading of both notions. In traditional China, « morality » (which meant essentially Confucianism) was the main bulwark against incipi-ent totalitarianism. This question was best expounded by the Chinese historian Yu Ying-shih in a masterful essay (« Anti-intellectualism in Chinese Traditional Politics, » Ming Pao Monthly, February and March 1976) which could be schematically summarized as follows: Confucianism described the world in terms of a dualism; on the one hand there is the concrete, changing realm of actual politics, on the other hand there is the realm of abstract, permanent principles. The duty of the scholar–politician is to serve the ruler insofar as the ruler’s behavior and policies harmonize with the unchanging moral principles, which provide a stable reference by which to judge them. In case of a clash between the two realms, the Confucian scholar must, in the strong and unambiguous words of Xun Zi, « follow the principles and disobey the Prince. »

For this reason Maoist legality and Maoist morality are equally inconceivable; both are self-contradictions (the same applies to Stalinist or Nazi legality or morality; the terms are mutually exclusive). Mao himself readily and cynically acknowledged this situation; for his subordinates, however (as for Stalin’s), in practice this created an increasingly dangerous and frightening predicament to the point where a number of old and prestigious Communist leaders could be bullied, persecuted and even tortured to death during the « Cultural Revolution. » Those who survived the turmoil, having come so close to being devoured by the very beast they themselves had raised, suddenly discovered the urgent need to establish some sort of legality. Their appeals, which filled the pages of the People’s Daily two years after Mao’s death, were pathetic, because they ran against the nature of the regime. Establishment of legality would mean the end of the system; with legal boundaries, Party authority would cease to be infallible and absolute, and a genuine rule of law would mark the end of its ideological rule. From a Communist point of view, such a situation would obviously be inconceivable.

It is in this context of quintessential – indeed, institutional — illegality that the human-rights question must be considered. In other words, for such a system, the very concept of human rights is necessarily meaningless. Thus, in this respect, the historical record of the regime could be characterized as a continuous and ruthless war waged by the Communist government against the Chinese people. Let us briefly enumerate here a few episodes selected at random, merely as illustrations.

– Liquidation of counterrevolutionaries, land reform, « Three Antis » and « Five Antis » campaigns (1949-52). Five million executions (conservative estimate, advanced by one of the most cautious and respected specialists of contemporary Chinese his-tory, Jacques Guillermaz, in Le Parti Communiste chinois au pouvoir [Paris: Payot, 1972], 33, n. 1).

– « Anti-rightist campaign » (1957). According to the figures issued by the Minister for Public Security, during the period from June to October alone, « 100,000 counterrevolutionaries and bad elements were unmasked and dealt with »; 1,700,000 subjected to police investigation; several million sent to the countryside for « reeducation. »

– « Cultural Revolution » (1966-69). No total figures are available as yet. By Peking’s own admission, the losses were heavy. In the last interview he granted to Edgar Snow, Mao Zedong said that foreign journalists, even in their most sensational reporting, had grossly underestimated the actual amount of violence and bloodshed. A full and methodical count still remains to be established from the various figures that are already available at the local level (90,000 victims in Sichuan province alone, 40,000 in Guangdong). The trial of the « Gang of Four » was an opportunity for further official disclosures on the enormous scope of these atrocities.

– The anti-Lin Biao and anti-Confucius campaigns (1973-75), and then the campaign for the denunciation of the « Gang of Four » (1976-78), were both accompanied by waves of arrests and executions. Finally, in 1979, the Democracy Walls were outlawed and the Democracy movement was suppressed. Arbitrary arrests and heavy sentences based on trumped-up charges eliminated vast numbers of courageous and idealistic young people and finally destroyed all hopes for genuine political reform within the Chinese Communist system.

Political and intellectual dissent in Communist China has produced an endless list of martyrs. The first victims fell well before the establishment of the People’s Republic, as early as the Yan’an period. Later on, the repressions that successively followed the « Hundred Flowers » and the « Cultural Revolution » decimated the intellectual and political elite of the entire country.

Besides these illustrious victims, however, we should not forget the immense crowd of humble, anonymous people who were subjected to mass arrests – as happened in the aftermath of the huge anti-Maoist demonstration in Tian’anmen Square (April 5, 1976), or who are suffering individual persecution all over China. They are imprisoned, condemned to hard labor, or even executed merely for having expressed unorthodox opinions; no one takes notice of them, they never make the headlines in our newspapers. It is only by chance encounter that sometimes, here and there, a more than usually attentive visitor comes across their names and records their fate, from ordinary public notices posted in the streets. Moreover, besides these political dissen-ters, countless religious believers are also branded as criminals and sent to labor camps simply because they choose to remain loyal to their church and to their faith.

The Chinese « Gulag » is a gigantic topic that has been well described by firsthand witnesses – Jean Pasqualini (Bao Ruo-wang) and Rudolf Chelminski, Prisoner of Mao (New York: Cow-ard McCann & Geoghegan, 1973), and Lai Ying, The Thirty-sixth Way (New York: Doubleday, 1969). The reading of these accounts is a basic duty for everyone who professes the slightest concern for China. I have commented elsewhere (in Broken Images) on the central relevance of the labor camps for any meaningful analysis of the nature of the Maoist regime. Suffice it to say here that whoever wishes to dispose of the human-rights issue in China without first tackling this particular subject is either irresponsible or a fraud.

Zhou Enlai observed quite accurately (in 1959) that « the present of the Soviet Union is the future of China. » There will be, in the future, Chinese Solzhenitsyns to provide us with the fully documented picture of what Maoism in action actually meant for millions of individuals. Yet it should be remarked that the most amazing thing about Solzhenitsyn’s impact is that the West reacted to it as if it were news. Actually, Solzhenitsyn’s unique contribution lies in the volume and precision of his catalogue of atrocities – but basically he revealed nothing new. On the essential points, information about Soviet reality has been available for more than forty years, through the firsthand testimonies of un-impeachable witnesses such as Boris Souvarine, Victor Serge, Anton Ciliga, and others. Practically no one heard of it at the time because no one wanted to hear; it was inconvenient and inopportune. In the foreword to the 1977 edition of his classic essay on Stalin, originally published in 1935, Souvarine recalls the incredible difficulties he had in finding a publisher for it in the West. Everywhere the intellectual elite endeavoured to suppress the book: « It is going to needlessly harm our relations with Moscow. » Only Malraux, adventurer and phony hero of the leftist intelligentsia, had the guts and cynicism to state his position clearly in a private conversation: « Souvarine, I believe that you and your friends are right. However, at this stage, do not count on me to support you. I shall be on your side only when you will be on top (Je serai avec vous quand vous serez les plus forts)! » How many times have we heard variants of that same phrase!

On the subject of China, how many colleagues came to express private support and sympathy (these were still the bravest!), apologizing profusely for not being able to say the same things in public: « You must understand my position . . . my professional commitments . . . I must keep my channels of communication open with the Chinese Embassy. I am due to go on a mission to Peking…. »

Finally, I would like to examine successively the various methods that have been adopted in the West to dodge the issue of human rights in China. The first line of escape is the one I have just mentioned. It is to say, « We do not know for sure, we do not have sufficient information on the subject. » Actually, there are enough documents, books, and witnesses to occupy entire teams of researchers for years to come. Of course, much more material is bound to surface; however, when the Chinese Solzhenitsyns begin methodically to expose the Maoist era in all its details, anyone who exclaims in horrified shock, « My God! had we only known! » will be a hypocrite and a liar. We already know the main outlines; basically there can be no new revelations, only the filling in of more details. The essential information has been available practically since the establishment of the regime, and everyone even slightly acquainted with Chinese affairs is aware of it. It is true that, compared with the Soviet Union, there may be a relative scarcity of documentation; this does not mean (as some people have had the temerity to assert) that the situation is relatively better in China – it means exactly the opposite. Under Stalin, what Soviet dissenter ever succeeded in meeting foreign visitors or in smuggling manuscripts to the West? The Stalin analogy is acutely relevant here, since China has always kept, and still keeps, proclaiming its unwavering fidelity to the mem-ory of Stalin and to the principles of Stalinism. The main accusation that Peking directs against Moscow is precisely that it has partly betrayed this heritage.

The second line of escape (and possibly the most sickening one) is to say sadly, « Yes indeed, we know; there have been gross irregularities-even what you might call atrocities-committed in the past. But this is a thing of the past: it was all due to the evil influence of the ‘Gang of Four.' » This new tune is now being dutifully sung by the entire choir of the fellow-travelers, the traveling salesmen of Maoism, the sycophants, and the propaganda commissars-the very people who, a few years ago, used to tell us how everything was well and wonderful in China under the enlightened rule of the same « Gang of Four. » Pretending shock and indignation, they now come and tell us horrible stories-as if we did not know it all, as if they had not known it all-the very stories we told years ago, but at that time they used to label them « anti-China slander » and « CIA lies. »

The downfall of the « Gang of Four, » however momentous, was, after all, a mere episode in the power struggle within the system – it did not bring a significant modification of the system. It does not have any bearing upon the human-rights issue. Violations of human rights, political and intellectual repression, mass arrests, summary executions, persecutions of dissenters, and so on, were perpetrated for nearly twenty years before the « Gang of Four’s » accession to power, and now they continue after the « Gang’s » disgrace. Not only have these methods and policies not changed, but they are being carried out by the same personnel, people who were not affected by the ups and downs of the ruling clique. The terms in which criticism of the « Gang » is being expressed, and the methods by which the « Gang » is being denounced, represent a direct continuation of the language and methods of the « Gang » itself. At no stage was any politically meaningful criticism and analysis allowed to develop; the basic questions (From where did the « Gang » derive its power? What kind of regime is it that provides opportunities for such charac-ters to reach supreme power? How should the system be reformed to prevent similar occurrences in the future?) cannot be raised; whenever clearsighted and courageous people dare to address these issues (Wang Xizhe, Wei Jingsheng), they are immediately gagged and disappear into the Chinese « Gulag. »

Since Mao’s death, the pathetic reformist efforts of the leaders have actually demonstrated that Maoism is consubstantial with the regime. What happened to the Maoists in China reminds us of the fate of the cannibals in a certain tropical republic, as described by Alexandre Vialatte: « There are no more cannibals in that country since the local authorities ate the last ones. »

The third line of escape: « We admit there may be gross infringements of human rights in China. But the first of all human rights is to survive, to be free from hunger. The infringement of human rights in China is dictated by harsh national necessity. »

What causal relationship is there between infringement of human rights and the ability to feed people? The relative and modest ability of the People’s Republic to feed its people represents the bare minimum achievement that one could expect from any Chinese government that continuously enjoyed for a quarter of a century similar conditions of peace, unity, and freedom from civil war, from colonialist exploitation, and from external aggression. These privileged conditions – for which the Communist government can claim only limited credit – had been denied to China for more than a hundred years, and this factor alone should invalidate any attempt to compare the achievements of the present government with those of preceding ones. Moreover, to what extent is the People’s Republic truly able now to feed its population? Deng Xiaoping bluntly acknowledged in a speech on March 18, 1978, the backwardness and basic failure of the People’s Repu-blic’s economy. After nearly thirty years of Communist rule, « several hundred million people are still mobilized full time in the exclusive task of producing food. . . . We still have not really solved the grain problem. . . our industry is lagging behind by ten or twenty years. . . . »

In proportion to population, food production in the People’s Republic has not yet overtaken the record of the best Kuomintang years of more than forty years ago! The economic takeoff has not yet been achieved: China is still in a marginal situation, not yet secure from potential starvation, always vulnerable to the menace of successive bad harvests or other natural catastrophes.

Further, some of the major catastrophes that have hit the People’s Republic and crippled its development were entirely Mao-made and occurred only because the totalitarian nature of the regime prevented rational debate and forbade informed criticism and realistic assessment of the objective conditions. Suffice it to mention two well-known examples. The « Great Leap Forward, » which Mao’s private fancy imposed upon the country, resulted in widespread famine (an authoritative expert, L. Ladany, ventured the figure of fifty million dead from starvation during the years 1959-62). Falsified production statistics were issued by the local authorities to protect the myth of the Supreme Leader’s infallibility; the hiding of the extent of the disaster prevented the early tackling of the problem and made the tragedy even worse. In the early fifties, one of China’s most distinguished economists and demographers, Professor Ma Yinchu, expressed the common-sense warning that it would be necessary to control population growth, otherwise the demographic explosion would cancel the production increase. Mao, however, held to the crude and primitive peasant belief that « the more Chinese, the better. » Ma was purged, all debate on this crucial issue was frozen for years, and precious time was wasted before Mao reversed his earlier conclusion (before obtaining his rehabilitation, Ma himself had to wait twenty years for Mao to die).

Such examples could easily be multiplied. In a totalitarian system, whenever common sense clashes with dogma, common sense always loses – at tremendous cost to national development and the people’s livelihood. The harm caused by arbitrary decisions enforced without the moderating counterweight of debate and criticism almost certainly exceeds whatever advantage could be gained from the monolithic discipline achieved by the system. Totalitarianism, far from being a drastic remedy that could be justified in a national emergency, appears on the contrary to be an extravagant luxury that no poor country can afford with impunity.

The fourth line of escape is articulated in several variations on a basic theme: « China is different. »

The first variation on this theme: « Human rights are a Western concept, and thus have no relevance in the Chinese context. » The inherent logic of this line of thought, though seldom expressed with such frankness, amounts to saying: « Human rights are one of those luxuries that befit us wealthy and advanced Westerners; it is preposterous to imagine that mere natives of exotic countries could qualify for a similar privilege, or would even be interested in it. » Or, more simply: « Human rights do not apply to the Chinese, because the Chinese are not really human. Since the very enunciation of this kind of position excuses one from taking the trouble to refute it, I shall merely add here one incidental remark: human rights are not a foreign notion in Chinese modern history. Nearly a century ago, the leading thinker and political reformer Kang Youwei (1858-1927) made it the cornerstone of his political philosophy. In practice, under the first Republic, a human-rights movement developed effectively as a protest against the « white terror » of the Kuomintang; the famous China League for Civil Rights was founded in 1932 and mobilized the intellectual elite of the time, with prestigious figures such as Cai Yuanpei, Song Qingling, and Lu Xun. It also had its martyrs, such as Yang Quan (assassinated in 1933). However, the history of human rights in China is, after all, an academic question. What is of burning relevance is the current situation. Foreigners who pretend that « the Chinese are not interested in human rights » are obviously blind and deaf. The Chinese were forcefully expressing this very demand on the De-mocracy Wall, and on this theme popular pressure became so great that even the official newspapers finally had to acknowledge its existence.

Second variation: « We must respect China’s right to be different. » One could draw interesting logical extensions of that principle. Had Hitler refrained from invading neighboring countries and merely contented himself with slaughtering his own Jews at home, some might have said: « Slaughtering Jews is probably a German idiosyncrasy; we must refrain from judging it and respect Germany’s right to be different.

Third variation: « China has always been subjected to despotic regimes, so there is no particular reason for us to become indignant at this one. » Such reasoning is faulty twice over: first, because Chinese traditional government was far less despotic than Maoism; and second, because, had it been equally as despotic as Maoism or even more so, this would still not provide a justification. The second point does not need to be argued (since when can past atrocities justify present ones?); let us briefly consider the first. The great ages of Chinese civilization, such as the Tang and the Northern Song, present a political sophistication and enlightenment that had no equivalent in the world until modern times. Other periods were markedly more despotic, and some (Qin, Ming) even tried to achieve a kind of totalitarianism. However, they were always severely hampered by technical obstacles (genuine totalitarianism had to wait for twentieth-century technology to become really feasible). Ming politics were ruthless and terrifying, but they were such only for the relatively small fraction of the population that was politically active, or in direct contact with government organs. In the mid-sixteenth century Chinese officialdom consisted of some ten to fifteen thousand civil servants for a total population of about one hundred and fifty million. This tiny group of cadres was exclusively concentrated in the cities, while most of the population was living in the villages. Distance and slow communications preserved the autonomy of most countryside communities. Basically, taxation represented the only administrative interference in the life of the peasants, and simply by paying their taxes, the people were actually buying their freedom from most other governmental interventions. The great majority of Chinese could spend an entire lifetime without ever having come into contact with one single representative of imperial authority. The last dynasty, which ruled China for nearly three centuries, the Qing government, however authoritarian, was far less lawless than the Maoist regime; it had a penal code that determined which officials were entitled to carry out arrests, which crimes entailed the death penalty, and so on, whereas Maoist China has been living for thirty years in a legal vacuum, which, as we have read in the official press, eventually enabled countless local tyrants to govern following their caprice, and establish their own private jails where they could randomly torture and execute their own personal enemies.

Fourth variation: « Respect for the individual is a Western characteristic »; in China (I quote from an eminent American bureaucrat) there is « an utterly natural acceptance of the age-old Confucian tradition of subordinating individual liberty to collective obligation. » In other words, the Chinese dissidents who are being jailed and executed merely for having expressed heterodox opinion, the millions who, having been branded once and for all as « class enemies » (the classification is hereditary!), are reduced, they and their descendants, to a condition of being social outcasts, or are herded into labor camps. These people either, as good traditional Chinese, imbued with « the age-old Confucian tradition of subordinating individual liberty to collective obligations, » are supposed to be perfectly satisfied with their fate, or, if they are not (like the 100,000 demonstrators who dared to show their anger in Peking on April 5, 1976, and all those who, two years later, gathered around the « Democracy Wall »), thereby prove that they are un-Chinese, and thus presumably unworthy of our attention!

In all these successive variations, « difference » has been the key concept. If Soviet dissidents have, on the whole, received far more sympathy in the West, is it because they are Caucasians – while the Chinese are « different »? When Maoist sympathizers use such arguments, they actually echo diehard racists of the colonial-imperialist era. At that time the « Chinese difference » was a leitmotiv among Western entrepreneurs, to justify their exploitation of the « natives »: Chinese were different, even physiologically; they did not feel hunger, cold and pain as Westerners would; you could kick them, starve them, it did not matter much; only ignorant sentimentalists and innocent bleeding-hearts would worry on behalf of these swarming crowds of yellow coolies. Most of the rationalizations that are now being proposed for ignoring the human-rights issue in China are rooted in the same mentality.

Of course, there are cultural differences – the statement is a tautology, since « difference » is the very essence of culture. But if from there one extrapolates differences that restrict the relevance of human rights to certain nations only, this would amount to a denial of the universal character of human nature; such an attitude in turn opens the door to a line of reasoning whose nightmarish yet logical development ends in the very barbarity that this century witnessed a few decades ago, during the Nazi era.

The above essay, first published in 1978, was essentially based upon observation and experience of the Maoist era. To what extent can it still provide a valid reflection of today’s situation? In the past, I have often expressed skepticism regarding the ability of the Communist system to modify its essential nature. I dearly wish that its political evolution may eventually prove me wrong. In this matter, however, the pessimism generally expressed by most Chinese citizens appears to have some justification: what can we expect from a regime that is now solemnly reaffirming that all its laws and institutions must remain subordinated to the supreme guidance of the « Thought of Mao Zedong »?

Au pays de l'avenir radieux
Vous devez faire partie de l’intelligentsia pour écrire des choses pareilles; nul homme ordinaire ne saurait être aussi stupide. Orwell

One Response to Affaire Günter Grass: Vous devez faire partie de l’intelligentsia pour écrire des choses pareilles (The work of hell is entirely spiritual)

  1. […] surtout, de Chesterton à Orwell, l’occasion de (re)découvrir une véritable petite mine de citations  … jc durbant @ 03:14 Catégorie(s): Antisémitisme / […]

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