US Open/50e: Reviens, Arthur, ils sont devenus fous ! (Contrary to Ali or Kaepernick, the Jackie Robinson of tennis stayed committed to respectful dialogue knowing real change came from rational advocacy and hard work not emotional self-indulgence)

9 septembre, 2018

Arthur Ashe participates in a hearing on apartheid, at the United Nations in New York.

Segregation and racism had made me loathe aspects of the white South, but had scarcely left me less of a patriot. In fact, to me and my family, winning a place on our national team would mark my ultimate triumph over all those people who had opposed my career in the South in the name of segregation. (…) Despite segregation, I loved the United States. It thrilled me beyond measure to hear the umpire announce not my name but that of my country: ‘Game, United States,’ ‘Set, United States,’ ‘Game, Set, and Match, United States.’ (…) There were times when I felt a burning sense of shame that I was not with blacks—and whites—standing up to the fire hoses and police dogs. (…) I never went along with the pronouncements of Elijah Muhammad that the white man was the devil and that blacks should be striving for separate development—a sort of American apartheid. That never made sense to me. (…) Jesse, I’m just not arrogant, and I ain’t never going to be arrogant. I’m just going to do it my way. Arthur Ashe
I’ve always believed that every man is my brother. Clay will earn the public’s hatred because of his connections with the Black Muslims. Joe Louis
I’ve been told that Clay has every right to follow any religion he chooses and I agree. But, by the same token, I have every right to call the Black Muslims a menace to the United States and a menace to the Negro race. I do not believe God put us here to hate one another. Cassius Clay is disgracing himself and the Negro race. Floyd Patterson
Clay is so young and has been misled by the wrong people. He might as well have joined the Ku Klux Klan. Floyd Patterson
Bluebirds with bluebirds, red birds with red birds, pigeons with pigeons, eagles with eagles. God didn’t make no mistake! (…) I don’t hate rattlesnakes, I don’t hate tigers — I just know I can’t get along with them. I don’t want to try to eat with them or sleep with them. (…)  I know whites and blacks cannot get along; this is nature. (…) I like what he [George Wallace] says. He says Negroes shouldn’t force themselves in white neighborhoods, and white people shouldn’t have to move out of the neighborhood just because one Negro comes. Now that makes sense. Muhammed Ali
A black man should be killed if he’s messing with a white woman. (…) We’ll kill anybody who tries to mess around with our women. Muhammed Ali
Long before he died, Muhammad Ali had been extolled by many as the greatest boxer in history. Some called him the greatest athlete of the 20th century. Still others, like George W. Bush, when he bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, endorsed Ali’s description of himself as “the greatest of all time.” Ali’s death Friday night sent the paeans and panegyrics to even more exalted heights. Fox Sports went so far as to proclaim Muhammad Ali nothing less than “the greatest athlete the world will ever see.” As a champion in the ring, Ali may have been without equal. But when his idolizers go beyond boxing and sports, exalting him as a champion of civil rights and tolerance, they spout pernicious nonsense. There have been spouters aplenty in the last few days — everyone from the NBA commissioner (“Ali transcended sports with his outsized personality and dedication to civil rights”) to the British prime minister (“a champion of civil rights”) to the junior senator from Massachusetts (“Muhammad Ali fought for civil rights . . . for human rights . . . for peace”). Time for a reality check. It is true that in his later years, Ali lent his name and prestige to altruistic activities and worthy public appeals. By then he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, a cruel affliction that robbed him of his mental and physical keenness and increasingly forced him to rely on aides to make decisions on his behalf. But when Ali was in his prime, the uninhibited “king of the world,” he was no expounder of brotherhood and racial broad-mindedness. On the contrary, he was an unabashed bigot and racial separatist and wasn’t shy about saying so. In a wide-ranging 1968 interview with Bud Collins, the storied Boston Globe sports reporter, Ali insisted that it was as unnatural to expect blacks and whites to live together as it would be to expect humans to live with wild animals. “I don’t hate rattlesnakes, I don’t hate tigers — I just know I can’t get along with them,” he said. “I don’t want to try to eat with them or sleep with them.” Collins asked: “You don’t think that we can ever get along?” “I know whites and blacks cannot get along; this is nature,” Ali replied. That was why he liked George Wallace, the segregationist Alabama governor who was then running for president. Collins wasn’t sure he’d heard right. “You like George Wallace?” “Yes, sir,” said Ali. “I like what he says. He says Negroes shouldn’t force themselves in white neighborhoods, and white people shouldn’t have to move out of the neighborhood just because one Negro comes. Now that makes sense.” This was not some inexplicable aberration. It reflected a hateful worldview that Ali, as a devotee of Elijah Muhammad and the segregationist Nation of Islam, espoused for years. At one point, he even appeared before a Ku Klux Klan rally. It was “a hell of a scene,” he later boasted — Klansmen with hoods, a burning cross, “and me on the platform,” preaching strict racial separation. “Black people should marry their own women,” Ali declaimed. “Bluebirds with bluebirds, red birds with red birds, pigeons with pigeons, eagles with eagles. God didn’t make no mistake!” In 1975, amid the frenzy over the impending “Thrilla in Manila,” his third title fight with Joe Frazier, Ali argued vehemently in a Playboy interview that interracial couples ought to be lynched. “A black man should be killed if he’s messing with a white woman,” he said. And it was the same for a white man making a pass at a black woman. “We’ll kill anybody who tries to mess around with our women.” But suppose the black woman wanted to be with the white man, the interviewer asked. “Then she dies,” Ali answered. “Kill her too.” Jeff Jacoby
Muhammad Ali was the most controversial boxer in the history of the sport, arguably the most gifted and certainly the best known. His ring glories and his life on the political and racial frontline combine to make him one of the most famous, infamous and discussed figures in modern history. During his life he stood next to Malcolm X at a fiery pulpit, dined with tyrants, kings, crooks, vagabonds, billionaires and from the shell of his awful stumbling silence during the last decade his deification was complete as he struggled with his troubled smile at each rich compliment. (…) He was a one-man revolution and that means he made enemies faster than any boy-fighter – which is what he was when he first became world heavyweight champion – could handle. (…) but (…) His best years as a prize-fighter were denied him and denied us by his refusal to be drafted into the American military system in 1967. At that time he was boxing’s finest fighter, a man so gifted with skills that he knew very little about what his body did in the ring; his instincts, his speed and his developing power at that point of his exile would have ended all arguments over his greatness forever had he been allowed to continue fighting. Ali was out of the ring for three years and seven months and the forced exile took away enough of his skills to deny us the Greatest at his greatest, but it made him the icon he became. “We never saw the best of my guy,” Angelo Dundee told me in Mexico City in 1993. Dundee should know. He had been collecting the fighter’s sweat as the chief trainer from 1960 and would until the ring end in 1981. (…) He had gained universal respect during the break because of his refusal to endorse the bloody conflict in Vietnam, but he often walked a thin line in the 70s with the very people that had been happy to back his cause. He was not as loved then as he is now, and there are some obvious reasons for that. In 1970 there were still papers in Britain that called him Cassius Clay, the birth name he had started to shred the day after beating Sonny Liston for the world title in 1964. In America he still divided the boxing press and the people. In the 70s he attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting, accepted their awards and talked openly and disturbingly about mixed race marriages and a stance he shared with the extremists. His harshest opinions are always overlooked, discarded like his excessive cruelty in the ring, and explained by a misguided concept that everything he said and did, that was either uncomfortable or just wrong, was justifiable under some type of Ali law that insisted there was a twinkle in his eye. There probably was a twinkle in his eye but he had some misguided racist ideas back then and celebrated them. In the ring he had hurt and made people suffer during one-sided fights and spat at the feet of one opponent. He was mean and there is nothing wrong with that in boxing, but he was also cruel to honest fighters, men that had very little of his talent and certainly none of his wealth. The way he treated Joe Frazier before and after their three fights remains a shameful blot on Ali’s legacy. I sat once in dwindling light with Frazier in Philadelphia at the end of three days of talking and listened to his words and watched his tears of hate and utter frustration as he outlined the harm Ali’s words had caused him and his family. Big soft Joe had no problem with the damage Ali’s fists had caused him, that was a fair fight but the verbal slaughter had been a mismatch and recordings of that still make me feel sick. I don’t laugh at that type of abuse. (…) Away from the ring excellence he went to cities in the Middle East to negotiate for the release of hostages and smiled easily when men in masks, carrying AK47s, put blindfolds on him and drove like the lunatics they were through bombed streets. “Hey man, you sure you know where you’re going?” he asked one driver. “I hope you do, coz I can’t see a thing.” He went on too many missions to too many countries for too long, his drive draining his life as he handed out Islamic leaflets. He was often exploited on his many trips, pulled every way and never refusing a request. On a trip to Britain in 2009 he was bussed all over the country for a series of bad-taste dinners that ended with people squatting down next to his wheelchair; Ali’s gaze was off in another realm, but the punters, who had paid hundreds for the sickening pleasure, stuck up their thumbs or made fists for the picture. The great twist in the abhorrent venture was that Ali’s face looked so bad that his head was photo-shopped for a more acceptable Ali face. Who could have possibly sanctioned that atrocity? During his fighting days he had men to protect him, men like Gene Kilroy, the man with the perm, that loved him and helped form a protective guard at his feet to keep the jackals from the meat. When he left the sport and was alone for the first time in the real world, there were people that fought each other to get close, close enough to insert their invisible transfusion tubes deep into his open heart. His daughters started to resurrect their own wall of protection the older they got, switching duties from sitting on Daddy’s lap to watching his back like the devoted sentinels they became. In the end it felt like the whole world was watching his back, watching the last moments under the neon of the King of the World. Steve Bunce
I think Ali is being done a disservice by the way in which he’s these days cast as benign. He was always a lot more complicated than that. (…) Ali has been post-rationalised as a champion of the civil rights movement. But far from promoting the idea of black and white together, his was a much more tricky, divisive politics. John Dower
Far from being embarrassed about sharing jaw-time with the Grand Chief Bigot or whatever the loon in the sheet called himself, Ali boasted about it. The revelation of his cosy chats with white supremacists comes in a television documentary screened on More4. As Ali finds himself overtaken as the most celebrated black American in history, True Stories: Thrilla In Manila provides a timely re-assessment of his politics. (…) Before his third fight with Frazier, Ali was at his most elevated, symbolically as well as in the ring. Hard to imagine when these days he elicits universal reverence, back then he was a figure who divided America, as loathed as he was admired. At the time he was taking his lead from the Nation of Islam, which, in its espousal of a black separatism, found its politics dovetailing with the cross-burning lynch mob out on the political boondocks. Ali was by far the organisation’s most prominent cipher. The film reminds us why. Back then, black sporting prowess reinforced many a prejudiced theory about the black man being good for nothing beyond physical activity. But here was Ali, as quick with his mind as with his fists. When he held court the world listened. Intriguingly, the film reveals, many of his better lines were scripted for him by his Nation of Islam minders. Ferdie Pacheco, the man who converted Ali to the bizarre cause which insisted that a spaceship would imminently arrive in the United States to take the black man to a better place, tells Dower’s cameras that it was he who came up with the line, « No Viet Cong ever called me nigger ». There was never a more succinct summary of America’s hypocrisy in forcing its beleaguered black citizenry to fight in Vietnam. (…) The film suggests it was his opponent who got the blunt end of Ali’s political bludgeon. The pair were once friends and Frazier had supported Ali’s stance on refusing the draft. But leading up to the fight Ali turned on his old mate with a ferocity which makes uncomfortable viewing even 30 years on. Viciously disparaging of Frazier, he calls him an Uncle Tom, a white man’s puppet. Ali riled Frazier to the point where he entered the ring so infuriated that he abandoned his game plan and blindly struck out. So distracted was he by Ali’s politically motivated jibes, he lost. Indeed, what we might be watching in Dower’s film is not so much the apex of Ali’s political potency as the birth of sporting mind games. Jim White
In 1974, in the middle of a Michael Parkinson interview, Muhammad Ali decided to dispense with all the safe conventions of chat show etiquette. “You say I got white friends,” he declared, “I say they are associates.” When his host dared to suggest that the boxer’s trainer of 14 years standing, Angelo Dundee, might be a friend, Ali insisted, gruffly: “He is an associate.” Within seconds, with Parkinson failing to get a word in edgeways, Ali had provided a detailed account of his reasoning. “Elijah Muhammad,” he told the TV viewers of 1970s Middle England, “Is the one who preached that the white man of America, number one, is the Devil!” The whites of America, said Ali, had “lynched us, raped us, castrated us, tarred and feathered us … Elijah Muhammad has been preaching that the white man of America – God taught him – is the blue-eyed, blond-headed Devil!  No good in him, no justice, he’s gonna be destroyed! “The white man is the Devil.  We do believe that.  We know it!” In one explosive, virtuoso performance, Ali had turned “this little TV show” into an exposition of his beliefs, and the beliefs of “two million five hundred” other followers of the radically – to some white minds, dangerously – black separatist religious movement, the Nation of Islam. At the height of his tirade, Ali drew slightly nervous laughter from the studio when he told Parkinson “You are too small mentally to tackle me on anything I represent.” (…) By the time he met Ali in 1962, Malcolm X was Elijah Muhammad’s chief spokesman and most prominent apostle. His belief that violence was sometimes necessary, and the Nation of Islam’s insistence that followers remain separate from and avoid participation in American politics meant that not every civil rights leader welcomed Muhammad Ali joining the movement. “When Cassius Clay joined the Black Muslims [The Nation of Islam],” said Martin Luther King, “he became a champion of racial segregation, and that is what we are fighting against.” The bitter irony is that soon after providing the Nation of Islam with its most famous convert, Malcolm X became disillusioned with the movement.  A trip to Mecca exposed him to white Muslims, shattering his belief that whites were inherently evil.  He broke from the Nation of Islam and toned down his speeches. Ali, though, remained faithful to Elijah Muhammad.  “Turning my back on Malcolm,” he admitted years later, “Was one of the mistakes that I regret most in my life.” (…) By then, though, Ali’s own attitudes to the « blue-eyed devils” had long since mellowed.  In 1975 he converted to the far more conventional Sunni Islam – possibly prompted by the fact that Elijah Muhammad had died of congestive heart failure in the same year, and his son Warith Deen Mohammad had moved the Nation of Islam towards inclusion in the mainstream Islamic community. He rebranded the movement the “World Community of Islam in the West”, only for Farrakhan to break away in 1978 and create a new Nation of Islam, which he claimed remained true to the teachings of “the Master” [Fard]. “The Nation of Islam taught that white people were devils,” he wrote in 2004.  “I don’t believe that now; in fact, I never really believed that. But when I was young, I had seen and heard so many horrible stories about the white man that this made me stop and listen. » The attentive listener to the 1974 interview, might, in fact, have sensed that even then Ali wasn’t entirely convinced about white men being blue-eyed devils. He had, after all, set the bar pretty high for “associates” like Angelo Dundee to become friends. “I don’t have one black friend hardly,” he had said.  “A friend is one who will not even consider [before] giving his life for you.” And, despite calling Parky “the biggest hypocrite in the world” and “a joke”, he could also get a laugh by reassuring the chat show host: “I know you [are] all right.” Adam Lusher
The crime victories of the last two decades, and the moral support on which law and order depends, are now in jeopardy thanks to the falsehoods of the Black Lives Matter movement. Police operating in inner-city neighborhoods now find themselves routinely surrounded by cursing, jeering crowds when they make a pedestrian stop or try to arrest a suspect. Sometimes bottles and rocks are thrown. Bystanders stick cell phones in the officers’ faces, daring them to proceed with their duties. Officers are worried about becoming the next racist cop of the week and possibly losing their livelihood thanks to an incomplete cell phone video that inevitably fails to show the antecedents to their use of force.  (…) As a result of the anti-cop campaign of the last two years and the resulting push-back in the streets, officers in urban areas are cutting back on precisely the kind of policing that led to the crime decline of the 1990s and 2000s. (…) On the other hand, the people demanding that the police back off are by no means representative of the entire black community. Go to any police-neighborhood meeting in Harlem, the South Bronx, or South Central Los Angeles, and you will invariably hear variants of the following: “We want the dealers off the corner.” “You arrest them and they’re back the next day.” “There are kids hanging out on my stoop. Why can’t you arrest them for loitering?” “I smell weed in my hallway. Can’t you do something?” I met an elderly cancer amputee in the Mount Hope section of the Bronx who was terrified to go to her lobby mailbox because of the young men trespassing there and selling drugs. The only time she felt safe was when the police were there. “Please, Jesus,” she said to me, “send more police!” The irony is that the police cannot respond to these heartfelt requests for order without generating the racially disproportionate statistics that will be used against them in an ACLU or Justice Department lawsuit. Unfortunately, when officers back off in high crime neighborhoods, crime shoots through the roof. Our country is in the midst of the first sustained violent crime spike in two decades. Murders rose nearly 17 percent in the nation’s 50 largest cities in 2015, and it was in cities with large black populations where the violence increased the most. (…) I first identified the increase in violent crime in May 2015 and dubbed it “the Ferguson effect.” (…) The number of police officers killed in shootings more than doubled during the first three months of 2016. In fact, officers are at much greater risk from blacks than unarmed blacks are from the police. Over the last decade, an officer’s chance of getting killed by a black has been 18.5 times higher than the chance of an unarmed black getting killed by a cop. (…) We have been here before. In the 1960s and early 1970s, black and white radicals directed hatred and occasional violence against the police. The difference today is that anti-cop ideology is embraced at the highest reaches of the establishment: by the President, by his Attorney General, by college presidents, by foundation heads, and by the press. The presidential candidates of one party are competing to see who can out-demagogue President Obama’s persistent race-based calumnies against the criminal justice system, while those of the other party have not emphasized the issue as they might have. I don’t know what will end the current frenzy against the police. What I do know is that we are playing with fire, and if it keeps spreading, it will be hard to put out. Heather Mac Donald
It’s ironic that Jerry’s longest-lasting legacy is that the big shoe company co-opted his slogan. Nike has Just Do It in all of their ad campaigns.
Sam Leff (Yippie, close friend of Hoffman’s)
Je ne vais pas afficher de fierté pour le drapeau d’un pays qui opprime les Noirs. Il y a des cadavres dans les rues et des meurtriers qui s’en tirent avec leurs congés payés. Colin Kaepernick
Je pense que tous les athlètes, tous les humains et tous les Afro-Américains devraient être totalement reconnaissants et honorés [par les manifestations lancées par les anciens joueurs de la NFL Colin Kaepernick et Eric Reid]. Serena Williams
Je ne suis pas une tricheuse! Vous me devez des excuses! (…) Je ne suis pas une tricheuse! Je suis mère de famille, je n’ai jamais triché de ma vie ! Serena Williams
For her country, Osaka has already succeeded in a major milestone: She is the first Japanese woman to reach the final of any Grand Slam. And she’s currently her country’s top-ranked player. Yet in Japan, where racial homogeneity is prized and ethnic background comprises a big part of cultural belonging, Osaka is considered hafu or half Japanese. Born to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, Osaka grew up in New York. She holds dual American and Japanese passports, but plays under Japan’s flag. Some hafu, like Miss Universe Japan Ariana Miyamoto, have spoken publicly about the discrimination the term can confer. “I wonder how a hafu can represent Japan,” one Facebook user wrote of Miyamoto, according to Al Jazeera America’s translation. For her part, Osaka has spoken repeatedly about being proud to represent Japan, as well as Haiti. But in a 2016 USA Today interview she also noted, “When I go to Japan people are confused. From my name, they don’t expect to see a black girl.” On the court, Osaka has largely been embraced as one of her country’s rising stars. Off court, she says she’s still trying to learn the language. “I can understand way more Japanese than I can speak,” she said. (…) Earlier this year, Osaka reveled a four-word mantra keeps her steady through tough matches: “What would Serena do?” Her idolization of the 23 Grand Slam-winning titan is well-known. “She’s the main reason why I started playing tennis,” Osaka told the New York Times. Time
Des sportifs semblent désormais plus facilement se mettre en avant pour évoquer leurs convictions, que ce soient des championnes de tennis ou des footballeurs. Mais ces athlètes activistes restent encore minoritaires. Peu ont suivi Kaepernick lorsqu’il s’est agenouillé pendant l’hymne national. La plupart se focalisent sur leur sport, ils ne sont pas vraiment désireux de jouer les trouble-fête. Dans notre culture, ces sportifs sont des dieux, qui peuvent exercer une influence positive. Ils peuvent être un bon exemple d’engagement civique pour des jeunes. Et puis une bonne controverse comme l’affaire Kaepernick permet de pimenter un peu le sport et d’élargir le débat au-delà du jeu. Orin Starn (anthropologue)
Son genou droit posé à terre le 1er septembre 2016 a fait de lui un paria. Ce jour-là, Colin Kaepernick, quarterback des San Francisco 49ers, avait une nouvelle fois décidé de ne pas se lever pour l’hymne national. Coupe afro et regard grave, il était resté dans cette position pour protester contre les violences raciales et les bavures policières qui embrasaient les Etats-Unis. Plus d’un an après, la polémique reste vive. Son boycott lui vaut toujours d’être marginalisé et tenu à l’écart par la Ligue nationale de football américain (NFL). L’affaire rebondit ces jours, à l’occasion des débuts de la saison de la NFL. Sans contrat depuis mars, Colin Kaepernick est de facto un joueur sans équipe, à la recherche d’un nouvel employeur. (…) Plus surprenant, une centaine de policiers new-yorkais ont manifesté ensemble fin août à Brooklyn, tous affublés d’un t-shirt noir avec le hashtag #imwithkap. Le célèbre policier Frank Serpico, 81 ans, qui a dénoncé la corruption généralisée de la police dans les années 1960 et inspiré Al Pacino pour le film Serpico (1973), en faisait partie. Les sportifs américains sont nombreux à afficher leur soutien à Colin Kaepernick. C’est le cas notamment des basketteurs Kevin Durant ou Stephen Curry, des Golden State Warriors. (…) La légende du baseball Hank Aaron fait également partie des soutiens inconditionnels de Colin Kaepernick. Sans oublier Tommie Smith, qui lors des Jeux olympiques de Mexico en 1968 avait, sur le podium du 200 mètres, levé son poing ganté de noir contre la ségrégation raciale, avec son comparse John Carlos. Le geste militant à répétition de Colin Kaepernick, d’abord assis puis agenouillé, a eu un effet domino. Son coéquipier Eric Reid l’avait immédiatement imité la première fois qu’il a mis le genou à terre. Une partie des joueurs des Cleveland Browns continuent, en guise de solidarité, de boycotter l’hymne des Etats-Unis, joué avant chaque rencontre sportive professionnelle. La footballeuse homosexuelle Megan Rapinoe, championne olympique en 2012 et championne du monde en 2015, avait elle aussi suivi la voie de Colin Kaepernick et posé son genou à terre. Mais depuis que la Fédération américaine de football (US Soccer) a édicté un nouveau règlement, en mars 2017, qui oblige les internationaux à se tenir debout pendant l’hymne, elle est rentrée dans le rang. Colin Kaepernick lui-même s’était engagé à se lever pour l’hymne pour la saison 2017. Une promesse qui n’a pas pour autant convaincu la NFL de le réintégrer. Barack Obama avait pris sa défense; Donald Trump l’a enfoncé. En pleine campagne, le milliardaire new-yorkais avait qualifié son geste d’«exécrable», l’hymne et le drapeau étant sacro-saints aux Etats-Unis. Il a été jusqu’à lui conseiller de «chercher un pays mieux adapté». Les chaussettes à motifs de cochons habillés en policiers que Colin Kaepernick a portées pendant plusieurs entraînements – elles ont été très remarquées – n’ont visiblement pas contribué à le rendre plus sympathique à ses yeux. Mais ni les menaces de mort ni ses maillots brûlés n’ont calmé le militantisme de Colin Kaepernick. Un militantisme d’ailleurs un peu surprenant et parfois taxé d’opportunisme: métis, de mère blanche et élevé par des parents adoptifs blancs, Colin Kaepernick n’a rallié la cause noire, et le mouvement Black Lives Matter, que relativement tardivement. Avant Kaepernick, la star de la NBA LeBron James avait défrayé la chronique en portant un t-shirt noir avec en lettres blanches «Je ne peux pas respirer». Ce sont les derniers mots d’un jeune Noir américain asthmatique tué par un policier blanc. Par ailleurs, il avait ouvertement soutenu Hillary Clinton dans sa course à l’élection présidentielle. Timidement, d’autres ont affiché leurs convictions politiques sur des t-shirts, mais sans aller jusqu’au boycott de l’hymne national, un geste très contesté. L’élection de Donald Trump et le drame de Charlottesville provoqué par des suprémacistes blancs ont contribué à favoriser l’émergence de ce genre de protestations. Ces comportements signent un retour du sportif engagé, une espèce presque en voie de disparition depuis les années 1960-1970, où de grands noms comme Mohamed Ali, Billie Jean King ou John Carlos ont porté leur militantisme à bras-le-corps. Au cours des dernières décennies, l’heure n’était pas vraiment à la revendication politique, confirme Orin Starn, professeur d’anthropologie culturelle à l’Université Duke en Caroline du Nord. A partir des années 1980, c’est plutôt l’image du sportif businessman qui a primé, celui qui s’intéresse à ses sponsors, à devenir le meilleur possible, soucieux de ne déclencher aucune polémique. Un sportif lisse avant tout motivé par ses performances et sa carrière. Comme le basketteur Michael Jordan ou le golfeur Tiger Woods. Le Temps
It was an incredible match. I mean, Arthur was an innovator. It was the first time he sort of sat down at the side of the court in between — they didn’t have chairs at the side of the court for a long time; we sort of had to towel off and go on — but he would sit and cover his head with the towel and just think. It was the first time you were conscious of the mental side of tennis. Arthur was instrumental in that. . . . Arthur was a thinker. Virginia Wade
Arthur didn’t need Vietnam. Arthur had his own Vietnam right there in the United States in those days, and some of the things that I saw while I was there — he didn’t need that. The thing that I always think about, and this was always the most important thing in my mind, was that Arthur represented so many possibilities. Arthur was the first to do so much so often that those of us who knew him would say: ‘What’s next? What mountain was he going to climb next?’ Arthur was always different. (…) Growing up, Arthur was a sponge. . . . That was just his nature. He was a voracious reader, and he had to satisfy his intellect. I tell people if Arthur had concentrated on just tennis, he would have been the best in the world. But tennis was a vehicle. . . . He wanted to be able to take kids outside of their environs, outside of their element for a little while and expose them to what they can be. . . . And, let’s face it, most parents don’t have the wherewithal to do that. It’s not easy. What happens is you get somebody like Arthur — and following Arthur, LeBron James is starting to do things — to expose kids. It’s so important that that happens. (…) “Until Arthur came along and Althea came along, tennis was a sport of the elites. Then you get two playground children — one from Harlem, one from Richmond — to break into the bigs. People had to stop and think about that. It opened the doors for other people, and that’s what it was all about. That’s what it was all about for him. Johnnie Ashe
The Apollo program was a national effort that depended on American derring-do and sacrifice. History is usually airbrushed to remove a figure who has fallen out of favor with a dictatorship, or to hide away an episode of national shame. Leave it to Hollywood to erase from a national triumph its most iconic moment. The new movie First Man, a biopic about the Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, omits the planting of the American flag during his historic walk on the surface of the moon. Ryan Gosling, who plays Armstrong in the film, tried to explain the strange editing of his moonwalk: “This was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement. I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero.” Armstrong was a reticent man, but he surely considered himself an American, and everyone else considered him a hero. (“You’re a hero whether you like it or not,” one newspaper admonished him on the 10th anniversary of the landing.) Gosling added that Armstrong’s walk “transcended countries and borders,” which is literally true, since it occurred roughly 238,900 miles from Earth, although Armstrong got there on an American rocket, walked in an American spacesuit, and returned home to America. (…) It was a chapter in a space race between the United States and the Soviet Union that involved national prestige and the perceived worth of our respective economic and political systems. The Apollo program wasn’t about the brotherhood of man, but rather about achieving a national objective before a hated and feared adversary did. The mission of Apollo 11 was, appropriately, soaked in American symbolism. The lunar module was called Eagle, and the command module Columbia. There had been some consideration to putting up a U.N. flag, but it was scotched — it would be an American flag and only an American flag. (…) There may be a crass commercial motive in the omission — the Chinese, whose market is so important to big films, might not like overt American patriotic fanfare. Neither does much of our cultural elite. They may prefer not to plant the flag — but the heroes of Apollo 11 had no such compunction. National Review
Billed as being based on “a crazy, outrageous incredible true story” about how a black cop infiltrated the KKK, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman would be more accurately described as the story of how a black cop in 1970s Colorado Springs spoke to the Klan on the phone. He pretended to be a white supremacist . . . on the phone. That isn’t infiltration, that’s prank-calling. A poster for the movie shows a black guy wearing a Klan hood. Great starting point for a comedy, but it didn’t happen. The cop who actually attended KKK meetings undercover was a white guy (played by Adam Driver). These led . . . well, nowhere in particular. No plot was foiled. Those meetups mainly revealed that Klansmen behave exactly how you’d expect Klansmen to behave. The movie is a typical Spike Lee joint: A thin story is told in painfully didactic style and runs on far too long. (…)  Washington (son of Denzel) has an easygoing charisma as the unflappable Ron Stallworth, a rookie cop in Colorado Springs who volunteers to go undercover as a detective in 1972, near the height of the Black Power movement and a moment when law enforcement was closely tracking the activities of radicals such as Stokely Carmichael, a.k.a. Kwame Ture, a speech of whose Stallworth says he attended while posing as an ordinary citizen. In the movie, Stallworth experiences an awakening of black pride and falls for a student leader, Patrice (a luminous Laura Harrier, who also played Peter Parker’s girlfriend in Spider-Man: Homecoming), inspiring in him the need to do something for his people. (…) The Klan also turn out to be grandstanders and blowhards given to Carmichael-style paranoid prophecies and seem to hope to troll their enemies into attacking them. When Lee realizes he needs something to actually happen besides racist talk, he turns to a subplot featuring a white-supremacist lady running around with a purse full of C-4 explosive with which she intends to blow up the black radicals. It’s so unconvincing that you watch it thinking, “I really doubt this happened.” It didn’t. The only other tense moment in the film, in which Driver’s undercover cop (who is Jewish) is nearly subjected to a lie-detector test about his religion by a suspicious Klansman, is also fabricated. Lee frames his two camps as opposites, but whether we’re with the black-power types or the white-power yokels, they’re equally wrong about the race war they seem to yearn for. The two sides are equally far from the stable center, the color-blind institution holding society together, which turns out to be . . . the police! After some talk from the radical Patrice (whose character is also a fabrication) about how the whole system is corrupt and she could never date a “pig,” and a scene in which Stallworth implies the police’s code of covering for one another reminds him of the Klan, Lee winds up having the police unite to fight racism, with one bad apple expunged and everybody else on the otherwise all-white force supporting Ron. That Spike Lee has turned in a pro-cop film has to be counted one of the stranger cultural developments of 2018, but Lee seems to have accidentally aligned with cops in the course of issuing an anti-Trump broadside. (…) (See also: an introduction in which Alec Baldwin plays a Southern cracker called Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard who rants about desegregation for several minutes, then is never seen again.) Lee’s other major goal is to link Stallworth’s story to Trumpism using David Duke. Duke, like Trump, said awful things at the time of the Charlottesville murder and played a part in the Stallworth story when the cop was assigned to protect the Klan leader (played by Topher Grace) on a visit to Colorado Springs and later threw his arm around him while posing for a picture. Saying Duke presaged Trump seems like a stretch, though. After all the nudge-nudge MAGA lines uttered by the Klansmen throughout the film, the let-me-spell-it-out-for-you finale, with footage from the Charlottesville white-supremacist rally, seems de trop. BlacKkKlansman was timed to hit theaters one year after the anniversary of the horror in Virginia. That Charlottesville II attracted only two dozen pathetic dorks to the cause of white supremacy would seem to undermine the coda. The Klan’s would-be successors, far from being more emboldened than they have been since Stallworth’s time, appear to be nearly extinct. National review
The all-seeing social-justice eye penetrates every aspect of our lives: sports, movies, public monuments, social media, funerals . . .A definition of totalitarianism might be the saturation of every facet of daily life by political agendas and social-justice messaging. At the present rate, America will soon resemble the dystopias of novels such as 1984 and Brave New World in which all aspects of life are warped by an all-encompassing ideology of coerced sameness. Or rather, the prevailing orthodoxy in America is the omnipresent attempt of an elite — exempt from the consequences of its own ideology thanks to its supposed superior virtue and intelligence — to mandate an equality of result. We expect their 24/7 political messaging on cable-channel news networks, talk radio, or print and online media. And we concede that long ago an NPR, CNN, MSNBC, or New York Times ceased being journalistic entities as much as obsequious megaphones of the progressive itinerary. But increasingly we cannot escape anywhere the lidless gaze of our progressive lords, all-seeing, all-knowing from high up in their dark towers. (…) Americans have long accepted that Hollywood movies no longer seek just to entertain or inform, but to indoctrinate audiences by pushing progressive agendas. That commandment also demands that America be portrayed negatively — or better yet simply written out of history. Take the new film First Man, about the first moon landing. Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong became famous when he emerged from The Eagle, the two-man lunar module, and planted an American flag on the moon’s surface. Yet that iconic act disappears from the movie version. (At least Ryan Gosling, who plays Armstrong, does not walk out of the space capsule to string up a U.N. banner.) Gosling claimed that the moon landing should not be seen as an American effort. Instead, he advised, it should be “widely regarded as a human achievement” — as if any nation’s efforts or the work of the United Nations in 1969 could have pulled off such an astounding and dangerous enterprise. I suppose we are to believe that Gosling’s Canada might just as well have built a Saturn V rocket. (…) Sports offers no relief. It is now no more a refuge from political indoctrination than is Hollywood. Yet it is about as difficult to find a jock who can pontificate about politics as it is to encounter a Ph.D. or politico who can pass or pitch. The National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and sports channels are now politicalized in a variety of ways, from not standing up or saluting the flag during the National Anthem to pushing social-justice issues as part of televised sports analysis. What a strange sight to see tough sportsmen of our Roman-style gladiatorial arenas become delicate souls who wilt on seeing a dreaded hand across the heart during the playing of the National Anthem. Even when we die, we do not escape politicization. At a recent eight-hour, televised funeral service for singer Aretha Franklin, politicos such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton went well beyond their homages into political harangues. Pericles or Lincoln they were not. (…) Politics likewise absorbed Senator John McCain’s funeral the next day. (…) Even the long-ago dead are fair game. Dark Age iconoclasm has returned to us with a fury. Any statue at any time might be toppled — if it is deemed to represent an idea or belief from the distant past now considered racist, sexist, or somehow illiberal. Representations of Columbus, the Founding Fathers, and Confederate soldiers have all been defaced, knocked down, or removed. The images of mass murderers on the left are exempt, on the theory that good ends always allow a few excessive means. So are the images and names of robber barons and old bad white guys, whose venerable eponymous institutions offer valuable brands that can be monetized. At least so far, we are not rebranding Stanford and Yale with indigenous names. Victor Davis Hanson
Johnnie Ashe, like Wade, remembers his brother as an intellectual and an innovator, as someone who was meant to change the world. That’s why, when Johnnie came to understand that the military wouldn’t send two brothers into active duty in a war zone at the same time, he volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam. He was three months away from coming home.Since Johnnie stayed on active duty, Arthur could compete for both the U.S. amateur and U.S. Open championships in 1968. He is the only person to have won both. Ashe had many projects that helped extend his legacy beyond that of a pioneering tennis player who won 33 career singles championships; ever the thinker, bringing tennis and educational opportunities to youths was Ashe’s passion. He helped found the National Junior Tennis & Learning network in 1968, a grass-roots organization designed to make tennis more accessible. Today, the NJTL receives significant funding from the USTA. The Washington Post
Arthur Ashe always had an exquisite sense of timing, whether he was striking a topspin backhand or choosing when to speak out for liberty and justice for all. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the 50th anniversary of his victory at the first U.S. Open — a milestone to be celebrated on Saturday at the grand stadium bearing his name — coincides with a national conversation on the First Amendment rights and responsibilities of professional athletes. Mr. Ashe has been gone for 25 years, struck down at the age of 49 by AIDS, inflicted by an H.I.V.-tainted blood transfusion. But the example he set as a champion on and off the court has never been more relevant. As Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James and others strive to use their athletic stardom as a platform for social justice activism, they might want to look back at what this soft-spoken African-American tennis star accomplished during the age of Jim Crow and apartheid. (…) He began his career as the Jackie Robinson of men’s tennis — a vulnerable and insecure racial pioneer instructed by his coaches to hold his tongue during a period when the success of desegregation was still in doubt. At the same time, Mr. Ashe’s natural shyness and deferential attitude toward his elders and other authority figures all but precluded involvement in the civil rights struggle and other political activities during his high school and college years. The calculus of risk and responsibility soon changed, however, as Mr. Ashe reinvented himself as a 25-year-old activist-in-training during the tumultuous year of 1968. With his stunning victory in September at the U.S. Open, where he overcame the best pros in the world as a fifth-seeded amateur, he gained a new confidence that affected all aspects of his life. Mr. Ashe’s political transformation had begun six months earlier when he gave his first public speech, a discourse on the potential importance of black athletes as community leaders, delivered at a Washington forum hosted by the Rev. Jefferson Rogers, a prominent black civil rights leader Mr. Ashe had known since childhood. Mr. Rogers had been urging Mr. Ashe to speak out on civil rights issues for some time, and when he finally did so, it released a spirit of civic engagement that enveloped his life. “This is the new Arthur Ashe,” the reporter Neil Amdur observed in this paper, “articulate, mature, no longer content to sit back and let his tennis racket do the talking.” In part, Mr. Ashe’s new attitude reflected a determination to make amends for his earlier inaction. “There were times, in fact,” he recalled years later, “when I felt a burning sense of shame that I was not with other blacks — and whites — standing up to the fire hoses and the police dogs, the truncheons, bullets and bombs.” He added: “As my fame increased, so did my anguish.” During the violent spring of 1968, the assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom Mr. Ashe had come to admire above all other black leaders, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, whom he had supported as a presidential candidate, shook Mr. Ashe’s faith in America. But he refused to surrender to disillusionment. Instead he dedicated himself to active citizenship on a level rarely seen in the world of sports. His activism began with an effort to expand economic and educational opportunities for young urban blacks, but his primary focus soon turned to the liberation of black South Africans suffering under apartheid. Later he supported a wide variety of causes, playing an active role in campaigns for black political power, high educational standards for college athletes, criminal justice reform, equality of the sexes and AIDS awareness. He also became involved in numerous philanthropic enterprises. By the end of his life, Mr. Ashe’s success on the court was no longer the primary source of his celebrity. He had become, along with Muhammad Ali, a prime example of an athlete who transcended the world of sports. In 2016, President Barack Obama identified Mr. Ali and Mr. Ashe as the sports figures he admired above all others. While noting the sharp contrast in their personalities, he argued that both men were “transformational” activists who pushed the nation down the same path to freedom and democracy. Mr. Ashe practiced his own distinctive brand of activism, one based on unemotional appeals to common sense and enlightened philosophical principles as simple as the Golden Rule. He had no facility for, and little interest in, using agitation and drama to draw attention to causes, no matter how worthy they might be. A champion of civility, he always kept his cool and never raised his voice in anger or frustration. Viewing emotional appeals as self-defeating and even dangerous, he relied on reasoned persuasion derived from careful preparation and research. Mr. Ashe preferred to make a case in written form, or as a speaker on the college lecture circuit or as a witness before the United Nations. His periodic opinion pieces in The Washington Post and other newspapers tackled a number of thorny issues related to sports and the broader society, including upholding high academic standards for college athletic eligibility and the expulsion of South Africa from international athletic competition. In the 1980s, he devoted several years to researching and writing “A Hard Road to Glory,” a groundbreaking three-volume history of African-American athletes. In retirement Mr. Ashe became a popular tennis broadcaster known for his clever quips, yet as an activist he never resorted to sound bites that excited audiences with reductionist slogans. Often working behind the scenes, he engaged in high-profile public debate only when he felt there was no other way to advance his point of view. Suspicious of quick fixes, he advocated incremental and gradual change as the best guarantor of true progress. Yet he did not let this commitment to long-term solutions interfere with his determination to give voice to the voiceless. Known as a risk taker on the court, he was no less bold off the court, where he never shied away from speaking truth to power. He was arrested twice, in 1985 while participating in an anti-apartheid demonstration in front of the South African Embassy and in 1992 while picketing the White House in protest of the George H.W. Bush administration’s discriminatory policies toward Haitian refugees. The first arrest embarrassed the American tennis establishment, which soon removed him from his position as captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, and the second occurred during the final months of his life as he struggled with the ravages of AIDS. In both cases he accepted the consequences of his principled activism with dignity. Mr. Ashe was a class act in every way, a man who practiced what he preached without being diverted by the temptations of power, fame or fortune. When we place his approach to dissent and public debate in a contemporary frame, it becomes obvious that his legacy is the antithesis of the scorched-earth politics of Trumpism. If Mr. Ashe were alive today, he would no doubt be appalled by the bullying tactics and insulting rhetoric of a president determined to punish athletes who have the courage and audacity to speak out against police brutality toward African-Americans. And yet we can be equally sure that Mr. Ashe would honor his commitment to respectful dialogue, refusing to lower himself to the president’s level of unrestrained invective. (…) Mr. Ashe would surely be gratified that to date, this high road has led to more protest, not less, confirming his belief that real change comes from rational advocacy and hard work, not emotional self-indulgence. As we celebrate his remarkable life and legacy a quarter-century after his death, we can be confident that Mr. Ashe would rush to join today’s activists in spirit and solidarity, solemnly but firmly taking a knee for social justice. Raymond Arsenault

Reviens, Arthur, Ils sont devenus fous !

En ces temps devenus fous …

Où après les médias et, enterrements compris, la haute fonction publique

Et, entre le négationnisme (pas de drapeau américain sur la lune) et la réécriture de l’histoire (les quelques mois d’infiltration du KKK par une équipe de policiers noir et blanc dans une petite ville du Colrado au début des années 70 transformés en film blaxploitation avec toute l’explosive subtilité d’un Spike Lee), Hollywood …

Comme au niveau des grosses multinationales du matériel de sport à l’occasion du 30e anniversaire d’un slogan de toute évidence fauché au yippie Jerry Rubin

Mais faussement attribué (droits obligent ?) aux dernière paroles du tristement célèbre premier exécuté (volontaire et déjà gratifié par Norman Mailer de son panégyrique littéraire) du retour de la peine de mort aux Etats-Unis …

La marchandisation d’un joueur (métis multimillionnaire abandonné par son père noir et adopté par des parents blancs) dont le seul titre de gloire est, outre ses chaussettes anti-policiers et ses tee-shirts à la gloire de Castro, son refus d’honorer le drapeau de son pays pour prétendument dénoncer les brutalités policières contre les noirs …

Tout semble dorénavant permis pour dénigrer l’actuel président américain et les forces de police …

Comment ne pas repenser …

En ce 50e anniversaire …

De la première victoire, dès la création du premier tournoi professionnel, d’un joueur de tennis noir à une épreuve de Grand chelem …

A la figure hélas oubliée d’un Arthur Ashe

Qui, de l’apartheid sud-africain à la défense des réfugiés haïtiens ou des enfants atteints du SIDA jusqu’à l’ONU …

Et loin des outrances racistes à l’époque d’un Mohamed Ali …

Ou de la violence actuelle (et surtout de ses conséquences sur les plus démunis quoi qu’en dise son biographe) du collectif Black lives matter que prétend défendre un Colin Kaeperinck …

Et sans parler du lamentable scandale, au nom d’un prétendu sexisme et face à une improbable nippo-haïtienne élevée aux Etats-Unis mais ne parlant pas japonais, de Serena Williams en finale du même US Open hier …

Avait toujours su joindre l’intelligence et le respect des autres comme de son propre pays à la plus redoutable des efficacités ?

What Arthur Ashe Knew About Protest

The tennis great was committed to respectful dialogue, refusing to lower himself to the level of invective

Raymond Arsenault

Mr. Arsenault is a biographer of Arthur Ashe.

Arthur Ashe always had an exquisite sense of timing, whether he was striking a topspin backhand or choosing when to speak out for liberty and justice for all. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the 50th anniversary of his victory at the first U.S. Open — a milestone to be celebrated on Saturday at the grand stadium bearing his name — coincides with a national conversation on the First Amendment rights and responsibilities of professional athletes.

Mr. Ashe has been gone for 25 years, struck down at the age of 49 by AIDS, inflicted by an H.I.V.-tainted blood transfusion. But the example he set as a champion on and off the court has never been more relevant. As Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James and others strive to use their athletic stardom as a platform for social justice activism, they might want to look back at what this soft-spoken African-American tennis star accomplished during the age of Jim Crow and apartheid.

The first thing they will discover is that, like most politically motivated athletes, Mr. Ashe turned to activism only after his formative years as an emerging sports celebrity. He began his career as the Jackie Robinson of men’s tennis — a vulnerable and insecure racial pioneer instructed by his coaches to hold his tongue during a period when the success of desegregation was still in doubt. At the same time, Mr. Ashe’s natural shyness and deferential attitude toward his elders and other authority figures all but precluded involvement in the civil rights struggle and other political activities during his high school and college years.

The calculus of risk and responsibility soon changed, however, as Mr. Ashe reinvented himself as a 25-year-old activist-in-training during the tumultuous year of 1968. With his stunning victory in September at the U.S. Open, where he overcame the best pros in the world as a fifth-seeded amateur, he gained a new confidence that affected all aspects of his life.

Mr. Ashe’s political transformation had begun six months earlier when he gave his first public speech, a discourse on the potential importance of black athletes as community leaders, delivered at a Washington forum hosted by the Rev. Jefferson Rogers, a prominent black civil rights leader Mr. Ashe had known since childhood. Mr. Rogers had been urging Mr. Ashe to speak out on civil rights issues for some time, and when he finally did so, it released a spirit of civic engagement that enveloped his life. “This is the new Arthur Ashe,” the reporter Neil Amdur observed in this paper, “articulate, mature, no longer content to sit back and let his tennis racket do the talking.”

In part, Mr. Ashe’s new attitude reflected a determination to make amends for his earlier inaction. “There were times, in fact,” he recalled years later, “when I felt a burning sense of shame that I was not with other blacks — and whites — standing up to the fire hoses and the police dogs, the truncheons, bullets and bombs.” He added: “As my fame increased, so did my anguish.”

During the violent spring of 1968, the assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom Mr. Ashe had come to admire above all other black leaders, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, whom he had supported as a presidential candidate, shook Mr. Ashe’s faith in America. But he refused to surrender to disillusionment. Instead he dedicated himself to active citizenship on a level rarely seen in the world of sports.

His activism began with an effort to expand economic and educational opportunities for young urban blacks, but his primary focus soon turned to the liberation of black South Africans suffering under apartheid. Later he supported a wide variety of causes, playing an active role in campaigns for black political power, high educational standards for college athletes, criminal justice reform, equality of the sexes and AIDS awareness. He also became involved in numerous philanthropic enterprises.

By the end of his life, Mr. Ashe’s success on the court was no longer the primary source of his celebrity. He had become, along with Muhammad Ali, a prime example of an athlete who transcended the world of sports. In 2016, President Barack Obama identified Mr. Ali and Mr. Ashe as the sports figures he admired above all others. While noting the sharp contrast in their personalities, he argued that both men were “transformational” activists who pushed the nation down the same path to freedom and democracy.

Mr. Ashe practiced his own distinctive brand of activism, one based on unemotional appeals to common sense and enlightened philosophical principles as simple as the Golden Rule. He had no facility for, and little interest in, using agitation and drama to draw attention to causes, no matter how worthy they might be. A champion of civility, he always kept his cool and never raised his voice in anger or frustration. Viewing emotional appeals as self-defeating and even dangerous, he relied on reasoned persuasion derived from careful preparation and research.

Mr. Ashe preferred to make a case in written form, or as a speaker on the college lecture circuit or as a witness before the United Nations. His periodic opinion pieces in The Washington Post and other newspapers tackled a number of thorny issues related to sports and the broader society, including upholding high academic standards for college athletic eligibility and the expulsion of South Africa from international athletic competition. In the 1980s, he devoted several years to researching and writing “A Hard Road to Glory,” a groundbreaking three-volume history of African-American athletes.

In retirement Mr. Ashe became a popular tennis broadcaster known for his clever quips, yet as an activist he never resorted to sound bites that excited audiences with reductionist slogans. Often working behind the scenes, he engaged in high-profile public debate only when he felt there was no other way to advance his point of view. Suspicious of quick fixes, he advocated incremental and gradual change as the best guarantor of true progress.

Yet he did not let this commitment to long-term solutions interfere with his determination to give voice to the voiceless. Known as a risk taker on the court, he was no less bold off the court, where he never shied away from speaking truth to power.

He was arrested twice, in 1985 while participating in an anti-apartheid demonstration in front of the South African Embassy and in 1992 while picketing the White House in protest of the George H.W. Bush administration’s discriminatory policies toward Haitian refugees. The first arrest embarrassed the American tennis establishment, which soon removed him from his position as captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, and the second occurred during the final months of his life as he struggled with the ravages of AIDS. In both cases he accepted the consequences of his principled activism with dignity.

Mr. Ashe was a class act in every way, a man who practiced what he preached without being diverted by the temptations of power, fame or fortune. When we place his approach to dissent and public debate in a contemporary frame, it becomes obvious that his legacy is the antithesis of the scorched-earth politics of Trumpism. If Mr. Ashe were alive today, he would no doubt be appalled by the bullying tactics and insulting rhetoric of a president determined to punish athletes who have the courage and audacity to speak out against police brutality toward African-Americans. And yet we can be equally sure that Mr. Ashe would honor his commitment to respectful dialogue, refusing to lower himself to the president’s level of unrestrained invective.

Not all of the activist athletes involved in public protests during the past two years have followed Mr. Ashe’s model of restraint and civility. But many have made a good-faith effort to do so, resisting the temptation to respond in kind to Mr. Trump’s intemperate attacks on their personal integrity and patriotism. In particular, several of the most visible activists — including Mr. Kaepernick, Stephen Curry and Mr. James — have kept their composure and dignity even as they have borne the brunt of Mr. Trump’s racially charged Twitter storms and stump speeches. By and large, they have wisely taken the same high road that Mr. Ashe took two generations ago, eschewing the politics of character assassination while keeping their eyes on the prize.

Mr. Ashe would surely be gratified that to date, this high road has led to more protest, not less, confirming his belief that real change comes from rational advocacy and hard work, not emotional self-indulgence. As we celebrate his remarkable life and legacy a quarter-century after his death, we can be confident that Mr. Ashe would rush to join today’s activists in spirit and solidarity, solemnly but firmly taking a knee for social justice.

Raymond Arsenault is the author of “Arthur Ashe: A Life.”

Voir aussi:

We remember Ashe for his electrifying talent. But he had a social conscience that was way ahead of its time

No one had expected a fifth-seeded, 25-year-old amateur on temporary leave from the army to come out on top in a field that included the world’s best pro players. The era of Open tennis, in which both amateurs and professionals competed, was only four months old. Many feared that mixing the two groups was a mistake. Yet Ashe, with help from a string of upsets that eliminated the top four seeds, defeated the Dutchman Tom Okker in the championship match – in the process becoming the first black man to reach the highest echelon of amateur tennis.

As an amateur, Ashe could not accept the champion’s prize money of $14,000. But the lost income proved inconsequential in light of the other benefits that came in the wake of his historic performance. He became not only as a bona fide sports star but also a citizen activist with important things to contribute to society and a platform to do so. Ashe began to speak out on questions of social and economic justice.

Earlier in the year, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had shocked Ashe out of his youthful reticence to become involved in the struggle for civil rights. Over the next 25 years, he worked tirelessly as an advocate for civil and human rights, a role model for athletes interested in more than fame and fortune.

“From what we get, we can make a living,” he counseled. “What we give, however, makes a life.”

Ashe’s 1968 win was truly impressive but his finest moment at the Open came, arguably, in 1992, four and a half months after the public disclosure that he had Aids and nearly a decade after he contracted HIV during a blood transfusion. If we apply Ashe’s professed standard of success, which placed social and political reform well above athletic achievement, the 25th US Open, not the first, is the tournament most deserving of commemoration. Without picking up a racket, he managed to demonstrate a moral leadership that far transcended the world of sports.

On 30 August, on the eve of the first round, a substantial portion of the professional tennis community rallied behind the stricken champion’s effort to raise funds for the new Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of Aids (AAFDA). The celebrity-studded event, the Arthur Ashe Aids Tennis Challenge, drew a huge crowd and nine of the game’s biggest stars. The support was unprecedented, leading one reporter to marvel: “The tennis world is known by and large as a selfish, privileged world, one crammed with factions and egos. So what is happening at the Open is unthinkable: gender and nationality and politics will take a back seat to a full-fledged effort to support Ashe.”

Participants included CBS correspondent Mike Wallace, then New York City mayor David Dinkins and two of tennis’s biggest celebrities, the up-and-coming star Andre Agassi and the four-time Open champion John McEnroe, who entertained the crowd by clowning their way through a long set. To Ashe’s delight, McEnroe, once known as the “Superbrat” of tennis, even put on a joke tantrum against the umpire.

Several days earlier, on a more serious note, McEnroe had spoken for many of his peers in explaining why he felt passionate about Ashe’s cause.

“It’s not something you can even think twice about when you’re asked to help,” he insisted. “The fact that the disease has happened to a tennis player certainly strikes home with all of us. I’m just glad someone finally organized the tennis community like this, and obviously it took someone like Arthur to do it.”

Ashe was thrilled with the response to the Aids Challenge, which raised $114,000 for the AAFDA. One man walked up and casually handed him a personal check for $25,000. Later in the week the foundation received $30,000 from an anonymous donor in North Carolina. Such generosity was what Ashe had hoped to inspire, and when virtually all of the US Open players complied with the foundation’s request to attach a special patch – “a red ribbon centered by a tiny yellow tennis ball” – to their outfits as a symbolic show of support for Aids victims, he knew he had started something important.

This awakening of social responsibility – among a group of athletes not typically known for political courage – was deeply gratifying to a man whose previous calls to action had been largely ignored. Seven years earlier he was fired as captain of the US Davis Cup team in part because leaders were uncomfortable with his growing political activism, especially his arrest during an anti-apartheid demonstration outside a South African embassy. This rebuke did not shake his belief in active citizenship as a bedrock principle, however, and as the 1992 Open drew to a close he demonstrated just how seriously he regarded personal commitment to social justice.

When his lifelong friend and anti-apartheid ally Randall Robinson asked Ashe to come to Washington for a protest march he immediately said yes, even though the march was scheduled four days before the end of the Open. The march concerned an issue that had become deeply important to Ashe: the Bush administration’s discriminatory treatment of Haitian refugees seeking asylum in the US. With more than 2,000 other protesters, Ashe gathered in front of the White House to seek justice for the growing mass of Haitian “boat people” being forcibly repatriated without a hearing.

In stark contrast to the warm reception accorded Cuban refugees fleeing Castro’s communist regime, the dark-skinned boat people were denied refuge due to a blanket ruling that Haitians, unlike Cubans, were economic migrants undeserving of political asylum. To Ashe and the organizers of the White House protest, this double standard – which flew in the face of the political realities of both islands – smacked of racism.

“The argument incensed me,” Ashe wrote. “Undoubtedly, many of the people picked up were economic refugees, but many were not.”

Ashe knew a great deal about Haiti: he had read widely and deeply about the island’s troubled past; he had visited on several occasions; he and his wife had even honeymooned there in 1977. More recently, he had monitored the truncated career of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a self-styled champion of the poor whose regime was toppled by a military coup with the tacit support of the Bush administration. Ashe felt compelled to speak out.

“I was prepared to be arrested to protest this injustice,” he said.

Considering his medical condition, he had no business being at a protest; certainly no one would have blamed him if he had begged off. No one, that is, but himself. At the appointed hour, he arrived at the protest site in jeans, T-shirt and straw hat, a human scarecrow reduced to 128lbs on his 6ft 1in frame, but resolute as ever. Big, bold letters on his shirt read: “Haitians Locked Out Because They’re Black.”

The throng included a handful of celebrities, but Ashe alone represented the sports world. He didn’t want to be treated as a celebrity, of course; he simply wanted to make a statement about the responsibilities of democratic citizenship. While he knew his presence was largely symbolic, he hoped to set an example.

Putting oneself at risk for a good cause, he assured one reporter, “does wonders for your outlook … Marching in a protest is a liberating experience. It’s cathartic. It’s one of the great moments you can have in your life.”

Since federal law prohibited large demonstrations close to the White House, the organizers expected arrests. The police did not disappoint: nearly 100 demonstrators, including Ashe, were arrested, handcuffed and carted away. Ashe, despite his physical condition, asked for and received no favors. After paying his fine and calling his wife Jeanne to assure her he was all right, he took the late afternoon train back to New York.

The next night, while sitting on his couch watching the nightly news, he felt a sharp pain in his sternum. Tests revealed he had suffered a mild heart attack, the second of his life. Prior to the trip to Washington, Jeanne had worried something like this might happen. But she knew her husband was never one to play it safe when something important was on the line.

On the tennis court, he had always been prone to fits of reckless play, going for broke with shots that defied logic or sense. Off the court, particularly in his later years, Arthur Ashe almost always went full-out. He did so not because he craved activity for its own sake but rather because he wanted to live a virtuous and productive life. Even near the end, weakened by disease, he still wanted to make a difference. And he did, as he always did.

    • Raymond Arsenault, the John Hope Franklin professor of southern history at the University of South Florida, St Petersburg, is the author of Arthur Ashe: A Life, recently published by Simon & Schuster

Voir également:

‘Arthur was always different’: Reflecting on Ashe’s legacy, 50 years after U.S. Open win

September 3, 2018

Virginia Wade has many memories of Arthur Ashe, but the one that sticks in her mind isn’t from 50 years ago in New York, when in 1968 they won the first U.S. Open singles titles and Ashe became the first African American man to win a Grand Slam championship. Her favorite memory is from seven years later at Wimbledon.

Ashe claimed the last of his three major titles in England in 1975 in a match against heavy favorite Jimmy Connors. Wade remembers cool, unruffled Ashe’s daring tennis against the 22-year-old Connors, who hollered back at the crowd when it shouted encouragement. She also remembers the changeovers.

“It was an incredible match. I mean, Arthur was an innovator,” Wade, 73, said last week. “It was the first time he sort of sat down at the side of the court in between — they didn’t have chairs at the side of the court for a long time; we sort of had to towel off and go on — but he would sit and cover his head with the towel and just think. It was the first time you were conscious of the mental side of tennis. Arthur was instrumental in that. . . . Arthur was a thinker.”

As the U.S. Open celebrates its 50th anniversary, the U.S. Tennis Association is also honoring Ashe for all that he was: thinker, pioneer, activist, champion.

The 1968 winner already has a significant presence at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center — the facility’s biggest and most prestigious stage is named for him — but this fortnight, his visage is inescapable. There is a special photo exhibit on the walkway between Court 17 and the Grandstand, and a special “Arthur Ashe legacy booth” decked out in the colors of UCLA, his alma mater. Fans can be seen walking around sporting white T-shirts featuring a picture of Ashe wearing sunglasses, cool as can be.

At the start of Monday’s evening session, Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams gave Ashe’s younger brother Johnnie a folded American flag in honor of his brother, who died in 1993 from AIDS-related pneumonia after contracting the disease from a tainted blood transfusion. Ashe was an Army lieutenant when he won the U.S. Open as an amateur in 1968; Johnnie, 70, was in the Marine Corps for 20 years.

Johnnie Ashe, like Wade, remembers his brother as an intellectual and an innovator, as someone who was meant to change the world. That’s why, when Johnnie came to understand that the military wouldn’t send two brothers into active duty in a war zone at the same time, he volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam. He was three months away from coming home.

“Arthur didn’t need Vietnam. Arthur had his own Vietnam right there in the United States in those days, and some of the things that I saw while I was there — he didn’t need that,” Johnnie said Monday night. “The thing that I always think about, and this was always the most important thing in my mind, was that Arthur represented so many possibilities. Arthur was the first to do so much so often that those of us who knew him would say: ‘What’s next? What mountain was he going to climb next?’ Arthur was always different.”

Since Johnnie stayed on active duty, Arthur could compete for both the U.S. amateur and U.S. Open championships in 1968. He is the only person to have won both.

Ashe had many projects that helped extend his legacy beyond that of a pioneering tennis player who won 33 career singles championships; ever the thinker, bringing tennis and educational opportunities to youths was Ashe’s passion. He helped found the National Junior Tennis & Learning network in 1968, a grass-roots organization designed to make tennis more accessible. Today, the NJTL receives significant funding from the USTA.

“Growing up, Arthur was a sponge. . . . That was just his nature,” Johnnie Ashe said. “He was a voracious reader, and he had to satisfy his intellect. I tell people if Arthur had concentrated on just tennis, he would have been the best in the world. But tennis was a vehicle. . . . He wanted to be able to take kids outside of their environs, outside of their element for a little while and expose them to what they can be. . . . And, let’s face it, most parents don’t have the wherewithal to do that. It’s not easy. What happens is you get somebody like Arthur — and following Arthur, LeBron James is starting to do things — to expose kids. It’s so important that that happens.”

Billie Jean King called the NJTL one of the best things that ever happened to the sport.

“Arthur and I had many conversations over the years about how to we make tennis better — for the players, the fans and the sport,” King said in an email Monday. “We both thought tennis needed to be more hospitable, and for Arthur a big part of that was improving access and opportunity to our sport for everyone. Arthur, and Althea Gibson before him, opened doors for people of color in our sport. And, from Venus and Serena [Williams] to Naomi Osaka and Frances Tiafoe, we are seeing the results of his efforts today.”

Ashe’s efforts as a humanitarian inspired James Blake, who now chairs the USTA Foundation. Blake was growing up when Ashe’s humanitarian career was front and center, both as the leader of the group Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid and as a figure who spoke out to educate the nation about AIDS.

“He never looked for sympathy,” Blake said. “Instead, he looked for a way to make life better for others that were struggling.”

Blake counts himself as one who benefited from Ashe’s barrier-breaking career. It’s a legacy not lost on the USTA; Katrina Adams, its president and chief executive, is a black woman.

But before Maria Sharapova lost in the fourth round to Carla Suarez Navarro and the riveted crowd turned its attention to Roger Federer’s match, Monday night was about Arthur Ashe. Johnnie’s flag came wrapped in a wooden display case.

“I was thinking what I was going to design to keep it in, but I don’t have to. This is nice,” Johnnie said.

“Until Arthur came along and Althea came along, tennis was a sport of the elites. Then you get two playground children — one from Harlem, one from Richmond — to break into the bigs. People had to stop and think about that. It opened the doors for other people, and that’s what it was all about. That’s what it was all about for him.”

Voir de même:

Waiting for the Next Arthur Ashe

Harvey Araton

NYT
Sept. 7, 2018

On the second of two occasions when he had the privilege of a conversation with Arthur Ashe, MaliVai Washington, having just become the country’s No. 1 college player as a Michigan sophomore in 1989, happened to mention that he was thinking of turning pro.

Ashe did not exactly tell him what he wanted to hear.

“I don’t think he thought it was a very good idea,” Washington said.

Ashe won the first United States Open at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills 50 years ago to the day of Sunday’s men’s final, to be played in a stadium named for him. He also won the 1970 Australian Open and a third and final major in 1975 at Wimbledon.

After all these years there are the formidable but not mutually exclusive legacies of Ashe: as the only African-American man to win a Grand Slam tournament and as a venerated humanitarian. Washington came tantalizingly close to living up to the former and has found a contextual purpose in the latter.

Washington, who made it to the Wimbledon final in 1996, can recall some self-imposed pressure to hoist the trophy Ashe had claimed there 21 years earlier because “when you’re the No. 1 black player, you feel a sense of responsibility.”

That said, Washington was admittedly more focused on the biggest payday of his career, potential lifetime membership in the All England Club and a permanent engraving on its champions wall.

“I’m honestly not thinking then that much about history and social issues, about how this is going to impact on America, what impact is it going to have on kids,” he said of the final, which he lost to Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands in straight sets. “But at 35, 45, O.K., I can think more intelligently about it and understand the impact.”

Washington is now 49, the age at which Ashe died in 1993 of AIDS after getting H.I.V. through a blood transfusion. Family life in northern Florida is good for Washington, with a wife, two teenage children, a real estate business and an eponymous foundation in an impoverished area of Jacksonville that for 22 years has provided a tennis introduction for children unlikely to find a private pathway into the sport.

Washington’s program is affiliated with the National Junior Tennis League, which Ashe co-founded in 1969 to promote discipline and character through tennis among under-resourced youth. If, in the process, another Ashe happened to emerge, so much the better. But that was not the primary function, or point.

“We’re not a pathway to pro tennis by any stretch of the imagination,” Washington said. “At my foundation, we don’t have that ability, that capacity, never had an interest in going in that direction. We highly encourage kids to play on their high school team, go on to play or try out for their college team.

“But our biggest bang for our buck is teaching life skills. Stay in our program, and you’ll have a focus on high school education, be on a good track when you leave high school. You’re not going to leave high school with a criminal record, or with a son or daughter.”

Why there was no African-American male Grand Slam champion successor to Ashe in the years soon after his trailblazing is no great mystery, Washington said.

Fifty years ago, tennis was largely the province of the wealthy and white, lacking a foundational structure to facilitate such an occurrence. Which doesn’t mean that Ashe didn’t influence the rise of a Yannick Noah, the French Grand Slam champion whom Ashe himself discovered in Cameroon. Or the likes of Richard Williams and Oracene Price, whose parental vision birthed the careers of Venus and Serena Williams. They in turn have been followed by a raft of African-American female players, including the 2017 U.S. Open women’s champion, Sloane Stephens, and the runner-up, Madison Keys.

This year’s women’s final, on Saturday afternoon, will feature Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, a half-Japanese, half-Haitian player whose father used the Williams family as a model for his own daughters’ tennis ambitions.

Looming over the lack of an African-American Grand Slam successor to Ashe is the vexing question of why the United States hasn’t produced a male champion since Andy Roddick won his only major title in New York in 2003. That most of the men’s titles have been claimed by a small handful of European players might be more of a tribute to them than a defining failure of the United States Tennis Association’s development capabilities.

But on the home front, the issue is a pressing one, especially during America’s Grand Slam tournament, year after year.

Washington retired in 1999 with four tour victories and a 1994 quarterfinal Australian Open result in addition to his Wimbledon run. He was followed by James Blake, who rose to No. 4 in the world during a 14-year career that included 10 tour titles and three Grand Slam quarterfinals, including two at the U.S. Open.

Martin Blackman, the U.S.T.A.’s general manager for player development, agreed that a breakthrough by one or two young Americans — white or black — in the foreseeable future could help trigger a wave of next-generation stars from an expanding landscape of prospects at a time when African-American participation has significantly declined in baseball, and football is confronted with health concerns.

“With tennis starting to be recognized as a really athletic sport, I think we do have a unique opportunity to pull some better athletes into the game,” said Blackman, an African-American man who played briefly on tour and once partnered with Washington to make the junior doubles semifinals of the 1986 Open. “So now it comes down to what can we do at the base to recruit and retain as many great young players as possible, make the game accessible and then get them into the system to stay.”

Even with better intentions, and greater investment, it still took a set of circumstances worthy of a Disney script to land Frances Tiafoe, one of the more promising young American players, on tour.

The son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, Tiafoe, 20, was introduced to the sport at a club in College Park, Md., where his father, Frances Sr., had found custodial work. Talent and a noticeable work ethic attracted well-heeled benefactors and helped Tiafoe climb to his current ranking of No. 44.

He gained his first victory at the U.S. Open over France’s Adrian Mannarino, the 29th seed, in the first round before losing next time out. His father watched from the player’s box on the Grandstand court, high-fiving Frances’ coaches and trainer when the Mannarino match ended, and soon after contended that his son wasn’t all that unique.

“There have to be thousands of kids like Frances out there, thousands who don’t have the same opportunities,” Frances Sr. said. “I’m not just talking about going to college, but going to the pro level, or just to have that chance, see if it’s possible.”

This is where Washington holds up a metaphorical sign for caution, if not for an outright stop. Most people, he said, have little understanding of just how forbidding the odds are of becoming a pro, much less a champion.

Like the Williams sisters, Washington — who was born in Glen Cove, N.Y., but grew up in Michigan — had the benefit of a tennis-driven father, William, who saw four of his five children play professionally. MaliVai, who typically goes by Mal, had by far the most success.

“When I was a junior player, I was playing seven days a week and there were times when I was in high school where I was playing before school and after school,” he said. “It is so very difficult to win a major. I tried to win one, came close.”

Then, speaking of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, he added: “Federer and Nadal, they’ve won 20 and 17. What makes them so great is hard to understand. You just can’t throw money at kids and think it’s going to happen.”

So how is it done? Where does one start?

With smaller social achievements, Washington said. With helping young people love the game recreationally, while pursuing a better life than those in less affluent African-American communities have been dealt.

He talked of a young female graduate of his program who recently finished college without any debt, thanks to a tennis scholarship. And for the foundation’s head tennis pro, he hired Marc Atkinson, who began playing at Washington’s facility in sixth grade and walked onto the Florida A&M tennis team.

“He’s married with three kids, and at some point, I imagine he’s going to introduce the sport to his kids,” Washington said. “You know, I often think back to my ancestors and the challenges they had, whether it’s my parents growing up in the Deep South in the 1940s and 1950s, or my great-great-grandpa who was born a slave. I can trace my lineage back to people who were getting up and getting after it, who were trying to make a better life for themselves and their kids.

“So with the thousands of kids that we’re helping, that tennis champion may be part of that next generation, or the one after that. You don’t know, but maybe 20 years from now, or 50 years from now, you’ll be able to look at a kid and track back a lineage to my youth foundation and that would be really cool.”

Told that he sounded more like Ashe the humanitarian than Ashe the Grand Slam champion, Washington nodded with approval. His two meetings with Ashe produced “no deep conversations,” he said, and he did not heed Ashe’s advice on staying in school, though he eventually earned a degree in finance from the University of North Florida.

A voice was nonetheless heard, and still resounds.

Voir encore:

A trois reprises, et par la plus pure des coïncidences, la question du sportif noir dans la société américaine s’est retrouvée sur le devant de l’actualité, ces trois dernières semaines. Il y eut d’abord, le 25 mars à Hollywood, l’attribution de l’Oscar du meilleur documentaire à When we were kings, le film de Leon Gast, sorti en France depuis mercredi, et dont le personnage central est le boxeur Mohammed Ali. Vint ensuite, le 13 avril, la victoire au Master d’Augusta (Géorgie, Etats-Unis) de la nouvelle étoile du golf mondial, le jeune Tiger Woods. Deux jours plus tard, enfin, l’Amérique célébrait le 50e anniversaire de l’intégration du premier joueur noir dans une équipe de base-ball professionnel, Jackie Robinson.

Robinson-Ali-Woods. Ces trois noms résumeraient presque la longue marche de l’émancipation du sportif noir aux Etats-Unis. Chacun d’entre eux représente une période, elle-même synonyme d’idéaux et de quête vers la reconnaissance. Si le film de Leon Gast nous montre bien quel incomparable combattant de la cause black fut Mohammed Ali, gageons qu’Ali ne serait pas devenu Ali à l’époque de Woods et que Robinson serait resté un modeste anonyme s’il avait joué dans les années 60.

Nul ne l’ignore plus aujourd’hui : si Jackie Robinson a pu trouver place au sein des Brooklyn Dodgers en cette année 1947, ce fut principalement pour des raisons extrasportives. Ce petit-fils d’esclave était en effet d’un tempérament suffisamment doux et détaché pour ne pas répondre aux concerts d’insultes dont il allait être la cible durant toute sa carrière. A l’instar de son aîné Jesse Owens, sprinter quatre fois médaillé d’or à qui Hitler refusa de serrer la main aux Jeux Olympiques de 1936 à Berlin, Jackie Robinson ne devait jamais rejoindre d’organisation militante. Sa présence au sein d’une équipe de la Major League (première division) allait pouvoir permettre, sans heurt, l’arrivée d’une nouvelle population dans les stades : le public noir.

Le roi dollar fait taire les langues

Autre contexte et autre façon de voir les choses, vingt ans plus tard. En 1964, quelques jours après son premier titre mondial, Cassius Clay intègre le mouvement politico-religieux des Blacks Muslims et devient Mohammed Ali. Trois ans plus tard, il refuse de partir au Vietnam, arguant qu’aucun Vietcong ne l’a « jamais traité de négro ». Rien d’étonnant lorsqu’en 1974, sur une idée du promoteur Don King, il part affronter George Foreman au Zaïre. L’africanisme possède son meilleur apôtre. Dans le film de Leon Gast, le boxeur incarne une sorte de roi-sorcier revenant au pays après plusieurs siècles d’exil. Ali ne fait alors rien d’autre que de la politique. Comme en ont fait les sprinteurs Tommie Smith, John Carlos et Lee Evans (qui deviendra entraîneur en Afrique) le jour où ils brandirent leur poing sur le podium des Jeux de Mexico de 1968.

De cette corporation de champions engagés, Arthur Ashe, décédé en 1993 après une vie passée à lutter contre diverses injustices (apartheid, sida, sort des réfugiés haïtiens), sera le dernier. Les années 80 et 90 sont un tournant. Le basketteur Michael Jordan devient le sportif le mieux payé au monde. Le sprinteur Carl Lewis, le boxeur Mike Tyson et aujourd’hui le très politiquement correct Tiger Woods vont répéter tour à tour qu’« on ne mélange pas sport et politique ». Le roi dollar fait taire les langues alors que, curieusement, le militantisme noir connaît un regain d’intérêt aux Etats-Unis.

Le paradoxe est même total le 16 octobre 1995 quand Louis Farrakhan, leader de la Nation of Islam, réunit un million de personnes à Washington. Ce jour-là, des slogans proclamant l’innocence d’O.J. Simpson reviennent souvent dans la foule. L’ancienne vedette de football américain est suspecté d’avoir tué sa femme. L’affaire a rendu l’Amérique totalement zinzin. A telle enseigne qu’O.J. est devenu une icône pour la population noire. Plus personne, alors, ne se rappelle que du temps de sa splendeur au coeur de la jet-set de Los Angeles, Simpson s’était appliqué à faire oublier aux Blancs qu’il était noir, allant jusqu’à prendre des cours de diction pour changer son accent. La politique, lui aussi, O.J. le disait déjà : ce n’était pas son job.

Voir par ailleurs:

Neil Armstrong Didn’t Forget the Flag

The Apollo program was a national effort that depended on American derring-do and sacrifice. History is usually airbrushed to remove a figure who has fallen out of favor with a dictatorship, or to hide away an episode of national shame. Leave it to Hollywood to erase from a national triumph its most iconic moment.

The new movie First Man, a biopic about the Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, omits the planting of the American flag during his historic walk on the surface of the moon.

Ryan Gosling, who plays Armstrong in the film, tried to explain the strange editing of his moonwalk: “This was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement. I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero.” Armstrong was a reticent man, but he surely considered himself an American, and everyone else considered him a hero. (“You’re a hero whether you like it or not,” one newspaper admonished him on the 10th anniversary of the landing.)

Gosling added that Armstrong’s walk “transcended countries and borders,” which is literally true, since it occurred roughly 238,900 miles from Earth, although Armstrong got there on an American rocket, walked in an American spacesuit, and returned home to America.

Apollo 11 was, without doubt, an extraordinary human achievement. Armstrong’s famous words upon descending the ladder to the moon were apt: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” A plaque left behind read: “HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON, JULY 1969 A.D. WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND.”

But this was a national effort that depended on American derring-do, sacrifice, and treasure. It was a chapter in a space race between the United States and the Soviet Union that involved national prestige and the perceived worth of our respective economic and political systems. The Apollo program wasn’t about the brotherhood of man, but rather about achieving a national objective before a hated and feared adversary did.

The Soviets’ putting a satellite, Sputnik, into orbit first was a profound political and psychological shock. The historian Walter A. McDougall writes in his book on the space race, . . . The Heavens and the Earth:

In the weeks and months to come, Khrushchev and lesser spokesmen would point to the first Sputnik, “companion” or “fellow traveller,” as proof of the Soviet ability to deliver hydrogen bombs at will, proof of the inevitability of Soviet scientific and technological leadership, proof of the superiority of communism as a model for backwards nations, proof of the dynamic leadership of the Soviet premier.

The U.S. felt it had to rise to the challenge. As Vice President Lyndon Johnson put it, “Failure to master space means being second best in every aspect, in the crucial arena of our Cold War world. In the eyes of the world first in space means first, period; second in space is second in everything.”

VIEW SLIDESHOW: Apollo 11

The mission of Apollo 11 was, appropriately, soaked in American symbolism. The lunar module was called Eagle, and the command module Columbia. There had been some consideration to putting up a U.N. flag, but it was scotched — it would be an American flag and only an American flag.

The video of Armstrong and his partner Buzz Aldrin carefully working to set up the flag — fully extend it and sink the pole firmly enough in the lunar surface to stand — after their awe-inspiring journey hasn’t lost any of its power.

The director of First Man, Damien Chazelle, argues that the flag planting isn’t part of the movie because he wanted to focus on the inner Armstrong. But, surely, Armstrong, a former Eagle Scout, had feelings about putting the flag someplace it had never gone before?

There may be a crass commercial motive in the omission — the Chinese, whose market is so important to big films, might not like overt American patriotic fanfare. Neither does much of our cultural elite. They may prefer not to plant the flag — but the heroes of Apollo 11 had no such compunction.

Voir de plus:

What BlacKkKlansman Gets Wrong

Billed as being based on “a crazy, outrageous incredible true story” about how a black cop infiltrated the KKK, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman would be more accurately described as the story of how a black cop in 1970s Colorado Springs spoke to the Klan on the phone. He pretended to be a white supremacist . . . on the phone. That isn’t infiltration, that’s prank-calling. A poster for the movie shows a black guy wearing a Klan hood. Great starting point for a comedy, but it didn’t happen. The cop who actually attended KKK meetings undercover was a white guy (played by Adam Driver). These led . . . well, nowhere in particular. No plot was foiled. Those meetups mainly revealed that Klansmen behave exactly how you’d expect Klansmen to behave.The movie is a typical Spike Lee joint: A thin story is told in painfully didactic style and runs on far too long. Screenwriters ordinarily try to start every scene as late as possible and end it as early as possible; Lee just lets things roll. If the point is made, he keeps making it. If the plot tends toward inertia, that’s just Lee saying, “Don’t get distracted by the story, pay attention to the message I’m sending.” He’s a rule-breaker all right. The rules he breaks are “Don’t be boring,” “Don’t be obvious,” and “Don’t ramble.”

But! BlacKkKlansman keeps getting called spot-on, and (as Quentin Tarantino showed in Django Unchained) the moronic nature of the Klan and its beliefs makes it an excellent target for comedy. Lee doesn’t exactly wield an épée as a satirist, though: His idea of a top joke is having the redneck Klansman think “gooder” is a word. Most of the movie isn’t even attempted comedy.

Lee’s principal achievement here is in showcasing the talents of John David Washington, in the first of what promise to be many starring roles in movies. Washington (son of Denzel) has an easygoing charisma as the unflappable Ron Stallworth, a rookie cop in Colorado Springs who volunteers to go undercover as a detective in 1972, near the height of the Black Power movement and a moment when law enforcement was closely tracking the activities of radicals such as Stokely Carmichael, a.k.a. Kwame Ture, a speech of whose Stallworth says he attended while posing as an ordinary citizen. In the movie, Stallworth experiences an awakening of black pride and falls for a student leader, Patrice (a luminous Laura Harrier, who also played Peter Parker’s girlfriend in Spider-Man: Homecoming), inspiring in him the need to do something for his people. He dismisses Carmichael’s call for armed revolution as mere grandstanding, really just a means for drawing black people together. After the speech, the audience goes to a party instead of a riot.

The Klan also turn out to be grandstanders and blowhards given to Carmichael-style paranoid prophecies and seem to hope to troll their enemies into attacking them. When Lee realizes he needs something to actually happen besides racist talk, he turns to a subplot featuring a white-supremacist lady running around with a purse full of C-4 explosive with which she intends to blow up the black radicals. It’s so unconvincing that you watch it thinking, “I really doubt this happened.” It didn’t. The only other tense moment in the film, in which Driver’s undercover cop (who is Jewish) is nearly subjected to a lie-detector test about his religion by a suspicious Klansman, is also fabricated.

Lee frames his two camps as opposites, but whether we’re with the black-power types or the white-power yokels, they’re equally wrong about the race war they seem to yearn for. The two sides are equally far from the stable center, the color-blind institution holding society together, which turns out to be . . . the police! After some talk from the radical Patrice (whose character is also a fabrication) about how the whole system is corrupt and she could never date a “pig,” and a scene in which Stallworth implies the police’s code of covering for one another reminds him of the Klan, Lee winds up having the police unite to fight racism, with one bad apple expunged and everybody else on the otherwise all-white force supporting Ron.

That Spike Lee has turned in a pro-cop film has to be counted one of the stranger cultural developments of 2018, but Lee seems to have accidentally aligned with cops in the course of issuing an anti-Trump broadside. He has one cop tell us that anti-immigration rhetoric, opposition to affirmative action, “and tax reform” are the kinds of issues that white supremacists will use to snake their way into high office. Tax reform! If there has ever been a president, or indeed a politician, who failed to advocate “tax reform,” I guess I missed it. What candidate has ever said on the stump, “My fellow Americans, I propose no change to tax policy whatsoever!” If Lee grabbed us by the lapels just once per movie, it might be forgivable, but he does it all the time. (See also: an introduction in which Alec Baldwin plays a Southern cracker called Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard who rants about desegregation for several minutes, then is never seen again.)

Lee’s other major goal is to link Stallworth’s story to Trumpism using David Duke. Duke, like Trump, said awful things at the time of the Charlottesville murder and played a part in the Stallworth story when the cop was assigned to protect the Klan leader (played by Topher Grace) on a visit to Colorado Springs and later threw his arm around him while posing for a picture. Saying Duke presaged Trump seems like a stretch, though.

After all the nudge-nudge MAGA lines uttered by the Klansmen throughout the film, the let-me-spell-it-out-for-you finale, with footage from the Charlottesville white-supremacist rally, seems de trop. BlacKkKlansman was timed to hit theaters one year after the anniversary of the horror in Virginia. That Charlottesville II attracted only two dozen pathetic dorks to the cause of white supremacy would seem to undermine the coda. The Klan’s would-be successors, far from being more emboldened than they have been since Stallworth’s time, appear to be nearly extinct.

Voir encore:

Publicités

14 juillet/229e: De la Bastille au goulag (Looking back at Charles Krauthammer’s reflections on the revolution in France)

14 juillet, 2018

The Whore of Babylon (Hans Burgkmair the Elder, 1523)The Fireside angel (Max Ernst, 1937)

Liberty leading the people (Yue Minjun, 1996)
Puis je vis monter de la mer une bête qui avait dix cornes et sept têtes, et sur ses cornes dix diadèmes, et sur ses têtes des noms de blasphème. La bête que je vis était semblable à un léopard; ses pieds étaient comme ceux d’un ours, et sa gueule comme une gueule de lion. Le dragon lui donna sa puissance, et son trône, et une grande autorité. Et je vis l’une de ses têtes comme blessée à mort; mais sa blessure mortelle fut guérie. Et toute la terre était dans l’admiration derrière la bête. Et ils adorèrent le dragon, parce qu’il avait donné l’autorité à la bête; ils adorèrent la bête, en disant: Qui est semblable à la bête, et qui peut combattre contre elle? Et il lui fut donné une bouche qui proférait des paroles arrogantes et des blasphèmes; et il lui fut donné le pouvoir d’agir pendant quarante-deux mois. Et elle ouvrit sa bouche pour proférer des blasphèmes contre Dieu, pour blasphémer son nom, et son tabernacle, et ceux qui habitent dans le ciel. Et il lui fut donné de faire la guerre aux saints, et de les vaincre. Et il lui fut donné autorité sur toute tribu, tout peuple, toute langue, et toute nation. Et tous les habitants de la terre l’adoreront, ceux dont le nom n’a pas été écrit dès la fondation du monde dans le livre de vie de l’agneau qui a été immolé. Si quelqu’un a des oreilles, qu’il entende! Apocalypse 13: 1-7
Et je vis une femme assise sur une bête écarlate, pleine de noms de blasphème, ayant sept têtes et dix cornes. Cette femme était vêtue de pourpre et d’écarlate, et parée d’or, de pierres précieuses et de perles. Elle tenait dans sa main une coupe d’or, remplie d’abominations et des impuretés de sa prostitution. Sur son front était écrit un nom, un mystère: Babylone la grande, la mère des impudiques et des abominations de la terre. Et je vis cette femme ivre du sang des saints et du sang des témoins de Jésus. Apocalypse 17: 2-6
Une nation ne se régénère que dans un bain de sang. Saint Just
L’arbre de la liberté doit être revivifié de temps en temps par le sang des patriotes et des tyrans. Jefferson
Qu’un sang impur abreuve nos sillons … La Marseillaise
La guillotine n’était qu’un épouvantail qui brisait la résistance active. Cela ne nous suffit pas. (…) Nous ne devons pas seulement « épouvanter » les capitalistes, c’est-à-dire leur faire sentir la toute-puissance de l’Etat prolétarien et leur faire oublier l’idée d’une résistance active contre lui. Nous devons briser aussi leur résistance passive, incontestablement plus dangereuse et plus nuisible encore. Nous ne devons pas seulement briser toute résistance, quelle qu’elle soit. Nous devons encore obliger les gens à travailler dans le cadre de la nouvelle organisation de l’Etat. Lénine
La reine appartient à plusieurs catégories victimaires préférentielles; elle n’est pas seulement reine mais étrangère. Son origine autrichienne revient sans cesse dans les accusations populaires. Le tribunal qui la condamne est très fortement influencé par la foule parisienne. Notre premier stéréotype est également présent: on retrouve dans la révolution tous les traits caractéristiques des grandes crises qui favorisent les persécutions collectives. (…) Je ne prétends pas que cette façon de penser doive se substituer partout à nos idées sur la Révolution française. Elle n’en éclaire pas moins d’un jour intéressant une accusation souvent passée sous silence mais qui figure explicitement au procès de la reine, celui d’avoir commis un inceste avec son fils. René Girard
Le communisme, c’est le nazisme, le mensonge en plus. Jean-François Revel
Il est malheureux que le Moyen-Orient ait rencontré pour la première fois la modernité occidentale à travers les échos de la Révolution française. Progressistes, égalitaristes et opposés à l’Eglise, Robespierre et les jacobins étaient des héros à même d’inspirer les radicaux arabes. Les modèles ultérieurs — Italie mussolinienne, Allemagne nazie, Union soviétique — furent encore plus désastreux. Ce qui rend l’entreprise terroriste des islamistes aussi dangereuse, ce n’est pas tant la haine religieuse qu’ils puisent dans des textes anciens — souvent au prix de distorsions grossières —, mais la synthèse qu’ils font entre fanatisme religieux et idéologie moderne. Ian Buruma et Avishai Margalit
En dépit du fait que tous les historiens sérieux, fussent-ils ardemment républicains, conviennent que la Révolution française pose un problème, l’imagerie officielle, celle des manuels scolaires du primaire et du secondaire, celle de la télévision, montre les événements de 1789 et des années suivantes comme le moment fondateur de notre société, en gommant tout ce qu’on veut cacher : la Terreur, la persécution religieuse, la dictature d’une minorité, le vandalisme artistique, etc. Aujourd’hui, on loue 1789 en reniant 1793. On veut bien de la Déclaration des Droits de l’homme, mais pas de la Loi des suspects. Mais comment démêler 1789 de 1793, quand on sait que le phénomène terroriste commence dès 1789 ? (…) L’idée de base du Livre noir de la Révolution est de montrer cette face de la réalité qui n’est jamais montrée, et rappeler qu’il y a toujours eu une opposition à la Révolution française, mais sans trahir l’Histoire. Qu’on le veuille ou non, qu’on l’aime ou non, la Révolution, c’est un pan de l’Histoire de la France et des Français. On ne l’effacera pas: au moins faut-il la comprendre. Jean Sévillia
The painting which I did after the defeat of the Republicans was L’ange du foyer (Fireside angel). This is, of course, an ironic title for a clumsy figure devastating everything that gets in its way. At the time, this was my impression of what was happening in the world, and I think I was right. Max Ernst (1948)
The war began in July 1936, when General Francisco- Franco led a revolt against the Spanish Republic. The Spanish Left had won a parliamentary majority but was unable to restrain those among them who were deter-mined that their turn in power should be used to destroy the Right. Franco’s revolt became a civil war, and Franco received the support of Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany, which went so far as to send troops — using the Spanish war to try out new weapons and tactics. The Republicans were supported by volunteers from all over the world, as well as by Stalin’s Soviet Union. Horrifying and sadistic atrocities were committed by both sides After Franco’s victory the German painter Max Ernst created his spectral L’ange du foyer (Fireside angel), an apocalyptic monster bursting with destructive energy, a King-Kong-like Angel of Death spreading fear and terror. All art
The people now armed themselves with such weapons as they could find in armourer shops & privated houses, and with bludgeons, & were roaming all night through all parts of the city without any decided & practicable object. The next day the states press on the King to send away the troops, to permit the Bourgeois of Paris to arm for the preservation of order in the city, & offer to send a deputation from their body to tranquilize them. He refuses all their propositions. A committee of magistrates & electors of the city are appointed, by their bodies, to take upon them its government. The mob, now openly joined by the French guards, force the prisons of St. Lazare, release all the prisoners, & take a great store of corn, which they carry to the corn market. Here they get some arms, & the French guards begin to to form & train them. The City committee determine to raise 48,000 Bourgeois, or rather to restrain their numbers to 48,000, On the 16th they send one of their numbers (Monsieur de Corny whom we knew in America) to the Hotel des Invalides to ask arms for their Garde Bourgeoise. He was followed by, or he found there, a great mob. The Governor of the Invalids came out & represented the impossibility of his delivering arms without the orders of those from whom he received them. De Corny advised the people then to retire, retired himself, & the people took possession of the arms. It was remarkable that not only the invalids themselves made no opposition, but that a body of 5000 foreign troops, encamped with 400 yards, never stirred. Monsieur De Corny and five others were then sent to ask arms of Monsieur de Launai, Governor of the Bastille. They found a great collection of people already before the place, & they immediately planted a flag of truce, which was answered by a like flag hoisted on the parapet. The depositition prevailed on the people to fall back a little, advanced themselves to make their demand of the Governor. & in that instant a discharge from the Bastille killed 4 people of those nearest to the deputies. The deputies retired, the people rushed against the place, and almost in an instant were in possession of a fortification, defended by 100 men, of infinite strength, which in other times had stood several regular sieges & had never been taken. How they got in, has as yet been impossible to discover. Those, who pretend to have been of the party tell so many different stories as to destroy the credit of them all. They took all the arms, discharged the prisoners & such of the garrison as were not killed in the first moment of fury, carried the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to the Greve (the place of public execution) cut off their heads, & sent them through the city in triumph to the Palais royal… I have the honor to be with great esteem & respect, Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant. Thomas Jefferson (lettre à John Jay, 19 juillet 1789)
Les journées les plus décisives de la Révolution française sont contenues, sont impliquées dans ce premier fait qui les enveloppe : le 14 juillet 1789. Et voilà pourquoi aussi c’est la vraie date révolutionnaire, celle qui fait tressaillir la France ! On comprend que ce jour-là notre Nouveau Testament nous a été donné et que tout doit en découler. Léon Gambetta (14 juillet 1872)
Les légitimistes s’évertuent alors à démonter le mythe du 14 Juillet, à le réduire à l’expression violente d’une foule (pas du peuple) assoiffée de sang (les meurtres des derniers défenseurs de la Bastille malgré la promesse de protection) allant jusqu’au sacrilège du cadavre (des têtes dont celle du gouverneur Launay parcourant Paris plantée au bout d’une pique) (…) la Bastille n’était pas un bagne, occupée qu’elle était par quelques prisonniers sans envergure, elle n’était pas la forteresse du pouvoir royal absolu tourné contre le peuple à travers l’instrumentalisation des canons, elle n’était pas la forteresse à partir de laquelle la reconquête de la ville pouvait être envisagée puisqu’elle n’était défendue que par quelques soldats qui du reste se sont rendus en fin d’après-midi. Le mythe de la prise de la Bastille tombe de lui-même pour les monarchistes et même plus il est une création politique construisant artificiellement le mythe du peuple s’émancipant, plus encore il apparaît comme annonciateur de la Terreur, justifiant les surnoms de « saturnales républicaines », de « fête de l’assassinat »… Pierrick Hervé
Dans les grandes démocraties du monde, la Grande-Bretagne, l’Allemagne, les Etats-unis, le Canada, les fêtes nationales se fêtent sans défilé militaire. Ce sont les dictatures qui font les défilés militaires. C’est l’URSS, c’est la Chine, c’est l’Iran; ce sont des pays non démocratiques. Et la France est l’une des seules démocraties à organiser sa fête nationale autour d’un défilé militaire: ça n’a aucune justification même historique. Sylvain Garel (élu vert de Paris, 02.07.10)
Le défilé du 14 Juillet tel que nous le connaissons aujourd’hui n’a été instauré qu’en 1880, grâce à un vote de l’Assemblée nationale faisant du 14 juillet le jour de la Fête nationale française. La jeune IIIe République cherche à créer un imaginaire républicain commun pour souder le régime, après des décennies d’instabilité (Directoire, Consulat, premier et second Empire, IIe République …). C’est dans la même période que la Marseillaise sera adoptée comme hymne national. La date a pourtant fait polémique au sein de l’hémicycle. Pouvait-on adopter comme acte fondateur de la Nation la sanglante prise de la Bastille? Les conservateurs s’y opposent. Le rapporteur de la loi, Benjamin Raspail, propose alors une autre date : le 14 juillet 1790, jour de la Fête de la Fédération. Le premier anniversaire de la prise de la Bastille avait été célébré à Paris par le défilé sur le Champ-de-Mars de milliers de «fédérés», députés et délégués venus de toute la France. Louis XVI avait prêté serment à la Nation, et avait juré de protéger la Constitution. (…) Convaincue, l’Assemblée nationale a donc adopté le 14 Juillet comme Fête nationale, mais sans préciser si elle se réfèrait à 1789 ou 1790. (…) La IIIe République est née en 1870 après la défaite de l’Empereur Napoléon III à Sedan contre la Prusse. La France y a perdu l’Alsace et la Lorraine, ce qui sera vécu comme un traumatisme national. Dix ans après la défaite, le régime veut montrer que le pays s’est redressé. Jules Ferry, Léon Gambetta et Léon Say remettent aux militaires défilant à Longchamp de nouveaux drapeaux et étendards, remplaçant ceux de 1870. L’armée est valorisée comme protectrice de la Nation et de la République. Hautement symbolique, ce premier défilé du 14 Juillet permet également de montrer à l’opinion nationale et internationale le redressement militaire de la France, qui compte bien reconquérir les territoires perdus. Le caractère militaire du 14 Juillet est définitivement acquis lors du «Défilé de la victoire» de 1919 sur les Champs-Elysées. Le Figaro (16.07.11)
The line from from the Bastille to the gulag is not straight, but the connection is unmistakable. Modern totalitarianism has its roots in 1789. Indeed, the French Revolution was such a model for future revolutions that it redefined the word. That is why 1776 has long been treated as a kind of pseudo-revolution, as Irving Kristol pointed out in a prescient essay written during America’s confused and embarrassed bicentennial celebration of 1776. The American Revolution was utterly lacking in the messianic, bloody-minded idealism of the French. It rearranged the constitutional furniture. Its revolutionary leaders died in their own beds. What kind of a revolution was that?” The French Revolution failed …. because it tried to create the impossible: a regime both of liberty and of “patriotic” state power. The history of the revolution is proof that these goals are incompatible. The American Revolution succeeded because it chose one, liberty. The Russian Revolution became deranged when it chose the other, state power. The French Revolution, to its credit and sorrow, wanted both. (T)heir revolution, with its glamour and influence, did not only popularize, it deified revolution. There are large parts of the world where even today the worst brutality and arbitrariness are justified by the mere invocation of the word revolution – without reference to any other human value. For the Chinese authorities to shoot a dissident in the back of the head, they have only to show that he is a “counterrevolutionary.” The fate then, of all messianic revolution – revolution, that is, on the French model – is that in the end it can justify itself and its crimes only by reference to itself. In Saint-Just’s famous formulation: “The Republic consists in the extermination of everything that opposes it.” This brutal circularity of logic is properly called not revolution but nihilism. Charles Krauthammer (1989)
Attention: une fête peut en cacher une autre !
En ces temps désormais dits post-modernes et post-historiques …
Où sous le poids du progressisme le plus échevelé et d’une réalité migratoire proprement apocalyptique …
Les idées de nation et de patriotisme sont passés de gros mots à fictions objectives …
Et en ce jour où entre défilé militaire soviétique et débauche de drapeaux nationaux en d’autres temps proscrits …
Nous Français ne savons plus très bien ce que nous sommes censés fêter …
Comment ne pas repenser …
A ces fortes paroles du chroniqueur américain qui vient tout juste de disparaitre Charles Krauthammer
Rappelant lors du bicentenaire de la Révolution française …
La longue filiation pressentie dès 1937 par le peintre allemand Marx Ernst
Mais déjà prophétisée 2 000 ans plus tôt par l’Apocalypse …
Et hélas bien confirmée par l’histoire depuis …
Entre la Bastille et le goulag ?

A FAILED REVOLUTION
Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
July 14, 1989

Two hundred years ago today a mob stormed the Bastille and freed its seven prisoners: four forgers, two lunatics and an aristocrat imprisoned at his family’s request for « libertinism. » It might have been eight had not the Marquis de Sade — whose cell contained a desk, a wardrobe, a dressing table, tapestries, mattresses, velvet cushions, a collection of hats, three kinds of fragrances, night lamps and 133 books — left a week earlier.

When the battle was lost, the governor of the Bastille, a minor functionary named Bernard-Rene’ de Launay, could have detonated a mountain of gunpowder, destroying himself, the mob, and much of the surrounding faubourg Saint-Antoine. He chose instead to surrender. His reward was to be paraded through the street and cut down with knives and pistol shots. A pastry cook named Desnot, declining a sword, sawed off his head with a pocket knife. For the French Revolution, it was downhill from there on.

Now, after 200 years, the French themselves seem finally to be coming to terms with that reality. There is a tentativeness to this week’s bicentennial celebration that suggests that French enthusiasm for the revolution has tempered. This circumspection stems from two decades of revisionist scholarship that stresses the reformist impulses of the ancien regime and the murderous impulses of the revolutionary regime that followed.

Simon Schama’s « Citizens » is but the culmination of this trend. But the receptivity to such revisionism stems from something deeper: the death of doctrinaire socialism, which in France had long claimed direct descent from the revolution. Disillusion at the savage failure of the revolutions in our time — Russian, Chinese, Cuban, Vietnamese — has allowed reconsideration of the event that was father to them all. One might say that romance with revolution died with Solzhenitsyn.

The line from the Bastille to the gulag is not straight, but the connection is unmistakable. Modern totalitarianism has its roots in 1789. « The spirit of the French Revolution has always been present in the social life of our country, » said Gorbachev during his visit to France last week. Few attempts at ingratiation have been more true or more damning.

Indeed, the French Revolution was such a model for future revolutions that it redefined the word. That is why 1776 has long been treated as a kind of pseudo-revolution, as Irving Kristol pointed out in a prescient essay written during America’s confused and embarrassed bicentennial celebration of 1976. The American Revolution was utterly lacking in the messianic, bloody-minded idealism of the French. It rearranged the constitutional furniture. Its revolutionary leaders died in their own beds. What kind of revolution was that? Thirteen years later, Kristol’s answer has become conventional wisdom: a successful revolution, perhaps the only successful revolution of our time.

The French Revolution failed, argues Schama, because it tried to create the impossible: a regime both of liberty and of « patriotic » state power. The history of the revolution is proof that these goals are incompatible. The American Revolution succeeded because it chose one, liberty. The Russian Revolution became deranged when it chose the other, state power. The French Revolution, to its credit and sorrow, wanted both.

Its great virtue was to have loosed the idea of liberty upon Europe. Its great vice was to have created the model, the monster, of the mobilized militarized state — revolutionary France invented universal conscription, that scourge of the 20th century only now beginning to wither away.

The French cannot be blamed for everything, alas, but their revolution, with its glamour and influence, did not only popularize, it deified revolution. There are large parts of the world where even today the worst brutality and arbitrariness are justified by the mere invocation of the word revolution — without reference to any other human value. For the Chinese authorities to shoot a dissident in the back of the head, they have only to show that he is a « counterrevolutionary. » In Cuba, Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, erstwhile hero of the revolution, is condemned to death in a show trial and upon receiving his sentence confesses his sins and declares that at his execution his « last thought would be of Fidel and of the great revolution. »

The fate, then, of all messianic revolution — revolution, that is, on the French model — is that in the end it can justify itself and its crimes only by reference to itself. In Saint-Just’s famous formulation: « The Republic consists in the extermination of everything that opposes it. » This brutal circularity of logic is properly called not revolution but nihilism.

Voir par ailleurs:

The French Revolution

Quartz

July 14, 2018

Bloody beginnings and a long legacy


July 14 marks the 229th anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille and the symbolic start of the French Revolution. The bloody revolt toppled the 200-year-old Bourbon dynasty, and ushered in a radical new government, reshaping European history forever.

The French Revolution brought the world the terror of the guillotine and the ravages of the Napoleonic Wars. But in its radical reimagining of society, it swept away the conventions and structures that had governed France since the end of the Roman era, and introduced systems based on the enlightenment principles of reason and science.

Some of those ideas persist to this day—like the metric system, which emerged from the National Assembly’s desire to standardize weights and measures. Other, equally ambitious ideas, like the Republican calendar—with 10 months and 10-day weeks—somehow failed to catch on. More enduring were the radical concepts of the innate rights of men and women that run throughout western systems of law, philosophy, and political theory.

So on this Bastille Day, pop open the champagne, spread the brie thick, and run a kilometer or deux to celebrate two centuries of liberté, égalité, and fraternité.

By the digits

693: Deputies, out of the 745 in the National Assembly, who voted to convict King Louis XVI of treason on January 15, 1793. None voted to acquit. He was beheaded six days later.

16,594: Death sentences given to counter-revolutionaries during the Reign of Terror of 1793-94.

300,000: Estimated total number of French aristocrats, or 1% of the population, in 1789.

800: Estimated different standards for weights and measures in France before the introduction of the metric system.

100: Seconds in the metric minute, used for 17 months during the French Revolution.

7: Countries that don’t use the metric system as the official system of weights and measures. (Myanmar, Liberia, Palau, Micronesia, Samoa, the Marshall Islands, and the United States.)

fun fact!

Interstate 19 in Arizona is the only stretch of federal highway in the US to use kilometers exclusively. The signs, initially part of a pilot program by the Carter Administration to introduce the metric system, have been kept in place in part because the local tourism industry wants them to greet visitors from Mexico.

Brief history

The metric system


1215: The Magna Carta declares that there should be national standards for the measurement of wine, beer, and cloth.

1678: Anglican clergyman and philosopher John Wilkins publishes An Essay towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language, which proposes a universal language and system of measurement, based on units of 10.

1790: The National Assembly of France drafts a committee to establish a new standard for weights and measures that would be valid “for all people, for all time,” in the words of mathematician (and revolutionary) Marquis de Condorcet.

1799: The distance of the meter—named after metron, the Greek word for measure—is fixed at 1/10,000,000 of the length between the North Pole and the Equator, arrived at after two French surveyors spent six years measuring the distance between Dunkirk and Barcelona, which was used to calculate the longer distance. A platinum bar officially one meter long is cast.

1840: The metric system becomes compulsory in France.

1875: Seventeen nations (including the US) sign the Treaty of the Meter, creating international bodies to standardize weights and measurements worldwide, according to the metric system.

1975: US president Gerald Ford signs the Metric Conversion Act, declaring the metric system the preferred (but voluntary) system and establishing the US Metric Board, to speed America’s conversion.

1982: US president Ronald Reagan dismantles the Metric Board.

1999: Mars Climate Orbiter, a $328 million satellite, disintegrates over Mars because software produced by Lockheed Martin, the contractor, generated numbers in the English system instead of the metric system, as specified by its agreement with NASA.

The rights of women


When the revolutionaries of France wrote about égalité, few, if any, extended that right to women. One observer across the English Channel, however, saw that the principles of the revolution applied to women as well as men.

Mary Wollstonecraft—a British author who established herself when few women earned a living by writing—wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1791 in response to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution. While Burke argued the revolution would fail because society was inherently traditional and hierarchical, Wollstonecraft made the case not only for the rights of men, but for women as well—a radical position at the end of the 18th century.

In his book Emile, or On Education, Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote that women should be educated only to the extent they could serve men. But Wollstonecraft argued that women “ought to cherish a nobler ambition, and by their abilities and virtues exact respect.” Women, she wrote, deserved the same opportunities as men, and should be able to earn a living and support themselves with dignity.

Wollstonecraft, the mother of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, had a messy personal life, which was used to discredit her ideas in the 19th century. But her ideas inspired writers from Jane Austen to Virginia Woolf, and suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton. By the 20th century, Wollstonecraft was rightly regarded as a pioneering feminist.

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How to make time


The Republican Calendar was one of the more radical innovations of the revolution. Born out of a desire to wipe the slate of clean of aristocratic and religious references and start history afresh, the new calendar began on the autumn solstice of September 22, 1792, or 1 Vendemiaire I, the day the new Republic was proclaimed.

Instead of the seven-day week of the Bible, the Republican Calendar was based on the 10-day week, with the tenth day, decadi, devoted to rest and play. There were 10 months, each three weeks long, with five special days (or six, in a leap year) devoted to celebrations used to round out the year to 365 days. Those days bore names such as the Fête de la Vertu (Celebration of Virtues) and Fête de l’Opinion (Celebration of Convictions).

The calendar was designed by a committee that included mathematicians, astronomers, and poets, who based the naming of days and months after the agricultural cycle, and borrowed heavily from Latin. The winter months, for example, became Nivôse (snowy), Pluviôse (rainy), and Ventôse (windy). Each day also got a name—360 in all—replacing the Catholic convention of each day bearing the name of a saint. The fifth, 15th, and 25th days of each month were named after farm animals (bull, ram, duck), the 10th and 20th were named after farm implements (rakes, spades), while the rest were named after trees, fruits, vegetables and herbs. According to one modern calculation, today is 25 Messidor CCXXVI, named for the Guinea hen. (There’s a Twitter account that will help you keep up.)

As you might expect, there were problems. Starting each year on the autumnal equinox proved tricky, since the timing of astronomical events can vary and leap days had to be inserted to even things up, confusing everyone. Farm workers, the ostensible heroes the calendar celebrated, hated having a day off every 10 days instead of every seven. So 12 years after its introduction, it was abolished by Napoleon in 1806.

Giphy
Quotable

“Long usage of the Gregorian calendar has filled the people’s memory with a considerable number of images that they have long revered, and which today remain the source of their religious errors. It is therefore necessary to replace these visions of ignorance with the realities of reason, and this sacerdotal prestige with nature’s truth.”

— Committee to draft a new calendar

Watch this!

The French Revolution’s decimal time wasn’t the last attempt to rationalize timekeeping. A more recent effort was Swatch Internet Time in 1998. Part of a (not very successful) marketing campaign for a new line of watches, the system divided the 24-hour day into 1,000 “.beats” (yes, with a period—trés moderne).

The time, which was displayed on Swatches alongside boring old Gregorian time, was given as @416, which would be read as 416 beats after midnight, or 4am. Since it was the same all over the world, it was touted as being a new way of telling time that negated the need for translating pesky time zones.


Disparition de Claude Lanzmann: La preuve, c’est justement qu’il n’y en a pas ! (The proof is not the corpses; the proof is the absence of corpses)

11 juillet, 2018
L’ignorance volontaire du passé entraîne la falsification du présent. (…) Lanzmann parle avec un scepticisme opiniâtre de crimes “imputés” à Staline par la “propagande nazie”. Se rend-il même compte qu’il se laisse ainsi envahir par une obsession de nier ce qui lui déplaît identique à celle qui pousse un Robert Faurisson et les “révisionnistes” à mettre en doute les preuves de l’existence des camps de la mort ? Ses faux camps de la mort à lui, mais soviétiques ceux-là, sont ceux où avant juin 1941 furent de surcroît déportés 2 millions de Polonais dont la moitié au moins périrent de mauvais traitements. Jean-François Revel
Jamais la France n’acceptera les solutions de facilité que d’aucuns aujourd’hui proposent qui consisteraient à organiser des déportations, à travers l’Europe, pour aller mettre dans je ne sais quel camp, à ses frontières ou en son sein ou ailleurs, les étrangers. Emmanuel Macron
La question du négationnisme demande tout autre chose qu’une halte rue Geoffroy L’Asnier pour mobiliser l’électorat juif contre Marine Le Pen car ce ne sont pas des jeunes militants du FN qui rendent impossible l’enseignement de la Shoah dans les écoles ou qui vont chercher des faits alternatifs aux camps de la mort. De cette terrible réalité, je ne vois guère d’écho dans la campagne d’Emmanuel Macron. Il ne cesse de faire des clins d’œil aux jeunes de banlieues et réserve ses coups à la bonne vieille bête immonde. Alain Finkielkraut
Shoah (…) is a documentary of absences. There is no newsreel footage, there are no old photos, no corpses. Sometimes Lanzmann trains his camera on an empty field for several minutes. We see a seeming bucolic idyll – just the place for a picnic. Only the caption – Treblinka – tells us something intolerable happened here. For a long time, Lanzmann tells me, he resisted going to Poland. « Why would I want to? What would I see? » Instead, he toured the world interviewing Holocaust survivors for his film, pushing them hard to recall their experiences. Interviewees such as Abraham Bomba, whom Lanzmann filmed cutting hair in his Tel Aviv salon. As Bomba worked, he told Lanzmann how he was forced to cut women’s hair at Treblinka just before they were gassed. At one point in the interview, Bomba recalled how a fellow barber was working when his wife and sister came into the gas chamber. Bomba broke down and pleaded with Lanzmann that he be allowed to stop telling the story. Lanzmann said: « You have to do it. I know it’s very hard. » This was his principal method on Shoah: to incarnate the truth of what happened through survivors’ testimonies, even at the cost of reopening old wounds. With testimonies such as these, Lanzmann initially thought, he needn’t go to the scene of the crimes – to death camps such as Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor or Auschwitz-Birkenau. But, four years into his work on Shoah, Lanzmann changed his mind. « Finally, I realised I was meeting people, but couldn’t understand what they were telling me. I had to go there. I arrived in Poland loaded like a bomb with knowledge. But the fuse was missing – Poland was the fuse. » What astounded him when he arrived in villages near the death camps was that life carried on regardless – as though the tragedy of the Holocaust had been erased. « When I saw the village of Treblinka still existed, that people who were witnesses to everything still existed, that there was a normal train station, the bomb that I was exploded. I started to shoot. » What he started to shoot were testimonies of non-Jewish Polish bystanders. Were they oblivious to what was happening? Overwhelmingly not: Lanzmann interviews Jewish victims and bystanders who recalled that non-Jewish Poles made throat-cutting gestures to Jews as they arrived at the death camps on trains – to alert them to what was about to happen, perhaps, or maybe to revel in their looming murders. Lanzmann found evidence of Polish antisemitism in the villages around the death camps: a male interviewee relates how he’s happy the Jews are gone, but would rather they had gone to Israel voluntarily than be exterminated. In an interview outside a Catholic church, with Simon Srebnik present, bystanders alleged the Holocaust was just retribution for the killing of Jesus. While inculpating Poles in Shoah, Lanzmann in this interview exculpates the Allies from the charge of doing nothing to save the Jews. « Could the Jews have been saved? My answer is no. I’m very deeply convinced of this. Everybody talks about the bombing of Birkenau. Some in the War Refugee Board [created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1943] were for bombing, and there were others who were against for reasons that cannot be despised. » What reasons? « Some pilots asked, ‘What is the meaning of this, to bomb the people we’re meant to rescue?’ A terrible contradiction. « Money, not bombs, would have helped the Jews, because the Germans were running out of money. But in wartime you can’t send money because there are rules. But some religious Jews did send money to Slovakia that got into German hands, and for a while the deportations stopped. » The question of whether the allies could have saved the lives of the Jews goes to the heart of one of the most important interviews Lanzmann conducted for Shoah, namely the one with the Polish spy and diplomat Jan Karski. In 1943, Karski was commissioned by the exiled Polish government to tell allied leaders about the fate of Poland, and by two Jewish leaders in Warsaw to do the same about the fate of the Jews. « They asked him to mobilise the conscience of the world, » says Lanzmann. In Shoah, Karski recounts what he saw in the ghetto and in camps. At the end of that interview, Karski says of his visit to Washington and London: « I made my report. » Why end the interview there? « Everybody knows that the Jews were not rescued. He didn’t need to say more. It was very strong to end that way. » But last year, Lanzmann changed his mind. He decided to release a film of the rest of the 33-year-old Karski interview, in which he told Lanzmann in detail of his mission to brief allied leaders. In this new film, The Karski Report, the Polish spy tells us that he met Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, a Jew, who, upon hearing Karski’s description of the horrors befalling Jews in Poland, said: « I do not believe you. » But Frankfurter was not calling Karski a liar. Indeed, at the same meeting, Frankfurter clarified what he meant: « I did not say that he was lying, I said that I could not believe him. There is a difference. » Human inability to believe in the intolerable is what The Karski Report is about. At the start of the film, Lanzmann quotes the French philosopher Raymond Aron, who, when asked about the Holocaust, said: « I knew, but I didn’t believe it, and because I didn’t believe it, I didn’t know. » No wonder Lanzmann, a friend of Jean-Paul Sartre and lover of Simone de Beauvoir, is concerned with such philosophical issues. « The human brain is not prepared to understand this – even on the steps of the gas chamber. Karski says this very clearly. » Hence, for Lanzmann, the primacy of oral testimony as a mode of representation and understanding at the heart of Shoah. But that primacy is paradoxical: the tragedy of Karski’s mission, if it was a tragedy, was to have witnessed something of such unprecedented horror that no mere report could convey its import, still less move the allies to action. Why release this film now? Lanzmann released The Karski Report after the publication in 2009 of a novel called Jan Karski by the French writer Yannick Haenel. The novel became a French bestseller, but Lanzmann attacked it as « a falsification of history and of its protagonists ». « It’s a scandal about Karski, because he tries to make Karski into a man obsessed with the rescue of the Jews. He was not. » So Karski was not, as Haenel’s novel implies, the man who tried and failed to stop the Holocaust? « No! He says: ‘The Jews were not the centre of my mission. Poland was the centre of my mission.’ He says that very clearly. » « I said to myself, ‘You are an idiot, because you have the film of the second day’s interview to show that Karski was not as he is depicted in this novel.’ So I released The Karski Report to re-establish the truth. » Haenel, for his part, argues Lanzmann does not understand his novel. But what is the truth? Is truth only what emerges from oral testimony such as that given by Shoah’s interviewees? Sometimes, just as Adorno injuncted writing poetry after Auschwitz, so Lanzmann seems to be prohibiting – or at least reserving the right to slur – art about the Holocaust that is not based on oral testimony. Isn’t something to be said for artists who, in an act of creative empathy, try to imagine the lives of others embroiled in the Holocaust and legacy (consider, say, Nicole Kraus’s recent novel Great House, steeped as it is in creatively imagining the lives of Holocausts survivors)? « Of course one can make art about the Holocaust after my film, » Lanzmann says. « All I do say is that great literature always adds to reality. » The implication is clear: Haenel’s literary imagining of Karski’s inner world distorts and subtracts from reality, while Lanzmann clearly believes Shoah, does otherwise. He wrote in the French newspaper Libération recently that when one watches Shoah, « one bears witness for nine hours 30 minutes to the incarnation of the truth, the contrary of the sanitisation of historical science. » « That, » he says, « is why it remains important to see my film. » The Guardian
L’agence de presse officielle Fars a dénoncé la diffusion de Shoah, l’accusant d’être une tentative faite par Israël pour prendre le peuple iranien comme cible « de sa propagande pour contrer les efforts déployés par l’Iran dans les organisations internationales pour réfuter ses allégations concernant le mythe de l’holocauste. » Des dizaines de sites pro-gouvernementaux en Iran se sont joints au chœur des protestations, attaquant la chaîne Pars et l’accusant de « lécher les bottes des Sionistes ». Des médias en langue persane à l’étranger, qui ont un large public en Iran, comme la Télévision la Voix de l’Amérique en persan, Manoto TV, Radio France Internationale (en persan) et la Voix d’Israël (en persan), ont diffusé de longs reportages sur « Shoah » en persan et ont interviewé des intellectuels iraniens soulignant qu’il fallait que les Iraniens puissent avoir accès à ce type de film. De nombreux sites Internet en langue persane, représentant tout un éventail d’opinions, ont rapporté l’événement. Le film de neuf heures et demie a été sous-titré en persan, en turc et en arabe par le Projet Aladin. Cette organisation internationale, basée à Paris, s’attache à promouvoir le rapprochement interculturel, en particulier entre Juifs et Musulmans. (…) Le Projet Aladin prévoit d’organiser des avant-premières de « Shoah » dans plusieurs capitales du monde musulman, en commençant par Istanbul et Ankara le mois prochain. « Shoah, » sous-titré en turc, sera présenté au Festival International du Film d’Istanbul et ensuite diffusé à la télévision nationale turque. Crif
Pour reprendre un mot de Marcel Ophuls, on ne réalise pas un film comme Shoah en respectant les règles de fair-play d’un joueur de cricket d’Eton. J’ai piégé beaucoup de monde, à commencer par la bureaucratie communiste polonaise pour obtenir la possibilité de tourner librement en Pologne. J’ai piégé des nazis, j’ai eu un faux nom, des faux papiers, et je n’ai reculé devant rien pour percer la muraille d’ignorance et de silence qui enfermait alors la Shoah. J’ai en effet répété à Karski ce que j’avais dit à Varsovie : que la question du sauvetage des juifs serait importante dans mon film, celle de la responsabilité des Alliés aussi. Cela, c’était au début de mon travail. Je me suis ensuite convaincu que tout cela était infiniment plus complexe que je ne l’avais pensé. Avoir « piégé » Karski ne nous a pas empêchés d’être très proches l’un de l’autre à Washington et d’entretenir ensuite une longue correspondance. « Shoah, écrivit-il en 1985, est sans aucun doute le plus grand film qui ait été fait sur la tragédie des juifs. » Il fit preuve de beaucoup de courage en écrivant cela à un moment où Shoah était attaqué tous azimuts en Pologne, et où le gouvernement polonais demandait à la France de l’interdire. Ce petit jeune homme décrète que je ne comprends pas la littérature. Et il ose écrire : « Contrairement à ce tribunal de l’Histoire, d’où parle Lanzmann, la littérature est un espace libre, où la « vérité » n’existe pas. » Il n’est pas de phrase plus sotte. La littérature n’a affaire qu’à la vérité ; si celle-ci n’est pas l’affaire de Yannick Haenel, c’est que Jan Karski, roman, et quoi qu’en dise Sollers, n’est pas de la littérature. Claude Lanzmann
J’ai payé. Une somme pas mince. Je les ai tous payés, les Allemands. Claude Lanzmann
Je considère que le peuple iranien est un grand peuple, une haute et ancienne civilisation. Un peuple opprimé aujourd’hui par une dictature cléricale de fer, mais qui est en train de protester, de se révolter d’une certaine façon. De nombreuses manifestations y ont eu lieu bien avant celles dont on parle aujourd’hui dans le reste du monde arabe. Concernant la Shoah, la position officielle défendue par le président, M. Ahmadinejad, est qu’elle n’a non seulement jamais existé mais qu’elle est une invention des Juifs et des sionistes. Fatalement, cela a des effets. Contrer ce négationnisme est donc un pas important, et Shoah est le meilleur moyen pour cela. (…) Shoah est un film sans cadavre. Pourquoi il n’y en a pas ? Parce qu’il n’y a pas de trace. L’extermination des juifs voulue par les nazis était le crime parfait. Les fourgons arrivaient, les gens étaient gazés, asphyxiés dans les deux ou trois heures qui suivaient leur arrivée et les corps étaient brûlés. Les gros os qui n’avaient pas été brûlés étaient réduits en cendres à coups de maillet et de marteau et cette poussière d’os était jetée dans les rivières et dans les lacs. Les nazis non seulement détruisaient les Juifs, mais détruisaient la destruction elle-même. Pas de trace. Et dire aujourd’hui « cela n’a pas existé », c’est souscrire pleinement au désir hitlérien. Shoah est la construction d’une mémoire, ce n’est pas une preuve que cela a existé, car pour Ahmadinejad et les autres, la preuve ce seraient des cadavres. Mais la preuve, c’est justement qu’il n’y en a pas ! C’est ça la Shoah, c’est la disparition totale. Claude Lanzmann

Attention: une disparition peut en cacher une autre !

Au lendemain de la disparition de Claude Lanzmann

Et à l’heure où, dans l’indifférence générale, le peuple iranien se lève contre le joug khomeniste qui l’opprime depuis près de 40 ans …

Pendant que d’autres, par démagogie et électoralisme faciles, mélangent tout et nous rejouent à tout bout de champ « les heures les plus noires notre histoire« …

Comment ne pas repenser à la magistrale leçon …

Que l’auteur de « Shoah » et lui-même victime en son temps, à l’instar de son maitre à penser Sartre, de négationnisme pro-communiste

Avait donnée il y a sept ans à l’occasion de la diffusion sur deux chaînes satellitaires à direction de l’Iran d’une version sous-titrée en farsi de son oeuvre …

Où il expliquait justement contre le négationnisme du régime iranien …

Que la disparition de toute trace faisait justement partie de la Solution finale …

Et en était donc de ce fait même la preuve ultime !

Claude Lanzmann : « Shoah est le meilleur moyen de lutter contre le négationnisme d’Ahmadinejad »

Le grand film du cinéaste-écrivain sera diffusé pour la première fois en Iran le 7 mars.

Propos recueillis par Marion Cocquet

Le Point
Voir aussi:

Shoah de Claude Lanzmann diffusé en Iran par une chaine satellite : Les réactions des iraniens en cascade

Des centaines de mails et d’appels téléphoniques de téléspectateurs à Téhéran, Ispahan, Chiraz, Machad et d’autres villes en Iran ont été largement positifs après que la chaîne satellitaire Pars, basée à Los Angeles, ait commencé à diffuser pour la première fois ce lundi « Shoah » de Claude Lanzmann en persan, selon le présentateur chevronné de la chaîne, Alireza Meybodi qui présentait le film.
Crif
11 Mars 2011

Le mercredi, l’agence de presse officielle Fars a dénoncé la diffusion de Shoah, l’accusant d’être une tentative faite par Israël pour prendre le peuple iranien comme cible « de sa propagande pour contrer les efforts déployés par l’Iran dans les organisations internationales pour réfuter ses allégations concernant le mythe de l’holocauste. »

Des dizaines de sites pro-gouvernementaux en Iran se sont joints au chœur des protestations, attaquant la chaîne Pars et l’accusant de « lécher les bottes des Sionistes. » (Voir l’annexe A).

Des médias en langue persane à l’étranger, qui ont un large public en Iran, comme la Télévision la Voix de l’Amérique en persan, Manoto TV, Radio France Internationale (en persan) et la Voix d’Israël (en persan), ont diffusé de longs reportages sur « Shoah » en persan et ont interviewé des intellectuels iraniens soulignant qu’il fallait que les Iraniens puissent avoir accès à ce type de film. De nombreux sites Internet en langue persane, représentant tout un éventail d’opinions, ont rapporté l’événement (voir l’annexe B).

Le film de neuf heures et demie a été sous-titré en persan, en turc et en arabe par le Projet Aladin. Cette organisation internationale, basée à Paris, s’attache à promouvoir le rapprochement interculturel, en particulier entre Juifs et Musulmans.

Les Iraniens, en Iran et partout dans le monde, ont pu voir le premier épisode de « Shoah, » sous-titré en persan, ce lundi. Et des épisodes d’une heure seront diffusés quotidiennement au cours des quinze jours à venir.

Dans une interview réalisée avant la diffusion du film, Claude Lanzmann a déclaré : « Niez la Shoah autant que vous le voulez, Président Ahmadinejad ; aujourd’hui, ce n’est pas vous qui décidez, mais ce sont les téléspectateurs à Téhéran et Chiraz, à qui le projet Aladin a donné l’occasion de forger leur propre jugement sur ce sujet. »

En présentant le film sur la chaîne Pars, Alireza Meybodi a décrit la négation de la Shoah comme un « fléau qui n’a rien à voir avec la grande culture et la civilisation de l’Iran. » Il a qualifié la diffusion du film de Lanzmann en persan de « moment historique. »

Après la diffusion, Alireza Meybodi a déclaré aux journalistes qu’il avait été agréablement surpris par l’ampleur des réactions des téléspectateurs en Iran même, ou en Europe et en Amérique du Nord. « Nous avons reçu beaucoup d’appels et de courriels positifs de téléspectateurs après la diffusion de ce lundi. » Il a précisé que la station de télévision a décidé de consacrer un programme d’appels téléphoniques en direct pour recevoir les réactions de téléspectateurs vivant en Iran et partout dans le monde.

Le lancement de « Shoah » en persan a été marqué à Paris par une manifestation organisée à l’UNESCO ce lundi. Elle a réuni quatre cents personnalités, dont des intellectuels, des écrivains, des ambassadeurs, de hauts fonctionnaires, des cinéastes, des éditeurs et des journalistes qui ont regardé le premier épisode du film en direct.

Décrivant le film « Shoah » comme « monument dans l’histoire de la Shoah et chef-d’œuvre du cinéma, » la Directrice générale de l’UNESCO, Irina Bokova, a déclaré que la traduction du film en persan a été « une étape décisive faite pour partager la vérité sur la Shoah dans le monde. » Elle ajoutait que l’UNESCO a joué un rôle actif dans les activités du Projet Aladin dès le départ et continuera à le faire à l’avenir.

Le ministre de la Culture, Frédéric Mitterrand, a qualifié « Shoah » de « chef-d’œuvre cinématographique et historique », affirmant qu’ « il y a un avant et un après ‘Shoah’. » Il a salué le projet Aladin pour son travail si nécessaire, fait pour rapprocher les cultures.
La Présidente du Projet Aladin, Anne-Marie Revcolevschi, a remercié les milliers d’Iraniens qui ont consulté le site internet d’Aladin en persan (www.projetaladin.org) ou ont téléchargé des livres traduits en persan sur la Bibliothèque numérique d’Aladin (www.aladdinlibrary.org). Elle a annoncé que la version en persan du livre de Lanzmann, « Shoah, » était désormais disponible en téléchargement gratuit à partir de cette bibliothèque. Notant que le Projet Aladin a organisé des conférences et débats sur la Shoah dans dix villes du Moyen-Orient et d’Afrique du Nord en 2010, elle a appelé les autorités iraniennes à autoriser l’organisation d’une conférence similaire à l’Université de Téhéran.

Après la projection du film à l’UNESCO, le journaliste Philippe Dessaint a animé une table ronde qui a réuni Claude Lanzmann, Anne-Marie Revcolevschi, la sociologue et écrivain iranienne Chahla Chafiq, l’Ambassadeur de France aux Droits de l’Homme, François Zimeray, l’Iranienne Ladan Boroumand de la Fondation des Droits de l’Homme, l’historien Alexandre Adler et le journaliste et auteur iranien, Nasser Etemadi.

Le Projet Aladin prévoit d’organiser des avant-premières de « Shoah » dans plusieurs capitales du monde musulman, en commençant par Istanbul et Ankara le mois prochain. « Shoah, » sous-titré en turc, sera présenté au Festival International du Film d’Istanbul et ensuite diffusé à la télévision nationale turque. « J’espère que la diffusion de « Shoah » en Turquie va être un exemple important pour le monde musulman. Seules les œuvres d’art peuvent rapprocher les êtres humains, » a déclaré Claude Lanzmann.

Le projet Aladin tient à remercier les organisations et les fondations qui ont aidé à financer la traduction et le sous-titrage de « Shoah » : la Fondation Edmond J. Safra, la Conférence sur les Revendications matérielles juives contre l’Allemagne (Claims Conference), la Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, la Fondation Evens et le Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC), et l’agence Colorado qui s’est occupé des relations presse de l’événement.

Le Projet Aladin
Le Projet Aladin est une organisation internationale basée à Paris. Son objectif est de promouvoir le rapprochement interculturel, en particulier entre juifs et musulmans, par le biais de l’éducation, la connaissance de l’histoire, le dialogue et le respect mutuel.
Lancé sous le patronage de l’UNESCO en 2009, le Projet Aladin est soutenu par de nombreux dirigeants dans le monde, des organisations internationales et plus d’un millier d’intellectuels, d’ universitaires et de personnalités sur les cinq continents. Le 1er Février 2011, le Projet Aladin a organisé la visite à Auschwitz d’une délégation internationale de deux cents personnalités politiques, religieuses et culturelles venues de quarante pays.
Annexe A : Exemples de réactions des médias officiels et pro-gouvernementaux et de sites Web iraniens :
Journalists News Agency à Téhéran: « La télévision Pars TV lèche les bottes des Sionistes”
Mashergh News, un site pro-gouvernemental influent : « Le film « Shoah » est diffusé en persan pour montrer aux iraniens que cela a existé »
L’Agence de presse Fars, organisme étatique : « Des chaines de télévision par satellite de Los Angeles volent à la rescousse d’Israël. »
Quds (journal publié à Machhad ) : « la télévision Pars TV recherche les faveurs des Sionistes »
Yalasarat : site Web proche du Président iranien : « Des chaînes de télévision satellitaires aident Israël »
Tabnak : site info influent proche du gouvernement : « Les sionistes s’engagent sérieusement pour prouver que l’holocauste a eu bien lieu »
Annexe B : Exemples de réactions sur des sites Web iraniens et des sites Web de médias en langue persane
Roozonline: site info populaire iranien
“Shoah de Lanzmann, le meilleur moyen pour lutter contre Ahmadinejad”
Manoto TV: chaine satellite iranienne basée à Londres:
“Shoah diffusé pour la première fois en Iran”
Site des sympathisants du Mouvement vert à l’étranger:
“L’interview du cinéaste Claude Lanzmann avec le Point”
RFI en persan: “Table-ronde à l’UNESCO à l’occasion de la diffusion de Shoah en persan »
Voir également:

Non, Monsieur Haenel, je n’ai en rien censuré le témoignage de Jan Karski, par Claude Lanzmann
L’auteur du film « Shoah » répond aux critiques formulées par le romancier.

Le Monde

30.01.2010

Si Yannick Haenel n’a répondu à aucun des arguments de fond que j’exposais dans mon article de Marianne du 23-29 janvier, c’est bien parce qu’il ne le pouvait pas. Je vais, quant à moi, répondre point par point à ses esquives de la vérité, à ses amalgames, à ses mensonges, ses insultes mêmes.

Pour commencer, Haenel court au plus facile, répliquant à des propos de seconde main et à des interprétations de Pierre Assouline, qui tendent à transformer un enjeu véritable en une guéguerre d’ego (voir « Lanzmann contre-attaque sur Karski », « Le Monde des livres » du 22 janvier).

Selon Assouline, je ne « décolérerais pas  » depuis qu’Haenel a obtenu le prix Interallié, au mois de novembre 2009. Haenel, adossé à cette colère imaginaire, y va encore plus carrément et nous assène « l’immensité de (ma) jalousie ». Foutre ! Quitte à peiner Haenel, j’ai beau me sonder impitoyablement, je ne vois pas ce qui, en sa personne et en son livre, pourrait la susciter.

Mais il faut aller vers l’ignoble. Haenel s’étonne de ce que j’ai mis cinq mois à m’aviser que Jan Karski était un faux roman et une oeuvre malhonnête. Je me suis complètement expliqué là-dessus dans mon article de Marianne. D’un mot, les deux premiers chapitres que j’avais parcourus me déplaisaient, car ils parasitaient mon travail et celui de Karski : la paraphrase ne requiert nul talent et ne m’apprenait rien. Quant au troisième et dernier chapitre (le « roman »), j’avais tout simplement refusé de le lire, tant je pressentais qu’il n’aurait que des rapports très lointains avec la vérité.

Mais surtout, par amitié et respect pour notre éditeur commun, Antoine Gallimard, je ne voulais pas entraver la carrière du livre d’Haenel. Je n’ai lu ces 72 pages que quelques jours avant Noël. Le portrait qui y est brossé du président Roosevelt, le récit de la rencontre Karski-Roosevelt, les pensées prêtées à Karski, etc., ont fait se lever en moi la honte et la colère, honte de m’être tu, semblant ainsi cautionner Haenel, colère devant le culot idéologique et la bassesse d’imagination de l’auteur.

Bassesse qui se retrouve dans la façon dont Haenel interprète ma prise de conscience tardive. C’est mon « agenda » (sic) qui, selon lui, exige ma colère : « Son attaque contre mon livre, dit-il, coïncide en effet avec une rediffusion de Shoah sur Arte et avec la signature d’un contrat, sur la même chaîne, pour un film sur Karski : dans le domaine de la publicité, le hasard fait toujours bien les choses. »

Pareille affirmation est ignominieuse et relève de la paire de gifles. Non, Monsieur Haenel, ce n’est pas mon agenda qui a exigé ma colère, c’est ma colère qui a dicté mon agenda. En ce qui concerne Shoah sur Arte, le contrat était signé depuis bien longtemps.

Ce n’est pas le cas du film intitulé Le Rapport Karski, que je viens de réaliser, en un mois, à partir des rushes tournés en 1978, non intégrés à Shoah, dans lequel Karski, d’une façon dévastatrice pour le « romancier », relate les événements auxquels il a participé et la conception qu’il se faisait de sa mission. J’ai réalisé ce film dans l’intention avouée de rétablir au plus vite la vérité. A ce propos, la « fiction » doit-elle conduire les directeurs littéraires à mentir froidement ? Interrogé par Thomas Wieder (Le Monde du 26 janvier), Philippe Sollers, qui a publié Jan Karski dans sa collection « L’infini » (Gallimard), déclare : « Je trouve étrange que Lanzmann ne réagisse que maintenant, alors que je lui en avais adressé les épreuves avant l’été. » Sollers ment – et c’est triste -, les choses se sont passées comme je le raconte dans Marianne : il m’a averti, un matin, par téléphone, de la publication, par lui, du Karski, « magnifique hommage à Shoah », et a raccroché sans que j’aie pu placer un mot, sans même me dire le nom de l’auteur.

Dans le fatras qu’est son mémoire en défense, Haenel reprend, sans vergogne, la doxa qui fait de moi le grand prêtre de l’Interdit et le propriétaire vindicatif de la Shoah. Je serais donc aussi le « propriétaire de Jan Karski comme on l’est d’une marque » (sic). Vulgarité d’esprit qui transpire dans chaque ligne du livre. « Il (Lanzmann) ignore sans doute que Karski a participé à d’autres films que le sien. » Haenel devrait apprendre à lire : je consacre trois pages du Lièvre de Patagonie (Gallimard) aux assauts que subit Karski lorsque des chaînes de télévision, ayant appris que je l’avais retrouvé et tourné avec lui, voulurent en faire autant.

Dans Shoah, Karski est inoubliable. Son extraordinaire visage, ses soupirs exténués, sa voix qui incarne véritablement ses paroles, ces paroles mêmes, ébranlent le spectateur aux tréfonds. J’ai tourné avec Karski pendant deux jours entiers chez lui, à Washington, en 1978. Je n’ai intégré à Shoah que la première journée, laissant seulement Karski dire à la fin de son récit : « But I reported what I saw » (« Mais j’ai fait mon rapport sur ce que j’avais vu »). Il était clair qu’il avait réussi sa mission, passant de Varsovie à Londres, puis, plus tard, à Washington.

J’ai exposé les raisons de cette décision de créateur, elle n’est en rien une censure, comme ose le dire Haenel, prétendant que j’avais ainsi « rendu impossible qu’on puisse voir dans (mon) film un Polonais qui n’est pas antisémite » (sic). Il faudrait, ici, aller considérablement plus loin que la paire de gifles (rassurons Haenel, la guillotine ne se profile pas) : Karski, pendant tout le temps où on le voit dans Shoah, apparaît comme un homme bouleversé par le sort des juifs, à qui le film rend entièrement et fraternellement justice.

Et Karski n’est pas seul : il y a dans Shoah d’autres Polonais portant encore une blessure qui se rouvre dès qu’on évoque l’extermination. Mais, selon Haenel, j’aurais empêché Karski de « raconter sa mission en faveur des juifs », récit qui aurait montré sa vraie grandeur. Que ce monsieur prenne patience : il saura bientôt ce que Karski a dit le deuxième jour et il rendra gorge des accusations de mensonge et de trahison qu’il porte contre moi. Je respecte Karski bien plus que lui, je l’aime, contrairement à ce qu’il allègue, je l’ai aimé dès le premier instant, le spectateur de Shoah lui aussi ne peut que l’aimer.

Enfin, voici l’estocade, le coup mortel : je me garde, paraît-il, de raconter que j’ai piégé Karski pour le convaincre de se laisser filmer. Pauvre Haenel au moralisme simplet ! Pour reprendre un mot de Marcel Ophuls, on ne réalise pas un film comme Shoah en respectant les règles de fair-play d’un joueur de cricket d’Eton.

J’ai piégé beaucoup de monde, à commencer par la bureaucratie communiste polonaise pour obtenir la possibilité de tourner librement en Pologne. J’ai piégé des nazis, j’ai eu un faux nom, des faux papiers, et je n’ai reculé devant rien pour percer la muraille d’ignorance et de silence qui enfermait alors la Shoah. J’ai en effet répété à Karski ce que j’avais dit à Varsovie : que la question du sauvetage des juifs serait importante dans mon film, celle de la responsabilité des Alliés aussi. Cela, c’était au début de mon travail.

Je me suis ensuite convaincu que tout cela était infiniment plus complexe que je ne l’avais pensé. Avoir « piégé » Karski ne nous a pas empêchés d’être très proches l’un de l’autre à Washington et d’entretenir ensuite une longue correspondance. « Shoah, écrivit-il en 1985, est sans aucun doute le plus grand film qui ait été fait sur la tragédie des juifs. »

Il fit preuve de beaucoup de courage en écrivant cela à un moment où Shoah était attaqué tous azimuts en Pologne, et où le gouvernement polonais demandait à la France de l’interdire.

Ce petit jeune homme décrète que je ne comprends pas la littérature. Et il ose écrire : « Contrairement à ce tribunal de l’Histoire, d’où parle Lanzmann, la littérature est un espace libre, où la « vérité » n’existe pas. » Il n’est pas de phrase plus sotte. La littérature n’a affaire qu’à la vérité ; si celle-ci n’est pas l’affaire de Yannick Haenel, c’est que Jan Karski, roman, et quoi qu’en dise Sollers, n’est pas de la littérature.

Claude Lanzmann est écrivain, cinéaste

Voir de même:

Claude Lanzmann’s Holocaust documentary, Shoah, was meant to be an ‘incarnation of the truth’. His new film responds to a threat to that truth

Claude Lanzmann went to Iran recently. « As you know, » the 85-year-old director, a Jewish Frenchman, tells me in his Paris office, « Ahmadinejad doesn’t believe there was a Holocaust. The Iranians wanted me to prove to them on television that there was. They wanted to see the corpses. »

What did he tell them? The director of the nine-and-a-half hour documentary Shoah (1985) about the mass murder of Jews in Nazi death camps swivels round in his chair and fixes me. « I told them there’s not a single corpse in Shoah. The people who arrived at Treblinka, Belzec or Sobibor were killed within two or three hours and their corpses burned. The proof is not the corpses; the proof is the absence of corpses. There were special details who gathered the dust and threw it into the wind or into the rivers. Nothing of them remained. »

Among the Jews detailed to dispose of human remains was Simon Srebnik, whom Lanzmann lured from his home in Israel to the site of Chelmno, the first camp where Jews were gassed. In Shoah’s opening sequence, we see Srebnik being rowed along the Narew river. As the boat eases through calm waters, Srebnik sings, his lovely voice mingling with the sound of the breeze in the summer trees.

« It is not beautiful, » snaps Lanzmann when I tell him my first impression of this sequence. Only later do we learn that what Srebnik is singing is a Nazi marching song that, during his captivity, he was taught and compelled to sing for his captors’ entertainment. Only later do we learn that Srebnik was one of the Jews compelled by Nazis to daily dump sacks of crushed bones of Holocaust victims into this all-too-calm river. Two days before Chelmno was liberated by Soviet troops, remaining prisoners were shot in the head, among them Srebnik. Amazingly, he survived.

Shoah, which will be screened as part of the London documentary film festival Open City later this month, followed by a Q and A with the director, is a documentary of absences. There is no newsreel footage, there are no old photos, no corpses. Sometimes Lanzmann trains his camera on an empty field for several minutes. We see a seeming bucolic idyll – just the place for a picnic. Only the caption – Treblinka – tells us something intolerable happened here

For a long time, Lanzmann tells me, he resisted going to Poland. « Why would I want to? What would I see? » Instead, he toured the world interviewing Holocaust survivors for his film, pushing them hard to recall their experiences. Interviewees such as Abraham Bomba, whom Lanzmann filmed cutting hair in his Tel Aviv salon. As Bomba worked, he told Lanzmann how he was forced to cut women’s hair at Treblinka just before they were gassed.

At one point in the interview, Bomba recalled how a fellow barber was working when his wife and sister came into the gas chamber. Bomba broke down and pleaded with Lanzmann that he be allowed to stop telling the story. Lanzmann said: « You have to do it. I know it’s very hard. » This was his principal method on Shoah: to incarnate the truth of what happened through survivors’ testimonies, even at the cost of reopening old wounds.

With testimonies such as these, Lanzmann initially thought, he needn’t go to the scene of the crimes – to death camps such as Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor or Auschwitz-Birkenau. But, four years into his work on Shoah, Lanzmann changed his mind. « Finally, I realised I was meeting people, but couldn’t understand what they were telling me. I had to go there. I arrived in Poland loaded like a bomb with knowledge. But the fuse was missing – Poland was the fuse. »

What astounded him when he arrived in villages near the death camps was that life carried on regardless – as though the tragedy of the Holocaust had been erased. « When I saw the village of Treblinka still existed, that people who were witnesses to everything still existed, that there was a normal train station, the bomb that I was exploded. I started to shoot. »

What he started to shoot were testimonies of non-Jewish Polish bystanders. Were they oblivious to what was happening? Overwhelmingly not: Lanzmann interviews Jewish victims and bystanders who recalled that non-Jewish Poles made throat-cutting gestures to Jews as they arrived at the death camps on trains – to alert them to what was about to happen, perhaps, or maybe to revel in their looming murders. Lanzmann found evidence of Polish antisemitism in the villages around the death camps: a male interviewee relates how he’s happy the Jews are gone, but would rather they had gone to Israel voluntarily than be exterminated. In an interview outside a Catholic church, with Simon Srebnik present, bystanders alleged the Holocaust was just retribution for the killing of Jesus.

While inculpating Poles in Shoah, Lanzmann in this interview exculpates the Allies from the charge of doing nothing to save the Jews. « Could the Jews have been saved? My answer is no. I’m very deeply convinced of this. Everybody talks about the bombing of Birkenau. Some in the War Refugee Board [created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1943] were for bombing, and there were others who were against for reasons that cannot be despised. » What reasons? « Some pilots asked, ‘What is the meaning of this, to bomb the people we’re meant to rescue?’ A terrible contradiction.

« Money, not bombs, would have helped the Jews, because the Germans were running out of money. But in wartime you can’t send money because there are rules. But some religious Jews did send money to Slovakia that got into German hands, and for a while the deportations stopped. »

The question of whether the allies could have saved the lives of the Jews goes to the heart of one of the most important interviews Lanzmann conducted for Shoah, namely the one with the Polish spy and diplomat Jan Karski. In 1943, Karski was commissioned by the exiled Polish government to tell allied leaders about the fate of Poland, and by two Jewish leaders in Warsaw to do the same about the fate of the Jews. « They asked him to mobilise the conscience of the world, » says Lanzmann. In Shoah, Karski recounts what he saw in the ghetto and in camps. At the end of that interview, Karski says of his visit to Washington and London: « I made my report. »

Why end the interview there? « Everybody knows that the Jews were not rescued. He didn’t need to say more. It was very strong to end that way. »

But last year, Lanzmann changed his mind. He decided to release a film of the rest of the 33-year-old Karski interview, in which he told Lanzmann in detail of his mission to brief allied leaders. In this new film, The Karski Report, the Polish spy tells us that he met Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, a Jew, who, upon hearing Karski’s description of the horrors befalling Jews in Poland, said: « I do not believe you. » But Frankfurter was not calling Karski a liar. Indeed, at the same meeting, Frankfurter clarified what he meant: « I did not say that he was lying, I said that I could not believe him. There is a difference. »

Human inability to believe in the intolerable is what The Karski Report is about. At the start of the film, Lanzmann quotes the French philosopher Raymond Aron, who, when asked about the Holocaust, said: « I knew, but I didn’t believe it, and because I didn’t believe it, I didn’t know. » No wonder Lanzmann, a friend of Jean-Paul Sartre and lover of Simone de Beauvoir, is concerned with such philosophical issues. « The human brain is not prepared to understand this – even on the steps of the gas chamber. Karski says this very clearly. » Hence, for Lanzmann, the primacy of oral testimony as a mode of representation and understanding at the heart of Shoah.

But that primacy is paradoxical: the tragedy of Karski’s mission, if it was a tragedy, was to have witnessed something of such unprecedented horror that no mere report could convey its import, still less move the allies to action.

Why release this film now? Lanzmann released The Karski Report after the publication in 2009 of a novel called Jan Karski by the French writer Yannick Haenel. The novel became a French bestseller, but Lanzmann attacked it as « a falsification of history and of its protagonists ». « It’s a scandal about Karski, because he tries to make Karski into a man obsessed with the rescue of the Jews. He was not. » So Karski was not, as Haenel’s novel implies, the man who tried and failed to stop the Holocaust? « No! He says: ‘The Jews were not the centre of my mission. Poland was the centre of my mission.’ He says that very clearly. »

« I said to myself, ‘You are an idiot, because you have the film of the second day’s interview to show that Karski was not as he is depicted in this novel.’ So I released The Karski Report to re-establish the truth. » Haenel, for his part, argues Lanzmann does not understand his novel.

But what is the truth? Is truth only what emerges from oral testimony such as that given by Shoah’s interviewees? Sometimes, just as Adorno injuncted writing poetry after Auschwitz, so Lanzmann seems to be prohibiting – or at least reserving the right to slur – art about the Holocaust that is not based on oral testimony. Isn’t something to be said for artists who, in an act of creative empathy, try to imagine the lives of others embroiled in the Holocaust and legacy (consider, say, Nicole Kraus’s recent novel Great House, steeped as it is in creatively imagining the lives of Holocausts survivors)? « Of course one can make art about the Holocaust after my film, » Lanzmann says. « All I do say is that great literature always adds to reality. »

The implication is clear: Haenel’s literary imagining of Karski’s inner world distorts and subtracts from reality, while Lanzmann clearly believes Shoah, does otherwise. He wrote in the French newspaper Libération recently that when one watches Shoah, « one bears witness for nine hours 30 minutes to the incarnation of the truth, the contrary of the sanitisation of historical science. »

« That, » he says, « is why it remains important to see my film. »

Shoah and The Karski Report are both being screened at the Open City festival, on 18 and 19 June. Details: opencitylondon.com


Hommage: De la seule nation qui vénère le même Dieu qu’il y a 3 000 ans au seul pays fondé sur une idée (On the Fourth of July, honoring American exceptionalism and an exceptional American, Charles Krauthammer)

4 juillet, 2018
Israël est l’incarnation pure et simple de la continuité juive : c’est la seule nation au monde qui habite la même terre, porte le même nom, parle la même langue et vénère le même Dieu qu’il y a 3000 ans. En creusant le sol, on peut trouver des poteries du temps de David, des pièces de l’époque de Bar Kochba, et des parchemins vieux de 2000 ans, écrits de manière étonnamment semblable à celle qui, aujourd’hui, vante les crèmes glacées de la confiserie du coin. Charles Krauthammer

En ce nouvel anniversaire du « seul pays fondé sur une idée, l’idée de liberté » …

Comment ne pas avoir une pensée …

Pour l’un de ses plus fidèles et regrettés hérauts

Issu justement de la seule nation qui vénère le même Dieu qu’il y a 3 000 ans ?

On the Fourth of July, Honoring American Exceptionalism and an Exceptional American, Charles Krauthammer

Amid all the pomp and parades, the fireworks and other illuminations, the hot dogs and the ice cream, the home runs and the World Cup goals, let us be sure to pause on this Fourth of July holiday and say with grateful hearts and proud voices, “Happy birthday, America!”

This land—our land—is 242 years young today.

Led by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Ben Franklin, our Founding Fathers signed a document that raised high the banner of independence and challenged England, at the time the most powerful nation in the world.

Remarked one delegate as he signed the Declaration of Independence, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.”

What was the central idea of this revolutionary declaration that Jefferson, its author, called “an expression of the American mind”? Here is what Charles Krauthammer, the TV commentator and syndicated columnist, said: “America is the only country ever founded on an idea … and the idea is liberty.”

Many of us in Washington, D.C., are still lamenting the June 21 death of Krauthammer, who had a commanding grasp of politics, including foreign policy, that sprang from his intellect, his medical training and practice, and his formation in the Jewish tradition.

Krauthammer was very much like a Founder. Whether they agreed with him or not, those who knew him commented on his grace, civility, and humor. He combined the character of George Washington, the prudential mind of James Madison, and the wit of Franklin.

Asked how he could go from being a speechwriter for Walter Mondale to a political commentator on Fox News, he replied, “I was young once.”  He was a happy warrior even though he dealt with more difficulties—he was a quadriplegic from the age of 22—than most of us can imagine.

He could sum up a politician or a historical trend in just a few words. One year into the Obama administration, he wrote, “Fairness through leveling is the essence of Obamaism.” Toward the end of President Barack Obama’s first term, he summed up the four years: “The greatest threat to a robust, autonomous civil society is the ever-growing Leviathan state and those like Obama who see it as the ultimate expression of the collective.”

Krauthammer excelled at explaining our times. He coined the phrase “the Reagan Doctrine” to explain President Ronald Reagan’s support of anti-communist forces in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, and extolled Winston Churchill as the 20th century’s most indispensable leader. Paraphrasing the Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, he said, “The free lunch is the essence of modern liberalism.”

He was ever generous toward the rising generation. The co-author of this commentary will be always grateful for his support at the start of her academic career. Krauthammer would meet with her students who learned much about politics from him, although nearly all disagreed with him—at least at the beginning.

On one occasion, she took her students to see the satirical troupe “Capitol Steps,” and Krauthammer was there with his family, laughing at the anti-conservative sallies.

In the introduction to his book “Things That Matter,” Krauthammer referred to Adams and Jefferson and their tempered hopes for the durability of liberty.

He was not pessimistic, but realistic, about the future, writing: “The lesson of our history is that the task of merely maintaining strong and sturdy the structures of a constitutional order is unending, the continuing and ceaseless work of every generation.”

He was a prime example of someone who knows that man does not live by politics alone. His favorite diversion (after chess) was baseball, specifically the up-and-down, in-and-out, always unpredictable Washington Nationals, about whom he would wax poetic.

You get there [to the park], and the twilight’s gleaming, the popcorn’s popping, the kids’re romping, and everyone’s happy. The joy of losing consists in this: Where there are no expectations, there is no disappointment.

But Krauthammer, liberal-turned-conservative, psychiatrist-turned-political commentator, expected good things from the people. He wrote of the tea party revolt, “No matter how far the ideological pendulum swings in the short term, in the end, the bedrock common sense of the American people will prevail.”

In his final column, he wrote: “I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.”

Of course, his was not a small, but rather a leading, role, one that will serve as a model for those with the right ideas who take up the responsibility of keeping this exceptional nation on the road to liberty.

So—along with “Happy Birthday, America!”—we say to Charles Krauthammer, a mentor and an inspiration who will be missed beyond measure: “May God bless you and keep you.”

At Last, Zion

The Weekly Standard

I. A SMALL NATION

Milan Kundera once defined a small nation as « one whose very existence may be put in question at any moment; a small nation can disappear, and it knows it. »

The United States is not a small nation. Neither is Japan. Or France. These nations may suffer defeats. They may even be occupied. But they cannot disappear. Kundera’s Czechoslovakia could — and once did. Prewar Czechoslovakia is the paradigmatic small nation: a liberal democracy created in the ashes of war by a world determined to let little nations live free; threatened by the covetousness and sheer mass of a rising neighbor; compromised fatally by a West grown weary « of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing »; left truncated and defenseless, succumbing finally to conquest. When Hitler entered Prague in March 1939, he declared, « Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist. »

Israel too is a small country. This is not to say that extinction is its fate. Only that it can be.

Moreover, in its vulnerability to extinction, Israel is not just any small country. It is the only small country — the only period, period — whose neighbors publicly declare its very existence an affront to law, morality, and religion and make its extinction an explicit, paramount national goal. Nor is the goal merely declarative. Iran, Libya, and Iraq conduct foreign policies designed for the killing of Israelis and the destruction of their state. They choose their allies (Hamas, Hezbollah) and develop their weapons (suicide bombs, poison gas, anthrax, nuclear missiles) accordingly. Countries as far away as Malaysia will not allow a representative of Israel on their soil nor even permit the showing of Schindler’s List lest it engender sympathy for Zion.

Others are more circumspect in their declarations. No longer is the destruction of Israel the unanimous goal of the Arab League, as it was for the thirty years before Camp David. Syria, for example, no longer explicitly enunciates it. Yet Syria would destroy Israel tomorrow if it had the power. (Its current reticence on the subject is largely due to its post-Cold War need for the American connection.)

Even Egypt, first to make peace with Israel and the presumed model for peacemaking, has built a vast U.S.-equipped army that conducts military exercises obviously designed for fighting Israel. Its huge « Badr ’96 » exercises, for example, Egypt’s largest since the 1973 war, featured simulated crossings of the Suez Canal.

And even the PLO, which was forced into ostensible recognition of Israel in the Oslo Agreements of 1993, is still ruled by a national charter that calls in at least fourteen places for Israel’s eradication. The fact that after five years and four specific promises to amend the charter it remains unamended is a sign of how deeply engraved the dream of eradicating Israel remains in the Arab consciousness.

II. THE STAKES

The contemplation of Israel’s disappearance is very difficult for this generation. For fifty years, Israel has been a fixture. Most people cannot remember living in a world without Israel.

Nonetheless, this feeling of permanence has more than once been rudely interrupted — during the first few days of the Yom Kippur War when it seemed as if Israel might be overrun, or those few weeks in May and early June 1967 when Nasser blockaded the Straits of Tiran and marched 100,000 troops into Sinai to drive the Jews into the sea.

Yet Israel’s stunning victory in 1967, its superiority in conventional weaponry, its success in every war in which its existence was at stake, has bred complacency. Some ridicule the very idea of Israel’s impermanence. Israel, wrote one Diaspora intellectual, « is fundamentally indestructible. Yitzhak Rabin knew this. The Arab leaders on Mount Herzl [at Rabin’s funeral] knew this. Only the land-grabbing, trigger-happy saints of the right do not know this. They are animated by the imagination of catastrophe, by the thrill of attending the end. »

Thrill was not exactly the feeling Israelis had when during the Gulf War they entered sealed rooms and donned gas masks to protect themselves from mass death — in a war in which Israel was not even engaged. The feeling was fear, dread, helplessness — old existential Jewish feelings that post- Zionist fashion today deems anachronistic, if not reactionary. But wish does not overthrow reality. The Gulf War reminded even the most wishful that in an age of nerve gas, missiles, and nukes, an age in which no country is completely safe from weapons of mass destruction, Israel with its compact population and tiny area is particularly vulnerable to extinction.

Israel is not on the edge. It is not on the brink. This is not ’48 or ’67 or ’73. But Israel is a small country. It can disappear. And it knows it.

It may seem odd to begin an examination of the meaning of Israel and the future of the Jews by contemplating the end. But it does concentrate the mind. And it underscores the stakes. The stakes could not be higher. It is my contention that on Israel — on its existence and survival — hangs the very existence and survival of the Jewish people. Or, to put the thesis in the negative, that the end of Israel means the end of the Jewish people. They survived destruction and exile at the hands of Babylon in 586 B.C. They survived destruction and exile at the hands of Rome in 70 A.D., and finally in 132 A.D. They cannot survive another destruction and exile. The Third Commonwealth — modern Israel, born just 50 years ago — is the last.

The return to Zion is now the principal drama of Jewish history. What began as an experiment has become the very heart of the Jewish people — its cultural, spiritual, and psychological center, soon to become its demographic center as well. Israel is the hinge. Upon it rest the hopes — the only hope – – for Jewish continuity and survival.

III. THE DYING DIASPORA

In 1950, there were 5 million Jews in the United States. In 1990, the number was a slightly higher 5.5 million. In the intervening decades, overall U.S. population rose 65 percent. The Jews essentially tread water. In fact, in the last half-century Jews have shrunk from 3 percent to 2 percent of the American population. And now they are headed for not just relative but absolute decline. What sustained the Jewish population at its current level was, first, the postwar baby boom, then the influx of 400,000 Jews, mostly from the Soviet Union.

Well, the baby boom is over. And Russian immigration is drying up. There are only so many Jews where they came from. Take away these historical anomalies, and the American Jewish population would be smaller today than today. In fact, it is now headed for catastrophic decline. Steven Bayme, director of Jewish Communal Affairs at the American Jewish Committee, flatly predicts that in twenty years the Jewish population will be down to four million, a loss of nearly 30 percent. In twenty years! Projecting just a few decades further yields an even more chilling future.

How does a community decimate itself in the benign conditions of the United States? Easy: low fertility and endemic intermarriage.

The fertility rate among American Jews is 1.6 children per woman. The replacement rate (the rate required for the population to remain constant) is 2.1. The current rate is thus 20 percent below what is needed for zero growth. Thus fertility rates alone would cause a 20 percent decline in every generation. In three generations, the population would be cut in half.

The low birth rate does not stem from some peculiar aversion of Jewish women to children. It is merely a striking case of the well-known and universal phenomenon of birth rates declining with rising education and socio- economic class. Educated, successful working women tend to marry late and have fewer babies.

Add now a second factor, intermarriage. In the United States today more Jews marry Christians than marry Jews. The intermarriage rate is 52 percent. (A more conservative calculation yields 47 percent; the demographic effect is basically the same.) In 1970, the rate was 8 percent.

Most important for Jewish continuity, however, is the ultimate identity of the children born to these marriages. Only about one in four is raised Jewish. Thus two-thirds of Jewish marriages are producing children three-quarters of whom are lost to the Jewish people. Intermarriage rates alone would cause a 25 percent decline in population in every generation. (Math available upon request.) In two generations, half the Jews would disappear.

Now combine the effects of fertility and intermarriage and make the overly optimistic assumption that every child raised Jewish will grow up to retain his Jewish identity (i.e., a zero dropout rate). You can start with 100 American Jews; you end up with 60. In one generation, more than a third have disappeared. In just two generations, two out of every three will vanish.

One can reach this same conclusion by a different route (bypassing the intermarriage rates entirely). A Los Angeles Times poll of American Jews conducted in March 1998 asked a simple question: Are you raising your children as Jews? Only 70 percent said yes. A population in which the biological replacement rate is 80 percent and the cultural replacement rate is 70 percent is headed for extinction. By this calculation, every 100 Jews are raising 56 Jewish children. In just two generations, 7 out of every 10 Jews will vanish.

The demographic trends in the rest of the Diaspora are equally unencouraging. In Western Europe, fertility and intermarriage rates mirror those of the United States. Take Britain. Over the last generation, British Jewry has acted as a kind of controlled experiment: a Diaspora community living in an open society, but, unlike that in the United States, not artificially sustained by immigration. What happened? Over the last quarter- century, the number of British Jews declined by over 25 percent.

Over the same interval, France’s Jewish population declined only slightly. The reason for this relative stability, however, is a one-time factor: the influx of North African Jewry. That influx is over. In France today only a minority of Jews between the ages of twenty and forty-four live in a conventional family with two Jewish parents. France, too, will go the way of the rest.

« The dissolution of European Jewry, » observes Bernard Wasserstein in Vanishing Diaspora: The Jews in Europe since 1945, « is not situated at some point in the hypothetical future. The process is taking place before our eyes and is already far advanced. » Under present trends, « the number of Jews in Europe by the year 2000 would then be not much more than one million — the lowest figure since the last Middle Ages. »

In 1990, there were eight million.

The story elsewhere is even more dispiriting. The rest of what was once the Diaspora is now either a museum or a graveyard. Eastern Europe has been effectively emptied of its Jews. In 1939, Poland had 3.2 million Jews. Today it is home to 3,500. The story is much the same in the other capitals of Eastern Europe.

The Islamic world, cradle to the great Sephardic Jewish tradition and home to one-third of world Jewry three centuries ago, is now practically Judenrein. Not a single country in the Islamic world is home to more than 20,000 Jews. After Turkey with 19,000 and Iran with 14,000, the country with the largest Jewish community in the entire Islamic world is Morocco with 6, 100. There are more Jews in Omaha, Nebraska.

These communities do not figure in projections. There is nothing to project. They are fit subjects not for counting but for remembering. Their very sound has vanished. Yiddish and Ladino, the distinctive languages of the European and Sephardic Diasporas, like the communities that invented them, are nearly extinct.

IV. THE DYNAMICS OF ASSIMILATION

Is it not risky to assume that current trends will continue? No. Nothing will revive the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe and the Islamic world. And nothing will stop the rapid decline by assimilation of Western Jewry. On the contrary. Projecting current trends — assuming, as I have done, that rates remain constant — is rather conservative: It is risky to assume that assimilation will not accelerate. There is nothing on the horizon to reverse the integration of Jews into Western culture. The attraction of Jews to the larger culture and the level of acceptance of Jews by the larger culture are historically unprecedented. If anything, the trends augur an intensification of assimilation.

It stands to reason. As each generation becomes progressively more assimilated, the ties to tradition grow weaker (as measured, for example, by synagogue attendance and number of children receiving some kind of Jewish education). This dilution of identity, in turn, leads to a greater tendency to intermarriage and assimilation. Why not? What, after all, are they giving up? The circle is complete and self-reinforcing.

Consider two cultural artifacts. With the birth of television a half- century ago, Jewish life in America was represented by The Goldbergs: urban Jews, decidedly ethnic, heavily accented, socially distinct. Forty years later The Goldbergs begat Seinfeld, the most popular entertainment in America today. The Seinfeld character is nominally Jewish. He might cite his Jewish identity on occasion without apology or self- consciousness — but, even more important, without consequence. It has not the slightest influence on any aspect of his life.

Assimilation of this sort is not entirely unprecedented. In some ways, it parallels the pattern in Western Europe after the emancipation of the Jews in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The French Revolution marks the turning point in the granting of civil rights to Jews. As they began to emerge from the ghetto, at first they found resistance to their integration and advancement. They were still excluded from the professions, higher education, and much of society. But as these barriers began gradually to erode and Jews advanced socially, Jews began a remarkable embrace of European culture and, for many, Christianity. In A History of Zionism, Walter Laqueur notes the view of Gabriel Riesser, an eloquent and courageous mid-19th-century advocate of emancipation, that a Jew who preferred the non-existent state and nation of Israel to Germany should be put under police protection not because he was dangerous but because he was obviously insane.

Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) was a harbinger. Cultured, cosmopolitan, though firmly Jewish, he was the quintessence of early emancipation. Yet his story became emblematic of the rapid historical progression from emancipation to assimilation: Four of his six children and eight of his nine grandchildren were baptized.

In that more religious, more Christian age, assimilation took the form of baptism, what Henrich Heine called the admission ticket to European society. In the far more secular late-20th century, assimilation merely means giving up the quaint name, the rituals, and the other accouterments and identifiers of one’s Jewish past. Assimilation today is totally passive. Indeed, apart from the trip to the county courthouse to transform, say, (shmattes by) Ralph Lifshitz into (Polo by) Ralph Lauren, it is marked by an absence of actions rather than the active embrace of some other faith. Unlike Mendelssohn’s children, Seinfeld required no baptism.

We now know, of course, that in Europe, emancipation through assimilation proved a cruel hoax. The rise of anti-Semitism, particularly late-19th- century racial anti-Semitism culminating in Nazism, disabused Jews of the notion that assimilation provided escape from the liabilities and dangers of being Jewish. The saga of the family of Madeleine Albright is emblematic. Of her four Jewish grandparents — highly assimilated, with children some of whom actually converted and erased their Jewish past — three went to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps as Jews.

Nonetheless, the American context is different. There is no American history of anti-Semitism remotely resembling Europe’s. The American tradition of tolerance goes back 200 years to the very founding of the country. Washington’s letter to the synagogue in Newport pledges not tolerance — tolerance bespeaks non-persecution bestowed as a favor by the dominant upon the deviant — but equality. It finds no parallel in the history of Europe. In such a country, assimilation seems a reasonable solution to one’s Jewish problem. One could do worse than merge one’s destiny with that of a great and humane nation dedicated to the proposition of human dignity and equality.

Nonetheless, while assimilation may be a solution for individual Jews, it clearly is a disaster for Jews as a collective with a memory, a language, a tradition, a liturgy, a history, a faith, a patrimony that will all perish as a result.

Whatever value one might assign to assimilation, one cannot deny its reality. The trends, demographic and cultural, are stark. Not just in the long-lost outlands of the Diaspora, not just in its erstwhile European center, but even in its new American heartland, the future will be one of diminution, decline, and virtual disappearance. This will not occur overnight. But it will occur soon — in but two or three generations, a time not much further removed from ours today than the founding of Israel fifty years ago.

V. ISRAELI EXCEPTIONALISM

Israel is different. In Israel the great temptation of modernity — assimilation — simply does not exist. Israel is the very embodiment of Jewish continuity: It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago. You dig the soil and you find pottery from Davidic times, coins from Bar Kokhba, and 2,000-year-old scrolls written in a script remarkably like the one that today advertises ice cream at the corner candy store.

Because most Israelis are secular, however, some ultra-religious Jews dispute Israel’s claim to carry on an authentically Jewish history. So do some secular Jews. A French critic (sociologist Georges Friedmann) once called Israelis « Hebrew-speaking gentiles. » In fact, there was once a fashion among a group of militantly secular Israeli intellectuals to call themselves  » Canaanites, » i.e., people rooted in the land but entirely denying the religious tradition from which they came.

Well then, call these people what you will. « Jews, » after all, is a relatively recent name for this people. They started out as Hebrews, then became Israelites. « Jew » (derived from the Kingdom of Judah, one of the two successor states to the Davidic and Solomonic Kingdom of Israel) is the post- exilic term for Israelite. It is a latecomer to history.

What to call the Israeli who does not observe the dietary laws, has no use for the synagogue, and regards the Sabbath as the day for a drive to the beach — a fair description, by the way, of most of the prime ministers of Israel? It does not matter. Plant a Jewish people in a country that comes to a standstill on Yom Kippur; speaks the language of the Bible; moves to the rhythms of the Hebrew (lunar) calendar; builds cities with the stones of its ancestors; produces Hebrew poetry and literature, Jewish scholarship and learning unmatched anywhere in the world — and you have continuity.

Israelis could use a new name. Perhaps we will one day relegate the word Jew to the 2,000-year exilic experience and once again call these people Hebrews. The term has a nice historical echo, being the name by which Joseph and Jonah answered the question: « Who are you? »

In the cultural milieu of modern Israel, assimilation is hardly the problem. Of course Israelis eat McDonald’s and watch Dallas reruns. But so do Russians and Chinese and Danes. To say that there are heavy Western (read: American) influences on Israeli culture is to say nothing more than that Israel is as subject to the pressures of globalization as any other country. But that hardly denies its cultural distinctiveness, a fact testified to by the great difficulty immigrants have in adapting to Israel.

In the Israeli context, assimilation means the reattachment of Russian and Romanian, Uzbeki and Iraqi, Algerian and Argentinian Jews to a distinctively Hebraic culture. It means the exact opposite of what it means in the Diaspora: It means giving up alien languages, customs, and traditions. It means giving up Christmas and Easter for Hanukkah and Passover. It means giving up ancestral memories of the steppes and the pampas and the savannas of the world for Galilean hills and Jerusalem stone and Dead Sea desolation. That is what these new Israelis learn. That is what is transmitted to their children. That is why their survival as Jews is secure. Does anyone doubt that the near- million Soviet immigrants to Israel would have been largely lost to the Jewish people had they remained in Russia — and that now they will not be lost?

Some object to the idea of Israel as carrier of Jewish continuity because of the myriad splits and fractures among Israelis: Orthodox versus secular, Ashkenazi versus Sephardi, Russian versus sabra, and so on. Israel is now engaged in bitter debates over the legitimacy of conservative and reform Judaism and the encroachment of Orthodoxy upon the civic and social life of the country.

So what’s new? Israel is simply recapitulating the Jewish norm. There are equally serious divisions in the Diaspora, as there were within the last Jewish Commonwealth: « Before the ascendancy of the Pharisees and the emergence of Rabbinic orthodoxy after the fall of the Second Temple, » writes Harvard Near East scholar Frank Cross, « Judaism was more complex and variegated than we had supposed. » The Dead Sea Scrolls, explains Hershel Shanks, « emphasize a hitherto unappreciated variety in Judaism of the late Second Temple period, so much so that scholars often speak not simply of Judaism but of Judaisms. »

The Second Commonwealth was a riot of Jewish sectarianism: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, apocalyptics of every stripe, sects now lost to history, to say nothing of the early Christians. Those concerned about the secular- religious tensions in Israel might contemplate the centuries-long struggle between Hellenizers and traditionalists during the Second Commonwealth. The Maccabean revolt of 167-4 B.C., now celebrated as Hanukkah, was, among other things, a religious civil war among Jews.

Yes, it is unlikely that Israel will produce a single Jewish identity. But that is unnecessary. The relative monolith of Rabbinic Judaism in the Middle Ages is the exception. Fracture and division is a fact of life during the modern era, as during the First and Second Commonwealths. Indeed, during the period of the First Temple, the people of Israel were actually split into two often warring states. The current divisions within Israel pale in comparison.

Whatever identity or identities are ultimately adopted by Israelis, the fact remains that for them the central problem of Diaspora Jewry — suicide by assimilation — simply does not exist. Blessed with this security of identity, Israel is growing. As a result, Israel is not just the cultural center of the Jewish world, it is rapidly becoming its demographic center as well. The relatively high birth rate yields a natural increase in population. Add a steady net rate of immigration (nearly a million since the late 1980s), and Israel’s numbers rise inexorably even as the Diaspora declines.

Within a decade Israel will pass the United States as the most populous Jewish community on the globe. Within our lifetime a majority of the world’s Jews will be living in Israel. That has not happened since well before Christ.

A century ago, Europe was the center of Jewish life. More than 80 percent of world Jewry lived there. The Second World War destroyed European Jewry and dispersed the survivors to the New World (mainly the United States) and to Israel. Today, 80 percent of world Jewry lives either in the United States or in Israel. Today we have a bipolar Jewish universe with two centers of gravity of approximately equal size. It is a transitional stage, however. One star is gradually dimming, the other brightening.

Soon an inevitably the cosmology of the Jewish people will have been transformed again, turned into a single-star system with a dwindling Diaspora orbiting around. It will be a return to the ancient norm: The Jewish people will be centered — not just spiritually but physically — in their ancient homeland.

VI. THE END OF DISPERSION

The consequences of this transformation are enormous. Israel’s centrality is more than just a question of demography. It represents a bold and dangerous new strategy for Jewish survival.

For two millennia, the Jewish people survived by means of dispersion and isolation. Following the first exile in 586 B.C. and the second exile in 70 A. D. and 132 A.D., Jews spread first throughout Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean Basin, then to northern and eastern Europe and eventually west to the New World, with communities in practically every corner of the earth, even unto India and China.

Throughout this time, the Jewish people survived the immense pressures of persecution, massacre, and forced conversion not just by faith and courage, but by geographic dispersion. Decimated here, they would survive there. The thousands of Jewish villages and towns spread across the face of Europe, the Islamic world, and the New World provided a kind of demographic insurance. However many Jews were massacred in the First Crusade along the Rhine, however many villages were destroyed in the 1648-1649 pogroms in Ukraine, there were always thousands of others spread around the globe to carry on.

This dispersion made for weakness and vulnerability for individual Jewish communities. Paradoxically, however, it made for endurance and strength for the Jewish people as a whole. No tyrant could amass enough power to threaten Jewish survival everywhere.

Until Hitler. The Nazis managed to destroy most everything Jewish from the Pyrenees to the gates of Stalingrad, an entire civilization a thousand years old. There were nine million Jews in Europe when Hitler came to power. He killed two-thirds of them. Fifty years later, the Jews have yet to recover. There were sixteen million Jews in the world in 1939. Today, there are thirteen million.

The effect of the Holocaust was not just demographic, however. It was psychological, indeed ideological, as well. It demonstrated once and for all the catastrophic danger of powerlessness. The solution was self-defense, and that meant a demographic reconcentration in a place endowed with sovereignty, statehood, and arms.

Before World War II there was great debate in the Jewish world over Zionism. Reform Judaism, for example, was for decades anti-Zionist. The Holocaust resolved that debate. Except for those at the extremes — the ultra-Orthodox right and far left — Zionism became the accepted solution to Jewish powerlessness and vulnerability. Amid the ruins, Jews made a collective decision that their future lay in self-defense and territoriality, in the ingathering of the exiles to a place where they could finally acquire the means to defend themselves.

It was the right decision, the only possible decision. But oh so perilous. What a choice of place to make one’s final stand: a dot on the map, a tiny patch of near-desert, a thin ribbon of Jewish habitation behind the flimsiest of natural barriers (which the world demands that Israel relinquish). One determined tank thrust can tear it in half. One small battery of nuclear- tipped Scuds can obliterate it entirely.

To destroy the Jewish people, Hitler needed to conquer the world. All that is needed today is to conquer a territory smaller than Vermont. The terrible irony is that in solving the problem of powerlessness, the Jews have necessarily put all their eggs in one basket, a small basket hard by the waters of the Mediterranean. And on its fate hinges everything Jewish.

VII. THINKING THE UNTHINKABLE

What if the Third Jewish Commonwealth meets the fate of the first two? The scenario is not that far-fetched: A Palestinian state is born, arms itself, concludes alliances with, say, Iraq and Syria. War breaks out between Palestine and Israel (over borders or water or terrorism). Syria and Iraq attack from without. Egypt and Saudi Arabia join the battle. The home front comes under guerilla attack from Palestine. Chemical and biological weapons rain down from Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Israel is overrun.

Why is this the end? Can the Jewish people not survive as they did when their homeland was destroyed and their political independence extinguished twice before? Why not a new exile, a new Diaspora, a new cycle of Jewish history?

First, because the cultural conditions of exile would be vastly different. The first exiles occurred at a time when identity was nearly coterminous with religion. An expulsion two millennia later into a secularized world affords no footing for a reestablished Jewish identity.

But more important: Why retain such an identity? Beyond the dislocation would be the sheer demoralization. Such an event would simply break the spirit. No people could survive it. Not even the Jews. This is a people that miraculously survived two previous destructions and two millennia of persecution in the hope of ultimate return and restoration. Israel is that hope. To see it destroyed, to have Isaiahs and Jeremiahs lamenting the widows of Zion once again amid the ruins of Jerusalem is more than one people could bear.

Particularly coming after the Holocaust, the worst calamity in Jewish history. To have survived it is miracle enough. Then to survive the destruction of that which arose to redeem it — the new Jewish state — is to attribute to Jewish nationhood and survival supernatural power.

Some Jews and some scattered communities would, of course, survive. The most devout, already a minority, would carry on — as an exotic tribe, a picturesque Amish-like anachronism, a dispersed and pitied remnant of a remnant. But the Jews as a people would have retired from history.

We assume that Jewish history is cyclical: Babylonian exile in 586 B.C., followed by return in 538 B.C. Roman exile in 135 A.D., followed by return, somewhat delayed, in 1948. We forget a linear part of Jewish history: There was one other destruction, a century and a half before the fall of the First Temple. It went unrepaired. In 722 B.C., the Assyrians conquered the other, larger Jewish state, the northern kingdom of Israel. (Judah, from which modern Jews are descended, was the southern kingdom.) This is the Israel of the Ten Tribes, exiled and lost forever.

So enduring is their mystery that when Lewis and Clark set off on their expedition, one of the many questions prepared for them by Dr. Benjamin Rush at Jefferson’s behest was this: « What Affinity between their [the Indians’] religious Ceremonies & those of the Jews? » « Jefferson and Lewis had talked at length about these tribes, » explains Stephen Ambrose. « They speculated that the lost tribes of Israel could be out there on the Plains. »

Alas, not. The Ten Tribes had melted away into history. As such, they represent the historical norm. Every other people so conquered and exiled has in time disappeared. Only the Jews defied the norm. Twice. But never, I fear, again.


Disparition de Bernard Lewis: C’est les ressemblances, imbécile ! (What brought Islam and Christendom into conflict was not so much their differences as their resemblances)

9 juin, 2018
61463_468177469892194_1364727104_n Que chacun se tienne en garde contre son ami et qu’on ne se fie à aucun de ses frères car tout frère cherche à tromper et tout ami répand des calomnies. Jérémie 9: 4
C’était une cité fortement convoitée par les ennemis de la foi et c’est pourquoi, par une sorte de syndrome mimétique, elle devint chère également au cœur des Musulmans. Emmanuel Sivan
Le choix du lieu lui-même est extrêmement symbolique : lieu sacré juif, où restent encore des ruines des temples hérodiens, laissé à l’abandon par les chrétiens pour marquer leur triomphe sur cette religion, il est à nouveau utilisé sous l’Islam, marquant alors la victoire sur les Chrétiens et, éventuellement, une continuité avec le judaïsme. (…) Enfin, l’historien Al-Maqdisi, au Xe siècle, écrit que le dôme a été réalisé dans la but de dépasser le Saint-Sépulcre, d’où un plan similaire, mais magnifié. De cette analyse on a pu conclure que le dôme du Rocher peut être considéré comme un message de l’Islam et des Umayyades en direction des chrétiens, des Juifs, mais également des musulmans récemment convertis (attirés par les déploiements de luxe des églises chrétiennes) pour marquer le triomphe de l’Islam. Wikipedia 
Le point intéressant est l’attitude des Palestiniens. Il me semble que ceux-ci sont attirés par deux attitudes extrêmes: l’une est la négation pure et simple de la Shoah, dont il y a divers exemples dans la littérature palestinienne ; l’autre est l’identification de leur propre destin à celui du peuple juif. Tout le monde a pu remarquer, par exemple, que la Déclaration d’indépendance des Palestiniens en novembre 1988 était calquée sur la Déclaration d’indépendance d’Israël en 1948. C’est dans cet esprit qu’il arrive aux dirigeants palestiniens de dire que la Shoah, ils savent ce que c’est, puisque c’est ce qu’ils subissent au quotidien. J’ai entendu M. Arafat dire cela, en 1989, à un groupe d’intellectuels, dont je faisais partie. Pierre Vidal-Naquet
L’erreur est toujours de raisonner dans les catégories de la « différence », alors que la racine de tous les conflits, c’est plutôt la « concurrence », la rivalité mimétique entre des êtres, des pays, des cultures. La concurrence, c’est-à-dire le désir d’imiter l’autre pour obtenir la même chose que lui, au besoin par la violence. Sans doute le terrorisme est-il lié à un monde « différent » du nôtre, mais ce qui suscite le terrorisme n’est pas dans cette « différence » qui l’éloigne le plus de nous et nous le rend inconcevable. Il est au contraire dans un désir exacerbé de convergence et de ressemblance. (…) Ce qui se vit aujourd’hui est une forme de rivalité mimétique à l’échelle planétaire. Lorsque j’ai lu les premiers documents de Ben Laden, constaté ses allusions aux bombes américaines tombées sur le Japon, je me suis senti d’emblée à un niveau qui est au-delà de l’islam, celui de la planète entière. Sous l’étiquette de l’islam, on trouve une volonté de rallier et de mobiliser tout un tiers-monde de frustrés et de victimes dans leurs rapports de rivalité mimétique avec l’Occident. Mais les tours détruites occupaient autant d’étrangers que d’Américains. Et par leur efficacité, par la sophistication des moyens employés, par la connaissance qu’ils avaient des Etats-Unis, par leurs conditions d’entraînement, les auteurs des attentats n’étaient-ils pas un peu américains ? On est en plein mimétisme. Ce sentiment n’est pas vrai des masses, mais des dirigeants. Sur le plan de la fortune personnelle, on sait qu’un homme comme Ben Laden n’a rien à envier à personne. Et combien de chefs de parti ou de faction sont dans cette situation intermédiaire, identique à la sienne. Regardez un Mirabeau au début de la Révolution française : il a un pied dans un camp et un pied dans l’autre, et il n’en vit que de manière plus aiguë son ressentiment. Aux Etats-Unis, des immigrés s’intègrent avec facilité, alors que d’autres, même si leur réussite est éclatante, vivent aussi dans un déchirement et un ressentiment permanents. Parce qu’ils sont ramenés à leur enfance, à des frustrations et des humiliations héritées du passé. Cette dimension est essentielle, en particulier chez des musulmans qui ont des traditions de fierté et un style de rapports individuels encore proche de la féodalité. (…) Cette concurrence mimétique, quand elle est malheureuse, ressort toujours, à un moment donné, sous une forme violente. A cet égard, c’est l’islam qui fournit aujourd’hui le ciment qu’on trouvait autrefois dans le marxismeRené Girard
Il faut se souvenir que le nazisme s’est lui-même présenté comme une lutte contre la violence: c’est en se posant en victime du traité de Versailles que Hitler a gagné son pouvoir. Et le communisme lui aussi s’est présenté comme une défense des victimes. Désormais, c’est donc seulement au nom de la lutte contre la violence qu’on peut commettre la violence. René Girard
La condition préalable à tout dialogue est que chacun soit honnête avec sa tradition. (…) les chrétiens ont repris tel quel le corpus de la Bible hébraïque. Saint Paul parle de  » greffe » du christianisme sur le judaïsme, ce qui est une façon de ne pas nier celui-ci . (…) Dans l’islam, le corpus biblique est, au contraire, totalement remanié pour lui faire dire tout autre chose que son sens initial (…) La récupération sous forme de torsion ne respecte pas le texte originel sur lequel, malgré tout, le Coran s’appuie. René Girard
Dans la foi musulmane, il y a un aspect simple, brut, pratique qui a facilité sa diffusion et transformé la vie d’un grand nombre de peuples à l’état tribal en les ouvrant au monothéisme juif modifié par le christianisme. Mais il lui manque l’essentiel du christianisme : la croix. Comme le christianisme, l’islam réhabilite la victime innocente, mais il le fait de manière guerrière. La croix, c’est le contraire, c’est la fin des mythes violents et archaïques. René Girard
Des millions de Faisal Shahzad sont déstabilisés par un monde moderne qu’ils ne peuvent ni maîtriser ni rejeter. (…) Le jeune homme qui avait fait tous ses efforts pour acquérir la meilleure éducation que pouvait lui offrir l’Amérique avant de succomber à l’appel du jihad a fait place au plus atteint des schizophrènes. Les villes surpeuplées de l’Islam – de Karachi et Casablanca au Caire – et ces villes d’Europe et d’Amérique du Nord où la diaspora islamique est maintenant présente en force ont des multitudes incalculables d’hommes comme Faisal Shahzad. C’est une longue guerre crépusculaire, la lutte contre l’Islamisme radical. Nul vœu pieu, nulle stratégie de « gain des coeurs et des esprits », nulle grande campagne d’information n’en viendront facilement à bout. L’Amérique ne peut apaiser cette fureur accumulée. Ces hommes de nulle part – Shahzad Faisal, Malik Nidal Hasan, l’émir renégat né en Amérique Anwar Awlaki qui se terre actuellement au Yémen et ceux qui leur ressemblent – sont une race de combattants particulièrement dangereux dans ce nouveau genre de guerre. La modernité les attire et les ébranle à la fois. L’Amérique est tout en même temps l’objet de leurs rêves et le bouc émissaire sur lequel ils projettent leurs malignités les plus profondes. Fouad Ajami
For the sake of clarity and decency, one must delineate between (a) genocides (documented attempts to wipe off a race or a nation); (b) non-genocidal mass murders; (c) enslavement of large numbers of people; (d) planned dispossession and expulsion of large numbers of people; and (e) secondary effects of wars and other crises. In that order. The Holocaust qualifies under point (a). So does the starvation program against the Hereros (in German Southwest Africa shortly before WW1), and the further genocidal operations against the Armenians, the Iraqi Chaldeans, the black minority in the Dominican Republic, the Roma/Sinti in Europe, and the Tutsis in Rwanda. The « Nakba » does not compare to most other collective tragedies in the last century. The Soviet, Red Chinese, and Khmer Rouge domestic massacres qualify under point (b), as well as the Nazi treatment of European nations (like the Poles), the Japanese atrocities in China, and many further ethnic and religious massacres in the Balkans, South Asia, and Africa. The African slave trade and the slavery regimes in both Islamic countries and the Christian colonies in the Americas and elsewhere qualify under point (c). So do massive slave work programs in the Soviet Union, in Nazi Germany, in Maoist China, and in present-day North Korea. Qualifying under point (d): The U.S. treatment of many Native Americans in the 19th century; the French treatment of Kabyles in Algeria in 1871; the alternate expulsion of Turks, Greeks, and Turks again between 1912 and 1923; the expulsion of Poles and French from areas slated for German colonization during WW2; the expulsion of ethnic Germans from East Prussia, Transoderian Germany, and Czechoslovakia in 1945; the mass anti-Christian pogroms in Turkey in 1955; the expulsion of Christians and Jews from Arab or Islamic countries from 1956 on (Egypt, North Africa, the Middle East); and the expulsion of ethnic Greeks from Northern Cyprus. UNRWA has evolved from a temporary relief and works program into a broad social welfare organization. The Nakba should be chiefly considered under point (e): the mass flight of Arab Palestinians was a collateral outcome of the first Arab-Israeli war, which was initiated by the Arab Palestinian leadership of the day and six Arab nations. Even so, Arab Palestinian refugees, while often unwelcome in neighboring Arab countries, were given a privileged status by the United Nations and have been able to retain it on a hereditary basis to this day. As an average, UNRWA — the United Nations agency that deals exclusively with Palestinian refugees — has been getting one third of the global United Nations budget for refugees over a period of almost seventy years. It is noteworthy that most Muslim victims come also under point (e), whereas Muslim powers acted criminally in many instances under points (a), (c) and (d). Likewise, it should be stressed that throughout the 1915-2015 period, Christians have been the largest victim group in the Middle East under points (a), (d) and (e), followed by Jews under points (d) and (e). Again, comparison of the Nakba with the Holocaust or with much of the above criminality of the past 100 years is parody rooted in anti-Israeli sentiment. Michel Gurfinkiel
La guerre entre les pays de l’islam et les pays chrétiens sous leurs étendards religieux respectifs dure depuis le début de l’islam, il y a plus de quatorze siècles. Le conflit a même parfois été plus dur qu’aujourd’hui. Prenez les croisades, les guerres coloniales, entre autres… Actuellement, la tendance est à tout réduire au facteur national. Mais c’est une erreur. Un exemple : le film du cinéaste égyptien Youssef Chahine sur l’expédition en Egypte de Bonaparte en 1799. Chahine nous présente les choses avec la vision nationaliste contemporaine : les Arabes qui habitaient l’Egypte se révoltèrent contre l’intrusion des étrangers. En vérité, c’était davantage une indignation de musulmans. De musulmans, plus que d’Arabes… Le fait national agissait de manière complexe, caché, mais les contemporains considéraient les événements d’un point de vue religieux : les infidèles viennent nous attaquer. (…) C’est ainsi depuis le début : l’islam fut considéré dès sa formation au VIIe siècle comme une hérésie chrétienne. Des individus sous la direction d’un faux prophète proclament des faussetés sur la nature de Dieu, les obligations des fidèles, le rôle de Jésus… (…) Quand deux mondes s’affrontent, tout joue. L’argent, le pouvoir, la foi… Quelle motivation l’emporte sur l’autre ? C’est indémêlable. Ce qui s’est passé à New York n’est pas isolable de la lutte Orient-Occident dans sa globalité. (…) Qu’est-ce que l’Occident pour les musulmans ? Un monde chrétien, donc un monde d’infidèles, d’incroyants, de gens qui disent des horreurs sur le prophète Mahomet. Ils doivent être combattus par la parole si c’est possible, et sinon, dans certaines circonstances, par le glaive. Cette haine a aussi une dimension patriotique si l’on peut dire. Tant que l’Occident ne vous dérange pas, ça va. Mais aussitôt qu’il veut ou paraît vouloir imposer ses valeurs… Au nom de ses valeurs à soi, le spectre resurgit. Aujourd’hui, on regarde les choses avec plus de modération, mais depuis une cinquantaine d’années à peine. Le concile Vatican II, en 1965, a considéré qu’il y avait des valeurs précieuses dans l’islam. Mais les papes récents ont eu beaucoup de difficulté à imposer cette version des choses. (…) Le décalage de la prospérité joue évidemment un grand rôle. Les musulmans subissent l’influence des modes et des représentations européennes, non sans humiliation. (…) Cela a commencé bien avant (la colonisation]. Dès le… VIIe siècle. Les musulmans n’en ont pas toujours conscience, mais ils se sont imposés les premiers en Europe comme concurrents, avec des aspirations dominatrices. La plupart des pays musulmans actuels étaient alors chrétiens – l’Egypte, la Syrie, la Turquie… Pendant longtemps, les musulmans ont été les plus forts, les plus riches, les plus civilisés. (…) Au bout de plusieurs siècles, par la force, mais aussi par les idées et le commerce (…) L’Occident chrétien a définitivement emporté la partie quand, à partir des années 1800, sa domination technologique a été écrasante. En fait, quand les canons et les fusils occidentaux se sont mis à tirer plus vite… Maxime Rodinson
Il faut rappeler d’abord que le savoir moderne sur l’Orient est né de la force. L’Europe agit sur la scène théâtrale mondiale. Elle a conscience d’être un acteur qui prend la parole et domine la scène de manière conquérante. Cette conscience de supériorité, nous ne la trouvons pas chez les Orientaux. Aux dix-huitième et dix-neuvième siècles, il y a eu, dans le monde arabo-islamique, une conscience locale concernant les problèmes intérieurs; cette conscience ne se prend pas pour une parole qui se diffuse et s’exporte. Cela ne veut pas dire qu’il n’y avait pas des énergies et des débats internes. Mais en tant que culture et pouvoir du mot qui résistent à la conquête, ces énergies n’existaient pas. Bonaparte a emmené dans ses bagages une équipe de savants et d’intellectuels pour mieux assimiler la logique non évidente, intérieure du peuple et de la société à conquérir. Il y a une conscience de l’identité conquérante nourrie et soutenue par une série de personnages conquérants dans l’histoire occidentale (Alexandre, César, Marc-Antoine, Auguste…). Bonaparte ne fait que poursuivre une tradition bien ancrée dans la conscience et l’histoire occidentales. Il partait en Égypte comme un nouvel Alexandre, un peu pour justifier les observations faites par Talleyrand, à propos  » des avantages à retirer des colonies nouvelles « . (…) Et pour moi cela reste inexplicable. Je ne comprends pas encore comment, pour ne parler que du monde arabe, l’Occident a réussi à le dominer. L’instinct de domination est inscrit dans l’histoire de l’Occident et non dans celle de l’Orient. Je peux l’expliquer, mais en me référant à mon histoire de Palestinien : je revois encore les immigrants juifs venant d’Europe nous repousser et s’infiltrer dans nos terres et foyers. Bien sûr il y avait une forte résistance, mais ce qui a manqué c’était la résistance systématique et dans le détail. Rappelez-vous la phrase de Weizmann :  » Another acre, another goat  » ( » Petit à petit « ). À cette politique du  » petit à petit « , très systématique et très étudiée, les Arabes n’avaient pas de réponse. Ils résistaient de manière générale ; ils ont refusé la conquête et n’ont jamais admis le fait accompli, et nous le voyons encore aujourd’hui chez les Palestiniens. Ce n’est que depuis la guerre de 1967 que la résistance palestinienne s’est adaptée à ce genre de conquête et de politique. (…) Malheureusement, je ne crois pas que j’aurais écrit ce livre si j’étais resté dans le monde arabe. Il fallait, pour en arriver à ce livre, une distance et une désorientation. C’est le livre d’un exilé. Il fallait être entre les cultures et non dans les cultures. J’ai essayé de faire l’inventaire du processus par lequel nous, Orientaux, sommes devenus  » orientaux « , c’est-à-dire image et fantasme de l’Occident. J’ai essayé de reconquérir cette partie de notre identité qui était construite, manipulée et possédée par les autres. En tant qu’universitaire américain qui enseigne la littérature anglaise et comparée, j’ai essayé de faire un travail de critique qui dépasse les limites de la  » littéralité  » pour démontrer l’affiliation entre l’écriture, les institutions de la société et le pouvoir. Donc ce livre est adressé à tous ceux de mes compatriotes, tous ceux qui ont vécu la domination politique et culturelle et qui, peut-être, ignorent les mécanismes cachés ou trop immédiats (invisibles) de la domination. Je vise les intellectuels du monde arabe qui parlent trop globalement et en général de l’Occident… et qui sont aussi fascinés par cet Occident… Je vise aussi les intellectuels occidentaux, qui se mettent à élaborer les idéologies dominantes dans leur spécialité universitaire, qui font l’éloge de la  » science  » sans avoir suffisamment la conscience critique. Je tiens beaucoup plus à ce que Marx appelle  » les armes de la critique  » qu’aux institutions de la science qui me semblent toujours prises dans une complicité mystifiée avec leurs racines sociales. (…) Ce qui est totalement négatif, pour moi, c’est la position de l’orientalisme en tant que science, et l’orientaliste en tant que spectateur d’un objet inerte, qui ne peut aboutir qu’à la situation que j’ai décrite dans mon livre. Mais ce que je veux sauver de l’orientalisme, c’est le travail de collaboration entre les hommes et les cultures, pour aboutir à une découverte collective et non à des résultats privilégiant une race sur une autre. (…) Ceux-là manifestent un esprit anticolonial et antiraciste dans leur travail. J’admire beaucoup l’érudition prodigieuse qui est basée sur un humanisme philologique. D’un autre côté, j’admire l’esprit critique et pertinent des jeunes orientalistes qui, dans leur travail, ont réagi contre les idées reçues de cette discipline. Ce que j’estime le plus, c’est surtout la conscience critique qui se réfléchit et doute. Je pense que le véritable esprit chercheur est celui qui ne cherche pas des absolus, et qui reconnaît le fait que toute interprétation implique des circonstances existentielles de travail scientifique. Il n’y a pas d’interprétation scientifique à la manière d’une science de la nature. Les sciences humaines ne sont pas des sciences naturelles. Il n’y a pas LA science qui concerne toute l’humanité. Il y a des sciences et des interprétations qui luttent entre elles pour des positions d’efficacité dominantes et  » véridiques « . Cela ne veut pas dire que toutes les interprétations sont égales, ni que toutes les interprétations sont intéressées et vulgaires. (…) [la critique de Maxime Rodinson] est une simplification et même une perversion de ce que j’ai écrit. Je suppose que personne ne puisse nier le fait que la  » science  » surgit de la société et que les circonstances (la quotidienneté de la science) sont toujours là. L’histoire de l’orientalisme et les résultats administratifs et coloniaux ont toujours été dissimulés par la rhétorique de la science. Je ne veux pas dire que la science n’est que ces circonstances et sa provenance. Ce que je dis est que la science n’est jamais absolue, mais toujours liée forcément aux besoins de la société et aux désirs de l’individu. Peut-être que Rodinson a une recette pour purger la science de sa gangue sociale. (…) Ce qui caractérise l’intellectuel arabe contemporain, c’est une tendance à traduire la pensée occidentale en des langages locaux. Si vous prenez la carrière des hommes de la Nahda (Renaissance), il y a un effort conscient de moderniser le monde arabo-islamique selon les lois postulées par l’Occident. C’est l’effort de Boustani et de Mohamed Abdou de répondre à l’Occident et de transformer l’islam pour qu’il puisse être perçu dans un rapport d’égalité avec la modernité définie par l’Occident. Je pense que cette tentative est terminée. À présent ce qu’on voit, c’est un islam qui réagit contre l’Occident (Khomeiny) ; c’est la partie la plus dramatique et la plus visible de ce qui se passe. Justement, ce phénomène justifie les craintes traditionnelles et culturelles de l’Occident d’islam militant a toujours fait peur). La notion de Jihad (guerre sainte) a été aussi montée en épingle. Mais, sous cette surface, il y a un islam que j’appellerais investigateur, qui commence à se manifester à travers les efforts de plusieurs penseurs, écrivains et poètes ; il redéfinit la réalité actuelle du monde islamique. Edward Saïd
No one has ever devised a method of detaching the scholar from the circumstances of life, from the fact of his involvement (conscious or unconscious) with a class, a set of beliefs, a social position, or from the mere activity of being a member of a society … I doubt that it is controversial, for example, to say that an Englishman in India or Egypt in the later nineteenth century took an interest in those countries that was never far from their status as British colonies. To say this may seem quite different from saying that all academic knowledge about India and Egypt is somehow tinged and impressed with, violated by, gross political fact —and yet that is what I am saying in this study of Orientalism. For if it is true that no production of knowledge in the human sciences can ever ignore or disclaim its author’s involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances, then it must also be true that for a European or American studying the Orient there can be no disclaiming the main circumstances of his actuality: that he comes up against the Orient as a European or American first, as an individual second. And to be a European or an American in such a situation is by no means an inert fact. It meant and means being aware, however dimly, that one belongs to a power with definite interests in the Orient, and more important, that one belongs to a part of the earth with a definite history of involvement in the Orient since almost the time of Homer. Edward Said
Said not only taught an entire generation of Arabs the wonderful art of self-pity (if only those wicked Zionists, imperialists and colonialists would leave us alone, we would be great, we would not have been humiliated, we would not be backward) but intimidated feeble Western academics, and even weaker, invariably leftish, intellectuals into accepting that any criticism of Islam was to be dismissed as orientalism, and hence invalid. (…) Relativism, and its illegitimate offspring, multiculturalism, are not conducive to the critical examination of Islam. Said wrote a polemical book, Orientalism (1978), whose pernicious influence is still felt in all departments of Islamic studies, where any critical discussion of Islam is ruled out a priori. For Said, orientalists are involved in an evil conspiracy to denigrate Islam, to maintain its people in a state of permanent subjugation and are a threat to Islam’s future. These orientalists are seeking knowledge of oriental peoples only in order to dominate them; most are in the service of imperialism. Said’s thesis was swallowed whole by Western intellectuals, since it accords well with the deep anti-Westernism of many of them. This anti-Westernism resurfaces regularly in Said’s prose, as it did in his comments in the Guardian after September 11th. The studied moral evasiveness, callousness and plain nastiness of Said’s article, with its refusal to condemn outright the attacks on America or show any sympathy for the victims or Americans, leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth of anyone whose moral sensibilities have not been blunted by political and Islamic correctness. In the face of all evidence, Said still argues that it was US foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere that brought about these attacks. Ibn Warraq
De tous les orientalistes, c’est Bernard Lewis, le plus célèbre, qui fera l’objet de ses plus virulentes attaques. En caricaturant : Lewis, en historien, explique que l’islam, après un millénaire de puissance, est entré dans une phase de déclin inexorable par fermeture sur lui-même et par incapacité à prendre le train de la modernité politique et technologique occidentale. Il porte seul la responsabilité de ce déclin et personne d’autre que lui-même ne l’en sortira, conclut le maître de Princeton. Faux ! rétorque Said en « analyste du discours ». D’abord parce que l’islam comme catégorie sui generis n’existe pas – d’ailleurs, « Orient et Occident ne correspondent à aucune réalité stable en tant que faits naturels » -, ensuite parce que le pseudo-« monde arabo-musulman » est aussi celui que les Occidentaux, en particulier par le colonialisme, en ont fait. La vision biaisée des « orientalistes », conclut-il, ne sert que les intérêts néo-impérialistes des puissances occidentales, Etats-Unis en tête. Le Monde
Il est dommage, pour le public francophone, que l’essai consacré par Simon Leys à l’orientalisme tel qu’Edward Said l’envisageait, n’ait été publié qu’en anglais, en 1984. En résumé, Leys y reprochait à l’auteur palestinien naturalisé américain de ne voir, dans l’orientalisme, qu’une « conspiration colonialo-impérialiste ». Tout en ironisant sur le fait que, si l’on devait un jour découvrir que c’est la CIA qui a financé les meilleures études sur la poésie des Tang et la peinture des Song, cela aurait moins le mérite de rehausser l’image de l’agence de renseignement américaine, Simon Leys demandait plus sérieusement pourquoi l’orientalisme, et plus généralement la curiosité pour une culture « autre », ne pouvaient pas être tout simplement considérés sous l’angle de l’admiration et de l’émerveillement, pour conduire à une meilleure connaissance des autres et de soi, et par conséquent à une prise de conscience des limites de sa propre civilisation. Philippe Paquet 
Edward Said’s main contention is that “no production of knowledge in the human sciences can ever ignore or disclaim the author’s involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances.” Translated into plain English, this would seem to mean simply that no scholar can escape his original condition: his own national, cultural, political, and social prejudices are bound to be reflected in his work. Such a commonsense statement hardly warrants any debate. Actually, Said’s own book is an excellent case in point; Orientalism could obviously have been written by no one but a Palestinian scholar with a huge chip on his shoulder and a very dim understanding of the European academic tradition (here perceived through the distorted prism of a certain type of American university with its brutish hyperspeculization, nonhumanistic approach, and close, unhealthy links with government). Said seems to include “sinology” implicitly in his concept of “orientalism.” (I insist on the word seems; the point remains obscure, like a great many other points in his book.) Said’s contention is that whenever an orientalist makes a statement in his own specialised area, this statement accrues automatically to the broader picture of a mythical “East.” I do not know whether this is true for scholars involved with Near and Middle East studies, but it certainly does not apply to sinologists. The intellectual and physical boundaries of the Chinese world are sharply defined; they encompass a reality that is so autonomous and singular that no sinologist in his right mind would ever dream of extending any sinological statement to the non-Chinese world. For a serious sinologist (or for any thinking person, for that matter) concepts such as “Asia” or “the East” have never contained any useful meaning. No sinologist would ever consider himself an orientalist. (Some sinologists, it is true, may occasionally be seen participating in one of those huge fairs that are periodically held under the name of “International Orientalist Congress,” but this is simply because similar junkets undertaken under the mere auspices of the Club Méditerranée would not be tax-deductible.) Orientalism is a colonialist-imperialist conspiracy. Quite possibly. To some extent, it may also be true for sinology. Who knows? One day it will perhaps be discovered that the best studies on Tang poetry and on Song painting have all been financed by the CIA — a fact that should somehow improve the public image of this much-maligned organisation. Orientalists hate and despise the Orient; they deny its intellectual existence and try to turn it into a vacuum. (…) The notion of an “other” culture is of questionable use, as it seems to end inevitably in self-congratulation, or hostility and aggression. Why could it not equally end in admiration, wonderment, increased self-knowledge, relativisation and readjustment of one’s own values, awareness of the limits of one’s own civilisation? Actually, most of the time, all of these seem to be the natural outcome of our study of China (and it is also the reason why Chinese should be taught in Western countries as a fundamental discipline of the humanities at the secondary-school level, in conjunction with, or as an alternative to, Latin and Greek). Joseph Needham summed up neatly what is the common feeling of most sinologists: “Chinese civilisation presents the irresistible fascination of what is totally ‘other,’ and only what is totally ‘other’ can inspire the deepest love, together with a strong desire to know it.” From the great Jesuit scholars of the sixteenth century down to the best sinologists of today, we can see that there was never a more powerful antidote to the temptation of Western ethnocentrism than the study of Chinese civilisation. (It is not a coincidence that Said, in his denunciation of “illiberal ethnocentrism,” found further ammunition for his good fight in the writings of a sinologist who was attacking the naïve and arrogant statement of a French philosopher describing Thomistic philosophy as “gathering up the whole of human tradition.” Indignant rejection of such crass provincialism will always come most spontaneously to any sinologist).  “Interesting work is more likely to be produced by scholars whose allegiance is to a discipline defined intellectually and not to a field like Orientalism, [which is] defined either canonically, imperially, or geographically.” The sinological field is defined linguistically; for this very reason, the concept of sinology is now being increasingly questioned (in fact, in the John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard, I recently heard it used as a term of abuse). Perhaps we ought to rejoice now as we see more historians, philosophers, students of literature, legal scholars, economists, political scientists and others venturing into the Chinese field, equipped with all the intellectual tools of their original disciplines. Still, this new trend is encountering one stubborn and major obstacle that is not likely ever to disappear: no specialist, whatever his area of expertise, can expect to contribute significantly to our knowledge of China without first mastering the Chinese literary language. To be able to read classical and modern Chinese it is necessary to undergo a fairly long and demanding training that can seldom be combined with the acquisition and cultivation of another discipline. For this reason, sinology is bound to survive, in fact, if not necessarily in name, as one global, multidisciplinary, humanistic undertaking, based solely upon a specific language prerequisite. Actually, this situation, imposed by the nature of things, does have its advantages. Chinese civilisation has an essentially holistic character that condemns all narrowly specialised approaches to grope in the dark and miss their target — as was well illustrated a few years ago by the spectacular blunders of nearly all the “contemporary China” specialists. (In this respect, it is ironic to note that it was precisely the so-called Concerned Asian Scholars — on whom Said set so much store in his book, as he saw in them the only chance of redemption for the orientalist establishment — that failed most scandalously in their moral responsibilities toward China and the Chinese people during the Maoist era.) Simon Leys
AFP : agence de presse chargée de la propagande extérieure de l’Autorité palestinienne. (Voir aussi Reuters). Laurent Murawiec
La mort de Mohammed annule, efface celle de l’enfant juif, les mains en l’air devant les SS, dans le Ghetto de Varsovie. Catherine Nay (Europe 1)
La joie qui entoure le retour des prisonniers est très mal perçue côté israélien. (…) De son côté, le Hezbollah a rendu dans des cercueils noirs deux soldats enlevés en 2006. (…) Les deux soldats avaient été capturés en juillet 2006 par un commando du Hezbollah à sa frontière nord. L’incident avait déclenché la guerre avec le Liban de l’été 2006. 1 200 personnes avaient été tuées côté libanais et 160 côté israélien, lors de cette offensive israélienne longue de 34 jours. AFP
Des manifestants, qualifiés par l’armée de « terroristes », ont lancé des dizaines de cerf-volants et des ballons équipés d’engins explosifs en direction de la barrière. Ces engins ont explosé en l’air. Des manifestants ont également lancé plusieurs grenades ainsi que des pneus enflammés en direction des soldats israéliens. Selon l’armée israélienne, les troupes ont eu recours aux moyens habituels utilisés pour disperser des manifestations « conformément aux règles d’engagement » en vigueur. La bande de Gaza est le théâtre depuis le 30 mars de manifestations accompagnées d’affrontements le long de la clôture frontalière. La mobilisation gazaouie est organisée au nom du droit au retour des Palestiniens sur les terres qu’ils ont fuies ou dont ils ont été chassés à la création d’Israël en 1948. Elle dénonce aussi le blocus imposé à l’enclave palestinienne depuis plus de 10 ans. Pour Israël, cette mobilisation sert de couvert à des activités hostiles du mouvement islamiste Hamas qui dirige l’enclave palestinienne. Au moins 128 Palestiniens ont été tués par des tirs israéliens depuis le 30 mars. Aucun Israélien n’a été tué. AFP
One of the things that fuel terrorism is the expression in some parts of the world of Islamophobic feelings and Islamophobic policies and Islamophobic hate speeches. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
Les ressentiments actuels des peuples du Moyen-Orient se comprennent mieux lorsqu’on s’aperçoit qu’ils résultent non pas d’un conflit entre des Etats ou des nations, mais du choc entre deux civilisations. Commencé avec le déferlement des Arabes musulmans vers l’ouest et leur conquête de la Syrie, de l’Afrique du Nord et de l’Espagne chrétiennes, le  » Grand Débat « , comme l’appelait Gibbon, entre l’Islam et la Chrétienté s’est poursuivi avec la contre-offensive chrétienne des croisades et son échec, puis avec la poussée des Turcs en Europe, leur farouche combat pour y rester et leur repli. Depuis un siècle et demi, le Moyen-Orient musulman subit la domination de l’Occident – domination politique, économique et culturelle, même dans les pays qui n’ont pas connu un régime colonial […]. Je me suis efforcé de hisser les conflits du Moyen-Orient, souvent tenus pour des querelles entre Etats, au niveau d’un choc des civilisations. Cependant, si les civilisations ne peuvent avoir une politique étrangère, les gouvernements, eux, se doivent d’en avoir une. Bernard Lewis
Pour certains, je suis un génie immense. Pour d’autres, je suis le diable incarné. Bernard Lewis
Ce qui a mis l’islam et la chrétienté en conflit, ce n’est pas tant leurs différences que leurs ressemblances. Bernard Lewis
Le conflit persistant entre l’Islam et la Chrétienté tire sa spécificité, non pas de leurs différences, mais de leurs ressemblances. Toutes les religions proclament que leurs vérités sont universelles ; cependant, le christianisme et l’islam sont peut-être les seuls à proclamer que leurs vérités sont non seulement universelles mais aussi exclusives, qu’eux seuls sont les heureux détenteurs de l’ultime révélation divine, qu’il est de leur devoir de la faire connaître au reste de l’humanité et que ceux qui ne s’y rallient pas sont, à des degrés divers, promis à la damnation. […] Entre ces deux religions partageant en commun héritage juif et hellénistique, revendiquant une même autorité et une même vocation universelles, se disputant le Bassin méditerranéen et le continent qui le borde, le choc était inévitable. Cependant, ce choc n’était pas tant entre deux civilisations qu’entre deux rivaux aspirant à prendre le leadership d’une seule et même civilisation. Bernard Lewis
Dès mon plus jeune âge, j’ai toujours voulu connaître « l’histoire » de l’autre camp. (…) « Il y a quelques années, lors d’une interview, on me posa la question suivante : Pourquoi traitez-vous toujours de sujets sensibles ? La réponse, dis-je à mon interlocuteur, est contenue dans la métaphore que vous employez. Un endroit sensible dans le corps d’un individu, ou dans le corps social, est le signe d’un dysfonctionnement. La sensibilité est l’un des moyens dont dispose le corps pour nous avertir et requérir notre attention, et c’est précisément ce que j’essaie de faire. Implicitement, votre question suggère qu’il existerait des sujets tabous. Certes, dans d’autres sociétés, il y a de nombreux sujets tabous, mais pas dans la nôtre – et je m’en félicite -, hormis, bien sûr, cette sorte de politiquement correct qui perdure sous l’effet de la pression sociale, culturelle et professionnelle, mais qui n’est pas réellement imposée. Contrairement aux vrais tabous, le politiquement correct peut être transgressé – c’est fréquent – et, test plus rigoureux encore, tourné en dérision. Pour ce qui me concerne, j’ai accordé quelque attention à deux points effectivement sensibles, le traitement des non-musulmans en général et des juifs en particulier dans les pays musulmans et, questions connexes, le problème des races et de l’esclavage. Mon premier article sur l’Islam et les non-musulmans parut dans la revue française des Annales à l’été 1980. Passablement augmenté, il devint le chapitre introductif d’un ouvrage intitulé  » Juifs en terre d’Islam  » (1984) couvrant les périodes classique, ottomane et, plus succinctement, moderne. Je consacrai à cette dernière période un autre ouvrage, intitulé  » Sémites et antisémites  » (1986). Tous deux furent traduits en plusieurs langues européennes. Faut-il y voir un symptôme : contrairement à la plupart de mes autres livres, ils ne furent pas traduits en arabe – pas plus d’ailleurs que mon livre sur les races et l’esclavage. » (…) « En août 1957, un congrès de quatre jours consacré aux  » Tensions dans le Moyen-Orient  » se tient à la School of Advanced International Studies de l’université Johns Hopkins à Washington. Les actes furent publiés l’année suivante dans un livre portant le même nom. Intitulée  » Le Moyen-Orient dans les affaires internationales « , ma contribution contenait les lignes suivantes :  » Les ressentiments actuels des peuples du Moyen-Orient se comprennent mieux lorsqu’on s’aperçoit qu’ils résultent non pas d’un conflit entre des Etats ou des nations, mais du choc entre deux civilisations. Commencé avec le déferlement des Arabes musulmans vers l’ouest et leur conquête de la Syrie, de l’Afrique du Nord et de l’Espagne chrétiennes, le  » Grand Débat « , comme l’appelait Gibbon, entre l’Islam et la Chrétienté s’est poursuivi avec la contre-offensive chrétienne des croisades et son échec, puis avec la poussée des Turcs en Europe, leur farouche combat pour y rester et leur repli. Depuis un siècle et demi, le Moyen-Orient musulman subit la domination de l’Occident – domination politique, économique et culturelle, même dans les pays qui n’ont pas connu un régime colonial […]. Je me suis efforcé de hisser les conflits du Moyen-Orient, souvent tenus pour des querelles entre Etats, au niveau d’un choc des civilisations. Cependant, si les civilisations ne peuvent avoir une politique étrangère, les gouvernements, eux, se doivent d’en avoir une.  » Ces lignes, écrites il y a près de cinquante ans, continuent de refléter les vues sur le sujet, actuellement très controversé, du choc des civilisations. […] Etait-ce un choc des civilisations ? Je dirais plutôt entre deux variantes d’une même civilisation. Le conflit persistant entre l’Islam et la Chrétienté tire sa spécificité, non pas de leurs différences, mais de leurs ressemblances. Toutes les religions proclament que leurs vérités sont universelles ; cependant, le christianisme et l’islam sont peut-être les seuls à proclamer que leurs vérités sont non seulement universelles mais aussi exclusives, qu’eux seuls sont les heureux détenteurs de l’ultime révélation divine, qu’il est de leur devoir de la faire connaître au reste de l’humanité et que ceux qui ne s’y rallient pas sont, à des degrés divers, promis à la damnation. […] Entre ces deux religions partageant en commun héritage juif et hellénistique, revendiquant une même autorité et une même vocation universelles, se disputant le Bassin méditerranéen et le continent qui le borde, le choc était inévitable. Cependant, ce choc n’était pas tant entre deux civilisations qu’entre deux rivaux aspirant à prendre le leadership d’une seule et même civilisation. Bernard Lewis
I don’t go into destiny; Im a historian and I deal with the past. But I certainly think there is something in the clash of civilizations. What brought Islam and Christendom into conflict was not so much their differences as their resemblances. There are many religions in the world, but almost all of them are regional, local, ethnic, or whatever you choose to call it. Christianity and Islam are the only religions that claim universal truth. Christians and Muslims are the only people who claim they are the fortunate recipients of God’s final message to humanity, which it is their duty not to keep selfishly to themselves like the Jews or the Hindus or the Buddhistsbut to bring to the rest of mankind, removing whatever obstacles there may be in the way. So, we have two religions with a similar self-perception, a similar historical background, living side by side, and conflict becomes inevitable. (…) the terrorists themselves claim to be acting in the name of Islam. There was one Muslim leader who said, not long ago, that it is wrong to speak about Muslim terrorism, because if a man commits an act of terrorism, hes not a Muslim. That’s very nice, but that could also be interpreted as meaning that if a Muslim commits it, it doesn’t count as terrorism. When a large part of the Muslim world was under foreign rule, then you might say that terrorism was a result of imperialism, of imperial rule and occupation. But at the present time, almost the whole of the Muslim world has achieved its independence. They can no longer blame others for what goes wrong. They have to confront the realities of their own lives at home. A few places remain disputed, like Chechnya and Israel and some others, but these are relatively minor if you’re talking about the Islamic world as a whole. Bernard Lewis
Vous voulez dire reconnaître la version arménienne de cette histoire ? Il y avait un problème arménien pour les Turcs, à cause de l’avance des Russes et d’une population anti-ottomane en Turquie, qui cherchait l’indépendance et qui sympathisait ouvertement avec les Russes venus du Caucase. Il y avait aussi des bandes arméniennes – les Arméniens se vantent des exploits héroïques de la résistance -, et les Turcs avaient certainement des problèmes de maintien de l’ordre en état de guerre. Pour les Turcs, il s’agissait de prendre des mesures punitives et préventives contre une population peu sûre dans une région menacée par une invasion étrangère. Pour les Arméniens, il s’agissait de libérer leur pays. Mais les deux camps s’accordent à reconnaître que la répression fut limitée géographiquement. Par exemple, elle n’affecta guère les Arméniens vivant ailleurs dans l’Empire ottoman. » Nul doute que des choses terribles ont eu lieu, que de nombreux Arméniens – et aussi des Turcs – ont péri. Mais on ne connaîtra sans doute jamais les circonstances précises et les bilans des victimes. Songez à la difficulté que l’on a de rétablir les faits et les responsabilités à propos de la guerre du Liban, qui s’est pourtant déroulée il y a peu de temps et sous les yeux du monde ! Pendant leur déportation vers la Syrie, des centaines de milliers d’Arméniens sont morts de faim, de froid… Mais si l’on parle de génocide, cela implique qu’il y ait eu politique délibérée, une décision d’anéantir systématiquement la nation arménienne. Cela est fort douteux. Des documents turcs prouvent une volonté de déportation, pas d’extermination. Bernard Lewis
Les illusionnistes et les hypocrites – «je ne justifie pas, j’explique» – qui justifient tout invoqueront la coopération de Tony Blair avec Bush, mais ils ne pourront masquer la logique tribale qui préside à la stratégie et à la pratique islamistes : les islamistes ont déclaré la guerre à l’Occident, tous les Occidentaux sont donc coupables, jugés, assassinables, car ils participent de la substance qu’il faut détruire, le monde de l’Incroyance, dar el-Kufr. Ceux qui croient s’être mis à l’abri grâce à leurs complaisances envers Arafat, le Hamas, le Hezbollah, le régime des ayatollahs et le reste des dictateurs et des despotes arabo-musulmans ne récoltent que le mépris, qui mène inévitablement au rudoiement. Qui se conduit comme un dhimmi sera condamné à la dhimmitude. Quand un quotidien parisien titre «Al-Qaida punit Londres», je flaire dans cet intitulé toute la puanteur de la soumission. Il faut beaucoup d’aveuglement à nos dames patronnesses palestinophiles pour ne pas voir que le refus de la dhimmitude des Juifs d’Israël est précisément l’une des motivations fondamentales de ce que l’on appelle le «conflit israélo-palestinien». Soumettez-vous, il ne vous sera fait aucun mal, ou pas trop. Vous ne serez pas punis. Sinon, vous serez soumis aux bombes vivantes fabriquées à la chaîne par les usines à tueurs que sont les medersas du monde islamo-arabe. C’est qu’aucun «grief», aucune «revendication» ni «aspiration» ne sont justiciables de la terreur. Il faut avoir bu toute honte pour comparer à la Résistance française – qui refusait les attentats individuels (à l’exception des communistes, à la bonne école de la terreur soviétique) et ne s’attaqua jamais à civil, femme, enfant ou vieillard – le ramassis de nervis assoiffés de sang qui s’est autoproclamé porte-parole unique, qui des Palestiniens, qui du monde arabe, qui du monde musulman tout entier, et dont le programme, clairement énoncé, est exterminateur. Le culte de la mort et de la destruction, l’amour de la souffrance que l’on inflige, l’assassinat rendu spectacle et objet d’affirmation identitaire, la délectation devant l’humiliation que l’on inflige à ceux dont on va vidéofilmer la décapitation, l’égorgement, l’éventrement, la volonté de puissance illimitée qu’est le pouvoir d’infliger la mort : telle est la nature de la guerre islamiste contre l’Occident. Et de l’université d’al-Azhar pour les sunnites, de la ville de Qom pour les chiites, ne s’est élevée aucune condamnation, mais au contraire, l’éloge de la mort. Voilà qui doit faire entendre, comme le fait depuis longtemps remarquer l’islamologue Bernard Lewis, que l’objet de la haine inextinguible des djihadistes n’est point ce que nous faisons, mais ce que nous sommes. Hitler n’exterminait pas les Polonais à cause de leurs «crimes», de leurs «erreurs», de leur «injustice», mais pour des raisons métaphysiques, et de même que tous ceux qu’il vouait au statut de «races inférieures». Le philosophe germano-américain, Eric Voegelin, discerna dans les mouvements totalitaires du XXe siècle, qu’il conçut avec précision comme une «Gnose moderne», cette pseudo-religion qui croit trouver le Salut ici-bas, qui en connaît toutes les voies et tous les chemins, qui est dirigée par des prophètes omniscients, et qui est prête à sacrifier la moitié de l’espèce humaine pour parvenir à ses fins. C’est au nom des raisons irrationnelles de ces croyances, hier nazies et bolcheviques, aujourd’hui islamistes, que se déchaînent l’amour du carnage et la volonté de «purifier» l’univers entier du Mal, représenté par l’Autre, juif, koulak, infidèle. Nous pouvons coexister avec un monde de l’islam qui voudrait se moderniser, mais pas avec l’islamisme éradicateur. Il faut s’en pénétrer : nous sommes en guerre. Il n’est aucune «concession», aucune conciliation, aucun dialogue qui puissent se faire avec le djihad moderne. Theo Van Gogh adjura au dialogue celui qui allait l’égorger ! Contre ce djihad, il n’y a pas de guerre défensive, il n’y a pas de défense territoriale. L’islamisme a paralysé et phagocyté une grande partie de son environnement. Il faut y porter le fer. Il faut en même temps encourager et soutenir les aspirations à la modernité, à la liberté et à la démocratie dans le monde arabo-musulman, que les élections afghanes, irakiennes et libanaises viennent de concrétiser. Quand des enjeux de civilisation causent les guerres, la neutralité est proscrite. Les Etats-Unis ne s’attaquent pas aux mous et aux tièdes : ce sont les islamistes qui s’en chargent. Les jeux sont faits. Laurent Murawiec
This misconception [that Lewis was an “Orientalist”] was fostered by Lewis’ famous duel with the Palestinian American literary scholar Edward Said, whose 1978 manifesto, Orientalism, indicted Western “Orientalist” writers and scholars for purveying bigotry against Islam and the Arabs. Lewis rose to the defense of the scholars: it was they who undermined Europe’s medieval prejudice against Islam, by directly accessing and engaging original Islamic sources. Lewis maintained that this brand of scholarly Orientalism amounted to one of the nobler triumphs of the Enlightenment. (…) But Lewis wasn’t “the last Orientalist.” (“The Orientalists have gone,” Lewis insisted.) He was the first real historian of the Middle East, considered a pioneer in applying the latest approaches in European social and economic history to the Middle Eastern past. (…) and he was the first scholar to read the Islamic texts for earlier periods with a trained historian’s eye. (…) Lewis, as a young don, criticized his Orientalist forebears for their insularity and called for “the integration of the history of Islam into the study of the general history of humanity.” No one did more than Lewis to advance this elusive goal. Through his historical research, Lewis arrived at a crucial insight, which informed all his later writings. Islamic civilization in its “golden age” had all the prerequisites to make the leap to modernity before parochial Europe did. Yet it stagnated, then declined. “The rise of the West has been much studied,” he once noted, “but the waning of Islamic power has received little serious scholarly attention.” This would be his project, and in its pursuit, he reached an intriguing conclusion: the elites of the great Muslim empires, especially the Ottomans, were so certain of their own God-given superiority that they saw no reason ever to change. They discounted the steady rise of Europe, and by the time they got a fix on the problem, it was too late. Thus began a desperate race to arrest the decline of the Muslim world and its eclipse by a dynamic Europe. There were many Western observers who pointed to the spreading rot. But Lewis revealed the Muslim point of view. Reform, modernization, nationalism, Islamism, terror—all these were strategies to restore to the Muslims some semblance of the power they had wielded for over a millennium and which they lost in just a few generations. Lewis’ biggest bestseller, What Went Wrong?, published just after 9/11, distilled his many findings on how Muslims had tried and failed to restore their world. Al Qaeda (and later the Islamic State, also known as ISIS), by seeking to reenact the seventh century, was the most desperate of these attempts to reverse history. (…) Lewis has been tagged as the father of the “clash of civilizations,” which Samuel Huntington borrowed (with acknowledgment) for his famous Foreign Affairs article of 1993. Lewis had used the phrase as early as 1957 to describe the deeper aspect of contemporary conflicts in the Middle East. (Better to “view the present discontents of the Middle East,” he wrote, “not as a conflict between states or nations, but as a clash between civilizations.”) He repeated the phrase in subsequent works, most famously in his 1990 article, “The Roots of Muslim Rage.” Huntington, however, went further than Lewis, presenting the “clash” as a struggle among all the world’s civilizations, fueled by cultural differences. Lewis had something else in mind. He held that Islam and Christendom (later, the West) were unique rivals, not because of their differences but because they shared so much: the Greco-Roman legacy, Abrahamic monotheism, and the Mediterranean basin. Obviously, these two sibling civilizations often clashed. But being so similar, they also borrowed, exchanged, and translated. In 1994, just after Huntington popularized the “clash” thesis, Lewis sought to distance himself from it. That year, he revised his classic 1964 book The Middle East and the West, and in the revision, “clash” became “encounter.” He told me later that he felt “clash” was “too harsh.” In 1996, when Huntington published The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Lewis again kept his distance. He noted that “there have been great struggles between Christendom and Islam in the past” and that “there are still some on both sides who see world history in terms of a holy war between believers and unbelievers.” But this wasn’t fate: “A new era of peaceful coexistence is possible,” he announced. Lewis never denied coining the phrase “clash between civilizations,” but he meant it as a very partial description of the past and the present, and not as a prediction of the future. Still, Lewis also sensed that the resentment of the West simmered, and he was the first to conclude that it would take an increasingly Islamist form. As early as 1964, he thought it “obvious” that “Islamic movements alone are authentically Middle Eastern in inspiration…express[ing] the passions of the submerged masses of the population. Though they have all, so far, been defeated, they have not yet spoken their last word.” He returned to this theme in 1976, in his seminal article “The Return of Islam.” When Commentary published it, Western liberals and Arab nationalists ridiculed him. They’d pinned their hopes and reputations on the ever-onward progress of secular modernity. If Islam had “returned,” they had failed. Lewis didn’t have to wait long for vindication. He didn’t predict the Iranian Revolution three years later, but it enhanced his reputation for prescience. He struck again in 1998 on the pages of Foreign Affairs, where he analyzed the “declaration of jihad” of a little-known Saudi renegade named Osama bin Laden. Lewis again warned against complacency—to no avail. After 9/11, America listened to him precisely because he had heard Islamist extremist voices when no one took them seriously. Yet he always insisted that those voices didn’t speak for all of Islam: “Anyone with even a moderate knowledge of Islam knows that most Muslims are neither militant nor violent.” Bin Laden’s message was a « grotesque travesty of the nature of Islam and even of its doctrine of jihad. The Quran speaks of peace as well as of war. Martin Kramer
As an intellectual rival to Lewis, Said was hopelessly outgunned. As an academic ideologue, however, he proved the more talented figure. The genius of Orientalism was that it built an intellectual bridge between Middle East studies and the guilt attitudes commonly held by American liberals toward the issue of race in their own country. The cause of the problems in the Middle East, Said implied, lay in the bigotry of white men, for which Lewis’s claim—that a deep knowledge of history and culture was relevant to understanding present-day issues—was just a smokescreen. The essence of the story was the domination of brown people by white people. Said’s argument, such as it was, is often presented as one side in an ongoing war of ideas, but the real key to understanding its repercussions is to be found in the underlying emotions that it touched on and would later inflame. (…) Osama bin Laden, he argued, represented a politically significant development, one with deep roots in the history of the Middle East if not in Islam itself. Lewis was not saying that this was the only current in Islam, or necessarily the most authentic one. But the mere fact of his attributing popular legitimacy to it, as well as a connection to Islamic tradition, was enough to enrage men like my student’s father. To his ears, it sounded as if Lewis were tarring both him and his religion with the brush of terrorism. Many scholars working in Middle East studies in the United States, being themselves of Middle Eastern heritage, share similar emotions. Those who don’t share them are surrounded, professionally and socially, by people who do. Dissenters have thus been under heavy pressure to repudiate Lewis’s perspective and to produce analyses, instead, that put the blame for the ills of the Middle East on exogenous forces—specifically, on Western and/or Israeli policies. Modern Middle East studies has therefore become a field rife with pro-Muslim apologetics. In this sense, it is fair to say that although Lewis won the argument, Said won the crowd. Thanks to Said, insufferable blowhards who willfully obscure the difference between scholarship and politicking now run the field.(…)  The rising generation wanted as little connection with him as possible—at least in public. (…) As academia increasingly disavowed Lewis, the allure of Washington grew stronger. For a man who could effortlessly quote the verse of the 10th-century Arab poet al-Mutanabbi, Lewis also revealed a remarkable talent for talking with policymakers. He was always well briefed on current affairs. For four months of every year, he traveled to the Middle East. When back at Princeton, part of his daily routine was listening to Arab political broadcasts over shortwave radio. Having spent countless hours during World War II eavesdropping on Arab leaders’ telephone conversations and briefing British commanders about them, he had a very keen sense of the day-to-day realities of regional politics and of how to distill the essence for non-experts. Michael Doran
Lewis (…) had a major impact on US foreign policy, particularly under the presidency of George W. Bush. He briefed vice president Dick Cheney and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. His phrase, “the clash of civilizations,” was made famous by American political scientist Samuel Huntington, who argued that cultural and religious identities would be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War era. Lewis attributed the 9/11 attacks to a decaying Islamic civilization that enabled extremists such as al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to conduct an international terrorist campaign. The solution to the growing problems of fundamentalist Islamic ideology was, in a word, democracy. “Either we bring them freedom, or they destroy us,” Lewis wrote. In many ways he was a modern-day prophet, although he was sometimes wrong and was often accused by his academic colleagues of being Eurocentric. “For some, I’m the towering genius,” Lewis told The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012. “For others, I’m the devil incarnate.” He warned in 2006 that Iran had been working on a nuclear program for some 15 years. But he wrongly predicted that Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be planning an apocalyptic attack, perhaps against Israel, on August 22, to coincide with Muhammad’s night flight to Jerusalem. As Israel deliberates again whether to recognize the Armenian Genocide, it is timely to recall that in the first editions of his well-known book, The Emergence of Modern Turkey, Lewis described that genocide as “the terrible holocaust of 1915, when a million and a half Armenians perished.” In later editions, he changed the text to “the terrible slaughter of 1915, when, according to estimates, more than a million Armenians perished, as well as an unknown number of Turks.” Critics accused him of “historical revisionism.” In a visit to The Jerusalem Post in 2007, the London- born Lewis eloquently discussed the situation in an interview with then-editor David Horovitz and reporter Tovah Lazaroff. He predicted that one way for Muslims to alleviate their growing rage would be “to win some large victories, which could happen. They seem to be about to take over Europe.” Lewis was asked what that meant for Jews in Europe. “The outlook for the Jewish communities in Europe is dim,” he replied. “Soon, the only pertinent question regarding Europe’s future will be, ‘Will it be an Islamized Europe or Europeanized Islam?’” In reviewing Lewis’s 2010 collection of essays – Faith and Power: Religion and Politics in the Middle East – Post International Edition editor Liat Collins pertinently noted a line of thought appearing throughout the essays was that the Western concept of separating church and state was not compatible with Islam. “The emergence of a population, many millions strong, of Muslims born and educated in Western Europe will have immense and unpredictable consequences for Europe, for Islam and for the relations between them,” Lewis wrote. Collins commented: “I don’t want to hear a ‘Told you so’ so much as an update in the wake of the current mass migration to Europe’s shores.” Although he didn’t get everything right – who can? – Collins added that his special touches are well-worth noting, such as this classic quotation: “In America one uses money to buy power, while in the Middle East, one uses power to acquire money.” Jerusalem Post
Bernard Lewis, a towering but controversial historian of Islam and the Middle East, died this week aged 101. Opinion will divide about the legacy of a learned and charming man who shamed many fellow academics with the grace and wit of his phrasemaking in more than two dozen books — was he principally a scholar or a propagandist. (…) He risks being remembered most for the 2003 Iraq war, by when he had become celebrity in-house historian to George W Bush’s US administration and ideological guru to the architects of the invasion. It was said in Washington at the time that Lewis had more influence on any administration than any academic since John F Kennedy’s era. Just as the “best and brightest” of JFK’s horn-rimmed Harvard types paved America’s path into the swamp of Vietnam, Lewis (from Princeton) furnished a veneer of respectability to a catastrophic venture.(…) His ascent as a public intellectual dated from his friendship, starting in the 1970s, with Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, founding father of what would later be called neoconservatism. Lewis’s early renown was as a scholar of the Ottoman Empire, his intellectual passion. He was the first westerner to be granted entry to the Ottoman imperial archives in 1950. His engagement with Islamic civilisation as a whole was really with its golden age, from the 8th to the 13th centuries. He consistently highlighted Turkish (and, to a degree, Persian) culture and achievement in a way that cast Arab culture in an inferior light. Writing about the failure of pan-Arabism, he was dismissive of the way European imperialism aborted the constitutional evolution of Arab politics. He did not highlight how the Ottomans (whose religious tolerance he rightly praised) enforced a ban on the Arabic printing press from the 15th to the 19th centuries to culturally stifle and subjugate their Arab territories. (…) Edward Said, the late Palestinian-American academic, identified Lewis as a manufacturer of the stereotypical myths the west used to justify dominance of the east. The two went at it hammer and tongs in 1982, in one of the most vehement intellectual disputes of the late 20th century. By the time of the 9/11 terror attacks in the US, Lewis was better known for polemic and pamphleteering, piling up inferences instead of deploying evidence, clearing a path to the self-righteous Bush administration mantra: “they hate us for our freedoms”. His earlier scholarly work dwells more on the gradual elimination of the cultural clearinghouses where civilisations meet, from Abbasid Baghdad, through Moorish Spain to the Ottoman Levant — none of which was destroyed by freedom-hating Muslims. By 1990, in his essay The Roots of Muslim Rage, he coined the phrase “clash of civilisations”, later popularised by Samuel Huntington. In the end it was the squibs more than the scholarship, untroubled by doubt or disquisition, which had more impact. It was common knowledge in the Bush White House that the president kept an annotated copy of a Lewis article with his briefing papers. The Financial Times
Avec la disparition, samedi 19 mai, à 101 ans, de Bernard Lewis, c’est toute une tradition d’érudition « orientaliste », mêlée à l’intervention passionnée dans le débat public, qui s’éteint. L’encre du savant est plus précieuse que le sang des polémistes et, malgré le bruit et la fureur qu’ont suscités ses prises de position, célébrées aujourd’hui de Benjamin Nétanyahou au secrétaire d’Etat américain, Mike Pompeo, c’est son extraordinaire connaissance du monde islamique qui lui survivra. Auteur de plus de trente ouvrages – dont la plupart ont été traduits en français – couvrant des domaines qui vont de la civilisation arabe classique aux mouvements islamistes contemporains, en passant par l’histoire ottomane et turque, qui fut son thème de prédilection, Bernard Lewis était également un styliste à la plume acérée. Cela permit à son œuvre de trouver un rayonnement auprès d’un large public dans le monde entier, dépassant les cénacles académiques. (…) Politiquement conservateur, il allait rester, tout au long d’une existence qui se confondit avec le siècle écoulé, très attaché à la cause d’Israël. Traversant l’Atlantique après la fin de la seconde guerre mondiale, comme tant d’universitaires d’outre-Manche, pour y bénéficier des facilités exceptionnelles des campus américains, il rejoignit l’université de Princeton où, avec son collègue Charles Issawi, il fut le pilier du département des études du Proche-Orient – il deviendra, en 1982, citoyen des Etats-Unis. Sa sensibilité de droite – qui ne l’empêcha pas de mener, en France, un compagnonnage savant avec Maxime Rodinson, très engagé à gauche – ainsi que son engagement pour Israël lui ouvrirent l’accès aux cercles néoconservateurs qui élaborèrent la politique américaine au Moyen-Orient à l’époque du président George W. Bush, après les attentats du 11 septembre 2001. Avec son collègue Fouad Ajami, disparu en 2014, il en fut la source et la caution savante, même s’il prit ses distances par la suite avec la catastrophe que constitua pour Washington l’occupation de l’Irak. En 1978, L’Orientalisme – le livre best-seller d’Edward Saïd, d’origine palestinienne et professeur de littérature comparée anglo-française à l’université Columbia – fit de Bernard Lewis sa cible principale. Cet ouvrage, qui a polarisé jusqu’à nos jours le champ disciplinaire des études sur le Moyen-Orient et a contribué à en faire un champ de ruines, lui reprochait d’avoir construit, dans la foulée d’une tradition d’auteurs européens remontant aux savants de la Description de l’Egypte de l’expédition de Bonaparte en 1799, la figure de « l’Oriental » comme un autre radical, assigné à une culture figée, dont la description visait à l’assujettir à la domination coloniale, puis impérialiste et sioniste. Cette incrimination globale fut l’acte fondateur des « post-colonial studies » qui dominent, depuis lors, les campus américains et touchent désormais les universités françaises. Par-delà les oppositions politiques entre les deux professeurs autour du conflit israélo-palestinien, où chacun s’était fait le champion de l’une des causes, le débat a ouvert des failles persistantes. Saïd a réduit le savoir livresque de Lewis à une machinerie lui permettant d’« essentialiser » les peuples arabes contemporains en ramenant leurs comportements politiques à des textes anciens imprégnés de tradition religieuse, leur déniant ainsi toute modernité. Il en découlera que seuls les indigènes seraient légitimes à produire du savoir sur eux-mêmes, au détriment des universitaires « néocoloniaux » toujours biaisés. C’est le fondement des procès en « islamophobie » intentés aux professeurs « blancs » par le parti des Indigènes de la République et leurs compagnons de route « racisés ». Lewis et ses disciples ont indéniablement tenu trop peu compte des sciences sociales et humaines, et négligé l’observation d’un terrain qui ne se réduit pas aux bibliothèques, dès lors que l’on veut rendre compte des sociétés contemporaines du Moyen-Orient, de l’Afrique du Nord, voire de l’immigration de celles-ci vers l’Europe et ses banlieues. Mais l’hypercritique de Saïd et de ses épigones a invalidé la connaissance de la culture profonde – rendant impossible de comprendre par exemple les modalités du lien entre Al-Qaida ou l’organisation Etat islamique, les sermons salafistes et les Ecritures saintes de l’islam. Un enjeu dont on ne saurait sous-estimer l’importance et auquel l’université doit apporter, sous peine de discrédit, sa contribution savante. Le caractère entier de Bernard Lewis lui a valu un désamour spécifique en France : condamné par un tribunal pour des propos tenus dans les colonnes du Monde en 1993 et 1994, dont il a été jugé qu’ils relativisaient le génocide arménien, il a voué depuis lors aux gémonies un pays dont il connaissait intimement la culture… Mais, par-delà les polémiques politiques, par-delà les aspects aujourd’hui datés d’une épistémologie restée rétive aux sciences humaines, Bernard Lewis témoigne d’un temps où la connaissance des langues et des cultures de l’Orient était un préalable nécessaire à l’analyse de ses sociétés : c’est la leçon toujours actuelle que laisse l’érudit de Princeton au monde qu’il vient de quitter. Gilles Kepel
Inventeur de la théorie du « choc des civilisations », l’historien américain Bernard Lewis est décédé, lundi 21 mai, à l’âge de 101 ans. «Commencé avec le déferlement des Arabes musulmans vers l’ouest et leur conquête de la Syrie, de l’Afrique du Nord et de l’Espagne chrétiennes », ce « choc de civilisation » entre « l’islam et la chrétienté » s’est poursuivi selon lui avec les croisades, la poussée puis le repli des Ottomans en Europe, et enfin à partir du XIXe siècle, par la domination « politique, économique et culturelle », coloniale ou non, de l’Occident sur le Moyen-Orient… Reprise sous une autre forme par son assistant au Conseil de sécurité nationale, Samuel Huntington (The Clash of Civilizations ?, article paru dans la revue Foreign Affairs en 1993, puis dans un livre paru en 1996) l’expression a connu un immense succès et n’a cessé, depuis, d’être défendue ou combattue par de nombreux autres chercheurs. Né à Londres en 1916 dans une famille juive, Bernard Lewis s’est passionné très tôt pour les langues – d’abord l’hébreu, puis l’araméen, l’arabe, le latin, le grec, le persan ou encore le turc – et l’histoire. Spécialiste de la Turquie, où il a vécu et travaillé plusieurs années, il commence à enseigner en 1974 à l’université de Princeton, dans le New Jersey. Proche des néo-conservateurs américains, revendiquant son rôle d’historien engagé, Bernard Lewis a régulièrement créé la polémique par ses prises de position. Convaincu de l’existence d’un antisémitisme spécifiquement musulman, il y voyait l’une des explications au blocage du processus de paix israélo-palestinien. Il a également contesté la réalité du génocide des Arméniens par les Turcs en 1915, apportant sa caution intellectuelle à la Turquie en affirmant que la thèse du génocide était « la version arménienne » de l’histoire. Il est finalement condamné en 1995, jugement condamné en appel l’année suivante. Parmi ses essais les plus récents, on peut citer : What Went Wrong ? en 2002 (traduction française : Que s’est-il passé ?, Gallimard), qui analyse les raisons du déclin du monde arabo-musulman, puis The Crisis of Islam en 2003 (traduction française : L’Islam en crise, Gallimard). En 2005, plusieurs de ses ouvrages et articles sont réédités, en français et en un seul volume, par les éditions Gallimard, dans la collection Quatro, sous le titre Islam. Une manière de découvrir l’essentiel de l’œuvre de cet auteur de vastes synthèses enjambant les siècles. La Croix
L’inventeur du «choc des civilisations» est enclin à décrypter l’actualité à la lumière du passé. Pour lui, cette formule qui a fait florès n’a de sens que religieux, celui de «l’affrontement de vérités universelles et exclusives». Dans l’affaire des caricatures de Mahomet, il rappelle que si la loi islamique (charia) a interdit les représentations du Prophète, c’est d’abord pour empêcher l’idolâtrie. L’insulte constitue certes une offense, mais la charia n’est censée s’appliquer qu’aux musulmans ou aux sujets d’un Etat musulman. «Elle ne s’est jamais étendue aux péchés commis par des non musulmans hors du monde musulman», souligne Bernard Lewis. Preuves de cette vieille indifférence, certains passages de L’Enfer de Dante ou des bas-reliefs sulfureux sur la façade de la cathédrale de Bologne. «L’explosion d’indignation «spontanée» a tout de même mis quatre mois à se produire, observe le professeur. Le moindre village disposait de drapeaux danois à brûler… Une affaire soigneusement préparée.» L’orientaliste américain voit la même manipulation idéologique derrière les attentats suicides. «En islam, le suicide est un péché mortel, rappelle-t-il. Celui qui le commet est promis à endurer sa mort sans fin en enfer, une éternité d’empoisonnement, d’asphyxie ou d’explosion…» Mais les radicaux ont décrété que c’était acceptable «si le kamikaze emportait avec lui assez d’ennemis. C’est une rupture absolue avec des siècles de tradition islamique», dit M. Lewis. Une telle dérive, il l’impute surtout au wahhabisme, secte «intolérante, violente et fanatique» qui est «à peu près aussi centrale au monde islamique que le Ku Klux Klan dans la chrétienté». Le professeur de Princeton est loin de prédire la prise de contrôle de l’islam par l’islamisme. Il croit au contraire que les forces démocratiques «progressent» dans le monde musulman. Nombre de principes de la démocratie (la consultation des sujets, la délégation contractuelle du pouvoir), sont déjà inscrits dans la tradition musulmane et moyen-orientale. Autant que les courants violents en Terre d’islam, ce sont les «faiblesses» de l’Occident que dénonce sans ambages Bernard Lewis. En Irak, une guerre dont il a approuvé le déclenchement, «j’ai sous-estimé notre capacité d’engendrer la défaite à partir de la victoire», déplore-t-il. «Nous offensons les Irakiens et nous les flattons en même temps.» Or, il n’y a qu’une politique à ses yeux face à l’insurrection : «La supprimer. Ce n’est pas quelque chose qu’on peut faire à moitié.» Idem du Hamas dans les Territoires palestiniens : «Une organisation terroriste dangereuse qu’il faut traiter comme telle.» L’Iran ? «Je suis enclin à croire à la démence (du président) Ahmadinejad. Il semble vraiment convaincu de l’apocalypse qu’il annonce. Avec la bombe atomique, les Iraniens deviendraient d’une arrogance insoutenable. Ils ne l’utiliseraient pas dans des bombardements, mais plutôt dans des actions terroristes, sans préciser l’adresse de l’expéditeur.» Devant d’aussi grands dangers, l’universitaire, qui conseille parfois la Maison-Blanche, n’a qu’un mot d’ordre : «La fermeté.» Etrangement, Bernard Lewis ne fait pas crédit à l’Administration Bush des vertus dont elle se prévaut en la matière. «Nous sommes plus en 1938 qu’en 1940, plutôt dans l’ère Chamberlain que Churchill, estime le vieil homme. Nous allons de retraite en retraite.» Deux guerres ne lui suffisent pas ? Encore faudrait-il qu’elles soient gagnées. En Irak, «il est encore possible de sauver la situation», à en juger par les trois scrutins libres organisés en deux ans et par la participation des femmes au processus politique. Mais parallèlement, dans le chaos des attentats et des représailles, «nous instillons la peur et nous étalons nos hésitations», une double faute «psychologique», estime M. Lewis. Elle procède selon lui d’une erreur d’analyse centrale : «Dire que nous sommes en guerre contre le terrorisme, c’est comme dire que nous étions en guerre contre des avions et des sous-marins pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Le terrorisme est une tactique, insiste-t-il. Ce n’est pas une cause et ce n’est pas un ennemi.» Autant pour Bush, dont la cible est camouflée derrière un acronyme non identifiable : Gwot, pour Global War on Terror (Guerre globale contre le terrorisme). A ce rythme, Bernard Lewis n’exclut pas un «scénario catastrophe» dans lequel «l’Occident et le monde musulman se détruiraient l’un l’autre, laissant la Chine et l’Inde dominer le XXIe siècle». Heureusement, le pire n’est pas sûr : avec un peu de chance, «des sociétés ouvertes réussiront à se développer et l’islam retrouvera sa juste place dans le monde». Le Figaro

C’est les ressemblances, imbécile !

« Choc de civilisation » entre « l’islam et la chrétienté »,  « antisémitisme spécifiquement musulman » comme « l’une des explications au blocage du processus de paix israélo-palestinien »,  « déclin du monde arabo-musulman » …

Y a-t-il, y compris sa contestation effectivement discutable de la réalité du génocide turc des chrétiens arméniens, assyriens et grecs et contre les mielleries si consensuelles d’un Edward Saïd, un sujet qui fâche auquel ne s’est pas confronté le passionné de « l’histoire de l’autre camp » qu’était Bernard Lewis ?

A l’heure où après en avoir repris en les déformant les saintes écritures, l’islam est sur le point de terminer le nettoyage ethnico-religieux du berceau des religions juive et chrétienne …
Et où, entre « Palestine« , « nakba« , « déclaration d’indépendance« , « Al Quds« , « Isa« ,  « mosquée El Aksa« , « al-Haram al-Ibrahimi« , « Mosquée Bilal ibn Rabahou« , « camp de concentration à ciel ouvert« , « génocide », « droit du retour » …
Les divers mouvements terroristes du Hamas, Hezbollah et Fatah poussent l’obsession jusqu’à mimer et reproduire, à la virgule près en une sorte de contre-sionisme systématique, les moindres détails de l’histoire de leur modèle-rival juif …
Avec la complicité active tant des instances onusiennes que des grands médias occidentaux dont une AFP déplorant hier encore la non-mort d’Israéliens et présentant comme « manifestants » des lanceurs de grenades et d’engins explosifs qui ont déjà détruit plus de 2500 hectares de terres agricoles …
Retour sur la disparition, passée comme celle de son plus fidèle disciple Fouad Ajami il y a quatre ans,  quasiment inaperçue en France sinon pour le dénigrer une dernière fois …
D’un véritable monument de l’islamologie du siècle …

Et sa probablement plus grande contribution aux sciences historiques confirmée plus tard par René Girard

A savoir que ce ne sont pas les différences mais justement leur effacement

Qui contrairement à ce que l’on continue à répéter mais comme en une de nos journaux on le vérifie désormais quotidiennement …

Génèrent les plus inextinguibles conflits entre civilisations comme entre individus…

 
Voir aussi:

Quand l’orientaliste Bernard Lewis s’interroge sur les faiblesses de l’Occident face à l’islamisme
Le Figaro
04/05/2006

Un déjeuner avec le professeur Bernard Lewis, c’est comme un rendez-vous sur les rives du Bosphore avec un orientaliste qui aurait connu personnellement le dernier sultan Mehmed VI, l’émir Ibn Séoud et Lawrence d’Arabie. Même à Washington, dans un salon de l’hôtel Hay-Adams en face de la Maison-Blanche, un parfum d’Orient et de Vieille Europe enveloppe les réflexions de ce vieux savant, juif né à Londres en 1916, devenu Américain en 1982 après une vie d’écriture et d’enseignement à Princeton. M. Lewis fêtera ses 90 ans le mois prochain : «Fêter n’est pas le mot juste», ironise cet esprit infatigable, qui a publié trois livres depuis le 11 septembre 2001 (1), dans la foulée d’une trentaine d’ouvrages majeurs. Historien réputé dans le monde entier, sa science est particulièrement recherchée dans l’Amérique de George W. Bush, aux prises avec une série de conflits orientaux, de l’Irak à l’Iran et à l’Afghanistan. Le professeur Lewis, qui n’a rien d’une «colombe», a été plusieurs fois invité à donner son avis à la Maison-Blanche. Jeudi, à l’initiative du Pew Forum for Religion & Public Life, il a partagé ses thèses avec un groupe de journalistes américains et l’envoyé du Figaro.

L’inventeur du «choc des civilisations» est enclin à décrypter l’actualité à la lumière du passé. Pour lui, cette formule qui a fait florès n’a de sens que religieux, celui de «l’affrontement de vérités universelles et exclusives». Dans l’affaire des caricatures de Mahomet, il rappelle que si la loi islamique (charia) a interdit les représentations du Prophète, c’est d’abord pour empêcher l’idolâtrie. L’insulte constitue certes une offense, mais la charia n’est censée s’appliquer qu’aux musulmans ou aux sujets d’un Etat musulman. «Elle ne s’est jamais étendue aux péchés commis par des non musulmans hors du monde musulman», souligne Bernard Lewis. Preuves de cette vieille indifférence, certains passages de L’Enfer de Dante ou des bas-reliefs sulfureux sur la façade de la cathédrale de Bologne. «L’explosion d’indignation «spontanée» a tout de même mis quatre mois à se produire, observe le professeur. Le moindre village disposait de drapeaux danois à brûler… Une affaire soigneusement préparée.»

L’orientaliste américain voit la même manipulation idéologique derrière les attentats suicides. «En islam, le suicide est un péché mortel, rappelle-t-il. Celui qui le commet est promis à endurer sa mort sans fin en enfer, une éternité d’empoisonnement, d’asphyxie ou d’explosion…» Mais les radicaux ont décrété que c’était acceptable «si le kamikaze emportait avec lui assez d’ennemis. C’est une rupture absolue avec des siècles de tradition islamique», dit M. Lewis. Une telle dérive, il l’impute surtout au wahhabisme, secte «intolérante, violente et fanatique» qui est «à peu près aussi centrale au monde islamique que le Ku Klux Klan dans la chrétienté». Le professeur de Princeton est loin de prédire la prise de contrôle de l’islam par l’islamisme. Il croit au contraire que les forces démocratiques «progressent» dans le monde musulman. Nombre de principes de la démocratie (la consultation des sujets, la délégation contractuelle du pouvoir), sont déjà inscrits dans la tradition musulmane et moyen-orientale.

Autant que les courants violents en Terre d’islam, ce sont les «faiblesses» de l’Occident que dénonce sans ambages Bernard Lewis. En Irak, une guerre dont il a approuvé le déclenchement, «j’ai sous-estimé notre capacité d’engendrer la défaite à partir de la victoire», déplore-t-il. «Nous offensons les Irakiens et nous les flattons en même temps.» Or, il n’y a qu’une politique à ses yeux face à l’insurrection : «La supprimer. Ce n’est pas quelque chose qu’on peut faire à moitié.» Idem du Hamas dans les Territoires palestiniens : «Une organisation terroriste dangereuse qu’il faut traiter comme telle.» L’Iran ? «Je suis enclin à croire à la démence (du président) Ahmadinejad. Il semble vraiment convaincu de l’apocalypse qu’il annonce. Avec la bombe atomique, les Iraniens deviendraient d’une arrogance insoutenable. Ils ne l’utiliseraient pas dans des bombardements, mais plutôt dans des actions terroristes, sans préciser l’adresse de l’expéditeur.» Devant d’aussi grands dangers, l’universitaire, qui conseille parfois la Maison-Blanche, n’a qu’un mot d’ordre : «La fermeté.»

Etrangement, Bernard Lewis ne fait pas crédit à l’Administration Bush des vertus dont elle se prévaut en la matière. «Nous sommes plus en 1938 qu’en 1940, plutôt dans l’ère Chamberlain que Churchill, estime le vieil homme. Nous allons de retraite en retraite.» Deux guerres ne lui suffisent pas ? Encore faudrait-il qu’elles soient gagnées. En Irak, «il est encore possible de sauver la situation», à en juger par les trois scrutins libres organisés en deux ans et par la participation des femmes au processus politique. Mais parallèlement, dans le chaos des attentats et des représailles, «nous instillons la peur et nous étalons nos hésitations», une double faute «psychologique», estime M. Lewis. Elle procède selon lui d’une erreur d’analyse centrale : «Dire que nous sommes en guerre contre le terrorisme, c’est comme dire que nous étions en guerre contre des avions et des sous-marins pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Le terrorisme est une tactique, insiste-t-il. Ce n’est pas une cause et ce n’est pas un ennemi.»

Autant pour Bush, dont la cible est camouflée derrière un acronyme non identifiable : Gwot, pour Global War on Terror (Guerre globale contre le terrorisme). A ce rythme, Bernard Lewis n’exclut pas un «scénario catastrophe» dans lequel «l’Occident et le monde musulman se détruiraient l’un l’autre, laissant la Chine et l’Inde dominer le XXIe siècle». Heureusement, le pire n’est pas sûr : avec un peu de chance, «des sociétés ouvertes réussiront à se développer et l’islam retrouvera sa juste place dans le monde».

* Correspondant du Figaro aux Etats-Unis.

(1) What Went Wrong, The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East (2002) ; The Crisis of Islam, Holy War and Unholy Terror (2003) ; From Babel to Dragomans, Interpreting the Middle East (2004)

Voir également:

Seven Questions: Bernard Lewis on the Two Biggest Myths About Islam
He is one of the world’s foremost scholars of Islam and the Middle East. Bernard Lewis shares his thoughts on Iraq, “Islamofascism,” the roots of terrorism, and the two biggest misperceptions about the Muslim faith.
Foreign policy

August 20, 2008

From the Jan./Feb. 2008 issue of Foreign Policy: A World Without Islam, by Graham Fuller. Remove Islam from the path of history, and the world ends up exactly where it is today.

Foreign Policy: What do you see as the biggest misperception about Islam?

Bernard Lewis: Well, there are two. Sometimes one, sometimes the other, predominates. It depends when and where. I would call them the negative one and the positive one. The negative one sees Muslims as a collection of bloodthirsty barbarians offering people the choice of the Koran or the sword, and generally bringing tyranny and oppression wherever they go. And the other one is the exact opposite, what you might call the sanitized version, which presents Islam as a religion of love and peace, rather like the Quakers but without their aggressiveness. The truth is in its usual place, somewhere between the extremes.

FP: Do you believe in the clash of civilizations theory of Samuel P. Huntington, that the Islamic world and the West are destined to butt heads?

BL: Well, I dont go into destiny; Im a historian and I deal with the past. But I certainly think there is something in the clash of civilizations. What brought Islam and Christendom into conflict was not so much their differences as their resemblances. There are many religions in the world, but almost all of them are regional, local, ethnic, or whatever you choose to call it. Christianity and Islam are the only religions that claim universal truth. Christians and Muslims are the only people who claim they are the fortunate recipients of Gods final message to humanity, which it is their duty not to keep selfishly to themselveslike the Jews or the Hindus or the Buddhistsbut to bring to the rest of mankind, removing whatever obstacles there may be in the way.

So, we have two religions with a similar self-perception, a similar historical background, living side by side, and conflict becomes inevitable.

FP: You write in your chapter about radical Islam that most Muslims are not fundamentalists, and that most fundamentalists are not terrorists. Thats not self-evident to everyone, so can you just explain it a little further?

BL: Naturally we hear about the acts of terror. Nobody ever wrote a headline saying a million people went peacefully about their business yesterday and did nothing. Terrorism is very much the news of the moment and it is also the threat of the moment. It is a real menace, and I dont wish to understate that or diminish it in any way. But if one assumes that thats all there is to Islam, thats a grave mistake, because terrorism only comes from one brand of Islam, and even that one brand of Islam is not entirely committed to terrorism. But for a terrorist movement, you do need mass support.

FP: I noticed that you use the term Islamofascism in the conclusion of your book. That term has been hotly debated. What do you think? Is it harmful or useful?

BL: Well, I dont use it; I discuss it. I think one has to confront that this is a term that is used. I dont like it because its insulting to Muslims. They see it as insulting to link the name of their religion with the most detestable of all the European movements. Its useful in the sense that it does distinguish real Islam from Islamofascism, but I still feel that the connection is insulting, and I prefer to use the term radical Islam.

FP: A lot of analysts, and this is especially something you hear from political leaders in the Muslim world, say that Islam has nothing to do with terrorismthat these are completely separate issues. Is that a view that you subscribe to? Some people say that terrorism is largely caused by occupation or a response to U.S. policy, not Islam.

BL: Well, I cant subscribe to it since the terrorists themselves claim to be acting in the name of Islam. There was one Muslim leader who said, not long ago, that it is wrong to speak about Muslim terrorism, because if a man commits an act of terrorism, hes not a Muslim. Thats very nice, but that could also be interpreted as meaning that if a Muslim commits it, it doesnt count as terrorism.

When a large part of the Muslim world was under foreign rule, then you might say that terrorism was a result of imperialism, of imperial rule and occupation. But at the present time, almost the whole of the Muslim world has achieved its independence. They can no longer blame others for what goes wrong. They have to confront the realities of their own lives at home. A few places remain disputed, like Chechnya and Israel and some others, but these are relatively minor if youre talking about the Islamic world as a whole.

FP: Iraq, which used to be ruled by a Sunni ruler, is now being governed by Shiites. What does that mean in the context of Islamic history?

BL: I think it means a great deal. But what is important in Iraq is not that its being ruled by the Shiites, but that its being ruled by a democracy, by a free, elected government that faces a free opposition. It proves what is often disputed, that the development of democratic institutions in a Muslim Arab country is possible. A lot of people say, No, its impossible. It cant work. They cant do it. Well, its difficult, but its not impossible, and I think Iraq proves that. What is happening in Iraq I find profoundly encouraging. Of course, it is the ripple effect from Iraq that is causing alarm among all the tyrants that rule these countries [in the region]. If it works in Iraq, it could work elsewhere, and this is very disturbing [for tyrants].

FP: As someone who has spent so much time studying the Ottoman Empire, the history of Islam, and the region, is the future of Islam something that has a deep meaning to you personally? Where do you see the Muslim world headed in the next decade?

BL: Im not a religious person. But I find things that are good and encouraging. Islam over the last 14 centuries has brought dignity and meaning to millions of drab and impoverished lives. It has created a great civilization that has gone through several different phases in several different countries. It is now going through a major crisis, and it could go either way. It could descend into a fanatical tyranny, which would be devastating for Muslims and a threat to the rest of the world. Or they may succeed in developing their own brand of democracy. When we talk about the possibility of democracy in the Islamic world, it doesnt have to be our kind. Our kind results from our own history and institutions. Its not a universal model. They can, and I think will, develop their own brand of democracy, by which I mean limited, civilized, responsible government. And there are signs of that.

Bernard Lewis is professor emeritus at Princeton University and the author of dozens of books, most recently Islam: The Religion and the People (Upper Saddle River: Wharton School Publishing, 2008), coauthored with Buntzie Ellis Churchill.

Voir encore:

The Conflicted Legacy of Bernard Lewis
A Clash of Interpretations
Martin Kramer
Foreign Affairs
June 7, 2018

Bernard Lewis, historian of the Middle East, passed away on May 19, just shy of his 102nd birthday. No other person in our time has done as much to inform and influence the West’s view of the Islamic world and the Middle East. A long career of scholarship in the United Kingdom, followed by decades as a public intellectual in the United States, earned him readers across the globe. After the 9/11 attacks, he became a celebrity: “Osama bin Laden made me famous,” he admitted. The two short books he published after the terror strikes became New York Times bestsellers. Charlie Rose couldn’t get enough of him.

Regard for Lewis extended well beyond (and above) the general public. He was also known to be a valued interlocutor of Turkish and Jordanian statesmen, Iran’s last shah, Israeli prime ministers, and U.S. President George W. Bush and his team. Bush was even spotted carrying a marked-up copy of one of Lewis’ articles. As the “war on terror” and its Iraqi sequel unfolded and unraveled, he became the subject of magazine profiles and cover stories. Bernard Lewis knew the Middle East, and America thought it knew him.

Or did it? “For some, I’m the towering genius,” Lewis said in 2012. “For others, I’m the devil incarnate.” Despite having written 30-plus books (including a memoir) and hundreds of articles, and undertaken countless interviews, Lewis was widely misunderstood. Many of those misunderstandings, latent since he went silent a few years ago, reappeared in his obituaries, mixed with either admiration or vitriol.

Part of this is due to his sheer longevity. On 9/11, he was already 85 years old; he’d published his first book in 1940, over 60 years earlier. He was hardly obscure when he became “famous,” but his mass audience discovered him only during the last decade of his seven-decade career. For those like me who met him much earlier (I became his student at Princeton University in 1976), the latecomers seemed not to grasp the true significance or magnitude of his contribution.

It would take thousands of words to dispel the many myths about Lewis, from the crude ones (the “Lewis Plan” for dividing up the Middle East into statelets, or the “Lewis Doctrine” of “sowing” democracy by force), to the supposedly knowing ones (“Godfather of the Iraq War”). That needs to be done elsewhere, and in a pointed way. Here, let me flag three particularly salient misunderstandings, which arose not from malice, but from a failure to read widely and deeply in the great body of his work.

« LAST ORIENTALIST » OR PIONEER SCHOLAR?

The first is the belief that Lewis was an “Orientalist,” or even “the last Orientalist,” a title applied to him either as a term of abuse or as a badge of honor. This misconception was fostered by Lewis’ famous duel with the Palestinian American literary scholar Edward Said, whose 1978 manifesto, Orientalism, indicted Western “Orientalist” writers and scholars for purveying bigotry against Islam and the Arabs. Lewis rose to the defense of the scholars: it was they who undermined Europe’s medieval prejudice against Islam, by directly accessing and engaging original Islamic sources. Lewis maintained that this brand of scholarly Orientalism amounted to one of the nobler triumphs of the Enlightenment.

But in defending the Orientalists, Lewis wasn’t acting as one. Yes, Lewis had studied under a famed British Orientalist, Sir Hamilton Gibb. He knew the Orientalist canon intimately and had a gift for languages that would have been the envy of any philologist. But Lewis wasn’t “the last Orientalist.” (“The Orientalists have gone,” Lewis insisted.) He was the first real historian of the Middle East, considered a pioneer in applying the latest approaches in European social and economic history to the Middle Eastern past.

His highly readable studies on every period were chock-full of fascinating historical detail about day-to-day life, which he’d culled from indigenous sources. He was the first Westerner admitted to the Ottoman archives, and he was the first scholar to read the Islamic texts for earlier periods with a trained historian’s eye. (I can attest, as someone who once tended his 18,000-volume library, that he owned every significant Arabic, Persian, and Turkish chronicle.) Lewis, as a young don, criticized his Orientalist forebears for their insularity and called for “the integration of the history of Islam into the study of the general history of humanity.” No one did more than Lewis to advance this elusive goal.

Through his historical research, Lewis arrived at a crucial insight, which informed all his later writings. Islamic civilization in its “golden age” had all the prerequisites to make the leap to modernity before parochial Europe did. Yet it stagnated, then declined. “The rise of the West has been much studied,” he once noted, “but the waning of Islamic power has received little serious scholarly attention.” This would be his project, and in its pursuit, he reached an intriguing conclusion: the elites of the great Muslim empires, especially the Ottomans, were so certain of their own God-given superiority that they saw no reason ever to change. They discounted the steady rise of Europe, and by the time they got a fix on the problem, it was too late.

Thus began a desperate race to arrest the decline of the Muslim world and its eclipse by a dynamic Europe. There were many Western observers who pointed to the spreading rot. But Lewis revealed the Muslim point of view. Reform, modernization, nationalism, Islamism, terror—all these were strategies to restore to the Muslims some semblance of the power they had wielded for over a millennium and which they lost in just a few generations. Lewis’ biggest bestseller, What Went Wrong?, published just after 9/11, distilled his many findings on how Muslims had tried and failed to restore their world. Al Qaeda (and later the Islamic State, also known as ISIS), by seeking to reenact the seventh century, was the most desperate of these attempts to reverse history.

The question of decline preoccupied Lewis, because he knew its human cost. When he finished his PhD at the University of London in 1939, his country still ruled a quarter of humankind and almost a third of the world’s land mass. Then, just as he was on the brink of launching his career, his country went to war against an evil power that overran Europe and nearly destroyed Western civilization. In his city, London, 30,000 died in German bombings. “I went to shelters in the underground stations,” he recalled, “but I soon got tired of this and decided to stay in my bed and take my chances.”

After the war, the British Empire gradually dissolved, and Britain ceased to be great. Tout passe, tout casse, tout lasse (Everything passes, everything breaks, everything wearies): Lewis in old age was wont to repeat the French adage. He had witnessed firsthand the crumbling of a mighty empire, and he sought the underlying causes of decline in the example of Islam. Lewis’ later message to the United States, which had saved the West, was to warn against a repeat of the smug complacency that presaged the precipitate declines of Ottoman Islam and Britannia.

CLASH OR ENCOUNTER?

This brings us to a second misunderstanding. Lewis has been tagged as the father of the “clash of civilizations,” which Samuel Huntington borrowed (with acknowledgment) for his famous Foreign Affairs article of 1993. Lewis had used the phrase as early as 1957 to describe the deeper aspect of contemporary conflicts in the Middle East. (Better to “view the present discontents of the Middle East,” he wrote, “not as a conflict between states or nations, but as a clash between civilizations.”) He repeated the phrase in subsequent works, most famously in his 1990 article, “The Roots of Muslim Rage.”

Huntington, however, went further than Lewis, presenting the “clash” as a struggle among all the world’s civilizations, fueled by cultural differences. Lewis had something else in mind. He held that Islam and Christendom (later, the West) were unique rivals, not because of their differences but because they shared so much: the Greco-Roman legacy, Abrahamic monotheism, and the Mediterranean basin.

Obviously, these two sibling civilizations often clashed. But being so similar, they also borrowed, exchanged, and translated. In 1994, just after Huntington popularized the “clash” thesis, Lewis sought to distance himself from it. That year, he revised his classic 1964 book The Middle East and the West, and in the revision, “clash” became “encounter.” He told me later that he felt “clash” was “too harsh.”

In 1996, when Huntington published The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Lewis again kept his distance. He noted that “there have been great struggles between Christendom and Islam in the past” and that “there are still some on both sides who see world history in terms of a holy war between believers and unbelievers.” But this wasn’t fate: “A new era of peaceful coexistence is possible,” he announced. Lewis never denied coining the phrase “clash between civilizations,” but he meant it as a very partial description of the past and the present, and not as a prediction of the future.

Still, Lewis also sensed that the resentment of the West simmered, and he was the first to conclude that it would take an increasingly Islamist form. As early as 1964, he thought it “obvious” that “Islamic movements alone are authentically Middle Eastern in inspiration…express[ing] the passions of the submerged masses of the population. Though they have all, so far, been defeated, they have not yet spoken their last word.” He returned to this theme in 1976, in his seminal article “The Return of Islam.” When Commentary published it, Western liberals and Arab nationalists ridiculed him. They’d pinned their hopes and reputations on the ever-onward progress of secular modernity. If Islam had “returned,” they had failed.

Lewis didn’t have to wait long for vindication. He didn’t predict the Iranian Revolution three years later, but it enhanced his reputation for prescience. He struck again in 1998 on the pages of Foreign Affairs, where he analyzed the “declaration of jihad” of a little-known Saudi renegade named Osama bin Laden. Lewis again warned against complacency—to no avail.

After 9/11, America listened to him precisely because he had heard Islamist extremist voices when no one took them seriously. Yet he always insisted that those voices didn’t speak for all of Islam: “Anyone with even a moderate knowledge of Islam knows that most Muslims are neither militant nor violent.” Bin Laden’s message was a « grotesque travesty of the nature of Islam and even of its doctrine of jihad. The Quran speaks of peace as well as of war.”

IN CONTEMPT OR GOOD FAITH?

The third misunderstanding is the notion that Lewis held “the Arabs” in contempt. After his death, some Twitter feeds sputtered words supposedly said by Lewis to Dick Cheney when he was vice president: “I believe that one of the things you’ve got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes with a big stick. They respect power.”

The only source for this “quote” was the former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who speculated to a journalist on what Lewis might have said behind closed doors. In fact, no one ever heard Lewis say any such thing. But beyond fake quotes, there has persisted the idea, planted first by Said, that Lewis’ work was “very close to being propaganda against his subject material.” (Presumably, the reference is to the Arabs. In regard to the Turks, Lewis’ critics sometimes claimed he propagandized for them.) Another academic, Richard Bulliet, claimed that Lewis was “a person who does not like the people he is purporting to have expertise about. He doesn’t respect them.”

If this were true, there is no credible explanation as to why, for all the years I knew Lewis, his staunchest friends included prominent Arab scholars. At Princeton, Lewis’ closest colleague was the Egyptian-born economic historian Charles Issawi, his exact contemporary and a man of vast learning. Their erudite and recondite banter induced awe. When the “Orientalism” controversy broke, Issawi stood with Lewis. (“We should be eternally grateful to the Orientalists,” Issawi told an interviewer, “who taught us so much.”) Issawi often closely tracked the ideas of Lewis, as in a 1986 lecture (later published) entitled, “The Clash of Cultures in the Middle East.” Lewis and Issawi disagreed over Israel and Palestine. But in an affectionate tribute to Issawi, Lewis wrote that “our agreements have not strengthened nor our disagreements weakened our friendship.”

It was at Princeton that Lewis first met the Lebanese-born Fouad Ajami, half his age at the time, who gradually became a disciple. It was Ajami who wrote paeans to Lewis on special occasions and spoke movingly at events celebrating him. Ajami attested to “deep reservoirs of reverence felt for [Lewis] in many Muslim and Arab lands…. Countless Arab and Iranian and Turkish readers…know that he has not come to the material of their history driven by bad faith, or a desire for dominion.” Lewis, in turn, dedicated a book to Ajami, “in appreciation of his scholarship, friendship, and courage.” Together they founded an academic association of Middle Eastern studies, meant as a platform for dissenting views.

And while some Arabs thought Lewis too “Zionist,” others valued him precisely for his rapport with Israeli leaders. In 1971, the Egyptian statesman Tahseen Bashir, acting at the behest of President Anwar Sadat, asked Lewis to inform Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir of Egypt’s interest in peace. Lewis not only conveyed the message from one friend to another, he endorsed it. (Meir rejected the overture; war followed two years later.) Lewis also always combined visits to Israel with stops in Jordan, where King Hussein and then Crown Prince Hassan hosted him. “I had a personal relationship with the royal family,” wrote Lewis, who made Amman his base in the Arab world. He certainly didn’t believe that Israelis and Arabs were doomed to “clash,” and he supported the Oslo Accords (although he later admitted it was a mistake to imagine Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat abandoning terrorism).

It was Lewis’ Arab friends who persuaded him, however improbably, that the Arab peoples were primed for democracy, beginning in Iraq. During the long Cold War, when the Arabs were subjected to Stalinist-style dictatorships, Lewis saw the present as a simple continuum of “the authoritarianism, perhaps we may even say the totalitarianism, of the Islamic political tradition.” But the fall of the Soviet Union invigorated democracy movements everywhere. Were the Arabs truly exceptions? Iraqis came to Lewis and told him they weren’t, and Lewis was primed to believe them. He had entered a last and hopeful phase, of desiring to see the Arabs partake of the bounty of democracy.

Consider, for example, his penultimate contribution to Foreign Affairs. In his 2005 essay, “Freedom and Justice in the Modern Middle East,” Lewis denied that dictatorship constituted “the immemorial way” of the Arabs. It was “simply untrue. It shows ignorance of the Arab past, contempt for the Arab present, and unconcern for the Arab future.” Dictatorships were “very alien to the foundations of Islamic civilization. There are older rules and traditions on which the peoples of the Middle East can build.”

It’s debatable, and probably always will be. But in making the case, beginning with Iraq, Lewis wasn’t propagandizing against his subject. To the contrary, he was arguing that there was nothing so exceptional about the Arabs or Islam that would exclude them from the shared future of humankind. “The Middle East is a region of great, ancient civilizations with talented and ingenious people,” he announced in 2002, “and I have no doubt at all that they can create free societies.” This wasn’t a well-grounded analysis, akin to his prescient read of Islamism. It was a closing prophecy, meant to resolve the contradictions in Lewis’ double devotion to Islam and the West.

The questions that Lewis posed, and the answers that he gave, are still at the center of our politics, which is why his death produced such an outpouring of passions, for and against him. But now he is himself a subject in history. Lewis has given us guidelines for assessing him. “The historian must strive to achieve as great a degree of objectivity as possible,” he wrote. “No man can be entirely detached from the events of the time in which he lived…. The scholar, however, will not give way to his prejudices. He will recognize them, control them, allow for them, and by a process of intellectual self-discipline reduce their working to a minimum.”

Whether Bernard Lewis approximated this ideal is a legitimate question. But it can be answered fairly only by rising to his standard.

Voir aussi:

With the Death of Bernard Lewis, the Age of Academic Giants Has Come to an End

Professional study of Middle East history now belongs to incompetents and political agitators.

Observation
Michael Doran
June 6 2018
About the author
Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the author of Ike’s Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East (2016), is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a former senior director of the National Security Council.
By then I had met any number of extremely accomplished people, but never anyone quite like him. Lewis was a genius, by which I mean not just that he was extremely intelligent but that he possessed dazzling and unique intellectual gifts. He knew somewhere between ten and fifteen languages. The ones that mattered most to him professionally—Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi, modern Turkish, Ottoman Turkish, French, and German—he knew extremely well. He also had a photographic memory.Near-perfect recall is an impressive instrument, though it entails its own peculiar complications. One day, Lewis handed me a manuscript of his new book, The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years. He asked me to proofread it and to be on the lookout, especially, for repetitions—not just within the text but also between it and his other publications. Edward Said, the author of Orientalism and Lewis’s nemesis and bête noire, had accused him of “recycling old notes.” Lewis had no wish to turn Said into a truth-teller.No sooner had I begun my work than I discovered a passage that had appeared, verbatim, in an article written by Lewis some two decades earlier. Was Said correct, then, and was Lewis cutting and pasting from earlier work? This I knew to be false. Lewis didn’t write books in the conventional sense of the word “write.” He would collect primary sources, organize them into manila folders—a separate one dedicated to each chapter in the book under construction. Then he would sit comfortably in the chair at his desk and speak into the Dictaphone. Out they would flow—perfectly formed sentences. Uninterrupted by so much as an “uh” or an “umm,” they would soon turn into neat paragraphs, and the paragraphs would grow into chapters. A light editing after dictation was sometimes all it took to ready the material for publication. If Lewis sometimes repeated himself verbatim, it was because ideas that he had formulated over the years were simply engraved in granite in his mind.At our next meeting, I showed Lewis the repeated passage. He turned beet red and quickly changed the subject. When on a later occasion I tried to discuss the subject of his phenomenal recall, it was plain my questions irritated him. So I never broached the topic again—but I did once ask if he’d ever experienced writer’s block. “Rarely,” he said. “However, I am occasionally at a loss for the right word.” He had a method for overcoming this ordeal. “I draw myself a hot bath, ease down into the water, put my head back and relax. And then it comes to me.”To call him prolific is an understatement. Wikipedia’s list of his books runs to 33 titles ranging across all periods of Islamic history. The list, however, is incomplete. Among the omissions is Days in Denmark, a lighthearted guidebook published in 1950 under the pseudonym Louis Bernard; alongside its voluminous information and advice, the book pokes fun at the foibles of the Danes. I’d discovered it by chance one day while puttering around in his study. After skimming through it, marveling as I read, I brought it to him fully expecting a show of pride at his command of so offbeat a subject. To my surprise, he was unforthcoming.“You even know Danish?” I asked, brandishing the book.“Where did you find that?”“Over there on the shelf. Did you work on Denmark during the war?” (He had served in British intelligence.)“No.”“What prompted you to learn Danish?”

“Personal reasons,” he said, taking the book from my hand. The conversation, he made clear, was over. I would subsequently learn that his wife had been Danish, and that the marriage had ended unhappily.

Actually, Lewis’s guide to Denmark points to the grand theme of his career: cross-cultural perception, misperception, and conflict. This subject came naturally to him, and was never far from his mind even in the unlikeliest-seeming contexts. One such context that I’ll never forget involved his reaction to a California jury’s notorious verdict of not-guilty in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. For the purposes of an upcoming speech, and prompted by the uproar over the verdict, Lewis was intending to relate an anecdote drawn from the memoirs of a judge in Ireland, a certain McGillicuddy. Would I go to the library, he asked, and hunt down the book to double-check the accuracy of the quote?

Lewis explained what he was looking for. McGillicuddy had served on the bench before Ireland received its independence. With the British ruling the country, Irish Catholic juries were notoriously reluctant to convict Irish Catholic defendants, no matter how damning the evidence. McGillicuddy was outraged when, at a murder trial over which he presided, the jury returned a verdict of not-guilty for a man who was patently guilty. Unable to bring himself to pronounce the prescribed formula for setting free an exonerated defendant—“You have been found innocent by a jury of your peers. You leave this courtroom with no stain on your record”—McGillicuddy, Lewis recollected, revised it to fit the circumstances: “You have been found innocent by an Irish jury. You leave this courtroom with no other stain on your record.”

Off to the library I went. I scoured the stacks and all the relevant databases, but with no luck. No research library in North America had a copy of McGillicuddy’s memoirs. Lewis had read the passage when studying law in the mid-1930s, and recalled it verbatim a half-century later.

Total recall, command of sources, mastery of hard languages—these are indeed powerful tools. I’ve encountered other scholars who’ve possessed them, but they often tend to be hopeless pedants, capable of boring you to tears in five languages. Not so Lewis. He yoked his innate intellectual gifts to a powerful analytic intelligence and expressed the result in lively and urbane prose.

Memory plus languages plus analysis plus talent for expression—this was the magical combination that put him in a class all his own. But that, too, was by no means the end of it. His lectures and his writing always had a point: a big, significant thesis into which even an anecdote plucked from a half-century-old book on a different subject would take on special meaning.

In the 1950s, in the archives of the Ottoman empire in Istanbul, Lewis had found the grand cross-cultural story worthy of his prodigious talents. As one of the first Western historians to gain access to the empire’s official records, he also belonged to a very small fraternity of non-Turkish scholars who had truly mastered the Ottoman language. His archival research allowed Lewis to examine the practical strategies that the last great Muslim empire adopted to contend with the rise of the West.

European expansion was an old story, but Lewis had a new take: how that expansion looked from the heartlands of the Middle East. His research in Istanbul, which in the first instance yielded The Emergence of Modern Turkey, also shaped his thinking in general, and in a way that some commentators on his work have missed: it gave him a particular perspective on modern history.

Nationalism sometimes fosters a shallow intellectual culture, but among the Turks, furtively before World War I and openly thereafter, it generated an original and sophisticated literature. The Ottoman empire was a multiethnic, Islamic polity. To become nationalists, the Turks had to think themselves out of traditional categories and entirely reconceive their history, culture, and politics. This intellectual enterprise, massive and multi-generational, culminated in Kemalism, the ideology associated with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Anyone curious about the influence of Kemalism on Lewis can compare The Rise of Modern Turkey with The Development of Secularism in Turkey, a masterful history written by Niyazi Berkes, the leading Turkish scholar of the day. Lewis and Berkes, the comparison will immediately reveal, are close cousins.

But this is hardly to deny the uniqueness of Lewis’s own take on the Turkish national story. With his inimitable panache, he placed it in the broadest possible context, presenting it as it was in itself but also as a chapter in a world-historical drama: the interaction as a whole between the Middle East and the West.

At the center of Lewis’s story is Islam—its nature, power, and persistence. As the men who ran the Ottoman empire and its successor states sought to modernize their societies, they continually butted heads with the champions of traditional society, who expressed their own values and aspirations in an Islamic idiom. This led Lewis to be on the lookout for possible recrudescences of anti-Western Islamic movements. So armed, he was able to identify important political developments significantly in advance of other experts.

Two essays stand out for their prescience in this regard. “The Return of Islam,” published in Commentary in 1976, identified Islamic-based politics as a rising trend—three years before the Iranian revolution that toppled the shah and brought to power the rule of the ayatollahs. Two decades later, in “License to Kill,” published in Foreign Affairs in 1998, he drew attention to Osama bin Laden’s call for jihad against America—three years before 9/11.

It is impossible to exaggerate how hostile the academic field of modern Middle East studies was to these two essays—or to the author of the large corpus of historical research out of which they grew. This hostility was spearheaded by Edward Said in Orientalism (1978). Taking aim directly at Lewis, the book depicted the scholarly tradition of which Lewis was the leading figure as, in its essence, a highfalutin cover for Western prejudice—a learned justification for Western imperialism and Israeli expansionism.

As an intellectual rival to Lewis, Said was hopelessly outgunned. As an academic ideologue, however, he proved the more talented figure. The genius of Orientalism was that it built an intellectual bridge between Middle East studies and the guilt attitudes commonly held by American liberals toward the issue of race in their own country. The cause of the problems in the Middle East, Said implied, lay in the bigotry of white men, for which Lewis’s claim—that a deep knowledge of history and culture was relevant to understanding present-day issues—was just a smokescreen. The essence of the story was the domination of brown people by white people.

Said’s argument, such as it was, is often presented as one side in an ongoing war of ideas, but the real key to understanding its repercussions is to be found in the underlying emotions that it touched on and would later inflame. Consider, for example, a Muslim student of mine, a son of immigrants to the United States, with whom I held hours of solemn conversation in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. (I was working at the time as a professor.) The student unburdened himself to me about the emotional turmoil into which Osama bin Laden’s attacks had thrown his family.

His parents were barely on speaking terms. His father was enraged—at America and at Americans. Before the 9/11 attacks, the father had been just another colleague at work; afterward, he suddenly became the Muslim colleague. He felt unfairly singled out by his non-Muslim co-workers. Some of them became distant, while others insistently asked him to explain Osama bin Laden as if being Muslim gave him special insight into the arch-terrorist’s motivations.

My student’s mother, meanwhile, had the polar opposite reaction. If her husband felt falsely accused, she felt genuinely implicated by bin Laden’s crimes. Overcome with a sense of shame, she grew visibly depressed, staying in bed to avoid going out in public.

As my student’s home became an unhappy place, and as he tried to sort through his own complex feelings, he also found himself unable to talk about these matters with his Muslim friends. They were simply too close to the problem. So he’d come to me instead.

Now consider what Bernard Lewis’s books, articles, and interviews were telling Americans at this same time. Osama bin Laden, he argued, represented a politically significant development, one with deep roots in the history of the Middle East if not in Islam itself. Lewis was not saying that this was the only current in Islam, or necessarily the most authentic one. But the mere fact of his attributing popular legitimacy to it, as well as a connection to Islamic tradition, was enough to enrage men like my student’s father. To his ears, it sounded as if Lewis were tarring both him and his religion with the brush of terrorism.

Many scholars working in Middle East studies in the United States, being themselves of Middle Eastern heritage, share similar emotions. Those who don’t share them are surrounded, professionally and socially, by people who do. Dissenters have thus been under heavy pressure to repudiate Lewis’s perspective and to produce analyses, instead, that put the blame for the ills of the Middle East on exogenous forces—specifically, on Western and/or Israeli policies.

Modern Middle East studies has therefore become a field rife with pro-Muslim apologetics. In this sense, it is fair to say that although Lewis won the argument, Said won the crowd. Thanks to Said, insufferable blowhards who willfully obscure the difference between scholarship and politicking now run the field.

Indeed, by the time I got to know Lewis in the mid-1990s, the ground had already shifted. The rising generation wanted as little connection with him as possible—at least in public. Young academics on the make, some of them his own students, recognized that search committees for coveted jobs would often include an aging curmudgeon who still respected Lewis. To disarm and mollify these older types, they would kiss up to Lewis and ask for recommendations even while denigrating him to their peers.

Out of a sense of professional responsibility, and also because he was loyal to a fault, Lewis would produce the requested recommendations. He recognized rank careerism for what it was, but was he aware of the depth of duplicity being displayed by individuals who owed their careers to him? Of that I’m not so sure.

As academia increasingly disavowed Lewis, the allure of Washington grew stronger. For a man who could effortlessly quote the verse of the 10th-century Arab poet al-Mutanabbi, Lewis also revealed a remarkable talent for talking with policymakers. He was always well briefed on current affairs. For four months of every year, he traveled to the Middle East. When back at Princeton, part of his daily routine was listening to Arab political broadcasts over shortwave radio. Having spent countless hours during World War II eavesdropping on Arab leaders’ telephone conversations and briefing British commanders about them, he had a very keen sense of the day-to-day realities of regional politics and of how to distill the essence for non-experts.

Truth be told, however, he was more an analyst than an implementer, and he was not especially gifted at formulating policy. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of 9/11, he allowed himself to be drawn into the debate over the Iraq war, which he supported. Looking back on it now, I wish he had played the role of grand old man of Middle East analysis rather than becoming, as he did, an intellectual icon for policymakers. I even suggested to him once, over a late-night scotch, that he might remain aloof, issuing Delphic statements that kept him above the fray. “At my age,” he responded, “what difference does it make?” I had no response. He was playing a significant role in the world, in a way usually denied to people in the second half of their ninth decade. And he’d earned the right.

Bernard Lewis was a loyal friend and a scholarly legend. The sadness at his passing only grows as one is forced to acknowledge that the age of academic giants has now definitively come to an end. The professional study of Middle East history now belongs to the heirs of Edward Said—to, that is, intellectual pygmies.

Have I closed on a word, and an image, unpardonably “Orientalist” and “colonialist”? I certainly hope so.

Voir également:

Bernard Lewis

Lewis attributed the 9/11 attacks to a decaying Islamic civilization.

 JPost Editorial
May 23, 2018

Lewis, who will be buried at the Trumpeldor Cemetery in Tel Aviv on Thursday, had a major impact on US foreign policy, particularly under the presidency of George W. Bush. He briefed vice president Dick Cheney and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. His phrase, “the clash of civilizations,” was made famous by American political scientist Samuel Huntington, who argued that cultural and religious identities would be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War era.

Lewis attributed the 9/11 attacks to a decaying Islamic civilization that enabled extremists such as al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to conduct an international terrorist campaign. The solution to the growing problems of fundamentalist Islamic ideology was, in a word, democracy. “Either we bring them freedom, or they destroy us,” Lewis wrote. In many ways he was a modern-day prophet, although he was sometimes wrong and was often accused by his academic colleagues of being Eurocentric. “For some, I’m the towering genius,” Lewis told The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012. “For others, I’m the devil incarnate.”

He warned in 2006 that Iran had been working on a nuclear program for some 15 years. But he wrongly predicted that Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be planning an apocalyptic attack, perhaps against Israel, on August 22, to coincide with Muhammad’s night flight to Jerusalem.

As Israel deliberates again whether to recognize the Armenian Genocide, it is timely to recall that in the first editions of his well-known book, The Emergence of Modern Turkey, Lewis described that genocide as “the terrible holocaust of 1915, when a million and a half Armenians perished.” In later editions, he changed the text to “the terrible slaughter of 1915, when, according to estimates, more than a million Armenians perished, as well as an unknown number of Turks.” Critics accused him of “historical revisionism.”

In a visit to The Jerusalem Post in 2007, the London- born Lewis eloquently discussed the situation in an interview with then-editor David Horovitz and reporter Tovah Lazaroff. He predicted that one way for Muslims to alleviate their growing rage would be “to win some large victories, which could happen. They seem to be about to take over Europe.”

Lewis was asked what that meant for Jews in Europe.

“The outlook for the Jewish communities in Europe is dim,” he replied. “Soon, the only pertinent question regarding Europe’s future will be, ‘Will it be an Islamized Europe or Europeanized Islam?’” In reviewing Lewis’s 2010 collection of essays – Faith and Power: Religion and Politics in the Middle East – Post International Edition editor Liat Collins pertinently noted a line of thought appearing throughout the essays was that the Western concept of separating church and state was not compatible with Islam.

“The emergence of a population, many millions strong, of Muslims born and educated in Western Europe will have immense and unpredictable consequences for Europe, for Islam and for the relations between them,” Lewis wrote. Collins commented: “I don’t want to hear a ‘Told you so’ so much as an update in the wake of the current mass migration to Europe’s shores.” Although he didn’t get everything right – who can? – Collins added that his special touches are well-worth noting, such as this classic quotation: “In America one uses money to buy power, while in the Middle East, one uses power to acquire money.”

“Bernard Lewis was one of the great scholars of Islam and the Middle East in our time,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, recalling the wide-ranging conversations Lewis had with his late father and fellow historian, Prof. Benzion Netanyahu. “We will be forever grateful for his robust defense of Israel.”

Most importantly, Lewis helped improve the world’s understanding of Islam and the Arab world. Still today it is difficult to predict how events in the Middle East will play out. His scholarship will live on but his voice will be missed.

Voir encore:

Bernard Lewis, historian of the Middle East, 1916-2018

Originator of ‘clash of civilisations’ phrase, influential in George W Bush’s White House

Bernard Lewis, a towering but controversial historian of Islam and the Middle East, died this week aged 101. Opinion will divide about the legacy of a learned and charming man who shamed many fellow academics with the grace and wit of his phrasemaking in more than two dozen books — was he principally a scholar or a propagandist. He left an indelible mark, over a long career in which he rarely seemed to change his mind or modulate his pithy opinions on what made his chosen region tick.

He risks being remembered most for the 2003 Iraq war, by when he had become celebrity in-house historian to George W Bush’s US administration and ideological guru to thearchitects of the invasion . It was said in Washington at the time that Lewis had more influence on any administration than any academic since John F Kennedy’s era. Just as the “best and brightest” of JFK’s horn-rimmed Harvard types paved America’s path into the swamp of Vietnam, Lewis (from Princeton) furnished a veneer of respectability to a catastrophic venture.

Born in London in 1916, Lewis was a spectacular linguist, mastering not just Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish, but Latin, Greek and Aramaic as well. After studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, he served in British intelligence during the second world war. He returned to an academic career at SOAS, moving to Princeton in 1974, subsequently becoming a naturalised US citizen. His ascent as a public intellectual dated from his friendship, starting in the 1970s, with Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, founding father of what would later be called neoconservatism.

Lewis’s early renown was as a scholar of the Ottoman Empire, his intellectual passion. He was the first westerner to be granted entry to the Ottoman imperial archives in 1950. His engagement with Islamic civilisation as a whole was really with its golden age, from the 8th to the 13th centuries. He consistently highlighted Turkish (and, to a degree, Persian) culture and achievement in a way that cast Arab culture in an inferior light.

Writing about the failure of pan-Arabism, he was dismissive of the way European imperialism aborted the constitutional evolution of Arab politics. He did not highlight how the Ottomans (whose religious tolerance he rightly praised) enforced a ban on the Arabic printing press from the 15th to the 19th centuries to culturally stifle and subjugate their Arab territories.

It is often said that Lewis’s view of the Arabs came about because after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 it became difficult for him, as a Jew, to research in Arab countries. Yet his famous The Arabs in History, which appeared first in 1950, is already disdainful of Arab achievement after the golden age. The same man who knew how Europe relied on Arabic medical textbooks well into the Renaissance, wrote that “the camel is the supreme technological innovation of the Middle East”. According to Avi Shlaim, emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford university, Lewis’s view was: “There are only two intelligent, competent, and reliable countries in the Middle East — Turkey and Israel — and the US should base its policy towards the entire region on these two allies.”

Edward Said, the late Palestinian-American academic, identified Lewis as a manufacturer of the stereotypical myths the west used to justify dominance of the east. The two went at it hammer and tongs in 1982, in one of the most vehement intellectual disputes of the late 20th century.

By the time of the 9/11 terror attacks in the US, Lewis was better known for polemic and pamphleteering, piling up inferences instead of deploying evidence, clearing a path to the self-righteous Bush administration mantra: “they hate us for our freedoms”.

His earlier scholarly work dwells more on the gradual elimination of the cultural clearinghouses where civilisations meet, from Abbasid Baghdad, through Moorish Spain to the Ottoman Levant — none of which was destroyed by freedom-hating Muslims. By 1990, in his essay The Roots of Muslim Rage, he coined the phrase “clash of civilisations”, later popularised by Samuel Huntington. In the end it was the squibs more than the scholarship, untroubled by doubt or disquisition, which had more impact . It was common knowledge in the Bush White House that the president kept an annotated copy of a Lewis article with his briefing papers.

He is survived by his partner, Buntzie Ellis Churchill, his son Michael and daughter Melanie.

Voir par ailleurs:

L’historien anglo-américain Bernard Lewis est mort

Spécialiste du monde musulman, l’auteur de « Que s’est-il passé? L’Islam, l’Occident et la modernité » s’est éteint samedi 19 mai, à 101 ans.

Gilles Kepel (Professeur à l’Université Paris Sciences et Lettres, dirige la chaire Moyen-Orient Méditerranée à l’Ecole normale supérieure)

Le Monde

Avec la disparition, samedi 19 mai, à 101 ans, de Bernard Lewis, c’est toute une tradition d’érudition « orientaliste », mêlée à l’intervention passionnée dans le débat public, qui s’éteint. L’encre du savant est plus précieuse que le sang des polémistes et, malgré le bruit et la fureur qu’ont suscités ses prises de position, célébrées aujourd’hui de Benjamin Nétanyahou au secrétaire d’Etat américain, Mike Pompeo, c’est son extraordinaire connaissance du monde islamique qui lui survivra.

Auteur de plus de trente ouvrages – dont la plupart ont été traduits en français – couvrant des domaines qui vont de la civilisation arabe classique aux mouvements islamistes contemporains, en passant par l’histoire ottomane et turque, qui fut son thème de prédilection, Bernard Lewis était également un styliste à la plume acérée. Cela permit à son œuvre de trouver un rayonnement auprès d’un large public dans le monde entier, dépassant les cénacles académiques.

Né britannique, dans une famille juive, le 31 mai 1916, durant la première guerre mondiale, il apprit, enfant, l’hébreu des prières et découvrit un jour qu’il s’agissait d’une langue. Celle-ci lui ouvrit la voie de l’araméen, puis de l’arabe, et sa curiosité l’amena au persan, à l’ottoman ancien et au turc moderne. Cette extraordinaire maîtrise linguistique lui permit de pénétrer au plus profond les cultures de l’Orient, qu’il lisait dans le texte et citait à profusion.

Caution savante pour George W. Bush

Politiquement conservateur, il allait rester, tout au long d’une existence qui se confondit avec le siècle écoulé, très attaché à la cause d’Israël. Traversant l’Atlantique après la fin de la seconde guerre mondiale, comme tant d’universitaires d’outre-Manche, pour y bénéficier des facilités exceptionnelles des campus américains, il rejoignit l’université de Princeton où, avec son collègue Charles Issawi, il fut le pilier du département des études du Proche-Orient – il deviendra, en 1982, citoyen des Etats-Unis.

Sa sensibilité de droite – qui ne l’empêcha pas de mener, en France, un compagnonnage savant avec Maxime Rodinson, très engagé à gauche – ainsi que son engagement pour Israël lui ouvrirent l’accès aux cercles néoconservateurs qui élaborèrent la politique américaine au Moyen-Orient à l’époque du président George W. Bush, après les attentats du 11 septembre 2001. Avec son collègue Fouad Ajami, disparu en 2014, il en fut la source et la caution savante, même s’il prit ses distances par la suite avec la catastrophe que constitua pour Washington l’occupation de l’Irak.

En 1978, L’Orientalisme – le livre best-seller d’Edward Saïd, d’origine palestinienne et professeur de littérature comparée anglo-française à l’université Columbia – fit de Bernard Lewis sa cible principale. Cet ouvrage, qui a polarisé jusqu’à nos jours le champ disciplinaire des études sur le Moyen-Orient et a contribué à en faire un champ de ruines, lui reprochait d’avoir construit, dans la foulée d’une tradition d’auteurs européens remontant aux savants de la Description de l’Egypte de l’expédition de Bonaparte en 1799, la figure de « l’Oriental » comme un autre radical, assigné à une culture figée, dont la description visait à l’assujettir à la domination coloniale, puis impérialiste et sioniste.

Le désamour de la France

Cette incrimination globale fut l’acte fondateur des « post-colonial studies » qui dominent, depuis lors, les campus américains et touchent désormais les universités françaises. Par-delà les oppositions politiques entre les deux professeurs autour du conflit israélo-palestinien, où chacun s’était fait le champion de l’une des causes, le débat a ouvert des failles persistantes. Saïd a réduit le savoir livresque de Lewis à une machinerie lui permettant d’« essentialiser » les peuples arabes contemporains en ramenant leurs comportements politiques à des textes anciens imprégnés de tradition religieuse, leur déniant ainsi toute modernité. Il en découlera que seuls les indigènes seraient légitimes à produire du savoir sur eux-mêmes, au détriment des universitaires « néocoloniaux » toujours biaisés. C’est le fondement des procès en « islamophobie » intentés aux professeurs « blancs » par le parti des Indigènes de la République et leurs compagnons de route « racisés ».

Lewis et ses disciples ont indéniablement tenu trop peu compte des sciences sociales et humaines, et négligé l’observation d’un terrain qui ne se réduit pas aux bibliothèques, dès lors que l’on veut rendre compte des sociétés contemporaines du Moyen-Orient, de l’Afrique du Nord, voire de l’immigration de celles-ci vers l’Europe et ses banlieues. Mais l’hypercritique de Saïd et de ses épigones a invalidé la connaissance de la culture profonde – rendant impossible de comprendre par exemple les modalités du lien entre Al-Qaida ou l’organisation Etat islamique, les sermons salafistes et les Ecritures saintes de l’islam. Un enjeu dont on ne saurait sous-estimer l’importance et auquel l’université doit apporter, sous peine de discrédit, sa contribution savante.

Le caractère entier de Bernard Lewis lui a valu un désamour spécifique en France : condamné par un tribunal pour des propos tenus dans les colonnes du Monde en 1993 et 1994, dont il a été jugé qu’ils relativisaient le génocide arménien, il a voué depuis lors aux gémonies un pays dont il connaissait intimement la culture…

Mais, par-delà les polémiques politiques, par-delà les aspects aujourd’hui datés d’une épistémologie restée rétive aux sciences humaines, Bernard Lewis témoigne d’un temps où la connaissance des langues et des cultures de l’Orient était un préalable nécessaire à l’analyse de ses sociétés : c’est la leçon toujours actuelle que laisse l’érudit de Princeton au monde qu’il vient de quitter.

Voir enfin:

Proche des néo-conservateurs américains, revendiquant son rôle d’historien engagé, l’historien britannique Bernard Lewis a régulièrement créé la polémique par ses prises de position.

Inventeur de la théorie du « choc des civilisations », l’historien américain Bernard Lewis est décédé, lundi 21 mai, à l’âge de 101 ans.

« Commencé avec le déferlement des Arabes musulmans vers l’ouest et leur conquête de la Syrie, de l’Afrique du Nord et de l’Espagne chrétiennes », ce « choc de civilisation » entre « l’islam et la chrétienté » s’est poursuivi selon lui avec les croisades, la poussée puis le repli des Ottomans en Europe, et enfin à partir du XIXe siècle, par la domination « politique, économique et culturelle », coloniale ou non, de l’Occident sur le Moyen-Orient… Reprise sous une autre forme par son assistant au Conseil de sécurité nationale, Samuel Huntington (The Clash of Civilizations ?, article paru dans la revue Foreign Affairs en 1993, puis dans un livre paru en 1996) l’expression a connu un immense succès et n’a cessé, depuis, d’être défendue ou combattue par de nombreux autres chercheurs.

Passionné de langue et d’histoire

Né à Londres en 1916 dans une famille juive, Bernard Lewis s’est passionné très tôt pour les langues – d’abord l’hébreu, puis l’araméen, l’arabe, le latin, le grec, le persan ou encore le turc – et l’histoire. Spécialiste de la Turquie, où il a vécu et travaillé plusieurs années, il commence à enseigner en 1974 à l’université de Princeton, dans le New Jersey.

Proche des néo-conservateurs américains, revendiquant son rôle d’historien engagé, Bernard Lewis a régulièrement créé la polémique par ses prises de position. Convaincu de l’existence d’un antisémitisme spécifiquement musulman, il y voyait l’une des explications au blocage du processus de paix israélo-palestinien. Il a également contesté la réalité du génocide des Arméniens par les Turcs en 1915, apportant sa caution intellectuelle à la Turquie en affirmant que la thèse du génocide était « la version arménienne » de l’histoire. Il est finalement condamné en 1995, jugement condamné en appel l’année suivante.

Son œuvre rééditée en France

Parmi ses essais les plus récents, on peut citer : What Went Wrong ? en 2002 (traduction française : Que s’est-il passé ?, Gallimard), qui analyse les raisons du déclin du monde arabo-musulman, puis The Crisis of Islam en 2003 (traduction française : L’Islam en crise, Gallimard).

En 2005, plusieurs de ses ouvrages et articles sont réédités, en français et en un seul volume, par les éditions Gallimard, dans la collection Quatro, sous le titre Islam. Une manière de découvrir l’essentiel de l’œuvre de cet auteur de vastes synthèses enjambant les siècles.

« Pour certains, je suis un génie immense. Pour d’autres, je suis le diable incarné », déclarait-il dans un entretien accordé en 2012 au Chronicle of Higher Education.


Transhumanisme: Quand les branches se rebellent contre l’arbre (C.S. Lewis: Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man)

7 juin, 2018
Si tu te glorifies, sache que ce n’est pas toi qui portes la racine, mais que c’est la racine qui te porte. Paul (Lettre aux Romains 11: 18)
On a commencé avec la déconstruction du langage et on finit avec la déconstruction de l’être humain dans le laboratoire. (…) Elle est proposée par les mêmes qui d’un côté veulent prolonger la vie indéfiniment et nous disent de l’autre que le monde est surpeuplé. René Girard
Dyson et Tolkien remarquèrent que si dans un conte païen, je rencontrais la notion de sacrifice, cela ne me gênait aucunement. Là où un dieu s’offrait en sacrifice à lui-même, cela me plaisait beaucoup et me procurait une mystérieuse émotion ; l’idée du dieu qui mourait puis revenait à la vie (par exemple Baldur, Adonis ou Bacchus) me touchait, pourvu que ce soit dans un autre contexte que celui des Evangiles… Or l’histoire du Christ constitue simplement un mythe véridique, un mythe qui produit sur nous le même effet que les autres, mais à une importante différence près : il s’agit d’événements qui ont réellement eu lieu. Il faut se contenter d’accepter ce mythe de la même manière, en se rappelant que c’est le mythe de Dieu, alors que les autres sont les mythes des hommes. Je veux dire par là que dans les contes païens, Dieu s’exprime au travers des esprits des poètes, et se sert des images qu’Il y trouve… Je suis sûr, à présent, qu’en un sens il faut aborder l’histoire chrétienne de la même manière que j’aborde les autres mythes. CS Lewis
J’ai le plus profond respect pour les mythes païens eux-mêmes, et à plus forte raison encore pour les mythes dans l’Ecriture Sainte. CS Lewis
La loi naturelle n’est pas un système de valeurs possible parmi beaucoup d’autres. C’est la seule source de tous les jugements de valeur. Si on la rejette, on rejette toute valeur. Si on conserve une seule valeur, on la conserve tout entier. (. . .) La rébellion des nouvelles idéologies contre la loi naturelle est une rébellion des branches contre l’arbre : si les rebelles réussissaient, ils découvriraient qu’ils se sont détruits eux-mêmes. L’intelligence humaine n’a pas davantage le pouvoir d’inventer une nouvelle valeur qu’il n’en a d’imaginer une nouvelle couleur primaire ou de créer un nouveau soleil avec un nouveau firmament pour qu’il s’y déplace. (…) Si les rêves de certains planificateurs scientifiques se réalisent, la conquête humaine de la nature sera synonyme de domination de quelques centaines d’individus sur des milliards d’êtres humains. Dans ce cas, il n’y a et ne peut y avoir d’augmentation du pouvoir de l’homme. Tout nouveau pouvoir conquis par l’homme est aussi un pouvoir sur l’homme. Tout progrès le laisse à la fois plus faible et plus fort. Dans chaque victoire, il est à la fois le général qui triomphe et le prisonnier qui suit le char triomphal . (…) Au moment de la victoire de l’homme sur la nature, on constatera que l’humanité tout entière est assujettie à certains individus et que ces derniers sont eux-mêmes soumis à ce qui est purement ″naturel″ en eux, c’est-à-dire à leurs pulsions irrationnelles. La nature, qui ne sera plus entravée par les valeurs, régnera sur les maîtres du conditionnement et, à travers eux, sur toute l’humanité. La conquête humaine de la nature s’avérera être, au moment de son succès apparent, la victoire de la nature sur l’homme . (…) Le processus qui, si on ne l’arrête pas, abolira l’homme, va aussi vite dans les pays communistes que chez les démocrates et les fascistes. Les méthodes peuvent (au premier abord) différer dans leur brutalité. Mais il y a parmi nous plus d’un savant au regard inoffensif derrière son pince-nez, plus d’un dramaturge populaire, plus d’un philosophe amateur qui poursuivent en fin de compte les mêmes buts que les dirigeants de l’Allemagne nazie. Il s’agit toujours de discréditer totalement les valeurs traditionnelles et de donner à l’humanité une forme nouvelle conformément à la volonté (qui ne peut être qu’arbitraire) de quelques membres ″chanceux″ d’une génération ″chanceuse″ qui a appris comment s’y prendreIl y avait très peu de magie au Moyen Age ; c’est au seizième et au dix-septième siècle que la magie a atteint son apogée. L’investigation magique et l’investigation scientifique, menées avec sérieux, sont deux entreprises jumelles : l’une était malade et mourut ; l’autre était vigoureuse et a prospéré. Mais c’étaient bien des sœurs jumelles. Elles sont nées du même désir . (…) Il y a quelque chose qui unit la magie et la science appliquée tout en les séparant toutes les deux de ce que les siècles précédents appelaient la ″sagesse″. Pour les sages d’autrefois, le problème essentiel était de mettre l’âme en conformité avec la réalité, et les moyens d’y parvenir étaient principalement la connaissance, l’autodiscipline et la vertu. Pour la magie, aussi bien que pour la science appliquée, le problème principal est de soumettre la réalité aux désirs humains ; et la solution est une technique ; dans la mise en pratique de cette dernière, toutes les deux sont disposées à faire des choses considérées jusqu’alors comme repoussante et impies –comme déterrer et mutiler les morts . (…) Quand on a discrédité tout ce qui dit ″c’est bien″, il ne reste plus que ce qui dit, ″j’ai envie″. Sic volo, sic jubeo . (…) Si on ne veut ni obéir au Tao, ni se suicider, il ne nous reste pas d’autre possibilité que d’obéir à nos pulsions (et par conséquent, à long terme, à la nature). (…) Le naturel est le contraire de l’artificiel, du civilisé, de l’humain, du spirituel et du surnaturel . » Clive Staples Lewis (1943)

En ces temps dévoyés de transhumanisme et de post-humanisme

Petit retour à la réalité avec C.S. Lewis …

L’abolition de l’homme par C.S. Lewis

L’homme aboli

L’abolition de l’homme

Alors que les hommes sont en guerre, que l’Europe est sous la botte nazie, et que l’on ignore encore qui, de la liberté ou de la tyrannie, sortira vainqueur de l’apocalypse, un homme, écrivain et professeur, un Irlandais habitant en Angleterre, donne une série de cours sur l’éducation à l’université de Durham en février 1943. Cet homme, Clives Staples Lewis, est horrifié par la lecture d’un manuel scolaire qui, sous des aspects pédagogiques, tend à supprimer la notion même de morale universelle. Et cette idée, présente dans un manuel à destination de la jeunesse, blesse tant l’auteur, qu’il se décide à en faire le point de départ de son cours, donnant ainsi trois brèves conférences, publiées par la suite sous le titre, L’abolition de l’homme. L’homme aboli, ce pourrait être cet Allemand vitrifié par la pensée nazie, ou ce Russe, déshumanisé par le communisme ; mais non, l’homme aboli c’est n’importe quel homme qui rejette toute idée de morale universelle, et ce que perçoit et dénonce Lewis, c’est qu’il se trouve aussi dans les démocraties qui se battent pour la liberté.

Le texte a été écrit en 1943, et on le croirait sorti d’une plume d’hier. Il trouve sa source et sa motivation dans un manuel scolaire anglais des années 1940, et il pourrait être né de l’inquiétude d’un contemporain sur la tournure des événements actuels. Ce texte est bref, 90 pages, mais il dit tout, tout ce qu’est l’actuelle vision de l’homme. Il devrait être lu par tous les professeurs soucieux de donner un esprit à leurs élèves, il devrait être médité par tous les parents, désireux de transmettre une âme à leurs enfants. Ce texte parle d’éducation, il parle de morale, et il parle de l’homme.

L’orientation nouvelle de l’éducation

Lewis n’a rien d’un réactionnaire moisi, et s’il rechigne sur les évolutions morales de son époque, ce n’est pas par nostalgie du passé, c’est par souci de révéler de très grands maux. Son ouvrage n’a rien de politicien. Il n’évoque jamais l’actualité, la guerre, les combats, à tel point que si l’on ignorait la date de rédaction, on pourrait croire ce texte rédigé dans son cottage, à l’ombre de la paix et de sa tasse de thé. Pour autant, Lewis a des idées claires sur l’instruction de la jeunesse. Il est essentiel pour lui de bannir la relativité des idées morales, et de fournir à la jeunesse des idées solides, afin que celle-ci puisse affronter la vie. Dans cette optique, il lui apparaît de tout premier ordre de former le cœur, ce qui passe par l’acquisition de sentiments. Vouloir faire des hommes durs, des hommes sans cœur, c’est soumettre la jeunesse à la tyrannie des propagandes futures.

« Faire dépérir la sensibilité de nos étudiants fera d’eux des proies encore plus faciles pour les propagandes à venir. Car il faut bien que la nature affamée se venge, et un cœur endurci n’est pas une protection infaillible contre un cerveau ramolli . »

La sensibilité marche de concert avec l’esprit. Bannir la première de l’éducation, c’est condamner la raison à être faible et à manquer de capacité. Les hommes munis de cœur auront un bon cerveau. Glosant sur une citation d’Aristote dans l’Ethique à Nicomaque, il rappelle que “Le but de l’éducation est d’apprendre aux gens à aimer et à haïr, ce qu’il convient d’aimer et de haïr”. Pour être d’accord avec cela encore faut-il être persuadé que le relativisme moral n’a pas de légitimité, et qu’il y a des choses bonnes et des choses mauvaises par elles-mêmes. Or, la stabilité morale, c’est justement ce que l’éducation nouvelle refuse. Ce thème nous est aujourd’hui familier, et l’on découvre –non sans une certaine stupeur- qu’il était déjà présent à l’époque de Lewis. On devine alors l’historien et spécialiste de la littérature médiévale quand il distingue les deux types d’éducation, au prise l’une avec l’autre pour l’hégémonie sur les esprits.

« Là où l’ancienne éducation initiait, la nouvelle ″conditionne″. Avec l’ancienne, on traitait les élèves comme les oiseaux traitent leurs petits pour leur apprendre à voler ; dans la nouvelle, on les traite plutôt comme un éleveur traite ses jeunes volailles, pour des raisons dont elles ignorent tout. En un mot, l’ancienne éducation était une sorte de propagation –des hommes transmettant la force de leur humanité aux hommes-, la nouvelle n’est que propagande . »

Propagation ou propagande ? Il fallait un certain sens de la provocation pour avancer cette dialectique en pleine guerre mondiale. La propagande, c’est-à-dire l’éducation chargée d’engraisser les hommes sans vouloir les rendre capable de voler, n’est pas seulement le propre des régimes que l’Angleterre combat. Et la propagation, c’est-à-dire la transmission des savoirs et l’élévation vers l’humanisation, est une fonction essentielle de l’éducation qui se fait ranger au placard. Entre l’instruction limitée à l’accumulation des savoirs, et l’éducation uniquement tournée vers le développement des sentiments, il y a un parallèle commun. La première crée des esprits, la seconde modèle des animaux, mais aucune ne forme un homme.

« La tête gouverne les entrailles par l’intermédiaire du cœur – le siège, comme Alain de Lille nous le dit-, de la magnanimité, des émotions organisées en sentiments stables par des habitudes bien entraînées. Le cœur, la magnanimité, le sentiment, tels sont les indispensables agents de liaison entre l’homme cérébral et l’homme viscéral. On peut sans doute même dire que c’est cet élément médiateur qui fait de l’homme un homme ; car par son intellect, il est simplement esprit et par ses appétits, simplement animal . »

Cette nouvelle éducation modifie donc la conception de l’homme.

« Les professeurs ne façonnaient pas l’homme selon un modèle choisi. Ils transmettaient ce qu’ils avaient reçu ; l’enseignant initiait le jeune néophyte au mystère de l’humain qui les recouvrait l’un et l’autre de sa majesté. (. . .) Cela change désormais. Les valeurs ne sont plus que de simples phénomènes naturels. Dans le cadre du conditionnement, on s’efforce de produire chez l’élève des jugements de valeur. (. . .) Ils [les pédagogues] savent comment produire une conscience et décident quel genre de conscience ils veulent produire. Eux-mêmes se situent en dehors, au-dessus . »

Produire des consciences en fonction des nécessités du moment, et pour des orientations bien précises, telles semblent être les volontés de ces nouveaux professeurs.

« Les conditionneurs vont par conséquent devoir choisir quel genre de Tao artificiel ils veulent, pour des raisons qui leur sont propres, produire dans l’espèce humaine. Ils pousseront les autres à agir, ils seront créateurs de motivations. Mais d’où tireront-ils eux-mêmes leurs motifs d’agir ? »

Voilà une question qui est pertinemment posée. S’il s’agit de transmettre la morale naturelle, il est facile de la trouver et de la propager. Mais si l’on veut bâtir une nouvelle morale, sur quoi celle-ci va-t-elle reposer, et comment est-il possible de la justifier ? Car si l’on refuse toute valeur, comment faire perdurer le système ? Les premiers vont enseigner des valeurs, parce qu’ils ont été formés avec l’ancienne morale qu’ils ont aboli. Malgré eux ils sont conditionnés par elle et vont la transmettre. Mais ces valeurs se délitent à chaque génération, et arrive un moment où les nouvelles générations n’ont plus été élevées dans cette morale, qui est notamment la morale de la transmission. Et si la valeur de la transmission n’est plus transmise, comment peut-on justifier de transmettre quelque chose aux autres ?

« Ce n’est pas que ce soit des hommes mauvais ; ce ne sont plus des hommes du tout. En sortant du Tao, ils ont sauté dans le vide. Ceux qui leur sont soumis ne sont pas non plus nécessairement des gens malheureux. Ils ont perdu toute humanité ; ce sont des produits fabriqués. La conquête finale de l’homme s’avère être l’abolition de l’homme . »

La disparition de la morale conduit nécessairement à la disparition de l’homme lui-même.

La disparition de la morale

Morale, le mot fait peur. Pourquoi ? Parce que morale est devenue synonyme de restriction et d’interdiction, alors même que c’est elle qui assure la liberté. Oui, sans morale, pas de liberté possible. Et la disparition de l’une rend Lewis inquiet sur la pérennité de l’autre. Si, dans l’éducation, le cœur et le sentiment ont été rejetés, que reste-t-il pour fonder la morale ? L’instinct. Et voilà l’homme qui retombe dans ses travers animaux, alors même que l’on pensait que le combat contre les sentiments allait l’en délivrer. Et si c’est l’instinct qui gouverne, alors la morale est réduite aux volontés des personnes. Chacun son instinct, donc chacun sa morale. Chacun sa morale, cela porte un nom ; c’est le relativisme. “Si rien n’est obligatoire en soi, rien n’est obligatoire du tout .” Et voilà comment une conception erronée de l’éducation donne une compréhension faussée de ce qu’est la morale.

Ainsi, devient moral ce qui est voulu, ce qui est guidé par l’instinct. Et l’homme bâti sa propre morale, sans se demander si celle-ci est fondée sur la raison et si elle repose sur la justice. L’homme veut donc créer une nouvelle éthique, mais a-t-il ce pouvoir ? “D’où est-ce que le Novateur tire cette autorité de prendre et de choisir ce qui lui convient ? ” s’interroge Lewis. Et plus loin de répondre :

« La loi naturelle n’est pas un système de valeurs possible parmi beaucoup d’autres. C’est la seule source de tous les jugements de valeur. Si on la rejette, on rejette toute valeur. Si on conserve une seule valeur, on la conserve tout entier. (. . .) La rébellion des nouvelles idéologies contre la loi naturelle est une rébellion des branches contre l’arbre : si les rebelles réussissaient, ils découvriraient qu’ils se sont détruits eux-mêmes. L’intelligence humaine n’a pas davantage le pouvoir d’inventer une nouvelle valeur qu’il n’en a d’imaginer une nouvelle couleur primaire ou de créer un nouveau soleil avec un nouveau firmament pour qu’il s’y déplace . »

Non, la morale ne dépend pas d’une volonté humaine, la morale est une découverte, une compréhension de ce qu’est l’homme, la morale fait partie de la nature même de l’homme, l’on ne peut donc pas la modifier, à moins de vouloir modifier l’homme. Ce fixisme moral ne signifie pas qu’il n’y a pas d’évolution possible, mais les évolutions, ou les améliorations, doivent venir de la morale elle-même, et non pas de l’extérieur. Ce sont plutôt des approfondissements que des créations. Le rejet du concept de valeur amène les sceptiques à vouloir trouver de nouvelles normes, alors même qu’ils ont rejeté les anciennes. Cette attitude n’a pas beaucoup de sens.

L’homme aboli

Quel est donc cet homme aboli dont parle Lewis dès le titre de son livre ? C’est l’homme qui a perdu le combat mené contre la nature, un combat perdu dans la victoire. C’est là que l’historien se fait jour, et qu’il comprend le drame qui se tisse en Europe depuis plusieurs siècles. L’homme a en effet la capacité de plier la nature à sa volonté, il a, grâce au développement technique, la possibilité que celle-ci lui soit ordonnée, et l’homme cherche de plus en plus à s’en affranchir. Or maîtriser la nature et la mettre au service de l’homme est une chose, mais cette situation aboutie, paradoxalement, au contrôle de l’homme.

« Si les rêves de certains planificateurs scientifiques se réalisent, la conquête humaine de la nature sera synonyme de domination de quelques centaines d’individus sur des milliards d’êtres humains. Dans ce cas, il n’y a et ne peut y avoir d’augmentation du pouvoir de l’homme. Tout nouveau pouvoir conquis par l’homme est aussi un pouvoir sur l’homme. Tout progrès le laisse à la fois plus faible et plus fort. Dans chaque victoire, il est à la fois le général qui triomphe et le prisonnier qui suit le char triomphal . »

Maîtriser la nature revient à donner à quelques hommes le pouvoir de contrôler les autres. Sur ce point Lewis évoque, à de nombreuses reprises, la question de la contraception. Cela surprend le lecteur d’aujourd’hui car la libéralisation de la contraception n’est pas un thème très développé des années 1940. Nous sommes encore loin des mouvements pour la dépénalisation de l’avortement ou de la pilule. Pour autant il en parle, et il voit juste. Sa justesse est prophétique, tant il perçoit clairement les distorsions anthropologiques que la contraception amènent. La contraception est liée à la définition de la morale. Celle-ci conditionne toutes les questions de morale sexuelle, car désormais il ne s’agit plus de perpétuer l’espèce mais d’obtenir du plaisir. Le plaisir n’est pas un moyen de la perpétuation des personnes mais la fin de l’acte. C’est donc le bon vouloir qui conduit les êtres, la satisfaction égoïste a pris le pas sur la raison. Le plaisir individualiste ayant dépassé l’intérêt général, cela touche d’autres secteurs, comme les relations familiales ou sociales. La morale elle-même n’est plus fondée sur la justice ou le bien commun, mais sur le plaisir de chacun. Devient juste ce qui me plaît, devient juste la relativité des émotions.

Non seulement la contraception modifie les règles de la morale mais elle modifie également les rapports humains : elle détruit l’amour comme fondement pour le remplacer par l’intérêt. Avec la contraception il est possible de pratiquer l’eugénisme et la sélection humaine, c’est donc donner aux générations présentes un pouvoir sur les générations futures, ce qui introduit une défiance entre les générations : l’enfant n’est pas le fruit de l’amour de ses parents, mais de leur besoin. Si l’enfant n’avait pas correspondu à leurs besoins il aurait été éliminé. Dans ces conditions, comment pourrait-il avoir confiance en eux ? Et sans confiance, comment l’éducation peut-elle être assurée ?

La victoire de l’homme se fait donc au dépend de celui-ci :

« Au moment de la victoire de l’homme sur la nature, on constatera que l’humanité tout entière est assujettie à certains individus et que ces derniers sont eux-mêmes soumis à ce qui est purement ″naturel″ en eux, c’est-à-dire à leurs pulsions irrationnelles. La nature, qui ne sera plus entravée par les valeurs, régnera sur les maîtres du conditionnement et, à travers eux, sur toute l’humanité. La conquête humaine de la nature s’avérera être, au moment de son succès apparent, la victoire de la nature sur l’homme . »

Puisque la morale a disparu et que la seule règle valable consiste à faire ce que les pulsions commandent, l’homme libéré se retrouve plus que jamais enchaîné par sa nature propre. Le général qui pavoise sur son char n’est qu’un esclave regimbant dans sa prison. Ce phénomène touche tous les pays, et pas seulement ceux que combattent les démocraties.

« Le processus qui, si on ne l’arrête pas, abolira l’homme, va aussi vite dans les pays communistes que chez les démocrates et les fascistes. Les méthodes peuvent (au premier abord) différer dans leur brutalité. Mais il y a parmi nous plus d’un savant au regard inoffensif derrière son pince-nez, plus d’un dramaturge populaire, plus d’un philosophe amateur qui poursuivent en fin de compte les mêmes buts que les dirigeants de l’Allemagne nazie. Il s’agit toujours de discréditer totalement les valeurs traditionnelles et de donner à l’humanité une forme nouvelle conformément à la volonté (qui ne peut être qu’arbitraire) de quelques membres ″chanceux″ d’une génération ″chanceuse″ qui a appris comment s’y prendre . »

Il faut un certain courage à Lewis pour proclamer le parallèle entre nazis et démocrates au moment où son pays est en guerre contre l’Allemagne. Pour autant, il n’hésite pas à aller plus loin, et à faire remonter à la soif de science les origines de l’abolition de l’homme, une soif de science qui est liée à la magie :

« Il y avait très peu de magie au Moyen Age ; c’est au seizième et au dix-septième siècle que la magie a atteint son apogée. L’investigation magique et l’investigation scientifique, menées avec sérieux, sont deux entreprises jumelles : l’une était malade et mourut ; l’autre était vigoureuse et a prospéré. Mais c’étaient bien des sœurs jumelles. Elles sont nées du même désir . »

Et plus loin :

« Il y a quelque chose qui unit la magie et la science appliquée tout en les séparant toutes les deux de ce que les siècles précédents appelaient la ″sagesse″. Pour les sages d’autrefois, le problème essentiel était de mettre l’âme en conformité avec la réalité, et les moyens d’y parvenir étaient principalement la connaissance, l’autodiscipline et la vertu. Pour la magie, aussi bien que pour la science appliquée, le problème principal est de soumettre la réalité aux désirs humains ; et la solution est une technique ; dans la mise en pratique de cette dernière, toutes les deux sont disposées à faire des choses considérées jusqu’alors comme repoussante et impies –comme déterrer et mutiler les morts . »

Non pas se conformer à la réalité mais conformer la réalité à ses désirs, voilà le grand tournant de l’homme, un tournant qui l’a conduit à porter sa foi dans la technique et à rejeter les sentiments. Comme le fait remarquer Lewis :

« Quand on a discrédité tout ce qui dit ″c’est bien″, il ne reste plus que ce qui dit, ″j’ai envie″. Sic volo, sic jubeo . »

Que reste-t-il donc à l’homme ? La mort.

« Si on ne veut ni obéir au Tao, ni se suicider, il ne nous reste pas d’autre possibilité que d’obéir à nos pulsions (et par conséquent, à long terme, à la nature) . »

C’est-à-dire que l’homme qui croit maîtriser la nature se délivre de la morale naturelle, et que cette délivrance le fait retomber dans la nature, à un degré qu’il n’avait même jamais atteint. La nature a donc conquis son farouche vainqueur et cette conquête sonne le glas de la civilisation.

« Le naturel est le contraire de l’artificiel, du civilisé, de l’humain, du spirituel et du surnaturel . »

Cette dernière sentence siffle comme un couperet. Lewis montre très bien comment l’homme civilisé annihile sa propre civilisation et que cette annihilation n’est pas le résultat d’une déviance, mais la conséquence d’une route bien suivie. Comment ne pas être stupéfait de lire ces lignes en 1943, au moment même où la technique a semé la terreur et la mort en Europe, au moment même où l’homme artificiel est retombé dans la barbarie primaire. Relire ces lignes à l’aune des événements qui se sont succédés par la suite, c’est mieux comprendre le lien invisible mais solide, qui relie le nazisme au communisme, et finalement au matérialisme pratique des démocraties. Rejeter la morale, rejeter la nature, c’est rejeter l’homme. ″La nature est contraire au spirituel et au surnaturel″, écrit le chrétien Lewis, convertit en 1931. L’athéisme qui s’abat en Europe au moment où il donne ces coursa prouvé de façon pratique ce que Lewis avance de manière théorique. « Un monde totalement transparent est un monde invisible. ″Percer tout à jour″, c’est ne plus rien voir du tout . » Lewis a réussi à associer le fait de percer à jour son époque et ses drames tout en continuant à voir clairement les conséquences des actions des hommes, voilà pourquoi son œuvre éclaire encore ceux qui veulent sortir du monde invisible.

«Nous faisons des hommes sans coeur et attendons d’eux vertu et hardiesse. Nous tournons l’honneur en dérision et sommes choqués de trouver des traîtres parmi nous.»
Les trois chapitres qui composent L’abolition de l’homme nous entraînent dans une démonstration dont l’intensité va crescendo.
Alerté par une expression malencontreuse qu’il a trouvée dans un manuel scolaire. C.S. Lewis la soumet à l’analyse et il y décèle une vision du monde qui nie toute valeur objective.
Cette étude le conduit à démasquer les sinistres conséquences d’un rejet de toute morale et elle se termine par la description apocalyptique de l’instant où l’homme fera de lui-même la matière de ses propres manipulations.
L’avertissement que Lewis nous lance n’a pas pris une ride : en tentant de nous libérer de toute valeur en refusant de soumettre nos découvertes scientifiques à des normes morales universelles nous tendons toujours plus à abolir l’humain dans ce qu’il a d’unique et de sacré

Le remplacement du sexe par le genre, de la biologie par la grammaire est une variante moderne d’un ancien mouvement religieux. Cet ancien mouvement, le gnosticisme, qui était très compliqué et avait de nombreuses variantes, dénigrait en général le monde matériel. La réalité matérielle n’est pas l’œuvre du Dieu très haut, mais celle d’un être inférieur et nous devons chercher à lui échapper. Le gnosticisme moderne ne cherche pas à s’échapper du monde, mais à le renommer. On substitue à la réalité des conventions sociales et culturelles qui peuvent être changées afin de s’adapter aux goûts des diverses époques.

utilise le terme chinois Tao, la voie, pour désigner cet ensemble de principes partagés par la plupart des races humaines au cours de l’histoire.

Dans bien des situations, opérer une discrimination est nécessaire. Pour se nourrir, il faut établir une discrimination entre le pain et la paille, pour étancher sa soif entre la limonade et l’essence, pour adoucir son café entre la saccharine et la strychnine.

Le mal causé par le préjudice racial n’est pas dû au fait qu’il y a discrimination entre les Blancs et les Noirs, mais au fait que, de l’observation légitime d’une différence, on tire la conclusion erronée que cette différence justifie que les uns soient honorés et les autres maltraités. Mettre sur un pied d’égalité la discrimination entre les sexes et la discrimination sexuelle crée un continuum erroné. Ces discriminations diffèrent l’une de l’autre. Une simple observation le montre. Les rapports entre un homme et une femme de race différente peuvent produire un enfant, quelles que soient les races des époux. Les rapports entre un membre de la race noire et un autre de la race blanche ne produiront rien à moins que l’un soit un homme et l’autre une femme.

Trois chapitres composent ce livre qui, comme le rappelle la préface, correspondent à trois cours que l’auteur donna en 1943 à l’université de Durham. Il n’est pas dans mon propos, ici, d’examiner en détail l’essai de Lewis et je préfère qu’on aille y voir par soi-même. Disons cependant que, dans le premier chapitre, « Des hommes sans cœur »,  l’auteur commence par proposer à ses auditeurs, devenus ses lecteurs, l’examen d’un manuel de pédagogie. Analysant un passage célèbre où, mettant en présence deux promeneurs devant une chute d’eau, Coleridge fait dire à l’un que cette chute est sublime, et à l’autre qu’elle est simplement jolie, les auteurs du manuel cherchent à dénigrer toute objectivité à la réalité admirée. Pour ces auteurs  dont Lewis tait les noms, il ne peut être question, d’un point de vue humain, d’affirmer que cette réalité observée est sublime, mais simplement que le sentiment que nous éprouvons exprime quelque chose de cet ordre. A partir de cet exemple, Lewis commence une démonstration visant à mettre en évidence que le subjectivisme radical proposé par le manuel conduit à des aberrations. Il n’est pas douteux, affirme Lewis, que la chute d’eau est sublime et, si l’on cherche absolument à dire quelque chose du sentiment éprouvé par l’observateur de ce pan de nature «  il serait plus convenable de traduire par J’ai des sentiments d’humilité. » Le déni d’objectivité ou de réalité proposés par les auteurs du manuel, continue Lewis, conduirait inévitablement à des absurdités. Appliquée de façon systématique, leur conception du réel « contraindrait nos deux enseignants à soutenir que la phrase Vous êtes méprisables veut dire Mes sentiments sont méprisables, et qu’en fait Vos sentiments sont méprisables signifie Mes sentiments sont méprisables. »

         Est-il utile de souligner que la conception des auteurs du manuel examiné par Lewis signifie la négation de toute hiérarchie des valeurs, puisque tout jugement de valeur est précisément réduit à un simple état émotionnel exprimé par celui qui parle ? Est-il utile de rappeler à quel point cette conception est aujourd’hui la nôtre, à quel point elle s’est généralisée ? Depuis l’école, où l’on encourage l’élève à dire ce qu’il ressent face à un texte ou un tableau et à l’exprimer, comme si cette expression était la seule valeur objective possible, jusqu’à nos débats d’adultes, où la concurrence des émotions, des indignations  et des raisons arbitraires est une règle, les auteurs du manuel semblent avoir triomphé. Mais que peut-on opposer à cet égalitarisme plat, où le monde semble se réduire à une seule dimension, sur laquelle nous promenons notre subjectivité jugée irremplaçable, irrécusable ? Puisant à de nombreuses sources – Saint Augustin, Platon, Aristote, mais aussi, en fin de volume, l’Egypte, l’Inde ou la Chine anciennes – Lewis montre que, à l’opposé de ce « face-à-face entre le monde des faits, sans la moindre trace de valeur, et le monde des sentiments, sans la moindre trace de vérité ou d’erreur, de justice ou d’injustice », pendant des millénaires, l’éducation s’est appuyée au contraire sur la certitude que l’univers dans lequel nous vivons « était tel que certaines réactions émotionnelles  pouvaient être ou non en accord avec lui ». L’éducation, par conséquent, est un apprentissage précoce de valeurs assemblées selon des hiérarchies. Elle nous enseigne ce qu’il convient d’admettre ou réfuter, d’aimer ou de haïr, selon que les choses sont belles ou laides, vraies ou fausses. Bref, il existe une « doctrine de l’objectivité des valeurs, la conviction que certaines attitudes sont véritablement conformes à la réalité de ce qu’est l’univers et de ce que nous sommes, tandis que d’autres ne le sont pas. » Cette doctrine, Lewis, le chrétien Lewis la nomme le Tao, la Voie, le Chemin.

      Toute la suite de son essai va consister à envisager les conséquences de notre position vis-à-vis du monde, selon que l’on se place à l’intérieur ou  l’extérieur du Tao. Ceux qui se placent à l’extérieur doivent admettre, poursuit l’auteur, qu’on doit considérer tous les sentiments comme irrationnels et « comme une sorte de brouillard entre nous et les objets réels. » La conséquence logique de cette attitude est qu’un éducateur doit tenir éloigné ses élèves de tout sentiment, ou bien alors encourager arbitrairement certains sentiments au détriment des autres.  Cette attitude construit, selon le titre du premier chapitre, des « hommes sans cœur » à qui, si on est tout de même porté à enseigner des valeurs, on doit tout de même enseigner le courage, l’amour de la justice et toutes les valeurs positives. Mais le risque énorme de cette vision du monde est qu’on livre les élèves et les hommes à la propagande, qui est un autre nom pour désigner l’arbitraire.

         Dans le second chapitre, Lewis examine cette doctrine traditionnelle qu’il choisit, par facilité, de nommer Tao ; mais le chapitre essentiel est le troisième, qui donne son titre à l’ouvrage, L’abolition de l’homme. Un monde qui n’admet aucune base rationnelle, ne peut fonder sur rien de stable les sentiments ou les pensées humaines, livre donc la plupart des hommes à la propagande et au pouvoir de quelques uns, les « conditionneurs », sur tous les autres. Ces conditionneurs, nous dit Lewis, ne seront même plus des hommes ; ils auront choisi de sacrifier « leur part d’humanité au sens traditionnel pour se consacrer à la tâche de décider ce que l’humanité doit signifier à l’avenir. »  Que ces hommes soient bons, qu’ils soient bien intentionnés, ajoute Lewis, ne change rien à l’affaire, puisque, décideurs, conditionneurs, ce seront eux qui, de toute façon, décideront de ce qui est bon ou mauvais. Quant aux autres, « ceux qui leur sont soumis », ne seront pas nécessairement des gens malheureux. « Ils ont perdu toute humanité : ce sont des objets fabriqués. La conquête finale de l’homme s’avère être l’abolition de l’homme. »

On pourrait croire que Lewis exagère ; cependant, il faut se souvenir qu’il écrit dans les années quarante et que l’évolution des sociétés semble lui avoir donné raison. On ne peut qu’être fasciné ou horrifié, en lisant ce qu’il écrit, de voir que, en de nombreuses pages, l’auteur paraît avoir prévu par exemple le développement de ce courant de pensée que ses adeptes nomment « transhumanisme », lequel ne se propose pas moins, selon ce qu’il affirme dans une Déclaration solennelle, que de rendre obsolète l’homme tel qu’il se présente encore aujourd’hui, avec son existence humaine limitée. « Nous envisageons, disent les transhumanistes, la possibilité que l’être humain puisse subir des modifications, tel que son rajeunissement, l’accroissement de son intelligence par des moyens biologiques ou artificiels, la capacité de moduler son propre état psychologique, l’abolition de la souffrance et l’exploration de l’univers. »  On peut penser que ces transhumanistes sont des farfelus ; il n’est cependant pas certains qu’ils le soient et les progrès de la science leur donnent chaque jour davantage de leviers sur la société. Quoi qu’il en soit, le monde décrit par Lewis, dans lequel les sentiments et les pensées n’ont plus aucune objectivité est notre réalité. Que penser de sociétés où, dès lors qu’il s’agit par exemple de mesurer le caractère rationnel et l’impact sur lesdites sociétés de religions aussi différentes que le christianisme et l’islam, dénient à tous ceux qui le prétendent le droit d’avancer des arguments pour disqualifier l’une ou l’autre de ces religions ? Les raisons sont aujourd’hui systématiquement refusées à ceux qui ne veulent pas considérer les religions uniquement comme la mise en action de sentiments intimes et individuels, indiscutables et inopposables ; la critique rationnelle, la critique fondée, est ramenée, dans le débat public, aux sentiments de ceux qui avancent les arguments du débat. Si je dis, en m’appuyant sur l’étude des textes, que le bouddhisme ou l’islam peuvent être des religions tyranniques, insolubles dans une société démocratique, comme dans la phrase de Lewis que je citais plus haut, – Vous êtes méprisables veut dire Mes sentiments sont méprisables – cela ne peut signifier qu’une chose : que mes sentiments sont hostiles, que je suis islamophobe ou bouddhistophobe.

       Lewis, à la fin de son essai, donne en appendice de nombreux exemples de ce qu’il appelle la Loi naturelle. Parmi toutes ces citations magnifiques, empruntées à toutes les traditions, il n’est pas interdit d’avoir ses préférences.  Celle-ci par exemple : « On ne doit jamais frapper une femme, même avec une fleur. » (Inde, Janet, I, 8) Cette autre : « On rapporte que, dans la tribu des Daleburas, une femme, infirme de naissance, fut portée à tour de rôle par les membres de la tribu jusqu’à sa mort, à l’âge de soixante-six ans ; ils n’abandonnent jamais les malades » (Aborigènes d’Australie). Une dernière enfin : « En vérité, en vérité, je vous le dis, si le grain de blé tombé en terre ne meurt pas, il reste seul ; mais s’il meurt, il porte beaucoup de fruit. Qui aime sa vie la perdra. (Jean 12, 24-25).

Voir aussi:

A propos de C.S. Lewis

Rémi Brague

Le nom de Clive Staple Lewis est récemment devenu mondialement célèbre. La cause en est le succès du film qui a été tiré du premier de ses romans pour enfants, les sept volumes des Chroniques de Narnia (1950-1956). Les héros constituent une population bigarrée, dont les hommes ne constituent qu’une petite minorité : les nains, elfes, trolls, géants, faunes, etc. y pullulent. Cela témoigne de l’imagination puissamment féconde de l’écrivain. Mais cette imagination n’est jamais « débordante » au sens propre, car elle ne quitte jamais le cadre de la raison la plus exigeante. Lewis était un rationaliste décidé, bien que chrétien convaincu – ou plutôt précisément parce qu’il était un chrétien convaincu. Au moment où les événements nous invitent, voire nous contraignent à réfléchir sur la valeur de la raison et sur la place qui lui est assignée dans les diverses religions, il a quelque chose à nous dire. Quelque chose sur l’homme et sur la raison.

Un souci animait constamment Lewis, celui de comprendre et de défendre cette raison qui constitue l’humanité de l’homme. Il faut pour ce faire bien comprendre en quoi elle réside. Ce n’est pas la forme du corps.

Dans le premier roman de sa trilogie cosmique, Out of the Silent Planet (1938), la population de Mars certes moins variée qu’à Narnia, mais quand même composée de trois espèces de créatures rationnelles, d’allure et de compétences très différentes : des phoques poilus, chasseurs et poètes, des géants maigres, éleveurs et astronomes, des crapauds mineurs et métallurgistes. Les trois espèces se comprennent et s’entendent bien. Aucune ne domine l’autre, chacune respecte les talents des deux autres et les utilise au besoin. Il faut aussi savoir respecter l’homme tel qu’il est, à sa place entre l’animal et l’ange.

Dans le dernier volume de sa trilogie cosmique, That Hideous Strength (1945), des chercheurs deviennent à leur insu les complices de puissances démoniaques. Ils veulent nettoyer la planète de toute vie « inférieure » et créer un nouvel homme artificiel. Ils finissent massacrés par les animaux promis à la vivisection et échappés de leurs laboratoires. Il n’y a là nulle condamnation de l’amélioration du sort de l’homme par le progrès technique. Lewis met seulement en garde contre le projet d’un règne de l’homme : une logique interne le pousse à se changer en une domination de certains hommes sur d’autres au moyen de la technique, voire en une tentative pour dépasser l’homme qui n’est plus à la hauteur de sa propre tâche de domination.

Dans ce qui est peut-être son chef d’œuvre, le bref  » L’abolition de l’homme » (1943), Lewis reprend l’anthropologie développée par Platon dans la République, et en montre la puissante actualité. Il le fait d’ailleurs négativement, en montrant que, sans cette anthropologie ou du moins sans son contenu, lequel reste valable même si les détails un peu mythiques peuvent disparaître, on ne peut penser l’homme, et peut-être pas non plus le respecter.

Platon distingue non pas deux parties dans l’âme humaine, mais trois. La plus haute, qui trône dans la tête, est la capacité de calcul ; nous en avons fait, à partir du latin ratio, de reor, « calculer », la « raison ». La plus basse, reléguée dans l’abdomen, est formée par les désirs : faim, soif, appétit sexuel. Entre les deux, et donc située dans le thorax, Platon loge une faculté qu’il appelle thymos. Ce mot grec désigne le bouillonnement de la colère.

La colère
C’est la colère qui nous permet de refuser le déshonneur de se soumettre, de nous affirmer nous-mêmes dans notre indépendance. La faculté intermédiaire est ainsi le principe de notre identité et de notre liberté. Elle est le principe de notre action. La faculté calculante et le désir ont un point en commun : ils nous laissent passifs devant le résultat de nos calculs ou devant la pulsion qui nous entraîne vers l’objet désiré. La « raison », nous l’avons en commun avec les anges, s’ils existent. Et à supposer qu’elle ne soit que calcul, les ordinateurs l’ont aussi, et peut-être mieux que nous. Les désirs, nous les partageons avec les animaux. La « colère », elle, n’existe que chez l’homme dont elle est le privilège.

La faculté intermédiaire permet à la raison d’agir sur les désirs, de les réprimer quand ils passent leurs bornes, de les guider quand ils se trompent sur l’objet qui peut vraiment les satisfaire, et donc de les éduquer, de les raffiner. Elle permet aussi, à l’inverse, à la raison de ne pas se contenter de regarder passivement ce qui s’offre à son regard contemplatif, mais de s’engager dans l’action. C’est par elle que la raison devient pratique – une expression de Kant, mais qu’il avait empruntée à une tradition bien plus ancienne, qui trouve son origine chez Aristote

Celui-ci ne parle pas du thymos au sens de Platon, mais il reconnaît lui aussi son équivalent dans l’âme humaine. Il préfère y voir une dimension inférieure de la raison, qui n’est pas elle-même capable de parler, mais qui peut au moins comprendre ce que lui conseille la raison proprement dite. Peu importe le nom de cet intermédiaire. Mais sans lui, il n’y a plus rien qui puisse nous dire comment bien faire : manières de table, politesse, morale, tout ce que l’on appelle « culture » disparaît.

Qui plus est, c’est cette faculté intermédiaire qui nous unifie. Sans elle, nous serions une raison posée sur des désirs. Il serait tentant de se croire issu d’une chute de la raison exilée dans la boue des désirs. Tentant aussi d’avoir honte de ce corps désirant et impur, et de tenter par tous les moyens de le fuir au plus vite. La présence médiatrice du thymos permet à l’homme de vivre en paix avec soi-même, elle le réconcilie avec son destin d’être intermédiaire, ni ange ni bête.

Le danger des hommes « sans thorax » ?
Or donc, Lewis dit redouter l’avènement de ce qu’il appelle bizarrement des « hommes sans thorax ». Par allusion avec la façon dont Platon situe les facultés de l’âme dans diverses parties du corps, il entend par là des hommes auxquels manquerait le thymos. En rigueur de termes, ils ne seraient même plus hommes, mais ce que dit bien plus tard un penseur du Moyen Age, Pierre de Jean Olivi, à propos de créatures à qui manquerait la liberté : des « bêtes dotées d’un intellect ».

Chez de tels êtres, la raison ne pourrait pas agir sur les désirs. Les deux facultés extrêmes seraient laissées chacune à elle-même, se portant du coup à sa forme la plus intense et la plus exclusive. La raison s’affolerait dans un rêve de calculabilité et de planification universelle.

De leur côté, les désirs se refuseraient à tout ce qui pourrait les ennoblir. Lorsque les deux se rencontreraient, ce serait pour mettre la technique la plus perfectionnée au service des instincts les plus brutaux : la physique nucléaire au service de la guerre, la chimie au service de la Shoah, Internet au service de la pornographie. Notre tâche actuelle n’est surtout pas de limiter la « raison superbe », même si nous nous imaginons par là, pour reprendre une formule de Kant, faire place à la foi. Elle est au contraire de redonner à la raison sa pleine dimension, de la rendre à nouveau capable de nous dire non seulement ce qui est vrai, mais aussi ce qui vaut la peine d’être fait, de reconquérir tout ce que nous risquons d’abandonner à l’irrationnel.

Voir également:

Contre l’abolition de l’homme
De la bataille contre le Système, épisode VI

Pierre Vaudan

Dedefensa
Certains livres vous tombent dessus comme un météore dont l’impact n’est que lumière. C’est ainsi qu’au détour d’un échange avec un éditeur suisse installé à Paris, j’ai entendu parler pour la première fois de “L’abolition de l’homme”, un bouquin fulgurant, d’une actualité sidérante, pourtant écrit durant la Seconde guerre mondiale par l’auteur irlandais C.S. Lewis (1). L’écrivain y démontre que le rejet de toute morale universelle, le subjectivisme absolu de notre modernité en somme, a conduit notre civilisation à remplacer l’éducation des individus par leur “conditionnement” à des valeurs détachées du réel et qui, à terme, conduisent à la “capitulation de la Nature humaine” au profit d’une élite de surmorts (2). L’occasion idéale d’un épisode VI donc, à notre série “De la bataille contre le Système» (3)…

De Orwell à Huxley
Dans son roman “1984”, Orwell avait imaginé un Etat totalitaire s’imposant par la violence, la surveillance, la manipulation de la langue et le contrôle des médias. Dans son “Meilleur des mondes” (4), Huxley avait quant à lui eu l’intuition que le totalitarisme auquel aboutirait fatalement le capitalisme dans sa version ultime serait un totalitarisme dans lequel, ivres de consommation et gavés de divertissements (5), les esclaves auraient «l’amour de leur servitude».

Aujourd’hui, nous constatons que la réalité qui s’impose peu à peu se situe exactement entre les deux: surveillance, Novlangue et contrôle des médias pour tous ; “amour de la servitude” pour ceux que le Système a correctement formatés et, lorsque la situation l’exige (et elle l’exigera toujours davantage à mesure qu’il deviendra impossible de satisfaire aux désirs des masses), violence et répression pour les récalcitrants.

@INTERTITRE =Dans l’intime du processus de déshumanisation

L’immense mérite de C.S. Lewis est de nous conduire dans l’intime de ce processus de formatage, de déshumanisation qui permet au Système d’inculquer in fine aux esclaves “l’amour de leur servitude”.

Son postulat est clair. C’est le rejet par le Système de toute morale universelle, le dénigrement des valeurs traditionnelles et le subjectivisme qui en découle, qui permettent, grâce à une éducation pervertie, de détacher l’homme de son humanité en le transformant en un “produit fabriqué”.

Pour Lewis en effet, toutes les grandes civilisations et religions se recoupent sur les principes moraux essentiels, attestant de “l’objectivité des valeurs”.

Cet ordre moral objectif, cette loi naturelle, forme ainsi un socle commun permettant à chacun de s’épanouir en harmonie avec la vérité du monde et de la condition humaine. Certaines attitudes sont ainsi réellement justes, d’autres réellement fausses, c’est-à-dire «conformes à la réalité de ce qu’est l’univers et de ce que nous sommes».

La juste valeur
Contrairement à ce que préconise l’éducation moderne où le concept même de “jugement de valeur” est devenu péjoratif, où tout n’est que subjectivité, il rappelle que le jugement de valeur n’a rien de subjectif justement, mais s’appuie sur des vérités reconnues, identifiées comme telles par l’ensemble des civilisations et religions.

Les choses sont ainsi objectivement belles ou laides, bonnes ou mauvaises, et on peut les apprécier à leur juste valeur car elles en ont une; ou les haïr dans une juste proportion au regard de ce qu’elles ont d’objectivement haïssable. A l’appui de sa thèse, il cite notamment Aristote: «Le but de l’éducation est d’apprendre à aimer et à haïr ce qu’il convient d’aimer et de haïr» ; puis Platon: «Le jeune homme bien élevé blâme et hait le laid avec un juste dégoût, et loue avec délice la beauté en l’accueillant dans son âme et en s’en nourrissant pour devenir un homme au cœur doux».

Ainsi, les émotions ou sentiments ne sont peut-être pas logiques, mais ils sont «soit raisonnables ou déraisonnables», en fonction de leur adéquation à la juste valeur des choses sur lesquels ils portent. Pour Lewis, «la tête gouverne les entrailles par l’intermédiaire du cœur, qui est le siège d’émotions organisées en sentiments stables par des habitudes bien entraînées».

En résumé : «Le cœur ne peut prendre la place de la tête, mais il doit lui obéir (…). Ne pas être résolu sur les fondements ultimes, soit de la raison théorique soit de la raison pratique, est [dès lors] bêtise pure.»

Un nouveau catéchisme perverti
Pour Lewis, ce condensé de croyances fondamentales, cette loi naturelle reconnue par toutes les civilisations et religions – et qui permet d’organiser les émotions en “sentiments stables” – est logiquement «la seule source de tous les jugements de valeur».

Il estime ainsi que l’homme de peut pas davantage “créer” de nouvelles valeurs qu’il ne peut «créer de nouvelles couleurs». «Il n’y a jamais eu et il n’y aura jamais de jugement de valeur radicalement nouveau dans l’histoire de l’humanité.»

Dès lors, la prétention de notre modernité à rejeter les valeurs traditionnelles pour leur en substituer de nouvelles est une formidable supercherie. Supercherie commandée au demeurant par une minorité d’individus encagée dans une idéologie.

Pour Lewis, ces prétendues “nouvelles valeurs” ne sont en effet que des fragments de la morale universelle «arrachés arbitrairement de leur contexte global et démesurément gonflés jusqu’à la folie dans leur isolement».

Et c’est exactement de cela qu’il s’agit lorsque notre Système hypertrophie par exemple le principe d’égalité entre homme et femme jusqu’à vouloir les confondre au point, comme le prophétisait Nietzsche, «qu’il leur deviendra impossible de s’aimer»; c’est exactement de cela qu’il s’agit lorsque notre Système hypertrophie le principe de liberté au point d’imposer partout laideur et vulgarité ; c’est exactement de cela qu’il s’agit lorsque notre Système hypertrophie le principe de tolérance et prétend faire de la déviance la norme, voire de la norme la déviance ; c’est exactement de cela qu’il s’agit lorsque notre Système hypertrophie enfin sa vertu autoproclamée tout en en faisant un instrument de guerre pour convertir la planète à sa nouvelle morale dégénérée.

De l’éducation à la propagande
Bien sûr, souligne Lewis, la morale universelle admet un développement de l’intérieur, car c’est de l’intérieur que vient la seule autorité pour la faire évoluer. Donc par ceux qui en ont une connaissance profonde, qui en sont pénétrés, et non pas par quelques philosophes-amateurs, militants encagés dans leur idéologie et leur temps. C’est la différence entre «transformer de l’intérieur et modifier depuis l’extérieur, la différence entre l’organique et le chirurgical».

Aujourd’hui, le dénigrement des valeurs traditionnelles et le subjectivisme totalitaire ont donc permis l’instauration d’un nouveau catéchisme, d’une nouvelle morale qui se veut à portée universelle alors qu’elle est construite sur des “valeurs” amputées, perverties, tronquées ou «amplifiées jusqu’à la folie dans leur isolement», des valeurs qui ont pour point commun toutefois de servir l’idéologie nihiliste du Système et du Marché, au seul profit de l’élite qui les gouvernent.

Il faut donc, insiste Lewis, «reconnaître une validité absolue aux truismes fondamentaux de la raison pratique». Car seule la morale universelle fournit à l’action humaine «une loi commune qui peut à la fois englober les gouvernants et les gouvernés», qui «permet à l’autorité de ne pas être tyrannie, à l’obéissance de ne pas être esclavage.»

Or si l’ancienne éducation, fondée sur les valeurs traditionnelles, était «une sorte de propagation où des hommes transmettaient la force de leur humanité aux hommes, résume Lewis, la nouvelle n’est que propagande. Là où l’ancienne éducation initiait, la nouvelle conditionne.»

Soumettre la nature, puis l’homme
Cette volonté de s’émanciper des contraintes morales de la nature humaine n’est qu’une suite logique à notre prétendue domination sur la Nature.

Puisque nous nous sommes rendus maîtres de notre environnement, pensent les faux-prophètes du Système, nous pouvons nous débarrasser de toute morale universelle, de toute loi naturelle bref, de toutes les scories des dieux que nous avons brûlés pour inventer notre propre religion, reformater une humanité selon nos seuls désirs, nos seuls instincts, mais dans le respect des lois du Marché bien entendu.

Sur cette idée de domination de l’homme sur la Nature, Lewis apporte un démenti cinglant. «Le pouvoir de l’homme sur la nature, dit-il, n’est que le pouvoir de certains hommes sur d’autres». Le pouvoir de générations qui, par leurs choix, limitent le pouvoir des suivantes. «Tout nouveau pouvoir conquis par l’homme est un pouvoir sur l’homme. Chaque progrès le rend à la fois plus fort et plus faible, puisque chaque progrès s’impose à l’homme, conditionne son avenir et limite ses choix.»

«L’étape ultime sera atteinte lorsque l’homme, par l’eugénisme, le conditionnement prénatal et une éducation et une propagande fondée sur une psychologie parfaitement appliquée, sera parvenu à exercer un contrôle total sur lui-même. La nature humaine sera la dernière composante de la Nature à capituler devant l’homme.»

L’hyper-pouvoir contre l’humanité
Bien sûr, de tous temps, on a essayé de faire capituler la Nature humaine pour façonner un nouvel homme. Mais sans jamais y parvenir.

Sauf que, prophétise Lewis dès 1943, «les façonneurs des humains de l’ère nouvelle seront dotés des pouvoirs d’un Etat omni-compétent et armés de techniques scientifiques irrésistibles. Nous serons enfin face à une race de conditionneurs qui pourront réellement façonner toute postérité dans le moule qui leur convient.»

Inutile de dire que cette phrase peut-être réécrite désormais au présent. Dans le premier épisode de «La bataille contre le Système» (6), nous avons détaillé l’hyperpuissance dont disposent aujourd’hui les nouveaux maîtres du monde, et le caractère effectivement «irrésistibles» des techniques de conditionnement dont ils disposent.

Et à la question de savoir si ces “conditionneurs” sont intrinsèquement mauvais, Lewis apporte une réponse vertigineuse : «Pour eux, le bon et le mauvais sont vides de sens, puisque c’est d’eux que doit dépendre le sens de ces mots. (…) Je ne crois pas que ces hommes soient mauvais, je crois plutôt que ce ne sont pas du tout des hommes (dans l’ancienne acception du mot). En d’autres mots, ce sont des gens qui ont sacrifié leur part d’humanité au sens traditionnel du terme pour se consacrer à la tâche de décider ce que l’humanité doit signifier à l’avenir.»

En reniant la morale universelle, la loi naturelle, souligne Lewis, «ils ont sauté dans le vide».

Quant aux esclaves dont le formatage aura réussi, Lewis estime qu’il ne s’agit pas nécessairement de gens malheureux, mais de gens qui ont «perdu toute humanité: ce sont des produits fabriqués».

Et de prononcer sa sentence finale : «La conquête finale de l’homme s’avère être l’abolition de l’homme».

Conclusion
Reconnaître comme intangible la loi naturelle et la morale universelle partagées par les civilisations et les religions depuis des temps immémoriaux; reconnaître qu’elles sont le fondement unique de jugements de valeur objectifs : voilà qui vous place immédiatement, selon le nouveau catéchisme, dans la catégorie des obscurantistes.

Mais on pourrait toujours rétorquer qu’il ne s’agit finalement là que d’un jugement de valeur, sans valeur donc. Petite pirouette qui permet au passage de souligner la bêtise d’une nouvelle philosophie dont le principe fondateur porte en lui l’évidence de son impossibilité.

Au final, ce livre de C.S. Lewis est un monument d’intelligence et d’intuition haute, qui nous dit beaucoup de l’idéologie nihiliste du Système et de sa mécanique intime.

Le constat est là : l’éducation moderne et la propagande diffusée par des médias sous contrôle ne visent en rien à éveiller les hommes et à les élever, mais au contraire à créer dans leur cœur et leur esprit un brouillard insensé qui permet à l’élite des surmorts du Système de les réduire en esclavage.

Reste donc à savoir si une révolte est possible face à un formatage de l’humanité opéré avec une telle puissance. La crainte est en effet très forte que, comme la grenouille plongée dans un bain porté lentement à ébullition ne s’aperçoit de rien et fini bouillie sans le savoir, les hommes s’habituent, d’une génération à l’autre, à vivre sans autres valeurs que celle de leur Moi surdimensionné, sans autres valeurs que celle de leur désirs et de leur plaisirs confondus, dans l’amour de leur servitude.

«On ne regarde plus les arbres comme les dryades et on n’en voit plus la beauté dès l’instant où on les débite en planches, explique Lewis. Le premier à le faire à sans doute ressentit cruellement ce qu’il en coûtait.» Mais ensuite?

Le regard glacé que nous force à poser sur les choses le nouveau catéchisme du Système est celui du scientifique formaté qui s’interdit tout jugement de valeur sur l’objet observé, en nie toute valeur objective et, ainsi, le prive d’une partie de sa réalité, peut-être même la plus importante.

Avec son nouveau catéchisme, le Système nous éduque désormais à réduire notre vision du monde à quelque chose de totalement subjectif et, ce faisant, il nous impose d’en nier la valeur au sens traditionnel du terme, d’en nier la part divine en somme.

C’est la vision que portent sur le monde les surmorts qui prétendent façonner l’homme nouveau: un monde sans dieu, sans humanité, sans valeur et sans âme, un monde déjà mort, comme eux.

Un regard glacé et glaçant qu’à terme, ils nous invitent à poser sur nous-mêmes.

A bon entendeur comme on dit…

Pierre Vaudan

Notes
1). C.S Lewis

2). Nous avons emprunté le terme de “surmorts” à l’écrivain et poète suisse Maurice Chappaz qui, dans une lettre de 1968 écrivait : «J’ai localisé le pouvoir réel, brutal dans l’économie et vu les velléités, les complicités, les mensonges, le blanc qui devient noir dans les partis politiques, tous les partis. Et le social a comporté pour moi un élément de dégoût que tu ne peux imaginer: le nazisme. Le commercial totalitaire le resuce en lui: cette tuerie d’arbres, de phoques, cet empoisonnement de l’air, des eaux, ces massacres divers et cette propagande, cette réclame pour l’englobant industriel, le «progrès» carrément détachés de l’humain. Les vrais parasites modernes ne sont pas les clochards, les beatniks, mais justement les activistes de la construction inutile, du gaspillage des sources et des ressources, spéculateurs, menteurs en tous produits et appétits. Nous connaissons aussi ces volontés de puissance à l’œil parfois très intelligent de surmorts, qui délèguent aux fonctions publiques les bureaucrates, des types, des espèces de chauves graisseux moins costaux qu’eux-mêmes. Les surmorts ont besoin d’otages, de médiocres qui limitent toujours un pays aux affaires.»

3). Tous les épisodes de La bataille contre le Système

4). Une interview de Aldous Leonard Huxley

5). Voir aussi le concept de “Tittytainment”

6). De la bataille contre le Système, épisode

Voir encore:

L’Abolition de l’homme, de C.S. Lewis

Nunzio Casalaspro

31 mars 2011

Le chahut invraisemblable qu’on a fait autour du petit livre de Stéphane Hessel, Indignez-vous, aura eu peut-être un mérite : celui de rappeler que notre époque gagnerait à se tourner vers des maîtres à pensée ou, pour employer une expression plus modeste, des hommes qui nous inciteraient à réfléchir. Gourous de l’indignation, nous le sommes tous, et à peu de frais. Il suffit de se regarder soi-même, au quotidien. Notre besoin d’indignation, notre appétit d’émotions sont impossible à rassasier et l’actualité se charge de les alimenter sans cesse. Il est devenu banal de le dire, et cependant il faut le redire, ce que nous nommons « l’actualité » est devenu un objet de consommation parmi d’autres et nous voici des consommateurs d’émotions fortes, centrées sur une actualité particulière, avant qu’une actualité plus brûlante, selon la formule devenue officielle, ne vienne la remplacer. Oubliées la Côte d’Ivoire, l’Égypte, oublié Haïti : voyeurs émus, nous vibrons, minute par minute, devant le grand spectacle du monstre nucléaire japonais, qui pourrait lâcher son venin radioactif, lui-même déjà remplacé par la féérie grandiose des missiles luminescents volant, en feu d’artifice, dans le ciel nocturne de la Libye.

            Contre cette tyrannie du fait, contre cet appétit de gourous ès indignation, je suggère donc qu’on cherche des maîtres à réfléchir. Il en existe. L’Humanité en a donné beaucoup, à vrai dire ; mais si on les veut proches de nous, dans le temps, je propose de lire un inconnu fameux, C.S. Lewis. Lewis est l’auteur d’une oeuvre mondialement célèbre, la série Narnia ; et cependant, cet auteur irlandais, né à Belfast en 1898, demeure méconnu ; je ne suis pas certain qu’ils soient nombreux ceux qui ont connaissance de son oeuvre principal – ses ouvrages de critique littéraire, ses essais. Ainsi, telles ces consonnes qu’on n’entend pas – le p dans le chiffre « sept » – consonnes que les grammairiens, comme le rappelle Pascal Quignard dans son livre La Haine de la musique, nommaient consonnes ineffables, le grand oeuvre de C.S. Lewis est lisible mais reste dans l’ombre, méconnu.

      Comme un autre britannique fameux, Chesterton, dont on gagnerait à le rapprocher, Lewis est un converti. C’est en 1929 qu’il trouve le chemin du christianisme dont il fera l’apologie à la manière de l’auteur de Orthodoxie, en théologien laïc. Et cependant, comme celle de Chesterton encore, l’œuvre de Lewis peut toucher – et elle touche certainement – bien au-delà des cercles chrétiens : dès lors qu’il s’agit de proposer une anthropologie, il n’est pas de chapelle qui tienne. Avec moins d’humour que l’auteur de Hérésies, sans doute, et cependant avec une liberté de parole égale, Lewis se propose d’examiner ce qu’est l’Homme et quel peut être son devenir.

     Si l’on devait conseiller un premier livre à ceux qui sont ignorants de l’œuvre de Lewis, probablement pourrait-on suggérer la lecture d’un petit ouvrage, à peine plus lourd en main que celui de Hessel, et cependant bien plus profond : L’Abolition de l’homme. Trois chapitres composent ce livre qui, comme le rappelle la préface, correspondent à trois cours que l’auteur donna en 1943 à l’université de Durham. Il n’est pas dans mon propos, ici, d’examiner en détail l’essai de Lewis et je préfère qu’on aille y voir par soi-même. Disons cependant que, dans le premier chapitre, « Des hommes sans cœur »,  l’auteur commence par proposer à ses auditeurs, devenus ses lecteurs, l’examen d’un manuel de pédagogie. Analysant un passage célèbre où, mettant en présence deux promeneurs devant une chute d’eau, Coleridge fait dire à l’un que cette chute est sublime, et à l’autre qu’elle est simplement jolie, les auteurs du manuel cherchent à dénigrer toute objectivité à la réalité admirée. Pour ces auteurs  dont Lewis tait les noms, il ne peut être question, d’un point de vue humain, d’affirmer que cette réalité observée est sublime, mais simplement que le sentiment que nous éprouvons exprime quelque chose de cet ordre. A partir de cet exemple, Lewis commence une démonstration visant à mettre en évidence que le subjectivisme radical proposé par le manuel conduit à des aberrations. Il n’est pas douteux, affirme Lewis, que la chute d’eau est sublime et, si l’on cherche absolument à dire quelque chose du sentiment éprouvé par l’observateur de ce pan de nature «  il serait plus convenable de traduire par J’ai des sentiments d’humilité. » Le déni d’objectivité ou de réalité proposés par les auteurs du manuel, continue Lewis, conduirait inévitablement à des absurdités. Appliquée de façon systématique, leur conception du réel « contraindrait nos deux enseignants à soutenir que la phrase Vous êtes méprisables veut dire Mes sentiments sont méprisables, et qu’en fait Vos sentiments sont méprisables signifie Mes sentiments sont méprisables. »

         Est-il utile de souligner que la conception des auteurs du manuel examiné par Lewis signifie la négation de toute hiérarchie des valeurs, puisque tout jugement de valeur est précisément réduit à un simple état émotionnel exprimé par celui qui parle ? Est-il utile de rappeler à quel point cette conception est aujourd’hui la nôtre, à quel point elle s’est généralisée ? Depuis l’école, où l’on encourage l’élève à dire ce qu’il ressent face à un texte ou un tableau et à l’exprimer, comme si cette expression était la seule valeur objective possible, jusqu’à nos débats d’adultes, où la concurrence des émotions, des indignations  et des raisons arbitraires est une règle, les auteurs du manuel semblent avoir triomphé. Mais que peut-on opposer à cet égalitarisme plat, où le monde semble se réduire à une seule dimension, sur laquelle nous promenons notre subjectivité jugée irremplaçable, irrécusable ? Puisant à de nombreuses sources – Saint Augustin, Platon, Aristote, mais aussi, en fin de volume, l’Egypte, l’Inde ou la Chine anciennes – Lewis montre que, à l’opposé de ce « face-à-face entre le monde des faits, sans la moindre trace de valeur, et le monde des sentiments, sans la moindre trace de vérité ou d’erreur, de justice ou d’injustice », pendant des millénaires, l’éducation s’est appuyée au contraire sur la certitude que l’univers dans lequel nous vivons « était tel que certaines réactions émotionnelles  pouvaient être ou non en accord avec lui ». L’éducation, par conséquent, est un apprentissage précoce de valeurs assemblées selon des hiérarchies. Elle nous enseigne ce qu’il convient d’admettre ou réfuter, d’aimer ou de haïr, selon que les choses sont belles ou laides, vraies ou fausses. Bref, il existe une « doctrine de l’objectivité des valeurs, la conviction que certaines attitudes sont véritablement conformes à la réalité de ce qu’est l’univers et de ce que nous sommes, tandis que d’autres ne le sont pas. » Cette doctrine, Lewis, le chrétien Lewis la nomme le Tao, la Voie, le Chemin.

      Toute la suite de son essai va consister à envisager les conséquences de notre position vis-à-vis du monde, selon que l’on se place à l’intérieur ou  l’extérieur du Tao. Ceux qui se placent à l’extérieur doivent admettre, poursuit l’auteur, qu’on doit considérer tous les sentiments comme irrationnels et « comme une sorte de brouillard entre nous et les objets réels. » La conséquence logique de cette attitude est qu’un éducateur doit tenir éloigné ses élèves de tout sentiment, ou bien alors encourager arbitrairement certains sentiments au détriment des autres.  Cette attitude construit, selon le titre du premier chapitre, des « hommes sans cœur » à qui, si on est tout de même porté à enseigner des valeurs, on doit tout de même enseigner le courage, l’amour de la justice et toutes les valeurs positives. Mais le risque énorme de cette vision du monde est qu’on livre les élèves et les hommes à la propagande, qui est un autre nom pour désigner l’arbitraire.

         Dans le second chapitre, Lewis examine cette doctrine traditionnelle qu’il choisit, par facilité, de nommer Tao ; mais le chapitre essentiel est le troisième, qui donne son titre à l’ouvrage, L’abolition de l’homme. Un monde qui n’admet aucune base rationnelle, ne peut fonder sur rien de stable les sentiments ou les pensées humaines, livre donc la plupart des hommes à la propagande et au pouvoir de quelques uns, les « conditionneurs », sur tous les autres. Ces conditionneurs, nous dit Lewis, ne seront même plus des hommes ; ils auront choisi de sacrifier « leur part d’humanité au sens traditionnel pour se consacrer à la tâche de décider ce que l’humanité doit signifier à l’avenir. »  Que ces hommes soient bons, qu’ils soient bien intentionnés, ajoute Lewis, ne change rien à l’affaire, puisque, décideurs, conditionneurs, ce seront eux qui, de toute façon, décideront de ce qui est bon ou mauvais. Quant aux autres, « ceux qui leur sont soumis », ne seront pas nécessairement des gens malheureux. « Ils ont perdu toute humanité : ce sont des objets fabriqués. La conquête finale de l’homme s’avère être l’abolition de l’homme. »

On pourrait croire que Lewis exagère ; cependant, il faut se souvenir qu’il écrit dans les années quarante et que l’évolution des sociétés semble lui avoir donné raison. On ne peut qu’être fasciné ou horrifié, en lisant ce qu’il écrit, de voir que, en de nombreuses pages, l’auteur paraît avoir prévu par exemple le développement de ce courant de pensée que ses adeptes nomment « transhumanisme », lequel ne se propose pas moins, selon ce qu’il affirme dans une Déclaration solennelle, que de rendre obsolète l’homme tel qu’il se présente encore aujourd’hui, avec son existence humaine limitée. « Nous envisageons, disent les transhumanistes, la possibilité que l’être humain puisse subir des modifications, tel que son rajeunissement, l’accroissement de son intelligence par des moyens biologiques ou artificiels, la capacité de moduler son propre état psychologique, l’abolition de la souffrance et l’exploration de l’univers. »  On peut penser que ces transhumanistes sont des farfelus ; il n’est cependant pas certains qu’ils le soient et les progrès de la science leur donnent chaque jour davantage de leviers sur la société. Quoi qu’il en soit, le monde décrit par Lewis, dans lequel les sentiments et les pensées n’ont plus aucune objectivité est notre réalité. Que penser de sociétés où, dès lors qu’il s’agit par exemple de mesurer le caractère rationnel et l’impact sur lesdites sociétés de religions aussi différentes que le christianisme et l’islam, dénient à tous ceux qui le prétendent le droit d’avancer des arguments pour disqualifier l’une ou l’autre de ces religions ? Les raisons sont aujourd’hui systématiquement refusées à ceux qui ne veulent pas considérer les religions uniquement comme la mise en action de sentiments intimes et individuels, indiscutables et inopposables ; la critique rationnelle, la critique fondée, est ramenée, dans le débat public, aux sentiments de ceux qui avancent les arguments du débat. Si je dis, en m’appuyant sur l’étude des textes, que le bouddhisme ou l’islam peuvent être des religions tyranniques, insolubles dans une société démocratique, comme dans la phrase de Lewis que je citais plus haut, – Vous êtes méprisables veut dire Mes sentiments sont méprisables – cela ne peut signifier qu’une chose : que mes sentiments sont hostiles, que je suis islamophobe ou bouddhistophobe.

       Lewis, à la fin de son essai, donne en appendice de nombreux exemples de ce qu’il appelle la Loi naturelle. Parmi toutes ces citations magnifiques, empruntées à toutes les traditions, il n’est pas interdit d’avoir ses préférences.  Celle-ci par exemple : « On ne doit jamais frapper une femme, même avec une fleur. » (Inde, Janet, I, 8) Cette autre : « On rapporte que, dans la tribu des Daleburas, une femme, infirme de naissance, fut portée à tour de rôle par les membres de la tribu jusqu’à sa mort, à l’âge de soixante-six ans ; ils n’abandonnent jamais les malades » (Aborigènes d’Australie). Une dernière enfin : « En vérité, en vérité, je vous le dis, si le grain de blé tombé en terre ne meurt pas, il reste seul ; mais s’il meurt, il porte beaucoup de fruit. Qui aime sa vie la perdra. (Jean 12, 24-25).

Voir enfin:

The Abolition of Man
C.S. Lewis

It came burning hot into my mind, whatever he said and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house, he would sell me for a slave.—John Bunyan

`Man’s conquest of Nature’ is an expression often used to describe the progress of applied science. `Man has Nature whacked,’ said someone to a friend of mine not long ago. In their context the words had a certain tragic beauty, for the speaker was dying of tuberculosis. `No matter’ he said, `I know I’m one of the casualties. Of course there are casualties on the winning as well as on the losing side. But that doesn’t alter the fact that it is winning.’ I have chosen this story as my point of departure in order to make it clear that I do not wish to disparage all that is really beneficial in the process described as `Man’s conquest’, much less all the real devotion and self-sacrifice that has gone to make it possible. But having done so I must proceed to analyse this conception a little more closely. In what sense is Man the possessor of increasing power over Nature? Let us consider three typical examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive. In a civilized community, in peace-time, anyone who can pay for them may use these things. But it cannot strictly be said that when he does so he is exercising his own proper or individual power over Nature. If I pay you to carry me, I am not therefore myself a strong man. Any or all of the three things I have mentioned can be withheld from some men by other men—by those who sell, or those who allow the sale, or those who own the sources of production, or those who make the goods. What we call Man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by. Again, as regards the powers manifested in the aeroplane or the wireless, Man is as much the patient or subject as the possessor, since he is the target both for bombs and for propaganda. And as regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.

It is, of course, a commonplace to complain that men have hitherto used badly, and against their fellows, the powers that science has given them, But that is not the point I am trying to make. I am not speaking of particular corruptions and abuses which an increase of moral virtue would cure: I am considering what the thing called `Man’s power over Nature’ must always and essentially be. No doubt, the picture could be modified by public ownership of raw materials and factories and public control of scientific research. But unless we have a world state this will still mean the power of one nation over others. And even within the world state or the nation it will mean (in principle) the power of majorities over minorities, and (in the concrete) of a government over the people. And all long-term exercises of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones.

The latter point is not always sufficiently emphasized, because those who write on social matters have not yet learned to imitate the physicists by always including Time among the dimensions. In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men, really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them. And if, as is almost certain, the age which had thus attained maximum power over posterity were also the age most emancipated from tradition, it would be engaged in reducing the power of its predecessors almost as drastically as that of its successors. And we must also remember that, quite apart from this, the later a generation comes—the nearer it lives to that date at which the species becomes extinct—the less power it will have in the forward direction, because its subjects will be so few. There is therefore no question of a power vested in the race as a whole steadily growing as long as the race survives. The last men, far from being the heirs of power, will be of all men most subject to the dead hand of the great planners and conditioners and will themselves exercise least power upon the future.

The real picture is that of one dominant age—let us suppose the hundredth century A.D.—which resists all previous ages most successfully and dominates all subsequent ages most irresistibly, and thus is the real master of the human species. But then within this master generation (itself an infinitesimal minority of the species) the power will be exercised by a minority smaller still. Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well aas stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.

I am not yet considering whether the total result of such ambivalent victories is a good thing or a bad. I am only making clear what Man’s conquest of Nature really means and especially that final stage in the conquest, which, perhaps, is not far off. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have `taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho’ and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?

For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. In all ages, no doubt, nurture and instruction have, in some sense, attempted to exercise this power. But the situation to which we must look forward will be novel in two respects. In the first place, the power will be enormously increased. Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted and indeed, when we read them—how Plato would have every infant « a bastard nursed in a bureau », and Elyot would have the boy see no men before the age of seven and, after that, no women,1 and how Locke wants children to have leaky shoes and no turn for poetry2—we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses. But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

The second difference is even more important. In the older systems both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him were prescribed by the Tao—a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart. They did not cut men to some pattern they had chosen. They handed on what they had received: they initiated the young neophyte into the mystery of humanity which over-arched him and them alike. It was but old birds teaching young birds to fly. This will be changed. Values are now mere natural phenomena. Judgements of value are to be produced in the pupil as part of the conditioning. Whatever Tao there is will be the product, not the motive, of education. The conditioners have been emancipated from all that. It is one more part of Nature which they have conquered. The ultimate springs of human action are no longer, for them, something given. They have surrendered—like electricity: it is the function of the Conditioners to control, not to obey them. They know how to produce conscience and decide what kind of conscience they will produce. They themselves are outside, above. For we are assuming the last stage of Man’s struggle with Nature. The final victory has been won. Human nature has been conquered—and, of course, has conquered, in whatever sense those words may now bear.

The Conditioners, then, are to choose what kind of artificial Tao they will, for their own good reasons, produce in the Human race. They are the motivators, the creators of motives. But how are they going to be motivated themselves?

For a time, perhaps, by survivals, within their own minds, of the old `natural’ Tao. Thus at first they may look upon themselves as servants and guardians of humanity and conceive that they have a `duty’ to do it `good’. But it is only by confusion that they can remain in this state. They recognize the concept of duty as the result of certain processes which they can now control. Their victory has consisted precisely in emerging from the state in which they were acted upon by those processes to the state in which they use them as tools. One of the things they now have to decide is whether they will, or will not, so condition the rest of us that we can go on having the old idea of duty and the old reactions to it. How can duty help them to decide that? Duty itself is up for trial: it cannot also be the judge. And `good’ fares no better. They know quite well how to produce a dozen different conceptions of good in us. The question is which, if any, they should produce. No conception of good can help them to decide. It is absurd to fix on one of the things they are comparing and make it the standard of comparison.

To some it will appear that I am inventing a factitious difficulty for my Conditioners. Other, more simple-minded, critics may ask, `Why should you suppose they will be such bad men?’ But I am not supposing them to be bad men. They are, rather, not men (in the old sense) at all. They are, if you like, men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what `Humanity’ shall henceforth mean. `Good’ and `bad’, applied to them, are words without content: for it is from them that the content of these words is henceforward to be derived. Nor is their difficulty factitious, « We might suppose that it was possible to say `After all, most of us want more or less the same things—food and drink and sexual intercourse, amusement, art, science, and the longest possible life for individuals and for the species. Let them simply say, This is what we happen to like, and go on to condition men in the way most likely to produce it. Where’s the trouble?’ But this will not answer. In the first place, it is false that we all really like the same things. But even if we did, what motive is to impel the Conditioners to scorn delights and live laborious days in order that we, and posterity, may have what we like? Their duty? But that is only the Tao, which they may decide to impose on us, but which cannot be valid for them. If they accept it, then they are no longer the makers of conscience but still its subjects, and their final conquest over Nature has not really happened. The preservation of the species? But why should the species be preserved? One of the questions before them is whether this feeling for posterity (they know well how it is produced) shall be continued or not. However far they go back, or down, they can find no ground to stand on. Every motive they try to act on becomes at once petitio. It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.

Yet the Conditioners will act. When I said just now that all motives fail them, I should have said all motives except one. All motives that claim any validity other than that of their felt emotional weight at a given moment have failed them. Everything except the sic volo, sic jubeo has been explained away. But what never claimed objectivity cannot be destroyed by subjectivism. The impulse to scratch when I itch or to pull to pieces when I am inquisitive is immune from the solvent which is fatal to my justice, or honour, or care for posterity. When all that says It is good’ has been debunked, what says 1 want’ remains. It cannot be exploded or `seen through’ because it never had any pretentions. The Conditioners, therefore, must come to be motivated simply by their own pleasure. I am not here speaking of the corrupting influence of power nor expressing the fear that under it our Conditioners will degenerate. The very words corrupt and degenerate imply a doctrine of value and are therefore meaningless in this context. My point is that those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse.

We may legitimately hope that among the impulses which arise in minds thus emptied of all `rational’ or `spiritual’ motives, some will be benevolent. I am very doubtful myself whether the benevolent impulses, stripped of that preference and encouragement which the Tao teaches us to give them and left to their merely natural strength and frequency as psychological events, will have much influence. I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently. I am inclined to think that the Conditioners will hate the conditioned. Though regarding as an illusion the artificial conscience which they produce in us their subjects, they will yet perceive that it creates in us an illusion of meaning for our lives which compares favourably with the futility of their own: and they will envy us as eunuchs envy men. But I do not insist on this, for it is a mere conjecture. What is not conjecture is that our hope even of a `conditioned’ happiness rests on what is ordinarily called `chance’—the chance that benevolent impulses may on the whole predominate in our Conditioners. For without the judgement `Benevolence is good’—that is, without re-entering the Tao—they can have no ground for promoting or stabilizing these impulses rather than any others. By the logic of their position they must just take their impulses as they come, from chance. And Chance here means Nature. It is from heredity, digestion, the weather, and the association of ideas, that the motives of the Conditioners will spring. Their extreme rationalism, by `seeing through’ all `rational’ motives, leaves them creatures of wholly irrational behaviour. If you will not obey the Tao, or else commit suicide, obedience to impulse (and therefore, in the long run, to mere `nature’) is the only course left open.

At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely `natural’—to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammelled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man. Every victory we seemed to win has led us, step by step, to this conclusion. All Nature’s apparent reverses have been but tactical withdrawals. We thought we were beating her back when she was luring us on. What looked to us like hands held up in surrender was really the opening of arms to enfold us for ever. If the fully planned and conditioned world (with its Tao a mere product of the planning) comes into existence, Nature will be troubled no more by the restive species that rose in revolt against her so many millions of years ago, will be vexed no longer by its chatter of truth and mercy and beauty and happiness. Ferum victorem cepit: and if the eugenics are efficient enough there will be no second revolt, but all snug beneath the Conditioners, and the Conditioners beneath her, till the moon falls or the sun grows cold.

My point may be clearer to some if it is put in a different form. Nature is a word of varying meanings, which can best be understood if we consider its various opposites. The Natural is the opposite of the Artificial, the Civil, the Human, the Spiritual, and the Supernatural. The Artificial does not now concern us. If we take the rest of the list of opposites, however, I think we can get a rough idea of what men have meant by Nature and what it is they oppose to her. Nature seems to be the spatial and temporal, as distinct from what is less fully so or not so at all. She seems to be the world of quantity, as against the world of quality; of objects as against consciousness; of the bound, as against the wholly or partially autonomous; of that which knows no values as against that which both has and perceives value; of efficient causes (or, in some modern systems, of no causality at all) as against final causes. Now I take it that when we understand a thing analytically and then dominate and use it for our own convenience, we reduce it to the level of `Nature’ in the sense that we suspend our judgements of value about it, ignore its final cause (if any), and treat it in terms of quantity. This repression of elements in what would otherwise be our total reaction to it is sometimes very noticeable and even painful: something has to be overcome before we can cut up a dead man or a live animal in a dissecting room. These objects resist the movement of the mind whereby we thrust them into the world of mere Nature. But in other instances too, a similar price is exacted for our analytical knowledge and manipulative power, even if we have ceased to count it. We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgil and Spenser may be far-off echoes of that primeval sense of impiety. The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture. To many, no doubt, this process is simply the gradual discovery that the real world is different from what we expected, and the old opposition to Galileo or to `body-snatchers’ is simply obscurantism. But that is not the whole story. It is not the greatest of modern scientists who feel most sure that the object, stripped of its qualitative properties and reduced to mere quantity, is wholly real. Little scientists, and little unscientific followers of science, may think so. The great minds know very well that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality has been lost.

From this point of view the conquest of Nature appears in a new light. We reduce things to mere Nature in order that we may `conquer’ them. We are always conquering Nature, because `Nature’ is the name for what we have, to some extent, conquered. The price of conquest is to treat a thing as mere Nature. Every conquest over Nature increases her domain. The stars do not become Nature till we can weigh and measure them: the soul does not become Nature till we can psychoanalyse her. The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature. As long as this process stops short of the final stage we may well hold that the gain outweighs the loss. But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified, for this time the being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and the same. This is one of the many instances where to carry a principle to what seems its logical conclusion produces absurdity. It is like the famous Irishman who found that a certain kind of stove reduced his fuel bill by half and thence concluded that two stoves of the same kind would enable him to warm his house with no fuel at all. It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls. It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere `natural object’ and his own judgements of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will. The objection to his doing so does not lie in the fact that this point of view (like one’s first day in a dissecting room) is painful and shocking till we grow used to it. The pain and the shock are at most a warning and a symptom. The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.

We have been trying, like Lear, to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and yet at the same time to retain it. It is impossible. Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own `natural’ impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.

I am not here thinking solely, perhaps not even chiefly, of those who are our public enemies at the moment. The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany/Traditional values are to be `debunked’ and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it. The belief that we can invent `ideologies’ at pleasure, and the consequent treatment of mankind as mere υλη, specimens, preparations, begins to affect our very language. Once we killed bad men: now we liquidate unsocial elements. Virtue has become integration and diligence dynamism, and boys likely to be worthy of a commission are `potential officer material’. Most wonderful of all, the virtues of thrift and temperance, and even of ordinary intelligence, are sales-resistance.

The true significance of what is going on has been concealed by the use of the abstraction Man. Not that the word Man is necessarily a pure abstraction. In the Tao itself, as long as we remain within it, we find the concrete reality in which to participate is to be truly human: the real common will and common reason of humanity, alive, and growing like a tree, and branching out, as the situation varies, into ever new beauties and dignities of application. While we speak from within the Tao we can speak of Man having power over himself in a sense truly analogous to an individual’s self-control. But the moment we step outside and regard the Tao as a mere subjective product, this possibility has disappeared. What is now common to all men is a mere abstract universal, an H.C.F., and Man’s conquest of himself means simply the rule of the Conditioners over the conditioned human material, the world of post-humanity which, some knowingly and some unknowingly, nearly all men in all nations are at present labouring to produce.

Nothing I can say will prevent some people from describing this lecture as an attack on science. I deny the charge, of course: and real Natural Philosophers (there are some now alive) will perceive that in defending value I defend inter alia the value of knowledge, which must die like every other when its roots in the Tao are cut. But I can go further than that. I even suggest that from Science herself the cure might come.

I have described as a `magician’s bargain’ that process whereby man surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power. And I meant what I said. The fact that the scientist has succeeded where the magician failed has put such a wide contrast between them in popular thought that the real story of the birth of Science is misunderstood. You will even find people who write about the sixteenth century as if Magic were a medieval survival and Science the new thing that came in to sweep it away. Those who have studied the period know better. There was very little magic in the Middle Ages: the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are the high noon of magic. The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. I allow that some (certainly not all) of the early scientists were actuated by a pure love of knowledge. But if we consider the temper of that age as a whole we can discern the impulse of which I speak.

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.

If we compare the chief trumpeter of the new era (Bacon) with Marlowe’s Faustus, the similarity is striking. You will read in some critics that Faustus has a thirst for knowledge. In reality, he hardly mentions it. It is not truth he wants from the devils, but gold and guns and girls. `All things that move between the quiet poles shall be at his command’ and `a sound magician is a mighty god’.3 In the same spirit Bacon condemns those who value knowledge as an end in itself: this, for him, is to use as a mistress for pleasure what ought to be a spouse for fruit.4 The true object is to extend Man’s power to the performance of all things possible. He rejects magic because it does not work;5 but his goal is that of the magician. In Paracelsus the characters of magician and scientist are combined. No doubt those who really founded modern science were usually those whose love of truth exceeded their love of power; in every mixed movement the efficacy comes from the good elements not from the bad. But the presence of the bad elements is not irrelevant to the direction the efficacy takes. It might be going too far to say that the modern scientific movement was tainted from its birth: but I think it would be true to say that it, was born in an unhealthy neighbourhood and at an inauspicious hour. Its triumphs may have-been too rapid and purchased at too high a price: reconsideration, and something like repentance, may be required.

Is it, then, possible to imagine a new Natural Philosophy, continually conscious that the `natural object’ produced by analysis and abstraction is not reality but only a view, and always correcting the abstraction? I hardly know what I am asking for. I hear rumours that Goethe’s approach to nature deserves fuller consideration—that even Dr Steiner may have seen something that orthodox researchers have missed. The regenerate science which I have in mind would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself. When it explained it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole. While studying the It it would not lose what Martin Buber calls the Thou-situation. The analogy between the Tao of Man and the instincts of an animal species would mean for it new light cast on the unknown thing, Instinct, by the only known reality of conscience and not a reduction of conscience to the category of Instinct. Its followers would not be free with the words only and merely. In a word, it would conquer Nature without being at the same time conquered by her and buy knowledge at a lower cost than that of life.

Perhaps I am asking impossibilities. Perhaps, in the nature of things, analytical understanding must always be a basilisk which kills what it sees and only sees by killing. But if the scientists themselves cannot arrest this process before it reaches the common Reason and kills that too, then someone else must arrest it. What I most fear is the reply that I am `only one more’ obscurantist, that this barrier, like all previous barriers set up against the advance of science, can be safely passed. Such a reply springs from the fatal serialism of the modern imagination—the image of infinite unilinear progression which so haunts our minds. Because we have to use numbers so much we tend to think of every process as if it must be like the numeral series, where every step, to all eternity, is the same kind of step as the one before. I implore you to remember the Irishman and his two stoves. There are progressions in which the last step is sui generis—incommensurable with the others—and in which to go the whole way is to undo all the labour of your previous journey. To reduce the Tao to a mere natural product is a step of that kind. Up to that point, the kind of explanation which explains things away may give us something, though at a heavy cost. But you cannot go on `explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on `seeing through5 things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to `see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To `see through’ all things is the same as not to see.

Notes:

1. The Boke Named the Governour, I. iv: `Al men except physitions only shulde be excluded and kepte out of the norisery.’ I. vi: `After that a childe is come to seuen yeres of age… the most sure counsaile is to withdrawe him from all company of women.’

2. Some Thoughts concerning Education,§7:1 will also advise his Feet to be wash’d every Day in cold Water, and to have his Shoes so thin that they might leak and let in Water, whenever he comes near it.’ §174: `If he have a poetick vein, ’tis to me the strangest thing in the World that the Father should desire or suffer it to be cherished or improved. Methinks the Parents should labour to have it stifled and suppressed as much as may be.’ Yet Locke is one of our most sensible writers on education.

3. Dr Faustus, 77-90.

4. Advancement of Learning, Bk I (p. 60 in Ellis and Spedding, 1905; p. 35 in Everyman Edition).

5. Filum Labyrinthi, i.
Transcriber’s Notes
Buber, Martin (1878-1965) philosopher who said the I-Thou approach to relationships is the only way people can be fully authentic; only a part of our humanity is expressed in the I-It relationship.

Clotho – of the three Fates of Greek mythology, she was the one who wove the fabric of life

factitious – contrived, artificial

Faustus – the magician of Renaisance legend who bargained his soul to the devil in exchange for power

Ferum victorem cepit – from Horace Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et/ Artes intulit agresti Latio.: « Greece, once overcome, overcame her wild conqueror,/ And brought the arts into rustic Latium. » The vanquished were actually the victors; Lewis is saying that nature, being conquered, is the true winner.

Francis Bacon – proponent (1561-1626) of the « scientific revolution » who advocated science as a tool to gain power over nature; he is known more for his polemical writings on science than his advancement of human knowledge

Goethe Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) Romantic poet who reverenced nature as divine

H.C.F. – highest common factor

Inter alia – Amongst other things

Paracelsus – (1493-1541), more properly Theophrastus Phillippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, who was known for his medical innovations during the Renaisance. Traditionally it has been said that Paracelsus was taught by several bishops and the occultist abbot of Sponheim, Johannes Trithemius.

Petitio – short for petitio principii or begging the question: a logical fallacy in which the thing to be proved is implicitly assumed.

Sic volo, sic jubeo – short for sic volo, sic jubeo, stat pro ratione voluntas: « Thus I will, thus I command, my pleasure stands for law. »

Sui generis – adj. [literally, of its own kind] constituting a class alone: unique, peculiar.

υλη – hule or matter, as used by Aristotle


Disparition de Philip Roth: Qu’est-ce que ce club qui m’admet comme membre? (After a lifetime of refusing to belong to any club that would have him as a member, the enfant terrible of the Jewish American novel and eternal Nobel also-ran tenders his final resignation)

28 mai, 2018

At three, I started Hebrew school. At ten, I learned a trade. I hear they’ve picked a bride for me. I hope she’s pretty. Tradition (Fiddler on the roof)
 Je vous prie d’accepter ma démission. Je refuse de faire partie d’un club qui est prêt à m’admettre parmi ses membres. Groucho Marx (télégramme au Friars Club de Beverly Hills)
Avec ce qu’on appelle la « démocratisation » de l’univers scolaire, c’est-à-dire la généralisation de l’accès à l’enseignement secondaire, des institutions se sont transformées par le fait qu’elles accueillaient des gens qui, à un autre stade du système, n’y auraient pas eu accès: il y a donc des gens qui, quand ils y sont, n’y sont toujours pas, puisque le lieu où ils sont n’est plus le même du fait qu’ils y sont. C’est la même chose pour les clubs – voir la boutade de Groucho Marx: « Qu’est-ce que ce club qui m’admet comme membre?  » Pierre Bourdieu
L’une des règles minimales de la Nouvelle Société veut que tout ce qui rappelle la nostalgie de la boue – les manières d’être du peuple, le pittoresque, la vitalité fruste de ces gens, et leurs logements à bon marché – soit bien ; alors que tout ce qui a un caractère bourgeois, noir ou blanc, est mal. D’où il résulte que le chic gauchiste favorise dans la gauche ce qui paraît primitif, exotique et pittoresque, comme les travailleurs agricoles saisonniers, qui ne sont pas seulement de gauche et « près de la terre », mais de plus sont des Latino-Américains ; les Panthers avec leurs blousons de cuir, leurs coiffures afro, leurs lunettes de soleil et leurs fusillades ; et les Indiens Peaux-Rouges qui, bien sûr, ont toujours paru primitifs, exotiques et pittoresques. Au début du moins, ces trois groupes avaient un trait commun qui les rendait particulièrement acceptables: leurs quartiers généraux se tenaient à près de cinq mille kilomètres de l’East Side de Manhattan, en des endroits comme Delano (pour les travailleurs agricoles), Oakland (pour les Panthers), l’Arizona et le Nouveau-Mexique (pour les Indiens). On ne risquait pas trop… de marcher dessus, en somme. Exotiques, pittoresques et lointains… Comme nous le verrons bientôt, d’autres créatures partageaient avec eux, pour les mêmes raisons, les sympathies du chic gauchiste ; à savoir les ocelots, les jaguars, les léopards et les panthères des Somalis. Tom Wolfe (1963)
Le politiquement correct, que je surnomme PC, pour «police citoyenne», est né de l’idée marxiste que tout ce qui sépare socialement les êtres humains doit être banni pour éviter la domination d’un groupe social sur un autre. Par la suite, ironiquement, le politiquement correct est devenu l’instrument des «classes dominantes», l’idée d’une conduite appropriée pour mieux masquer leur «domination sociale» et se donner bonne conscience. Peu à peu, le politiquement correct est même devenu un marqueur de cette «domination» et un instrument de contrôle social, une manière de se distinguer des «ploucs» et de les censurer, de délégitimer leur vision du monde au nom de la morale. Les gens doivent désormais faire attention à ce qu’ils disent. C’est de pire en pire, en particulier dans les universités. (…) À travers Radical Chic, je décrivais l’émergence de ce qu’on appellerait aujourd’hui la «gauche caviar» ou le «progressisme de limousine», c’est-à-dire une gauche qui s’est largement affranchie de toute empathie pour la classe ouvrière américaine. Une gauche qui adore l’art contemporain, s’identifie aux causes exotiques et à la souffrance des minorités, mais méprise les «rednecks» de l’Ohio. Des Américains ont eu le sentiment que le Parti démocrate faisait tellement des pieds et des mains pour aller séduire les différentes minorités qu’il en arrivait à négliger une partie encore considérable de la population. A savoir cette partie ouvrière de la population qui, historiquement, a toujours été la moelle épinière du Parti démocrate. Durant cette élection, l’aristocratie démocrate a pris le parti de favoriser une coalition de minorités et d’exclure de ses préoccupations la classe ouvrière blanche. Et Donald Trump n’a plus eu qu’à se pencher pour ramasser tous ces électeurs et les rallier à sa candidature. Tom Wolfe
You thought you could skip out … of yourself and write American. Bech … let me ask you. Can you say the Lord’s prayer? … Well, ninety percent of the zhlubs around you can. It’s in their heads. They can rattle … the damn thing right off … how can you expect to write about people … when you don’t have a clue to the chozzerai … that’s in their heads … they stuck it out … but that God-awful faith … Bech … when it burns out … it leaves a dead spot. That’s where America is … in that dead spot. Em, Emily, that guy in the woods … Hem, Mel, Haw … they were there. No in thunder … the Big No. Jews don’t know how to say No. All we know is Yes. John Updike
The room begin to ascend. It lifted. It rose like an ark on waters. Lucy said inside her mind, “This chamber of Jews.” It seemed to her that the room was levitating on the little grains of the refugee’s whisper. She felt herself alone at the bottom, below the floorboards, while the room floated upward, carrying Jews. Why did it not take her too. Cynthia Ozick
Today, Newark is my Stockholm and that plaque is my prize. Philip Roth
Je ne pouvais écrire tout un livre sur Londres. En seulement huit semaines, l’Angleterre avait fait un juif de moi. (…) J’ai eu la gloire littéraire. J’ai eu la gloire sexuelle et j’ai même eu la gloire d’être pris pour un fou. J’ai reçu des centaines de lettres, une centaine par semaine, certaines d’entre elles accompagnées de photos de filles en bikinis. J’ai eu beaucoup d’occasions de rater ma vie. Philip Roth
His is an essential voice on what it meant to be a Jewish American at a time when Jews, and indeed other ethnics, were on their way to becoming white. Clement Price (Rutgers Newark)
“The Human Stain” was inspired, rather, by an unhappy event in the life of my late friend Melvin Tumin, professor of sociology at Princeton for some thirty years. One day in the fall of 1985, while Mel, who was meticulous in all things large and small, was meticulously taking the roll in a sociology class, he noted that two of his students had as yet not attended a single class session or attempted to meet with him to explain their failure to appear, though it was by then the middle of the semester. Having finished taking the roll, Mel queried the class about these two students whom he had never met. “Does anyone know these people? Do they exist or are they spooks?”—unfortunately, the very words that Coleman Silk, the protagonist of “The Human Stain,” asks of his classics class at Athena College in Massachusetts. Almost immediately Mel was summoned by university authorities to justify his use of the word “spooks,” since the two missing students, as it happened, were both African-American, and “spooks” at one time in America was a pejorative designation for blacks, spoken venom milder than “nigger” but intentionally degrading nonetheless. A witch hunt ensued during the following months from which Professor Tumin—rather like Professor Silk in “The Human Stain”—emerged blameless but only after he had to provide a number of lengthy depositions declaring himself innocent of the charge of hate speech. A myriad of ironies, comical and grave, abounded, as Mel had first come to nationwide prominence among sociologists, urban organizers, civil-rights activists, and liberal politicians with the 1959 publication of his groundbreaking sociological study “Desegregation: Resistance and Readiness,” and then, in 1967, with “Social Stratification: The Forms and Functions of Inequality,” which soon became a standard sociological text. Moreover, before coming to Princeton, he had been director of the Mayor’s Commission on Race Relations, in Detroit. Upon his death, in 1995, the headline above his New York Times obituary read “MELVIN M. TUMIN, 75, SPECIALIST IN RACE RELATIONS.” But none of these credentials counted for much when the powers of the moment sought to take down Professor Tumin from his high academic post for no reason at all, much as Professor Silk is taken down in “The Human Stain.” (…) As with the distinguished academic career of the main character of “The Human Stain,” Mel’s career, having extended for over forty years as a scholar and a teacher, was besmirched overnight because of his having purportedly debased two black students he’d never laid eyes on by calling them “spooks.” To the best of my knowledge, no event even remotely like this one blighted Broyard’s long, successful career at the highest reaches of the world of literary journalism. This “spooks” event is the initiating incident of “The Human Stain.” It is the core of the book. There is no novel without it. There is no Coleman Silk without it. Every last thing we learn about Coleman Silk over the course of three hundred and sixty-one pages begins with his unwarranted persecution for having uttered “spooks” aloud in a college classroom. In that one word, spoken by him altogether innocently, lies the source of Silk’s anger, his anguish, and his downfall. His heinous, needless persecution stems from that alone, as do his futile attempts at renewal and regeneration. All too ironically, that and not his enormous lifelong secret—he is the light-skinned offspring of a respectable black family from East Orange, New Jersey, one of the three children of a railroad dining-car porter and a registered nurse, who successfully passes himself off as white from the moment he enters the U.S. Navy at nineteen—is the cause of his humiliating demise. (…) Coleman Silk, on the other hand, is killed malevolently, murdered in a planned, prearranged car crash while driving with his unlikely mistress, Faunia Farley, a local farmhand and lowly janitor in the very college where he has been a highly esteemed dean. The revelations that flow from the specific circumstances of Silk’s murder stun his survivors and lead to the novel’s ominous conclusion on a desolate, iced-over lake where a showdown of sorts occurs between Nathan Zuckerman and Faunia and Coleman’s executioner, Faunia’s ex-husband, the tormented, violent Vietnam vet Les Farley. Neither Silk’s survivors nor his murderer nor his janitor mistress found their source anywhere other than in my imagination. (…) over the years, not a few people had wondered if, because of certain seemingly Negroid features—his lips, his hair, his skin tone—Mel Tumin, who was adamantly Jewish in the overwhelmingly Waspy Princeton of his era, might not be an African-American passing for white. This was another fact of Mel Tumin’s biography that fed into my early imaginings of “The Human Stain.” My protagonist, the academic Coleman Silk, and the real writer Anatole Broyard first passed themselves off as white men in the years before the civil-rights movement began to change the nature of being black in America. Those who chose to pass (this word, by the way, doesn’t appear in “The Human Stain”) imagined that they would not have to share in the deprivations, humiliations, insults, injuries, and injustices that would be more than likely to come their way should they leave their identities exactly as they’d found them. During the first half of the twentieth century, there wasn’t just Anatole Broyard alone—there were thousands, probably tens of thousands, of light-skinned men and women who decided to escape the rigors of institutionalized segregation and the ugliness of Jim Crow by burying for good their original black lives. Philip Roth
I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work, but we require secondary sources. The Wikipedia Administrator
D’Albuquerque à Séoul, de New York à Panama, de Londres à Lagos, Jean-Marie Le Clézio voyage, traverse et aime un grand nombre de pays, de gens, de civilisations, de cultures. Bernard Kouchner
Les statuts du Nobel parlent de récompenser une œuvre avec des idéaux et les livres de Le Clézio sont pleins d’humanité. Il est à cheval sur plusieurs cultures, l’Amérique latine, l’Afrique, l’Europe. Tout cela plait beaucoup à l’Académie. Editeur suédois
Les Etats-Unis sont trop isolés, ils ne traduisent pas assez et ils ne participent pas au dialogue des littératures. Cette ignorance les restreint. Il y a des auteurs forts dans toutes les grandes cultures mais vous ne pouvez pas écarter le fait que l’Europe est encore au centre du monde littéraire… pas les Etats-Unis.  Ils ne s’écartent pas suffisamment de la culture de masse qui prévaut sur leur continent. (…) En Europe vous pouvez bâtir votre œuvre, en toute tranquillité, sans crainte d’être battu à mort. Horace Engdahl
On pourrait penser que le premier secrétaire d’une académie qui a oublié de récompenser Proust, Joyce et Nabokov, nous épargnerait ses leçons de morale. David Remnick (New Yorker)
It reminds me a little bit of the Apollo space programme that Uganda instituted under the rule of Idi Amin, where they had rockets and so on, except that they were made out of balsa wood. It strikes me as a kind of publicity stunt for a prize that in recent years has demonstrated its fatuousness and political complexion with one political laureate after the next punctuated now and then by a VS Naipaul just to lend a patina of credibility. Roger Kimball (The New Criterion)
The Nobel has the great glamour. It also has the burden of being a kind of kiss of death. Many writers think it crowns your life effort and nothing that you do afterwards is as good. It is a mixed blessing. But your name is in the history books. Michael Dirda
Tout s’est passé très vite. Lorsqu’il publie «Portnoy» en 1959, il reçoit aussitôt le National Book Award. Mais il publie très rapidement une nouvelle dans le «New Yorker», «Défenseur de la foi», qui fait polémique. On l’accuse d’être un mauvais juif, un renégat. Les rabbins prennent violemment position contre lui. Il y en a même un qui déclare qu’au Moyen Age, «on savait quoi faire de ces gens-là». Roth est considéré comme un juif antisémite. Il faut dire qu’avec «Portnoy», où le héros se branle à tout-va, il avait aussi fait scandale. (…) Il me le disait toujours. Il se sentait sanctifié chez nous. Je lui ai apporté, en octobre dernier, le volume de la Pléiade qui lui est consacré. Il était très fier. Il voulait savoir si d’autres écrivains étaient rentrés de leur vivant dans la prestigieuse collection. Josyane Savigneau
According to the reproachful Yiddishists, who saw “Fiddler” as sentimentalizing and oversimplifying a rich and complex history, this was precisely where the musical went wrong. Decrying American Jews who “went wild” for the musical, Howe chided: “The less… they know about East European Jewish life or even the immigrant Jewish experience in America, the more inclined they seem to celebrate it.” Writer Cynthia Ozick condemned “Fiddler” for milking “nostalgia for a sweeter time, pogroms notwithstanding.” But what these critics couldn’t appreciate was that “Fiddler,”as Yiddish literary scholar Seth Wolitz has argued, was performing important cultural work for a community in the throes of rapid upward mobility, which they experienced as both thrilling success and threat to the preservation of familial ties and traditions. As Wolitz details, the changes made to the Sholom Aleichem stories worked to Americanize the material and to assert the mythos of Jewish adaptability and continuity. Bock, Harnick and Stein eliminated the most painful of the source stories (in “Shprintze,” for instance, one of Tevye’s daughters drowns herself). They turned Chava’s brutish gentile husband into a decent fellow who repudiates prejudice. Unlike the end of the “Tevye der Milkhiger” stories, which leave the hero wandering aimlessly and alone, with his wife dead and his daughters variously departed, in “Fiddler” he and most of his family are heading to America. As Wolitz notes, “Fiddler” presented Jews as already having adopted the American ideals of tolerance and individual rights in Anatevka. Like pilgrims, they needed to escape religious persecution and come to this promised land in order for those values to find fulfillment. And “Fiddler” managed to appeal as powerfully to non-Jews. While Jewish spectators could recognize the Sabbath candle lighting, the wedding chupah and other familiar markers of Jewish practice presented in the play, their gentile counterparts were given ample clues for making sense of such activities while connecting to the broader issues of generational conflict, the pressures of modernity and the evils of bigotry. In a deliberate effort to keep the show widely accessible, its writers proudly avoided using Yiddish. In the few instances in which it does turn up, it is thoroughly, even redundantly, explained: “To life, to life, l’chaim! L’chaim, l’chaim, to life.” (And they were furious when, a couple of months into the run, Zero Mostel began shticking it up with Yiddish ad-libs.) Librettist Stein delighted in telling an anecdote about the 1960s-era premiere in Tokyo: A local producer asked him whether Americans could really understand ‘Fiddler’ given that “it’s so Japanese.” Today, however, “Fiddler” is hoarded as the exclusive property of Jews, and not only by those who rejected the 2004 production. Wolitz argued that in 1964, “Fiddler on the Roof” helped American Jews consolidate their Americanness. He was right. But, as I’ll explore next week, these days it helps them firm up their Jewishness. Alisa Solomon
You could say he was protesting too much. I think he expressed to perfection the experience of the generation of American Jews who were assimilating rapidly. I belong to that generation. I came at the tag end of it, really. In 1964 or ’65, Fiddler on the Roof was produced on Broadway. And Fiddler on the Roof is really a musical about intermarriage. Coincidentally or not, that was the moment when American Jews began to intermarry in great numbers, and the feeling of a very separate identity of American Jews was totally transformed. I think Roth describes that pre-Fiddler moment of separateness, and is very moving and engaging about it. I think not only people who grew up as Jews and remember that time, but any immigrant population or minority population or religious population that grew up within a separate community and then broke out of it and saw it change, I think will identify with that. Elaine Showalter
Ironie du sort, l’écrivain américain disparaît l’année du report du prestigieux prix littéraire, pour cause de scandale sexuel en son sein. (…) Messieurs les Jurés du Nobel, apprenez que Philip Roth a désormais sa place dans la Pléiade à côté de William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway et Francis Scott Fitzgerald. Mais aussi – et surtout – de Franz Kafka et de Milan Kundera auxquels le lient le rire et l’angoisse. Bob Dylan ne peut pas en dire autant. Certes, un peu avare de son papier bible, comme c’est désormais l’usage, la maison Gallimard n’a retenu que cinq livres pour ce premier volume couvrant les années 1959 à 1977. Mais ne boudons pas notre plaisir, la lecture suivie de Goodbye, Colombus, la Plainte de Portnoy, le Sein, Ma vie d’homme et Professeur de désir permet de nous souvenir du choc que fut la révélation d’un écrivain dans l’Amérique du président Nixon. C’était en 1969, lorsque a paru Portnoy’s Complaint, dont les éditeurs ont revu la traduction et changé le titre français. (…) Près d’un demi-siècle après sa publication, cette peinture de la petite bourgeoisie juive américaine et la mise en scène de l’obsession sexuelle en terre puritaine demeure hilarante. Long monologue d’un homme assis en face de son psychiatre, c’est un livre envoûtant, jubilatoire, provocateur, excentrique, tendre et méchant à la fois, qui désacralise la culture hébraïque en exaltant ce que le critique russe Mikhaïl Bakhtine a nommé « le bas corporel » à propos de l’œuvre de Rabelais. (…) Dès son premier livre, Roth a choqué les juifs conservateurs et les chaisières bien-pensantes, mais, immédiatement, il a été reconnu par ses aînés Saul Bellow et William Styron comme un écrivain « du bâtiment ». C’est d’ailleurs chez Styron que l’a rencontré le romancier français Michel Mohrt qui l’a fait publier à Paris, comme il avait auparavant fait publier Robert Penn Warren et Jack Kerouac. (…) Il y a beaucoup de juifs ridicules et de femmes stupides et désirables dans l’œuvre de Philip Roth. Pour les juifs, ceux qu’il met en scène dans Goobye, Colombus ne sont pas à leur avantage. Pour les femmes, il n’y a que Claire qui soit en pleine lumière dans Professeur de désir. Dès l’origine, cet art qu’il a de forcer dans l’épouvante a suscité des malentendus. Après la parution de Portnoy’s Complaint, les coups les plus durs sont venus des milieux juifs. Un critique du magazine Midstream a ainsi accusé le romancier d’avoir repris les clichés de Goebbels sur le juif prédateur sexuel désireux de souiller l’univers des gentils. C’est toujours et partout la même histoire : on n’est jamais moins bien servi que par les siens. (…) Dans l’œuvre de Roth, les situations d’énonciation sont plus subtiles que ne l’ont cru ceux qui, à l’époque de ses premiers livres, l’ont trop rapidement taxé d’antisémitisme et de misogynie. Il ne faut pas oublier que parmi ses saints patrons figure Gustave Flaubert, ce même Flaubert qui jurait : « Madame Bovary, c’est moi. » De même que William Faulkner n’est pas seulement dans les petits Blancs racistes mis en scène dans ses romans, mais aussi dans le corps et l’âme de Lena Grove de Lumière d’août, dans le corps et l’âme des Noirs du comté de Yoknapatawpha qui ont duré et enduré, durent et endurent encore, Philip Roth n’est pas tout entier dans l’ironie grinçante de ses narrateurs. Il est dans chacun de ses personnages, hommes et femmes, juifs et gentils, en marche à travers les contrariétés et les insuffisances de la vie vers un lieu de repos, un royaume de lumière et de paix qui ressemblerait à l’enfance. Alors, messieurs les Jurés du Nobel, convaincus ? Marianne
Il refusait d’être qualifié d’écrivain juif américain. Il disait : « Je suis écrivain américain tout court ». Mais, il a quand même totalement interrogé la question juive, notamment la question de la sexualité. C’est ça qui lui a valu d’être un écrivain scandaleux. La communauté trouvait qu’il parlait mal des juifs, ils le traitaient de mauvais juif. Ça s’est arrangé très récemment. Pour ses 80 ans, il y a eu une grande célébration pour dire tout ce que son œuvre avait apporté à la littérature américaine, dans la grande synagogue de New York. [le Nobel] C’était devenu un gag, ça le faisait rire. Vous savez, il faut arrêter de fantasmer sur le Nobel. Est-ce que Proust a eu le Nobel ? Non. Il écrivait des choses trop sexuelles pour ces gens-là. Josyane Savigneau
Beaucoup d’encre, beaucoup de salive auront été dépensées pour commenter le commentaire présidentiel présidant à sa philosophie sur les banlieues françaises: «deux mâles blancs ne vivant pas dans les banlieues se remettent un rapport sur les banlieues: ça ne marche plus comme ça». Mais l’essentiel n’a peut-être été dit, car il relève de l’indicible. (…) Étrange au demeurant, la propension de cet homme intelligent et sympathique à ne pas savoir, de temps à autre, maîtriser son propos. Celui-ci, et nous verrons pourquoi, est à classer dans la même catégorie que sa sortie sur la colonisation française qui serait un crime contre l’humanité. Certes, un esprit retors pourrait être conduit à penser que ce boniment serait de nature, pour pas cher, à consoler ceux qui espéraient que l’État à nouveau, écoutant M. Borloo, tenterait d’acheter vainement la paix sociale – et apparemment raciale – à-coup de milliards à nouveau déversés en pure perte, mais dans cette hypothèse, le prix que devront payer à terme pour cette gaffe le gaffeur et son pays aura été sous-estimé. (…) Car ce n’est pas Mme Michu, gardienne d’immeuble, qui a prononcé la phrase querellée, c’est le président, gardien de cette Constitution de la République Française qui interdit toute distinction de droits au regard de l’origine, de l’ethnie ou de la couleur de peau. (…) C’est bien pour cela qu’au premier sous-sol, la sortie du gardien relève de la faute, en ce qu’elle revient en creux a déclarer que les blancs n’ont plus vraiment leur mot à dire dans les quartiers racisés. C’est exactement la conception des Indigènes de la République, dirigés par la raciste anti-blanc Houria Bouteldja. C’est celle aussi du très controversé «conseiller» Yassine Belattar, qui avait animé un dîner de gala du CCIF et qui, lors d’une récente émission de télévision, évoquait les djihadistes français avec cette indulgence avec laquelle on a coutume de traiter des enfants bêtisiers. Considérer désormais que certains, dans certains quartiers des territoires de la République française, pour des questions ethniques, sont plus qualifiés que d’autres pour gérer les affaires, revient donc à accréditer le risque de partition territoriale que François Hollande, la nuit tombée, évoquait auprès de deux journalistes d’un journal vespéral. Le prédécesseur de M. Macron associait cette crainte au caractère massif et irrésistible de l’immigration étrangère. (…) Mais l’essentiel (…) est, d’abord, dans l’évocation expresse de la différence chromatique. J’évoque souvent ce paradoxe pervers qui fait qu’il n’y a pas plus obsédé par la différence raciale qu’un antiraciste dévot qui interdit par ailleurs d’évoquer la race tout en en parlant sans cesse de manière compulsive. Mais il y a une condition expresse à cette évocation sans complexe du blanc: en parler négativement. Il ne serait pas arrivé au cerveau du président d’évoquer la couleur d’un Français blanc pour le complimenter, par exemple, pour un exploit sportif. Mais pour dénier à deux hommes blancs la compétence à statuer sur les banlieues, la chose était possible sans commettre une transgression médiatiquement, intellectuellement et politiquement insupportable. On comparera avec le scandale médiatique provoqué par une femme politique de moindre envergure, non sous les ors de l’Élysée mais dans une émission de télévision, lorsque celle-ci reprit la sortie du général De Gaulle sur les racines blanches et chrétiennes du peuple français. De même, pour se persuader de ce que le surmoi présidentiel rejoint l’idéologie médiatique sélective, on remarquera que la trivialité insolente de l’expression «mâle blanc» ne choque pas l’inconscient collectif. En revanche, je n’envie pas le sort du malheureux responsable politique qui aurait l’idée obscène d’évoquer «deux femelles noires» pour critiquer la remise d’un rapport de Laura Flessel à Christiane Taubira… (…) Quand on le voit, quand on l’imagine en blanc, quand on le montre, c’est ce flic qui enfonce une matraque dans le séant d’un noir, ce ne sont pas deux policiers qui se font lyncher à la Saint-Sylvestre à Champigny-sur-Marne par des racailles. Le mâle blanc, c’est aussi, dans l’inconscient médiatique, le macho. C’est lui la bête noire des nouvelles féministes et pas l’Autre. Et tant pis pour les femmes de Cologne ou les petites anglaises violées de Telford par des mâles pakistanais. Sous le mâle blanc, le racisme inconscient anti-blanc ou anti-occidental. Mais attention, sous la bourde présidentielle, sous l’irresponsabilité politique du premier de nos responsables, pourrait couver les cendres d’un retour de flamme. (…) Un pseudo-antiracisme fou inconsciemment anti-blanc aura réussi le triste exploit, aussi bien aux États-Unis qu’en Europe, de redonner une conscience blanche à ceux qui avaient pourtant mille fois raison de l’avoir oubliée pour ne penser qu’à une seule humanité. Attention à ces exaspérés qui se sentent expurgés de leur propre nation par ceux qui ont l’obsession de la race et du racisme. Gilles-William Goldnadel 
Ce roman de Philip Roth qui appartient à sa «trilogie américaine» se présente comme un campus novel mais dépasse très largement le genre pour dire de l’Amérique toute la complexité de ce que l’on pourrait nommer sa question identitaire dont la question noire est le coeur, irréductible et incommensurable à toute autre. Au-delà de l’extraordinaire sophistication des personnages de Roth, de leur complexité psychologique et du détail apporté à leur comportement dans des situations banales de la vie, on lit dans La Tache, toute la difficulté américaine à surmonter sa question identitaire. Avec le sentiment que depuis une vingtaine d’années, ça ne s’est pas particulièrement arrangé. Ce roman qui date de 2000 n’est pas visionnaire à proprement parler, car il ne dit au fond que ce qui était déjà à l’œuvre depuis des années sur les campus américains, et notamment dans les départements de littérature et de sciences humaines. L’essai qui a pour la première fois exposé l’ampleur et la profondeur du problème de ce qu’on appelle historiquement la political correctness (le politiquement correct) dans le monde académique date de 1987, c’est The Closing of the American Mind (L’Âme désarmée) d’Allan Bloom. Mais le roman de Roth témoigne du caractère tragique de tout cela, des conséquences que cela peut avoir non seulement sur «l’esprit» américain mais sur la vie des hommes eux-mêmes et de là sur toute une partie de la culture, sur les humanités, sur la civilisation… Les débats en la matière portent depuis les années 1980 aussi bien sur les auteurs acceptables ou non en fonction de leur «identité» (les mauvaises qualifications étaient celles de mâle, blanc, hétérosexuel, occidental, mort…) que sur le vocabulaire qu’on a le droit d’employer ou non pour désigner les uns et les autres: c’est d’ailleurs le cas dans le roman de Roth puisque tous les malheurs de Silk partent de l’interprétation du terme «spook» (traduit en français par «zombie») qu’il utilise un jour pour désigner deux étudiants absents de son séminaire qui se trouvent être des étudiants noirs. Ceux qui l’accuseront de racisme. (…) c’est évidemment une critique de la manière dont, à travers ce politiquement correct, le fait du pluralisme culturel, structurant de l’histoire américaine depuis ses origines, est devenu peu à peu un multiculturalisme normatif. En passant du constat, historique et sociologique, d’une diversité des origines, des cultures, des coutumes… à l’idée que non seulement cette diversité est intrinsèquement supérieure à toute idée d’unité – rappelons que la devise américaine originelle est «E Pluribus Unum» (de plusieurs un seul) – et qu’elle doit donc devenir obligatoire, dans les usages voire dans le droit. Et donc qu’à partir de là, dans toute la société – ce mouvement a commencé sur les campus, au coeur du réacteur de l’éducation à l’américaine, dans les années 1980 -, on doit se plier à cette injonction multiculturaliste. (…) Le multiculturalisme se met dès lors à fonctionner comme une idéologie. Et Roth en montre très bien le mécanisme implacable qui se déploie à partir du propos a priori anodin de Silk sur les deux étudiants absents. Tout y est en suite: l’engrenage dont il ne peut sortir malgré la réalité des faits ; la lâcheté de certains de ses collègues et la collaboration active pour d’autres à sa mise au ban de la communauté académique ; la construction de tout un discours de justification et de légitimation d’actes pourtant totalement déraisonnables… Tout cela au nom d’une «idée». C’est assurément un des grands romans de l’entrée du monde dans l’âge identitaire, celui où les identités individualisées sont exacerbées par le développement à la fois des revendications politiques et sociales en leur nom, de reconnaissance par le droit notamment, et de leur médiatisation générale et permanente. L’âge identitaire, c’est cet âge de l’humanité où malgré la liberté individuelle, la démocratie, l’égalité et l’universalité des droits…, le fait d’être victime ou bourreau, dominé ou dominant, etc., n’est plus défini et déterminé par ce que l’on fait, dit, pense… mais par ce que l’on est. Et Roth est en effet un des premiers écrivains à nous alerter sur le risque considérable pour l’humanité de l’Homme qu’il y a à suivre une telle pente. La destruction de la vie de Silk pour une raison purement idéologique, dont la mort de sa femme est le point culminant, nous renvoie au caractère tragique, et pas seulement ridicule ou absurde, de l’âge identitaire. (…) Qu’un des plus grands écrivains de ces cinquante dernières années n’ait pas eu le prix Nobel en dit surtout long sur ce prix et sur sa valeur. Si c’est la misogynie supposée de Roth qui lui a barré la route de Stockholm, alors il ne faut surtout pas regretter qu’il ait été privé de ce prix. (…) Wolfe avait lui aussi écrit un campus novel en 2004: I am Charlotte Simmons (Moi Charlotte Simmons) pour montrer la puissance de la norme dans le monde académique – dont fait partie le politiquement correct -, côté étudiant cette fois. Il le faisait sans doute avec une intention bien plus politiquement déterminée que Roth, héritée de ses années de journaliste, contre les postures et les hypocrisies, de la gauche américaine notamment. Son essai Radical Chic (Le Gauchisme de Park Avenue) de 1970 est une œuvre inaugurale de la dérive de cette Américaine saisie par les affres des revendications identitaires. (…) Avec Wolfe et Roth, nous avons perdu en quelques jours deux des grandes voix qui nous permettaient, depuis 50 ans et depuis les Etats-Unis, de «comprendre que les choses sont sans espoir et être pourtant décidé à les changer» suivant la recommandation d’un autre grand écrivain américain, Francis Scott Fitzgerald (dans Gatsby). Laurent Bouvet

Qu’est-ce que ce club qui m’admet comme membre?

En ces temps de politiquement correct galopant …

Où entre deux prudences de gazelles sur la montée de la violence, de l’islamisation et de l’antisémitisme de nombre de quartiers de nos villes, un président français se lâche sur les « mâles blancs »

Comment ne pas voir l’incroyable ironie …

De la disparition – à quelques jours de celle de l’autre grand anticonformiste Tom Wolfe – l’année même du report de son report pour cause de scandale sexuel en son sein, de l’éternel recalé du prix Nobel parce qu’américain et trop sexuel …

Et devant ce rejet de la part de ce monument de politiquement correct qu’était devenu l’Académie suédoise

Qui pour la sacro-sainte « ouverture aux autres » d’une Pearl Buck, d’un Le Clézio ou d’un Bob Dylan, avait superbement ignoré un Proust, un Joyce ou un Nabokov …

Ne pas repenser à l’éternel dilemme et à la notoire ambivalence de l’immigré en voie d’intégration …

Si génialement résumés dans la célébrissime formule d’un autre fils d’immigré juif …

Qui lui aussi face au curieux mélange d’hostilité et d’admiration d’un T.S. Eliot ou d’un Updike

Avait, on s’en souvient, poussé la volonté d’assimilation parfaite…

Jusqu’à « refuser de faire partie d’un club qui était prêt à l’admettre parmi ses membres » ?

Philip Roth ou la malédiction du prix Nobel
Boycotté parce qu’Américain, l’écrivain, dont la carrière fut longue et brillante, fut décrié par certains membres de l’Académie suédoise pour avoir commis des romans à la sexualité débridée voire «perverse»
Bruno Corty
Le Figaro
23/05/2018

On a beau entendre ici et là que Philip Roth avait fini par prendre à la rigolade sa situation d’éternel recalé du prix Nobel de littérature, on a du mal à y croire. Cet oubli fut scandaleux. Pour l’écrivain américain en premier lieu, dont la carrière fut longue (1959-2010) et brillante, couronnée par tous les grands prix de la planète, du National Book Award à deux reprises (1960 et 1995) au prix Prince des Asturies (2012), en passant par le Pulitzer (1998), le prix Franz-Kafka (2001) ou le prix Médicis étranger (2002). Pour la littérature américaine ensuite, qui, depuis Toni Morrison en 1993, non seulement n’a plus eu de lauréat mais fut la cible préférée d’Horace Engdahl, secrétaire perpétuel de l’Académie suédoise qui revendiqua ce choix à l’Associated Press en octobre 2008: «Il y a des auteurs forts dans toutes les grandes cultures mais vous ne pouvez pas écarter le fait que l’Europe est encore au centre du monde littéraire. Les États-Unis sont trop insulaires et isolés, ils ne traduisent pas assez et ne participent pas au dialogue des littératures. Cette ignorance les restreint.»

Ce point de vue grotesque souleva un tollé et lui valut par exemple cette réponse de David Remnick, rédacteur en chef du New Yorker : «On pourrait penser que le premier secrétaire d’une académie qui a oublié de récompenser Proust, Joyce et Nabokov nous épargnerait ses leçons de morale.» Et Remnick d’enfoncer le clou: «S’il y regardait de plus près, Horace Engdahl remarquerait le dynamisme de la génération de Roth et d’Updike, et de celle de romanciers encore plus jeunes d’origine immigrée.»

Comme s’il n’était pas suffisant de le boycotter parce qu’Américain, Philip Roth fut décrié par certains membres du jury pour avoir commis des romans à la sexualité débridée voire «perverse». Un procès assez savoureux quand on voit que cette même institution moralisatrice est aujourd’hui au bord du chaos après la révélation d’un scandale sexuel étouffé pendant des années par plusieurs de ses membres.

La désignation du chanteur Bob Dylan comme lauréat du prix en 2016 fut un sommet d’absurdité et de provocation. «Vous vouliez un Américain, en voilà un», semblait ricaner l’Académie suédoise, claquant ainsi la porte au nez des géants de la littérature américaine et mondiale, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates.

Voir aussi:

Ne pas avoir le prix Nobel, « ça faisait rire » Philip Roth, « c’était devenu un gag », raconte l’écrivaine Josyane Savigneau
L’écrivain américain Philip Roth est mort, mardi, à l’âge de 85 ans. Il n’a jamais obtenu le prix Nobel de littérature. « Il écrivait des choses trop sexuelles pour ces gens-là », estime Josyane Savigneau, sur franceinfo.
Franceinfo
23/05/2018

L’un des grands noms de la littérature est mort. Philip Roth s’est éteint mardi, à 85 ans, après une carrière de 50 ans marquée par de grands classiques. Josyane Savigneau, ancienne directrice du Monde des Livres pour le journal Le Monde, l’avait rencontré à plusieurs reprises. « Quand il écrivait, c’était quelqu’un d’assez rude parce qu’il était très concentré sur son travail« , a-t-elle raconté mercredi 23 mai sur franceinfo.

franceinfo : Qui était Philippe Roth ?

Josyane Savigneau : C’était un grand, c’est sûr. Il a interrogé comme personne les Etats-Unis de la seconde moitié du XXe siècle. Il refusait d’être qualifié d’écrivain juif américain. Il disait : « Je suis écrivain américain tout court ». Mais, il a quand même totalement interrogé la question juive, notamment la question de la sexualité. C’est ça qui lui a valu d’être un écrivain scandaleux. La communauté trouvait qu’il parlait mal des juifs, ils le traitaient de mauvais juif. Ça s’est arrangé très récemment. Pour ses 80 ans, il y a eu une grande célébration pour dire tout ce que son œuvre avait apporté à la littérature américaine, dans la grande synagogue de New York.

Comment s’est passée votre rencontre avec Philippe Roth ?

Il était très désagréable, il n’aimait pas les journalistes. On avait essayé de me dissuader. On m’avait dit, il aime draguer les filles mais tu es déjà trop vieille pour lui. Donc, je l’ai trouvé absolument odieux et j’ai dit que plus jamais je n’irai voir ce type. Finalement, j’ai dit que je ne le reverrai jamais et je l’ai revu, ça s’est arrangé et nous sommes devenus amis.

Comment était-il ?

Quand il écrivait c’était quelqu’un d’assez rude parce qu’il était très concentré sur son travail. Je l’ai vu pour la dernière fois en octobre et il m’a dit, tu vois maintenant je suis devenu gentil et ennuyeux. Je lui ai dit ennuyeux sûrement pas mais gentil, c’est vrai. Mais, je préférais quand vous écriviez et que vous n’étiez pas gentil. Il avait dans la vie, comme dans ses livres, un humour absolument incroyable.

Philippe Roth n’a jamais eu le Nobel. Est-ce que cela le gênait ?
C’était devenu un gag, ça le faisait rire. Vous savez, il faut arrêter de fantasmer sur le Nobel. Est-ce que Proust a eu le Nobel ? Non. Il écrivait des choses trop sexuelles pour ces gens-là.

Voir également:

Les auteurs américains trop ignorants pour le Nobel ?</strong
C.J (lefigaro.fr) avec AP
Le Figaro
01/10/2008

C’est l’avis du secrétaire perpétuel de l’académie suédoise qui juge la littérature américaine incapable d’être à la hauteur des écrivains européens. Colère des intéressés.

Philip Roth, auteur entre autres de la «Tache» et la «Bête qui meurt», n’est pas prêt de décrocher cette année le prix Nobel de Littérature, si Horace Engdahl, le secrétaire perpétuel de l’académie suédoise, l’institution qui décerne la récompense, a son mot à dire. «Les Etats-Unis sont trop isolés, ils ne traduisent pas assez et ils ne participent pas au dialogue des littératures. Cette ignorance les restreint», a asséné le professeur émérite de littérature scandinave à l’université d’Aarhus dans un entretien exclusif à l’agence de presse AP.

«Il y a des auteurs forts dans toutes les grandes cultures mais vous ne pouvez pas écarter le fait que l’Europe est encore au centre du monde littéraire… pas les Etats-Unis», a enchaîné Horace Engdahl qui regrette que les auteurs américains contemporains «ne s’écartent pas suffisamment de la culture de masse qui prévaut sur leur continent». Le professeur polyglotte vante également le continent européen comme une terre d’exil qui sait «respecter l’indépendance de la littérature». «En Europe vous pouvez bâtir votre œuvre, en toute tranquillité, sans crainte d’être battu à mort», a-t-il défendu.«Envoyer une liste de lecture à Engdahl»

Autant de remarques qui ont fait bondir des spécialistes américains de littérature. «Mettez moi en contact avec lui et je lui enverrais une liste d’ouvrages à lire», a riposté le responsable de la Fondation nationale américaine du Livre. «On pourrait penser que le premier secrétaire d’une académie qui a oublié de récompenser Proust, Joyce et Nabokov, nous épargnerait ses leçons de morale», a raillé David Remnick, rédacteur en chef au New Yorker. «S’il y regardait de plus près, Horace Engdahl remarquerait le dynamisme de la génération de Roth et d’Updike et celle de romanciers encore plus jeunes d’origine immigrée. Aucune de ces pauvres âmes ne me semble détruite par les ravages du coca-cola», a conclu le journaliste très en verve.

La saison des prix Nobel va commencer la semaine prochaine avec l’annonce lundi du lauréat en médecine. Le Nobel de littérature devrait être dévoilé jeudi prochain mais la révélation pourrait prendre quelques semaines de retard. «L’académie aura peut-être besoin de temps pour se décider», a prévenu Horace Engdahl. Coté américain, les noms de Philip Roth et Joyce Carol Oates («Blonde», «Eux», «Mère disparue») reviennent chaque année comme possible vainqueur. Le dernier écrivain d’outre-Atlantique à avoir remporté le prix a été Toni Morrison, en 1993. Avant l’auteur de «Beloved», trois autres écrivains américains ont eu les honneurs du plus prestigieux prix littéraire : Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway et John Steinbeck.

Voir de même:

Le Nobel pour Le Clézio: les réactions américaines sont mitigées…
L’Obs
10 octobre 2008

C’était il y a dix jours. L’Académie suédoise déclarait que les auteurs américains étaient trop «isolés» et «ignorants»pour rivaliser avec la littérature européenne. Horace Engdhal, son secrétaire perpétuel, affirmait alors: «l’Europe est au centre du monde littéraire… pas les Etats-Unis». Il était prévisible que ça ne plairait pas à tout le monde. Depuis, le prix Nobel a été remis à J.M.G. Le Clézio. Petit tour d’horizon des réactions dans la presse outre-Atlantique.

Pas rancunier, le «New York Times» publiait hier un article élogieux sur l’auteur français, qu’il présentait, à l’encontre du reproche d’«insularité» adressé aux écrivains US, comme un nomade, un voyageur, un homme cosmopolite. Pas d’amertume, donc, mais un portrait flatteur de Le Clézio, «figure majeure de la littérature européenne», pourtant peu connu aux Etats-Unis. Après avoir mentionné les lieux de l’enfance de cet «auteur de l’exil, du clash de la civilisation moderne et des cultures traditionnelles», et rappelé son expérience de professeur à Mexico City, Bangkok, Albuquerque ou encore Boston, l’article cite Antoine Compagnon, qui confirme que l’œuvre du Nobel 2008 est «ouverte aux autres, aux cultures, au Sud, aux minorités». Le quotidien rapporte également les propos de François Fillon, pour qui le prix «consacre la littérature française, et réfute la théorie d’un prétendu déclin de la culture française».

Selon le «Boston Herald», le choix de Le Clézio est une décision cohérente par rapport aux  années précédentes, au cours desquelles le jury du Nobel a largement préféré des auteurs européens. Le journal revient plus précisément sur la polémique en évoquant des «jours de débats au vitriol afin de savoir si le jury était anti-américain ou non», et redonne la parole à Engdhal, qui revenait, après le prix, sur la controverse: «J’ai été très surpris que la réaction soit si violente. Je ne pense pas que mes propos étaient dérogatoires ou sensationnels». Tout en admettant avoir, peut-être, un peu trop «généralisé».

Engdhal a ajouté n’avoir aucune idée concernant les futures réactions des Etats-Unis sur le choix de Le Clézio, mais a avancé: «il n’est pas un auteur particulièrement français, si on le considère d’un point de vue strictement culturel. Je ne pense pas que ce choix provoquera des commentaires anti-français. Je serais très triste si c’était le cas». Et le «Boston Herald» de citer également Sarkozy, pour qui «Jean-Marie le Clézio est un citoyen du monde, le fils de tous les continents et de toutes les cultures».

Toujours à propos de cet auteur «largement inconnu aux Etats-Unis», le «L.A. Times» a cité la réaction de Bernard Kouchner: «D’Albuquerque à Séoul, de New York à Panama, de Londres à Lagos, Jean-Marie Le Clézio voyage, traverse et aime un grand nombre de pays, de gens, de civilisations, de cultures». Mais c’était pour ajouter, un peu déçu, ce commentaire: «Encore une fois, l’Académie a refusé de choisir les géants littéraires les plus connus, qui mériteraient d’être honorés, comme l’auteur péruvien Mario Vargas Llosa et l’américain Philip Roth».

L’«International Herald Tribune» est plus acerbe encore. Il rappelle qu’aucun auteur américain n’a reçu le prix depuis Toni Morrison en 1993, et «qu’on ne s’attendait pas à ce que l’un d’eux soit récompensé cette année». Le journal présente perfidement Le Clézio comme un auteur «inconnu du public américain et de la plupart de la communauté littéraire américaine, bien qu’il ait une maison à Albuquerque, New Mexico». Précisant que ses rares livres traduits en anglais sont épuisés, l’article dérive sur les chiffres de vente des auteurs étrangers sur le continent américain: «moins de 1% des livres étrangers sont traduits aux Etats-Unis» parce que «la plupart des intellectuels américains parlent uniquement anglais».

Ses prévisions sur l’avenir de Le Clézio aux Etats-Unis sont pessimistes: «Le prix fera certainement augmenter les ventes de Le Clézio aux Etats-Unis, mais ça ne durera pas. Les gagnants qui vendent le plus sont ceux qui écrivent en anglais». Plus loin: «même certains des Américains les plus informés ont avoué qu’ils ne l’ont pas lu». Parmi eux figure d’ailleurs Harold Augenbraum, responsable de la fondation américaine du livre. Celui-là même qui avait proposé à Engdahl, après sa déclaration, de lui envoyer une liste de suggestion d’auteurs américains.

Voir de plus:

Disparition
Philip Roth est mort sans prix Nobel
Sébastien Lapaque
Marianne
23/05/2018

On prédisait depuis des années à l’inventeur de « Portnoy » le plus prestigieux des prix littéraires. Philip Roth a fini par mourir, ce mardi 22 mai, avant que se décide le jury du Nobel, justement reporté cette année pour cause de scandale sexuel en son sein. Nous republions ici le plaidoyer paru l’an dernier en son nom dans « Marianne ».

Philippe Roth est mort ce mardi 22 mai – d’une défaillance cardiaque, selon son amie Judith Thurman dans le New York Times – à l’âge de 85 ans, six ans après avoir arrêté l’écriture et sans jamais avoir obtenu le Prix Nobel pour lequel il avait été si souvent cité. Ironie du sort, l’écrivain américain disparaît l’année du report du prestigieux prix littéraire, pour cause de scandale sexuel en son sein. L’article ci-dessous est initialement paru en novembre 2017 dans le numéro de Marianne 1077.

Messieurs les Jurés du Nobel, apprenez que Philip Roth a désormais sa place dans la Pléiade à côté de William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway et Francis Scott Fitzgerald. Mais aussi – et surtout – de Franz Kafka et de Milan Kundera auxquels le lient le rire et l’angoisse. Bob Dylan ne peut pas en dire autant. Certes, un peu avare de son papier bible, comme c’est désormais l’usage, la maison Gallimard n’a retenu que cinq livres pour ce premier volume couvrant les années 1959 à 1977. Mais ne boudons pas notre plaisir, la lecture suivie de Goodbye, Colombus, la Plainte de Portnoy, le Sein, Ma vie d’homme et Professeur de désir permet de nous souvenir du choc que fut la révélation d’un écrivain dans l’Amérique du président Nixon. C’était en 1969, lorsque a paru Portnoy’s Complaint, dont les éditeurs ont revu la traduction et changé le titre français.

« J’avais soif de me libérer dans un livre franchement comique. Il ne m’était pas arrivé de rire depuis longtemps », se souviendra plus tard l’écrivain américain. Près d’un demi-siècle après sa publication, cette peinture de la petite bourgeoisie juive américaine et la mise en scène de l’obsession sexuelle en terre puritaine demeure hilarante. Long monologue d’un homme assis en face de son psychiatre, c’est un livre envoûtant, jubilatoire, provocateur, excentrique, tendre et méchant à la fois, qui désacralise la culture hébraïque en exaltant ce que le critique russe Mikhaïl Bakhtine a nommé « le bas corporel » à propos de l’œuvre de Rabelais. Dans une Amérique qui écrasait dans le sang les émeutes raciales et pulvérisait le Vietnam à coups de bombes incendiaires, refusant toute dénonciation militante, Philip Roth a repris la vieille opposition entre Héraclite et Démocrite, combattant la colère, l’un en pleurant, l’autre en riant. A partir de ce monde atroce, il avait choisi de rire en pleurs.

« COMÉDIE HUMAINE » YANKEE

Les lecteurs qui découvriront la Plainte de Portnoy à l’occasion de sa publication dans La Pléiade conviendront de son caractère hypnotique. Allongé sur le divan, le truculent Alex Portnoy parle, parle, parle, sans s’arrêter. De sa mère castratrice, de son père sans caractère, de sa sœur angoissée, des interdits sexuels, de l’Amérique Wasp, de la lourde mémoire de la Shoah, de ses branlettes frénétiques, d’un cousin mort à la guerre dans le Pacifique, des majorettes lubriques, des filles qui sucent et de celles qui ne sucent pas, de ses tentatives avortées de faire un petit-enfant juif à ses parents, des maladies vénériennes et de son travail à la mairie de New York où il est « commissaire adjoint à la promotion de l’homme ». Incapable de se libérer de l’emprise psychologique de sa mère, Portnoy est prisonnier du sexe. Et le proclame sans apprêt.

« Ai-je mentionné que, lorsque j’avais 15 ans, je l’avais sortie de mon pantalon et m’étais branlé dans l’autobus 107 en revenant de New York ? » Mais le caractère érotique du roman, qui a charmé ou scandalisé la critique de part et d’autre de l’Atlantique lors de sa sortie, ne doit pas occulter ses nombreuses autres énergies de sens. Malgré des titres de chapitre volontairement provocateurs – « La Branlette », « Fou de la chatte » -, les passages hilarants du roman ne concernent pas la seule activité subabdominale du narrateur. On songe au fantasme que constitue pour lui la dégustation d’un crustacé invertébré depuis que sa mère l’a mise en garde : « Le monde est plein de choses qui sont bonnes à manger, Alex, sans toucher une horreur comme un homard et risquer de garder les mains paralysées pour le reste de son existence.»

Dans Portnoy, on retrouve ainsi ce que Philip Roth a commencé à mettre en place dès Goobye, Colombus, recueil de nouvelles paru l’année de ses 26 ans : un petit monde cohérent, une façon de Comédie humaine américaine écrite par un prince de la bohème ne rechignant jamais à en rajouter dans le comique. Dès son premier livre, Roth a choqué les juifs conservateurs et les chaisières bien-pensantes, mais, immédiatement, il a été reconnu par ses aînés Saul Bellow et William Styron comme un écrivain « du bâtiment ». C’est d’ailleurs chez Styron que l’a rencontré le romancier français Michel Mohrt qui l’a fait publier à Paris, comme il avait auparavant fait publier Robert Penn Warren et Jack Kerouac. Avec Goobye, Colombus,

Roth avait prouvé en cinq longues histoires qu’il avait le don de tout : des dialogues, des décors, des personnages. Et des obsessions intimes par lesquelles se manifestent les grands : non seulement du sexe, mais aussi de la médecine, de la religion, de la famille, de la classe moyenne, du travail aliéné et aliénant.

DAVID KEPESH, C’EST LUI ?

Il y a beaucoup de juifs ridicules et de femmes stupides et désirables dans l’œuvre de Philip Roth. Pour les juifs, ceux qu’il met en scène dans Goobye, Colombus ne sont pas à leur avantage. Pour les femmes, il n’y a que Claire qui soit en pleine lumière dans Professeur de désir. Dès l’origine, cet art qu’il a de forcer dans l’épouvante a suscité des malentendus. Après la parution de Portnoy’s Complaint, les coups les plus durs sont venus des milieux juifs. Un critique du magazine Midstream a ainsi accusé le romancier d’avoir repris les clichés de Goebbels sur le juif prédateur sexuel désireux de souiller l’univers des gentils. C’est toujours et partout la même histoire : on n’est jamais moins bien servi que par les siens.

Roth affectionne les personnages principaux qui sont les narrateurs et qui lui ressemblent comme des frères. Après Portnoy, il a repris ce procédé dans le Sein et Professeur de désir, avec David Kepesh, un professeur de littérature comparée à l’université de Stony Brook, dans l’Etat de New York. De toute évidence, Kepesh parle et pense comme lui : « Et puis il y a mes rêves éveillés en plein cours, aussi riches qu’ils sont irrépressibles, et si manifestement inspirés par le désir d’une miraculeuse rédemption – retour à des existences lointaines, réincarnation sous la forme d’un être totalement différent – que je me félicite presque d’être à ce point déprimé et incapable de susciter en moi le plus anodin fantasme. » Reste que dans le Sein, variation sur la Métamorphose de Kafka, le narrateur se retrouve métabolisé non pas en cloporte mais en… glande mammaire.

Dans l’œuvre de Roth, les situations d’énonciation sont plus subtiles que ne l’ont cru ceux qui, à l’époque de ses premiers livres, l’ont trop rapidement taxé d’antisémitisme et de misogynie. Il ne faut pas oublier que parmi ses saints patrons figure Gustave Flaubert, ce même Flaubert qui jurait : « Madame Bovary, c’est moi. » De même que William Faulkner n’est pas seulement dans les petits Blancs racistes mis en scène dans ses romans, mais aussi dans le corps et l’âme de Lena Grove de Lumière d’août, dans le corps et l’âme des Noirs du comté de Yoknapatawpha qui ont duré et enduré, durent et endurent encore, Philip Roth n’est pas tout entier dans l’ironie grinçante de ses narrateurs. Il est dans chacun de ses personnages, hommes et femmes, juifs et gentils, en marche à travers les contrariétés et les insuffisances de la vie vers un lieu de repos, un royaume de lumière et de paix qui ressemblerait à l’enfance. Alors, messieurs les Jurés du Nobel, convaincus ?

Voir encore:

Philip Roth, l’éternel favori du prix Nobel qui ne le recevra jamais
Certains lauréats croyaient même voir du « sadisme » chez le comité suédois en ne lui décernant jamais ce prix
Maxime Bourdeau
The Huffington Post

LITTÉRATURE – Géant de la littérature américaine et mondiale, Philippe Roth est mort ce mardi 23 mai à l’âge de 85 ans, six ans après avoir arrêté l’écriture.

Après un demi-siècle à imaginer des histoires qui l’ont rendu célèbre dans le monde entier, et deux ans après son dernier roman Némésis, il avait annoncé en 2012 qu’il n’avait plus l’énergie de gérer la frustration qui accompagne la création littéraire.

Régulièrement, presque inlassablement, l’écrivain aux multiples récompenses (Pulitzer en 1998 pour Pastorale américaine, National Book Award en 1960 pour Goodbye, Columbus et en 1995 pour Le Théâtre de Sabbath) était donné favori pour le Nobel… en vain.

Le grand ténébreux au sourcil broussailleux et ses 31 livres -récits provocateurs des mœurs de la petite bourgeoisie juive américaine, satires politiques, réflexions sur le poids de l’Histoire ou sur le vieillissement- n’ont en effet jamais décroché le prix tant convoité, et ne le décrocheront jamais, les récompenses posthumes n’étant pas autorisées.

Une situation jugée incompréhensible par certains alors que l’homme, considéré chaque année comme le candidat idéal, s’est toujours vu repartir bredouille. Comme on le rappelle sur la plateforme Medium, la lauréate américaine de 1993 Toni Morrison jugeait en 2008 que « Philip Roth aurait dû avoir le prix depuis longtemps ».

« Le Suédois est sadique »

En 2011, c’est Tomas Tranströmer, un autre lauréat, qui juge « le Suédois sadique: chaque année, il torture Philip Roth en lui faisant miroiter le prix Nobel de littérature ». « L’Académie est un gang de vieux Suédois pervers décidés à tuer Philip Roth à petit feu en récompensant à peu près tout le monde et n’importe qui, sauf lui », s’amusait Mo Yan en 2012 alors qu’il venait de remportait le prix Nobel de littérature.

Dans la presse ces dernières années, certains en étaient même arrivés à ne plus s’intéresser au gagnant, mais plutôt à la énième défaite de Philip Roth. En 2014, le Guardian proposait notamment une tribune titrée « Le vrai scandale autour de la victoire de Patrick Modiano, c’est que Philip Roth rate le Nobel. Encore ».

La relation entre Roth et le Nobel était devenue telle qu’elle en faisait l’objet de rumeurs. Même si l’auteur avait expliqué dans un entretien à la BBC en 2007 que les récompenses étaient puériles. « C’était devenu un gag pour lui. Chaque année on en parlait, c’était devenu drôle », a déclaré sur France Inter la journaliste Josyane Savigneau, amie de l’écrivain qui lui rendait régulièrement visite. Nul doute qu’il aurait souhaité obtenir le saint Graal qu’est le prix Nobel.

L’histoire voulait donc que Philip Roth quittait son domicile dans le Connecticut et rendait visite à son agent à New York tous les ans, pour attendre avec lui l’appel du Comité censé lui annoncer sa victoire. Il attendait soi-disant dans les bureaux toute la journée, avant de retourner chez lui une fois la nuit tombée, le téléphone resté désespérément silencieux.

L’écrivain s’en est en tout cas allé rassuré sur son travail, Nobel ou non. En 2014, il racontait au quotidien suédois Svenska Dagbladet avoir relu toutes ses œuvres pour « savoir si j’avais perdu mon temps. On ne peut jamais être sûr »… et avoir ressenti « un énorme soulagement ». Une dernière relecture qu’il avait associé à « une expérience presque sublime » qui lui permettait « de n’avoir plus à s’inquiéter que de la mort ».

Voir par ailleurs:

Laurent Bouvet : «Tom Wolfe et Philip Roth, ou le refus du political correctness»
Alexandre Devecchio
Le Figaro
25/05/2018

FIGAROVOX/ENTRETIEN – Laurent Bouvet analyse l’importance décisive de «La Tache» dans la littérature et la société américaines, il rend aussi hommage à Tom Wolfe, grand écrivain qui se fit lui aussi le critique acerbe du multiculturalisme.

Laurent Bouvet est professeur de Science politique à l’Université de Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. Il a publié L’Insécurité culturelle chez Fayard en 2015. Son dernier livre, La gauche Zombie, chroniques d’une malédiction politique, est paru le 21 mars 2017 aux éditions Lemieux. Il est l’une des principales figures du Printemps Républicain.


«La tache», l’un des livres les plus importants de Philip Roth, raconte l’histoire de Coleman Silk, un Noir qui se fait passer pour juif afin de n’être pas défini par sa couleur et de pouvoir exister comme individu, et qui est rattrapé par un antiracisme dévoyé. En quoi ce roman était-il visionnaire? En quoi ce roman a-t-il été un tournant?

Ce roman de Philip Roth qui appartient à sa «trilogie américaine» se présente comme un campus novel mais dépasse très largement le genre pour dire de l’Amérique toute la complexité de ce que l’on pourrait nommer sa question identitaire dont la question noire est le coeur, irréductible et incommensurable à toute autre. Au-delà de l’extraordinaire sophistication des personnages de Roth, de leur complexité psychologique et du détail apporté à leur comportement dans des situations banales de la vie, on lit dans La Tache, toute la difficulté américaine à surmonter sa question identitaire. Avec le sentiment que depuis une vingtaine d’années, ça ne s’est pas particulièrement arrangé.

Ce roman qui date de 2000 n’est pas visionnaire à proprement parler, car il ne dit au fond que ce qui était déjà à l’œuvre depuis des années sur les campus américains, et notamment dans les départements de littérature et de sciences humaines. L’essai qui a pour la première fois exposé l’ampleur et la profondeur du problème de ce qu’on appelle historiquement la political correctness (le politiquement correct) dans le monde académique date de 1987, c’est The Closing of the American Mind (L’Âme désarmée) d’Allan Bloom. Mais le roman de Roth témoigne du caractère tragique de tout cela, des conséquences que cela peut avoir non seulement sur «l’esprit» américain mais sur la vie des hommes eux-mêmes et de là sur toute une partie de la culture, sur les humanités, sur la civilisation…

Les débats en la matière portent depuis les années 1980 aussi bien sur les auteurs acceptables ou non en fonction de leur «identité» (les mauvaises qualifications étaient celles de mâle, blanc, hétérosexuel, occidental, mort…) que sur le vocabulaire qu’on a le droit d’employer ou non pour désigner les uns et les autres: c’est d’ailleurs le cas dans le roman de Roth puisque tous les malheurs de Silk partent de l’interprétation du terme «spook» (traduit en français par «zombie») qu’il utilise un jour pour désigner deux étudiants absents de son séminaire qui se trouvent être des étudiants noirs. Ceux qui l’accuseront de racisme.

Doit-on y voir une critique du multiculturalisme et du politiquement correct? Peut-on dire qu’il s’agit du premier grand roman de l’âge identitaire?

Oui, c’est évidemment une critique de la manière dont, à travers ce politiquement correct, le fait du pluralisme culturel, structurant de l’histoire américaine depuis ses origines, est devenu peu à peu un multiculturalisme normatif. En passant du constat, historique et sociologique, d’une diversité des origines, des cultures, des coutumes… à l’idée que non seulement cette diversité est intrinsèquement supérieure à toute idée d’unité – rappelons que la devise américaine originelle est «E Pluribus Unum» (de plusieurs un seul) – et qu’elle doit donc devenir obligatoire, dans les usages voire dans le droit. Et donc qu’à partir de là, dans toute la société – ce mouvement a commencé sur les campus, au coeur du réacteur de l’éducation à l’américaine, dans les années 1980 -, on doit se plier à cette injonction multiculturaliste.

Le multiculturalisme se met dès lors à fonctionner comme une idéologie.

Le multiculturalisme se met dès lors à fonctionner comme une idéologie. Et Roth en montre très bien le mécanisme implacable qui se déploie à partir du propos a priori anodin de Silk sur les deux étudiants absents. Tout y est en suite: l’engrenage dont il ne peut sortir malgré la réalité des faits ; la lâcheté de certains de ses collègues et la collaboration active pour d’autres à sa mise au ban de la communauté académique ; la construction de tout un discours de justification et de légitimation d’actes pourtant totalement déraisonnables… Tout cela au nom d’une «idée».

C’est assurément un des grands romans de l’entrée du monde dans l’âge identitaire, celui où les identités individualisées sont exacerbées par le développement à la fois des revendications politiques et sociales en leur nom, de reconnaissance par le droit notamment, et de leur médiatisation générale et permanente. L’âge identitaire, c’est cet âge de l’humanité où malgré la liberté individuelle, la démocratie, l’égalité et l’universalité des droits…, le fait d’être victime ou bourreau, dominé ou dominant, etc., n’est plus défini et déterminé par ce que l’on fait, dit, pense… mais par ce que l’on est. Et Roth est en effet un des premiers écrivains à nous alerter sur le risque considérable pour l’humanité de l’Homme qu’il y a à suivre une telle pente. La destruction de la vie de Silk pour une raison purement idéologique, dont la mort de sa femme est le point culminant, nous renvoie au caractère tragique, et pas seulement ridicule ou absurde, de l’âge identitaire.

Philip Roth aura peut-être aussi été d’une certaine manière la première victime du mouvement #MeToo dans la mesure où il a été privé du prix Nobel pour la misogynie supposée de certains de ses romans?

Qu’un des plus grands écrivains de ces cinquante dernières années n’ait pas eu le prix Nobel en dit surtout long sur ce prix et sur sa valeur. Si c’est la misogynie supposée de Roth qui lui a barré la route de Stockholm, alors il ne faut surtout pas regretter qu’il ait été privé de ce prix.

Avec Tom Wolfe, décédé lui aussi récemment, il était le grand conteur de l’Amérique moderne. Que disait son œuvre de notre époque?

La proximité des deux décès crée un grand vide. Comme si les vigies d’une époque révolue nous laissaient seuls désormais face à nos dérives et nos impasses. Wolfe avait lui aussi écrit un campus novel en 2004: I am Charlotte Simmons (Moi Charlotte Simmons) pour montrer la puissance de la norme dans le monde académique – dont fait partie le politiquement correct -, côté étudiant cette fois. Il le faisait sans doute avec une intention bien plus politiquement déterminée que Roth, héritée de ses années de journaliste, contre les postures et les hypocrisies, de la gauche américaine notamment. Son essai Radical Chic (Le Gauchisme de Park Avenue) de 1970 est une œuvre inaugurale de la dérive de cette Américaine saisie par les affres des revendications identitaires.

Les vigies d’une époque révolue nous laissent seuls désormais face à nos dérives et nos impasses.

Symétriquement à cette dérive de la gauche qui préoccupait d’abord et avant tout Roth et Wolfe, même si c’était pour des raisons très différentes, l’âge identitaire est aussi celui de l’affirmation bruyante d’une Amérique blanche, chrétienne, ancrée dans des traditions familiales et patriotiques revendiquées comme un modèle de civilisation, qui se détache de plus en plus de la petite élite multiculturaliste des grandes universités en particulier. Une Amérique qui a voté Trump pour retrouver la fierté de son identité moquée, contestée et vilipendée par le politiquement correct précisément.

Avec Wolfe et Roth, nous avons perdu en quelques jours deux des grandes voix qui nous permettaient, depuis 50 ans et depuis les Etats-Unis, de «comprendre que les choses sont sans espoir et être pourtant décidé à les changer» suivant la recommandation d’un autre grand écrivain américain, Francis Scott Fitzgerald (dans Gatsby).

Voir aussi:

Goldnadel : «En parlant du mâle blanc, Macron acte inconsciemment le scénario de la partition»
Gilles William Goldnadel
Le Figaro
28/05/2018

FIGAROVOX/TRIBUNE – Gilles-William Goldnadel revient sur l’expression polémique du chef de l’État, à qui il reproche d’accréditer les thèses des Indigènes de la République. Sous couvert d’antiracisme, ces propos renforcent selon lui un racisme anti-blanc.

Gilles-William Goldnadel est avocat et essayiste. Il est président de l’association France-Israël. Toutes les semaines, il décrypte l’actualité pour FigaroVox.


Beaucoup d’encre, beaucoup de salive auront été dépensées pour commenter le commentaire présidentiel présidant à sa philosophie sur les banlieues françaises: «deux mâles blancs ne vivant pas dans les banlieues se remettent un rapport sur les banlieues: ça ne marche plus comme ça».

Mais l’essentiel n’a peut-être été dit, car il relève de l’indicible.

Certains ont dit qu’il s’agissait d’une nouvelle bourde présidentielle. Et ils n’ont pas eu tort.

Étrange au demeurant, la propension de cet homme intelligent et sympathique à ne pas savoir, de temps à autre, maîtriser son propos. Celui-ci, et nous verrons pourquoi, est à classer dans la même catégorie que sa sortie sur la colonisation française qui serait un crime contre l’humanité.

Certes, un esprit retors pourrait être conduit à penser que ce boniment serait de nature, pour pas cher, à consoler ceux qui espéraient que l’État à nouveau, écoutant M. Borloo, tenterait d’acheter vainement la paix sociale – et apparemment raciale – à-coup de milliards à nouveau déversés en pure perte, mais dans cette hypothèse, le prix que devront payer à terme pour cette gaffe le gaffeur et son pays aura été sous-estimé.

On glissera sur le fait que c’est tout de même un mâle blanc qui a commandé un rapport à un autre mâle blanc, ce qui aurait été consubstantiellement insusceptible de marcher. Comprenne donc qui pourra les raisons de la commande.

Car la gaffe présidentielle habite à tous les étages.

Au rez-de-chaussée, d’abord. Car ce n’est pas Mme Michu, gardienne d’immeuble, qui a prononcé la phrase querellée, c’est le président, gardien de cette Constitution de la République Française qui interdit toute distinction de droits au regard de l’origine, de l’ethnie ou de la couleur de peau.

On aurait envie de dire au successeur de François Hollande : « un président ne devrait pas dire ça ».

C’est bien pour cela qu’au premier sous-sol, la sortie du gardien relève de la faute, en ce qu’elle revient en creux a déclarer que les blancs n’ont plus vraiment leur mot à dire dans les quartiers racisés. C’est exactement la conception des Indigènes de la République, dirigés par la raciste anti-blanc Houria Bouteldja. C’est celle aussi du très controversé «conseiller» Yassine Belattar, qui avait animé un dîner de gala du CCIF et qui, lors d’une récente émission de télévision, évoquait les djihadistes français avec cette indulgence avec laquelle on a coutume de traiter des enfants bêtisiers.

Considérer désormais que certains, dans certains quartiers des territoires de la République française, pour des questions ethniques, sont plus qualifiés que d’autres pour gérer les affaires, revient donc à accréditer le risque de partition territoriale que François Hollande, la nuit tombée, évoquait auprès de deux journalistes d’un journal vespéral. Le prédécesseur de M. Macron associait cette crainte au caractère massif et irrésistible de l’immigration étrangère. On aurait donc envie de dire à son successeur: «un président ne devrait pas dire ça».

Mais c’est incontestablement à la cave, dans les bas-fonds de l’inconscient présidentiel, que sa sortie est aussi remarquable qu’indicible. Bien sûr, l’auteur de la formule controversée est un enfant du siècle. Bien sûr, il fréquente dans la journée une population qui se croit ancrée dans la modernité et autorisée aux formules les plus décontractées en certaines circonstances. Comme cette conseillère branchée en communication qui, pour évoquer la mort de Simone Veil, écrivait: «yes, la meuf est dead». Peut-être la même personne eût été plus obséquieuse pour un autre décès.

Mais l’essentiel est ailleurs. Il est, d’abord, dans l’évocation expresse de la différence chromatique. J’évoque souvent ce paradoxe pervers qui fait qu’il n’y a pas plus obsédé par la différence raciale qu’un antiraciste dévot qui interdit par ailleurs d’évoquer la race tout en en parlant sans cesse de manière compulsive.

Mais il y a une condition expresse à cette évocation sans complexe du blanc: en parler négativement.

Il ne serait pas arrivé au cerveau du président d’évoquer la couleur d’un Français blanc pour le complimenter, par exemple, pour un exploit sportif. Mais pour dénier à deux hommes blancs la compétence à statuer sur les banlieues, la chose était possible sans commettre une transgression médiatiquement, intellectuellement et politiquement insupportable. On comparera avec le scandale médiatique provoqué par une femme politique de moindre envergure, non sous les ors de l’Élysée mais dans une émission de télévision, lorsque celle-ci reprit la sortie du général De Gaulle sur les racines blanches et chrétiennes du peuple français.

De même, pour se persuader de ce que le surmoi présidentiel rejoint l’idéologie médiatique sélective, on remarquera que la trivialité insolente de l’expression «mâle blanc» ne choque pas l’inconscient collectif.

Le mâle blanc, quand on en parle, on en parle toujours en mal.

En revanche, je n’envie pas le sort du malheureux responsable politique qui aurait l’idée obscène d’évoquer «deux femelles noires» pour critiquer la remise d’un rapport de Laura Flessel à Christiane Taubira…

Et puisque je déambule toujours dans les bas-fonds de l’inconscient, j’en arrive à me demander si ce mâle blanc à envisager forcément négativement ne serait pas désormais dans l’esprit torturé et honteux d’un enfant blanc du siècle une sorte de vilain bouton un peu gras à évider entre ses deux doigts.

Car le mâle blanc, quand on en parle, on en parle toujours en mal.

Toujours coupable, jamais victime.

Quand on le voit, quand on l’imagine en blanc, quand on le montre, c’est ce flic qui enfonce une matraque dans le séant d’un noir, ce ne sont pas deux policiers qui se font lyncher à la Saint-Sylvestre à Champigny-sur-Marne par des racailles.

Le mâle blanc, c’est aussi, dans l’inconscient médiatique, le macho. C’est lui la bête noire des nouvelles féministes et pas l’Autre. Et tant pis pour les femmes de Cologne ou les petites anglaises violées de Telford par des mâles pakistanais.

Sous le mâle blanc, le racisme inconscient anti-blanc ou anti-occidental.

Mais attention, sous la bourde présidentielle, sous l’irresponsabilité politique du premier de nos responsables, pourrait couver les cendres d’un retour de flamme.

J’ai souvent dessiné dans ces colonnes une chauve-souris présidentielle, croyant rusé d’exhiber en même temps les ailes d’un oiseau migratoire de gauche et les dents d’un rongeur financier de droite.

Mais il pourrait très bien mécontenter définitivement et les uns et les autres.

Un pseudo-antiracisme fou inconsciemment anti-blanc aura réussi le triste exploit, aussi bien aux États-Unis qu’en Europe, de redonner une conscience blanche à ceux qui avaient pourtant mille fois raison de l’avoir oubliée pour ne penser qu’à une seule humanité.

Attention à ces exaspérés qui se sentent expurgés de leur propre nation par ceux qui ont l’obsession de la race et du racisme.

Et si le macronisme n’était pas le dernier des anachronismes?

Voir de plus:

The gripes of Roth: US incredulity at not winning the Nobel literature prize
Jason Farago
After a drought of nearly 20 years without a winner, Americans have become very sore losers. But there’s a moral to this tale
The Guardian
11 Oct 2012

American laureates of the Nobel Prize come close to outnumbering those from every other country combined, and this week, scientists in the United States got a few more early-morning phone calls from Stockholm. But Thursday morning’s announcement that the Chinese writer Mo Yan has won the Nobel Prize in Literature extends a nearly two-decade drought for American authors – and while the winner’s name was a surprise, the grumbles were not.

Nobody here ever complains that the physics or medicine juries don’t know what they’re doing. But Americans really don’t like to lose, and when we do, you can trust us to blame the referee.

Only 11 Americans have won the literature prize since 1901. (By contrast: 11 Americans have won the economics prize in the last six years alone.) It’s an ornery 11, too. Three of the American laureates – Isaac Bashevis Singer, Czesław Miłosz, and Joseph Brodsky – wrote primarily in a language other than English. Eugene O’Neill and William Faulkner remain giants of American literature, but the novels of Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck haven’t endured as well. And of course, there is the standing embarrassment of Pearl S Buck, author of mawkish books about Chinese peasants. It’s not as scandalous as a peace prize for Henry Kissinger, but it does rather stain the record.

Since 1994, though, the Americans have struck out every year. And as the dry spell wears on, the reactions get angrier. So far, Mo Yan has been getting a tiny bit more respect than usual, perhaps because, while Americans are as clueless about Chinese literature as any other, a Chinese winner does at least make the narrative of American decline more historically piquant.

But in 2004, American critics unleashed a fury bordering on hysteria when the prize went to Elfriede Jelinek, the groundbreaking Austrian playwright and novelist. « An unknown, undistinguished leftist fanatic, » according to the Weekly Standard. « Prooftexts of a particularly virulent sort of radical feminism, » as the New Republic had it.

Part of the problem, surely, is that Jelinek’s most vital work has been as a dramatist; almost none of her plays has made it into English, and theater in America is even deader than publishing. But more than that, there was no room for Jelinek’s intense, thorny writing in the conservative confines of the American literary establishment, where the entire history of modernism seems a thing of the unknown. Jelinek’s recent play, The Merchant’s Contracts, may be the most important work yet written about the financial crisis, but if she took it to an American MFA program, they’d probably tell her to work on her plotting and flesh out the characters a bit more.

The incredulity recurred with other recent winners, including JMG Le Clézio and Tomas Tranströmer. But the nadir of American literary provincialism came in 2009, when Herta Müller got the prize. « Herta who? » asked the New York Times. « Herta who? » asked the Washington Post. « Herta who? » asked Entertainment Weekly – though, at least one expects it from them, and as their resident blogger conceded,

« I am, admittedly, a myopic American who’s poorly read. »

It did not matter that Müller had published 20 books already, and that The Hunger Angel, her masterpiece, had just been released to universal acclaim in the German press. Nor did anyone pay attention to the bookies that year, when Müller had the shortest odds. It didn’t even matter that Müller was, by the low standards of American publishing, quite widely translated. Five of her books were out in English, most reviewed widely. Her novel The Land of Green Plums had won the prestigious Dublin Impac award. Who cares? What about Philip Roth? Herta who?

The literature Nobel may not be more than the caprice of a dozen and a half old Swedes who happen to have $1.2m to dole out – but the intensity with which American authors and critics dismiss it suggests that we don’t really believe that. And there’s a long tradition of anti-Nobel whingeing here. Back in 1984, in a diatribe in the New York Times Book Review called « The Scandal of the Nobel Prize« , George Steiner mocked the Swedes for awarding the prize to Pearl Buck (they are really never going to live that down), and he insisted that « with eminent exceptions, it is the uncrowned who are sovereign. » When it came to literary discernment, the Swedish Academy deserved little respect – so little, in fact, that the most eminent critic of his generation would spend 2,700 words attacking it.

An essay like Steiner’s now appears almost every year, usually with an exasperated mention of Roth, the eternal bridesmaid, whose failure to win the prize somehow delegitimizes every other laureate. (It hasn’t helped matters that the one living American laureate is Toni Morrison. Defenders of Roth, such as the critic Harold Bloom, like to insist that he’s « not terribly politically correct », and if Morrison got the gong and Roth didn’t, Team Bloom can only think of one explanation.)

But things came to a head in 2008, when Horace Engdahl, then the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, speculated that the reason his organization didn’t award American writers was that:

« The US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. »

Everyone from the chiefs of America’s major publishing houses to the editor of the New Yorker rose to the bait, telling Engdahl to push off back to Stockholm. Critic Adam Kirsch thundered:

« America should respond not by imploring the committee for a fairer hearing but by seceding, once and for all, from the sham that the Nobel Prize for Literature has become. »

But Engdahl, impolite though he was, had a point. Only 3% of all books published in this country have been translated from a foreign language, and that includes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When it comes to literature, Americans really are provincials. And you can see that provincialism in the writing that his opponents praise: formally retrograde, frequently narcissistic, and with none of the insight or rebelliousness that might make anyone beyond our shores take notice.

There are, of course, dozens of American writers in the first rank of world literature – even if I’d be much happier to see a Nobel go to Marilynne Robinson or John Ashbery than to Roth or the other usual suspects. And there are far better ways to think about literary culture than through prizes.

But there is a silver lining to our continued Nobel drought: if it reminds us of how wide the world of letters is, perhaps it will also remind us of the narrowness of our own.

Philip Roth’s Newark roots inspired a lifetime of extraordinary storytelling
Brad Parks
NJ Advance Media
May 23, 2018

Philip Roth spent just 17 years in Newark, growing up in a succession of rental homes in its Weequahic section, where he came of age along the shopkeepers, bookies and schoolboys who filled its neighborhoods.

It was enough to inspire a lifetime of stories and fuel a literary career that ranks among the all-time greats.

Roth, who died Tuesday night at 85, set the majority of his novels in the city of his birth, in places familiar to thousands of New Jersey residents who grew up there with him, snacking at Syds, cruising down Chancellor Avenue, idolizing an athlete named Swede.

His death was announced by his literary agent.

More than any American writer, Roth located second and third generation Jewish Americans at the center of our nation’s transformation from urban rituals to suburban life and the discontents therein, observed the late Clement Price, a historian at Rutgers Newark, of Roth.

« His is an essential voice on what it meant to be a Jewish American at a time when Jews, and indeed other ethnics, were on their way to becoming white, » Price said.

During the final years of his life, Roth was widely considered America’s premier living novelist. He was certainly its most decorated, having won nearly every major prize in literature, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award (twice), and the PEN/Faulkner Award (three times). Only the Nobel eluded his grasp.

« He is without doubt the greatest novelist writing in English today, » author and critic Linda Grant once said. « There are times when his prose just ignites and roars into life like a match to a boiler. »

He created that fire while living an almost ascetic existence in northwestern Connecticut, writing with a discipline that became legendary in literary circles. He rose early each day and walked to a small writing studio some 50 yards from his house, a cottage with a fireplace, a computer — on which he wrote standing up, due to back pain — and little else.

There, he often spent 10 hours a day writing. He broke for a walk in the afternoon, then would return in the evening. Divorced twice, he lived alone. With no one to entertain, writing consumed him. He wrote (28 as of 2008) novels — including nine that featured the quasi-autobiographical character of Nathan Zuckerman — and remained prolific well into his later years, eschewing any notion of retirement until he was nearly 80, when he said he had stopped writing.

« To tell you the truth, I’m done, » he said.

« Philip was always on the job, » said Ross Miller, his biographer and one of Roth’s few close friends. « He looked at everything differently than an ordinary person, literally experiencing life in a novelistic level of detail. It was really astonishing to be with him sometimes when you realized everything that was happening to him was being stored for later use. »He challenged the literary notion that the main character of a book had to be likeable, inasmuch as his characters were inevitably deplorable: Sex fiends, deviants, liars, cheaters.

Roth himself was not always viewed as the most likeable of men, at least not to outsiders. He was often dismissive of his public. He was not one for book tours or signing autographs, the kind of things other authors do to patronize their fans. He seldom granted interviews.

Mostly, he wanted his work to let it speak for itself. It came at a cost — through the years, Roth’s critics accused him of being anti-woman or anti-Semitic. Roth responded in his own way: For years, he kept a drawing next to his workspace depicting a pipe-smoking critic, stabbed and bleeding.

Still, his genius was widely recognized in literary circles. In 2006, the New York Times Book Review sent several hundred letters to prominent writers, critics and editors asking them to name « the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years. » Seven of Roth’s books were among the top finalists.

« If we had asked for the single best writer of fiction over the past 25 years, » the accompanying article noted, « (Roth) would have won. »His Newark roots

By the itinerant standards of Newark, a city that was home to successive waves of immigrants, the Roth family had roots here, having first arrived in the 1890s.

The second of two boys, Roth was born March 19, 1933. His mother, Bess, was a homemaker. His father, Herman, first had a failed shoe store, then sold insurance for Metropolitan Life.

« The stories he brought back — it was great training to be a writer, » Roth once said of his father. « He brought the city into the house. He’d talk about where he’d been and the people he met. He was a very good storyteller. »

Roth spent most of his formative years on or near Chancellor Avenue, which he later referred to as « the big, unclogged artery of my life. » It was a place full of characters to fill a burgeoning writer’s imagination — the shop owners, the hustlers, the numbers runners — and Roth described an idyllic childhood spent with other children in the neighborhood, playing sports, shooting craps, and bragging about sexual exploits.

As a student, he displayed considerable aptitude, skipping two grades. He attended Weequahic High School, then considered among the finest secondary schools in the nation. Still, his homeroom teacher remembered Roth’s interests lying outside textbooks.

« He was very eager for experience, especially sexual, » recalled his high school teacher Robert Lowenstein in 2008, when he was 100 years old. « He was very interested in the girls. »

Roth was only 16 when he graduated, and his parents did not want to send him away to college immediately. So he spent a year working at the department stores downtown, attending classes at Rutgers-Newark.

He then transferred to Bucknell University in rural Lewisburg, Pa., with a primarily white, upper middle class student body. Roth found the school’s homogeneity stifling, though he found — or, at least, later imagined — angst underneath the seemingly placid surface, a theme that would late be found throughout his work.

He graduated magna cum laude in 1954, then earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1956. After graduation, he got a job at the university teaching writing. But it was as a practitioner of the craft he first earned fame.

An angry backlash

The short story was called « Defender of the Faith, » and it was published in the New Yorker in 1959. The story featured a protagonist who was obsessed by wealth and did not mind conniving to get it. He was also Jewish.

That combination — and the implication that Roth was forwarding the stereotype of the money-grubbing Jew — set off a spectacular reaction, most of it negative. The magazine received letters from Jewish readers by the sack full. Rabbis blasted Roth in their sermons. The Anti-Defamation League formally protested it.

There was positive feedback as well: The story was included in a collection called « Goodbye Columbus, » which won the National Book Award in 1960, when Roth was still just 26, making him something of an instant sensation in literary circles.

Nevertheless, the backlash — in particular, a panel at Yeshiva University where he withstood withering attacks from students — seemed to scare Roth off writing about Jewish subjects for a time. His first novels, « Letting Go » and « When She Was Good » delved far less into Judaic themes.

But that didn’t seem to change his reputation. So, figuring he couldn’t please his Jewish critics, Roth wrote « Portnoy’s Complaint, » an outrageous monologue, set on a psychiatrist’s couch, from a Jewish protagonist who recounted his sexual frustration and his fondness for masturbation — most memorably into a piece of liver that was supposed to be the Portnoy family dinner.

Published in 1969 and set against the backdrop of the sexual revolution, it was a sensation, selling more than 400,000 hardcover copies and turning Roth into a celebrity.

It was also fodder for comics — Portnoy became shorthand for sexual deviance — and even fellow authors. Jacqueline Susann, who wrote Valley of the Dolls, once joked she would like to meet Roth but, « I don’t think I’d shake his hand. »

The response stunned Roth, who hated the attention.

« I felt visible and exposed. Somebody who had just ready Portnoy’s Complaint’ would come up to me and say, I don’t eat liver anymore,' » Roth once told The New Yorker. « It was funny the first seven thousand times I heard it. »

During the early 1970s, Roth left New York City, seeking the solitude of rural Connecticut.

« The reaction to Portnoy really determined the trajectory of his career, » said Derek Parker Royal, president of the Philip Roth Society. « That was the No. 1 selling book for all of 1969, which is unheard of for a literary novel, and it really make him a celebrity. Those experiences really shaped the rest of his career. I don’t think we would have had Roth we know today were it not for Portnoy’s Complaint. »

Finding himself as a novelist

Roth followed Portnoy with a period of experimentation, during which he recovered from Portnoy and began finding himself as a novelist.

In « Our Gang » (1971) he caricatured President Richard Nixon. « The Breast » (1972) was considered a nod to Kafka. In « The Great American Novel » (1973) — a farcical work narrated by « Word Smith » — he tackled both literature and baseball.

« My Life as a Man » (1974) was among the first of his quasi-biographical novels. It also introduced a character named Nathan Zuckerman, although the first true Zuckerman novel — « The Ghost Writer » — appeared in 1979.

Like Roth, Zuckerman was a Jewish man born in New Jersey in 1933. Like Roth, Zuckerman was a celebrity author who wrote an explosive and sometimes vulgar novel that delved into sexual themes — Zuckerman’s was called Carnovsky.

By while critics often wondered how much Zuckerman was an autobiographical character, most Roth scholars say the similarities between the two are more a convenience.

« I tell my students they should never make the mistake of relating the fictional character to the real life author, » Royal said. « He used some of the history of his own life and own experiences to springboard to Nathan Zuckerman. But to say Roth is Zuckerman or that it’s a roman a clef is a mistake. »

Roth, himself, scoffed at the notion that he was Zuckerman, almost taking offense at the suggestion his imagination was incapable of creating a character independent from himself.

« Am I Roth or Zuckerman? » he onced asked. « It’s all me. . . Nothing is me. »

If anything, he toyed with reader, sometimes throwing deliberately false biographical anecdotes into his Zuckerman’s novels to provoke a reaction.

« He manipulated and controlled his public persona more than most authors, » said Mariam Jaffe-Foger, a Roth scholar who earned her Ph.D at Rutgers. « It was a contrived, calculated things. He wanted people not to know what to believe and always played on the line of, is this real, is this not real?' »

An unflattering portrait

Much like Zuckerman, Roth’s personal life was fodder for public consumption. His long relationship with English actress Claire Bloom, which became increasingly messy, was often tabloid material.

The two lived together for a decade in England, where they were stars of the London cocktail circuit. Shortly after his return to Connecticut in 1988, Roth discovered through a routine stress test that he had significant blockage in a number of arteries. He underwent a quintuple bypass in 1989.

In 1990, he and Bloom married. For Roth, it was a second marriage — his first ended in divorce in 1962. This one lasted only four years. After the divorce, Bloom wrote « Leaving a Doll’s House, » an unflattering portrait of Roth as a self-centered, crotchety, mean-spirited and utterly vain man who suffered illness as if no one had ever been sicker.

Roth countered in « I Married a Communist » by creating the character Eve Frame, an evil, anti-semitic Jewish woman who seeks to destroy Ira Ringold, the main character.

Despite the private upheaval, Roth kept churning out top-rate fiction throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. Although the question of when Roth hit his prime is fodder for a debate among his fans, many critics say it began with « The Counterlife » in 1986 and continued through « The Human Stain » in 2000.

« Philip was on an ascending line for a 14- or 15-year period where all his does is write these great books, » said Miller, the biographer. It’s really one of the most remarkable runs in the history of American literature. »

The run included what is perhaps his most critically acclaimed work, « Sabbath’s Theater » in 1995, and his most popular, the Pulitzer prize-winning « American Pastoral » in 1997.

In many ways, the books, while both tragedies, stand as opposites of one another. « Sabbath’s Theater, » which centers around an adulterous puppeteer who is so miserable and filled with hate he can’t bring himself to commit suicide, is perhaps Roth’s darkest work.

« American Pastoral, » describes the life of Swede Lavov, a star high school athlete — based loosely on Weequahic alumnus Seymour « Swede » Masin — who becomes a successful businessman but is ultimately undone when his teenage daughter blows up a post office as a protest of the Vietnam War.

In classic Roth fashion, Sabbath is too pessimistic to die while Lavov is too optimistic to live.

Back to the city

Through it all, Roth’s settings and characters kept returning to New Jersey in general, and Newark in particular.

His 2004 « The Plot Against America, » was a speculative history novel in which a boy named Philip must grow up in Newark under an anti-Semitic and isolationist , Nazi-allied regime led by famed flyer Charles Lindbergh, which some later viewed as eerily prophetic of Donald Trump.

« It’s precisely the tragic dimension of the city’s that’s brought the city back so strongly into my fiction, » Roth once said. « How could I fail to be engaged as a novelist by all that’s been destroyed and lost in that one place on Earth that I know most intimately? »

Roth himself came back to the city on occasion, to speak at the library or to accept another honor. In 2005, then-Mayor Sharpe James unveiled a plaque renaming the corner where he once lived, « Philip Roth Plaza. »

Genuinely touched, Roth — who had recently been spurned by the Swedish-based Nobel Prize for literature — told the crowd, « Today, Newark is my Stockholm and that plaque is my prize. »

As Roth aged, so did his characters. Even Zuckerman, his old standby, suffered from prostate cancer and impotence. Roth’s 2006 novel, « Everyman, » was one long chronicle of the character’s illnesses — including detailed descriptions of several procedures Roth had undergone himself. Roth started writing the book the day after attending his longtime friend and contemporary Saul Bellow’s funeral.

« Old age isn’t a battle, » he wrote. « It’s a massacre. »

Still, he remained relevant an even inspiring to a subsequent generations — and not just writers.

« Those recent books just knocked me on my ass, » Bruce Springsteen told the Times of London in 2007. « To be in his sixties, making work that is so strong, so full of revelations about love and emotional pain, that’s the way to live your artistic life. Sustain, sustain, sustain. »

Roth often said that he’d like to start a novel that would take the rest of his life to finish, then hand it in just before he died — all so he wouldn’t have to bear the agony of starting over again.

« The work is difficult in the beginning, » he once said. « It’s also difficult in the middle and difficult in the end.

Neverthless, Roth admitted, « Without a novel, I’m empty and not very happy. »

He wrote often of death and dying — other than sex and Judaism, they were arguably his favorite topic.

In « Dying Animal, » Roth wrote, « one is immortal for as long as one lives. »

But perhaps his favorite quote on the subject was not one he wrote. It came from the 16th century mortality play « Everyman » — from which he borrowed the title of his 2006 work — where one of the characters mourns:

« Oh death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind. »

Staff writer Ted Sherman contributed to this report.
Bye-bye … Philip Roth talks of fame, sex and growing old in last interview
Great US novelist insists he is quitting public life as he reflects on his many literary identities
Robert McCrum
The Observer
17 May 2014

When Philip Roth told the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles in November 2012 that he was quitting the field – « To tell you the truth, I’m done » – there was widespread disbelief. Surely a novelist who had devoted himself as singlemindedly to his art as Roth could not be serious? Was it possible that Nemesis, his 24th novel, would be his last? Well, yes, it was.

This week, in a BBC interview, Roth will not only reaffirm his literary retirement, he will also, with gleeful finality, guarantee to the camera that « this is my last appearance on television, my absolutely last appearance on any stage anywhere ».

Roth’s last word that, quoting American heavyweight boxer Joe Louis, he had « done the best he could with what he had », has been typically smart and self-conscious. It’s a good retirement. Literary lives often end badly with poor health, rejection and neglect and it’s all about Roth – how could it not be? He has devoted his long and distinguished literary career to reinventing himself in countless teasing ways. Now, at 81, he continues to tantalise his audience.

On Tuesday the BBC will broadcast his « last interview », a valedictory two-part conversation with Alan Yentob, shot at his Manhattan home in a film for Imagine, directed by Sarah Aspinall.

This latest episode in Roth’s long goodbye shows the novelist, whom some consider to be America’s greatest living writer, in a mood of playful relaxation, conceding that, hitherto, he had not wanted to « talk, talk, talk, talk, talk ». Now, he says, « now that I don’t write, I just want to chatter away ». Inevitably, with his eye on his readers, Roth’s chatter is all about the polyvalent character of his career. He has lived many literary lives. First, there was the wunderkind author of Goodbye, Columbus (1959), a landmark postwar debut. Next came the enfant terrible of Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), the late-60s comic sensation, dubbed « a wild blue shocker » by Life magazine. « I got literary fame, » he recalls. « I got sexual fame and I also got mad man fame. I got hundreds of letters, 100 a week, some of them letters with pictures of girls in bikinis. I had lots of opportunity to ruin my life. »

So then he began to retreat into a kind of rancour, and became the experimental satirist of Our Gang (1971) and The Breast (1972). Next, in young middle age, Roth continued the exploration of his turbulent self in My Life as a Man (1974) and The Professor of Desire (1977). Later, he nurtured a more secure literary alter ego in his Zuckerman novels. The best was to come. In 1997, in his mid-60s, Roth embarked on a sequence of novels, well-wrought reinventions of America’s recent past, that were hailed by critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Here in American Pastoral, I Married a Communist, The Human Stain, The Dying Animal and The Plot Against America was a vigorous refutation of Fitzgerald’s bitter aside that « there are no second acts in American lives ».

No writer in living memory has had such an extraordinary late-season surge. Roth’s own account of this switch from the personal to the public is that, as he puts it, « in the beginning, it’s about [Roth] coming of age, developing as a writer. Then it’s not about him. He’s the ear, the voice, he’s the observer, he’s the eye. » Before his retirement, Roth’s mood became valedictory (Exit Ghost, 2007) but still defiant (Indignation, 2008).

He reports that, in old age, « the last thing I wanted to do was to make myself more visible than I already was. The visibility unnerved me. And so I moved to the country. » Roth retreated to an isolated farmhouse in Connecticut. He describes, almost for the first time, the conditions under which he wrote the sequence of novels that followed American Pastoral. « I find it very congenial to live in the natural beauty of the place I have in Connecticut. I work during the day, do some exercise late in the day » – he swims regularly – « and so I haven’t lost contact with what I’ve been doing all day. »

This, for many years, was standing for hours at his writing desk, to spare his back, « day in and day out. Then if I’m stuck, and I often am stuck, I walk out the door and I’m in the woods. I walk around for 10 minutes, and I come back and try again. » Roth quotes his own character, Zuckerman, to explain this monk-like dedication: « I believe that we should read only those books that bite and sting us. If a book we’re reading does not rouse us with a blow to the head, then why read it ? »

In 1976, Roth moved to London to live with actress Claire Bloom. But he didn’t feel at home. « I couldn’t write a feature-length book about London, » he says now. « England made a Jew of me in only eight weeks. »Here, Roth’s conversation covers much contentious territory, including the repeated accusations of the novelist’s alleged misogyny. But one tantalising detail is omitted. According to Yentob, when Roth attended a 70th birthday party for conductor Leonard Bernstein, he was seated next to Ava Gardner, who had been living in seclusion in London for several years. Gardner, who had been married to Frank Sinatra, joked to Roth, « I used to go out with a boy from Hoboken », and the pair spent the evening in intense conversation. In the course of his interview with the BBC, Roth occasionally challenges Yentob with « Go on, ask me about Ava Gardner », but discretion appears to have prevailed.

« We will leave that to Blake Bailey [Roth’s biographer], » says Yentob coyly.

Roth has never seemed so relaxed or content. Usually, a cocktail of vanity, optimism, and defiance, spiked with raw economic necessity, keeps old writers in the game long after they should have bowed out. Roth has beaten the odds. When challenged with his 2004 statement that he « could not conceive of a life without writing », he replies: « I was wrong. I had reached the end. There was nothing more for me to write about. » With a flash of candour, he adds: « I was fearful that I’d have nothing to do. I was terrified in fact, but I knew there was no sense continuing. I was not going to get any better. And why get worse ? And so …

« I set out upon the great task of doing nothing. I’ve had a very good time over the last three or four years. » Much of this has been devoted – in another reinvention – to assisting Bailey, who says he will complete his biography in 2022. To this, Roth jokes: « I’ll do my best to stay alive ’til 2020, but don’t push me. Now that I don’t write, I just want to chatter away. Bye, bye. »

Voir enfin:

Le politiquement correct, le journalisme, Trump: les confessions de Tom Wolfe
Pour Le Figaro Magazine, le Balzac new-yorkais scrute l’Amérique de Trump et de Harvey Weinstein. A 86 ans, l’inventeur du « nouveau journalisme » n’a rien perdu de sa verve et continue d’envoyer au « bûcher des vanités » les conformismes de son époque.
Le Figaro magazine
29 décembre 2017

Il est l’un des plus importants écrivains vivants. Peut-être le plus grand « écrivain français » contemporain, tant son œuvre est imprégnée de celles de Zola et de Balzac. L’auteur d’ Illusions perdues avait pour projet d’identifier les « espèces sociales » de l’époque, tout comme Buffon avait identifié les espèces zoologiques. Il voulait « écrire l’histoire oubliée par tant d’historiens, celle des mœurs » et « faire concurrence à l’état civil ». Comme Balzac est « le secrétaire de la société », Tom Wolfe, l’inventeur du « nouveau journalisme », est le secrétaire de son époque, l’ethnologue des tribus post-modernes : les psychédéliques sous acide (Acid Test, 1968), les gauchistes de Park Avenue (Radical Chic, 1970), les astronautes (L’Etoffe des héros, 1979), les golden boys de Wall Street (Le Bûcher des vanités, 1987), les étudiants décadents des grandes universités (Moi, Charlotte Simons, 2004 ), les Latinos immigrés en Floride (Bloody Miami, 2013)… Son costume blanc, qu’il ne quitte jamais, est un instrument de diversion. Une manière de détourner l’attention pour ne pas avoir à en dire trop sur son art ou sur lui-même. Wolfe a toujours préféré les faits et les longues descriptions à la psychologie et aux explications de texte. Mais, à 86 ans, le dandy réac n’a plus rien à perdre et n’élude aucun sujet. Au téléphone, d’un ton volontiers distancié et malicieux, il s’amuse des mœurs de l’Amérique progressiste et démasque son hypocrisie. Le phénomène #Balance ton porc – et ses conséquences – pourrait être, selon lui, « la plus grande farce du XXI e siècle ». Dans son dernier essai, Tom Wolfe semble faire un pas de côté. Il y déboulonne les thèses évolutionnistes de Darwin. Pour autant, Le Règne du langage (Robert Laffont) n’est en rien un traité scientifique. A travers la figure de Darwin, dignitaire installé qui aura su ériger sa théorie en dogme, Wolfe continue d’observer la « comédie humaine ».
PROPOS RECUEILLIS PAR ALEXANDRE DEVECCHIO

Dans votre dernier livre, Le Règne du langage, vous expliquez que c’est la langue qui fait la spécificité de l’être humain. En quoi ?

Il existe entre l’être humain et l’animal une différence essentielle, une ligne de démarcation aussi escarpée et inamovible qu’une faille géologique : la parole ! Le langage a donné à la « bête humaine » bien plus qu’un ingénieux outil de communication. C’est en réalité une innovation de la teneur de la bombe atomique ! La parole a été la toute première invention, le premier artéfact, la première fois où une créature terrestre, l’homme, a prélevé des éléments de la nature, en l’occurrence des sons, pour les transformer en quelque chose d’entièrement nouveau et façonné par lui, des enchaînements de sonorités qui formaient des codes, lesquels ont reçu le nom de « mots ». Non seulement le langage est un outil mais c’est le premier d’entre tous, celui qui a rendu tous les autres possibles, de la plus sommaire des pioches à la première des massues jusqu’à la roue et à la fusée spatiale. Sans lui, pas de danse, pas de musique, pas même le fredonnement d’une ritournelle, le battement des tambours, pas de rythme d’aucune sorte ni de cadence pour taper dans les mains. Bref, c’est le langage, et lui seul, qui a conféré à la « bête humaine » la force de conquérir chaque pouce de terre ferme sur cette planète et de se goinfrer de la moitié des ressources comestibles de l’océan. Et pourtant, cette mise en coupe réglée du globe terrestre n’est qu’un résultat mineur de la puissance des paroles : son principal exploit, c’est d’avoir créé l’ego, la conscience de soi. Seul le langage permet à l’homme de questionner son existence, de la poursuivre ou d’y renoncer. Aucun animal ne pense à se suicider, ni à massacrer ses semblables à une vaste échelle. Seule la parole nous autorise à nous autoexaminer et à rendre la planète inhabitable juste comme ça, en l’espace de trente ou quarante minutes nucléarisées. Elle seule permet à l’homme de fantasmer des religions, et des dieux pour leur donner du corps. Jusqu’à notre époque – et plus encore aujourd’hui – les mots sortis de la bouche de Mahomet au VII e siècle continuent à galvaniser et contrôler la vie de trente-cinq pour cent de la population mondiale. Tout au long d’un millénaire et demi, ceux de Jésus ont exercé la même influence sur une portion d’humanité comparable avant de perdre une part de leur résonance en Europe au cours de la deuxième moitié du XX e siècle.

Votre livre déboulonne Darwin…

Dans Le Règne du langage, j’oppose la figure de Charles Darwin et celle d’Alfred Wallace. Le premier est un parfait ­gentleman installé dans la haute société britannique du XIXe siècle. Le second, tout au contraire, est un homme de terrain, issu d’un milieu modeste. Le type d’autodidactes que l’aristocratie de l’époque surnommait « les attrapeurs de mouches ». Wallace fut pourtant le premier, avant Darwin, à défendre la théorie de la sélection naturelle. Mais faute d’être bien né, la paternité de cette découverte ne lui fut jamais attribuée, l’auteur de L’Origine des espèces s’attribuant tout le mérite. Si Wallace a été le premier à définir une théorie de l’évolution, il a été aussi le premier à questionner cette thèse. A se demander comment l’homme avait pu concevoir les chiffres, l’arithmétique, les formes géométriques, mais aussi penser un code moral, une exigence éthique, éprouver le plaisir dispensé par la musique ou l’art visuel. A la fin de sa vie, il conclut qu’aucun de ces attributs sublimes et consubstantiels à l’humanité n’a de relation avec la sélection naturelle.

En quoi votre vision du monde diffère-t-elle de celle des créationnistes ?

Les créationnistes refusent toute idée d’évolution géologique ou biologique car ils voient en Dieu le seul créateur de la vie. Ce n’est pas mon cas. Je ne fais que montrer les limites de la théorie de l’évolution et entériner l’incapacité des chercheurs à déterminer l’origine du langage. Ma seule conclusion est que c’est le langage qui sépare l’être humain de la bête. Pour le reste, je n’ai pas de réponse et je ne propose pas de récit ou d’idéologie de substitution. Personne ne peut prétendre raconter l’histoire vraie de la création. L’Origine des espèces de Darwin n’est qu’une version scientiste de la Genèse. Darwin est tombé dans le piège de la cosmogonie, ce besoin compulsif d’élaborer l’inatteignable « théorie du Tout », un concept ou une narration qui organiserait miraculeusement chaque élément de l’univers en un système clair et précis.

Depuis l’un de vos premiers livres, Radical Chic (Le Gauchisme de Park Avenue en français), vous fustigez le politiquement correct, le gauchisme culturel, la tyrannie des minorités. L’élection de Donald Trump est-elle la conséquence de ce politiquement correct ?

Dans ce reportage, d’abord paru en juin 1970 dans le New York Magazine, je décrivais une soirée organisée, le 14 janvier précédent, par le compositeur Leonard Bernstein dans son duplex new-yorkais de treize pièces avec terrasse. La fête avait pour objet de lever des fonds en faveur des Black Panthers… Les hôtes avaient pris soin d’engager des domesti- ques blancs pour ne pas froisser la susceptibilité des Panthers. Le politiquement correct, que je surnomme PC, pour « police citoyenne », est né de l’idée marxiste que tout ce qui sépare socialement les êtres humains doit être banni pour éviter la domination d’un groupe social sur un autre. Par la suite, ironiquement, le politiquement correct est devenu l’instrument des « classes dominantes », l’idée d’une conduite appropriée pour mieux masquer leur « domination sociale » et se donner bonne conscience. Peu à peu, le politiquement correct est même devenu un marqueur de cette « domination » et un instrument de contrôle social, une manière de se distinguer des « ploucs » et de les censurer, de délégitimer leur vision du monde au nom de la morale. Les gens doivent désormais faire attention à ce qu’ils disent. C’est de pire en pire, en particulier dans les universités. La force de Trump est sans doute d’avoir rompu avec cette chape de plomb. Par exemple, les gens très riches font généralement profil bas alors que lui s’en vante. Je suppose qu’une partie des électeurs préfère cela à l’hypocrisie des politiques conformistes.

Dans votre œuvre, le statut social est la principale clef de compréhension du monde. Le vote Trump est-il le vote de ceux qui n’ont pas ou plus de statut social ou dont le statut social a été méprisé ?

A travers Radical Chic, je décrivais l’émergence de ce qu’on appellerait aujourd’hui la « gauche caviar » ou le « progressisme de limousine », c’est-à-dire une gauche qui s’est largement affranchie de toute empathie pour la classe ouvrière américaine. Une gauche qui adore l’art contemporain, s’identifie aux causes exotiques et à la souffrance des minorités, mais méprise les « rednecks » de l’Ohio. Des Américains ont eu le sentiment que le Parti démocrate faisait tellement des pieds et des mains pour aller séduire les différentes minorités qu’il en arrivait à négliger une partie encore considérable de la population. A savoir cette partie ouvrière de la population qui, historiquement, a toujours été la moelle épinière du Parti démocrate. Durant cette élection, l’aristocratie démocrate a pris le parti de favoriser une coalition de minorités et d’exclure de ses préoccupations la classe ouvrière blanche. Et Donald Trump n’a plus eu qu’à se pencher pour ramasser tous ces électeurs et les rallier à sa candidature.

Que vous inspirent l’affaire Weinstein et la polémique #Balance ton porc ? Personne ne se donne la peine de définir correctement le terme d’agression sexuelle. C’est une caté- gorie fourre-tout qui va de la tentative de viol à la simple attirance. C’est de cette confusion que naissent tous les excès. Je suis partagé entre l’effroi, en tant que citoyen, et l’amusement, en tant que romancier, pour cette merveilleuse comédie humaine. Si cela continue, cela peut devenir la plus grande farce du XXIe siècle. Dans la presse locale, encore ce matin dans le New York Post et le New York Times, ces affaires sont en lettres capitales à la une. Aujourd’hui, n’importe quel homme qui prête n’importe quelle sorte d’attention à n’importe quelle femme, par exemple sur son lieu de travail, devient un « prédateur ». Depuis cette affaire, j’entends partout autour de moi des hommes dire à de jeunes femmes qu’ils fréquentent « je ne devrais pas être vu avec toi ici ou là », « nous travaillons dans la même entreprise et je suis à un poste hiérarchique plus élevé et tout cela va faire trop mauvais genre ». Les hommes s’inquiètent désormais de trouver certaines femmes attirantes. Voilà qu’on se retrouve à s’opposer aux lois naturelles de l’attraction qu’il faudrait désormais ignorer. Personne ne parle de ces femmes, et elles sont pourtant nombreuses, qui prennent un plaisir réellement considérable à rencontrer sur leur lieu de travail un collègue masculin qu’elles trouvent attirant. Un homme qu’elles n’auraient pas eu la chance de rencontrer autrement. Je pense que le monde n’a pas tant changé pour que l’on se mette à proclamer qu’aujourd’hui es femmes ne désirent soudain plus attirer l’attention des hommes. En vérité, rien n’a vraiment changé, hormis le fait que les femmes disposent d’un puissant outil d’intimidation qu’elles n’avaient pas auparavant. Elles peuvent maintenant remettre à leur place ces hommes dont l’attention est trop extrême ou qu’elles jugent trop vulgaires, écarter un rival sur le plan professionnel ou encore se venger d’un amant « trop goujat ». Pour inculper quelqu’un d’agression sexuelle, il semble désormais que la seule parole de la femme soit suffisante et certains demandent déjà un renversement du droit qui obligerait l’homme soupçonné à faire la preuve de son innocence.

Vous êtes l’inventeur du « nouveau journalisme ». Un journalisme qui se rapproche de la littérature dans la forme, mais qui repose aussi sur la minutie des enquêtes et la précision des faits rapportés. A l’heure du numérique et de l’immédiateté, ce journalisme est-il mort ?

A l’époque, les bureaux du Herald étaient à Times Square. Il suffisait de descendre dans la rue poser des questions aux gens. J’utilisais ce que j’appelle la technique de l’homme de Mars. J’arrivais et je disais : « Ça à l’air intéressant, ce que vous faites ! Moi, j’arrive de Mars, je ne connais rien, qu’est-ce que c’est ? » Aujourd’hui, certains journalistes ne sortent jamais de leur bureau. Ils font leurs articles en surfant sur internet. Pourtant, il n’y a pas d’alternative : il faut sortir ! Quand de jeunes écrivains ou journalistes me demandent un conseil, ce qui est rare, je leur dis toujours : « Sors ! » Au final, le nouveau journalisme c’était quoi ? J’ai toujours pensé que c’était simplement une technique d’écriture sur un sujet non fictif avec toutes les méthodes normalement utilisées pour la fiction. Pour moi, l’un des principes du nouveau journalisme est d’écrire scène par scène, comme pour un scénario. Le futur de ce genre dépend des jeunes qui se lancent. Mais ils lisent tout en ligne désormais. Et, quand vous lisez en ligne, juste pour la simple raison que vous lisez sur un fond très lumineux, vous avez beaucoup de mal à lire des longs formats. Une fois les huit cents mots dépassés, vous commencez à fatiguer. Et tout cela invite les journalistes à raccourcir leur écriture. La lecture est de plus en plus rapide et cela force l’auteur à renoncer à tout un tas de techniques qui peuvent pourtant donner à un article une puissance sans pareil. Il devient plus difficile de parler des détails désormais, le décor, la façon dont les gens s’habillent, tout cela prend énormément de place. Il n’y aura plus beau- coup d’auteurs ou de journalistes que l’on pourrait appeler des plumes. Le style demande un dur labeur. Aujourd’hui, on met l’accent sur tout ce qui est efficace. C’est ce à quoi sont formés les journalistes. Déjà à mon époque, on nous demandait de faire court, car les journaux craignaient la concurrence de la télévision. Cela n’a pas empêché le nouveau journalisme d’être un succès. Je crois que cela pourrait fonctionner, y compris sur des formats numériques. Vous savez que tous les livres de Zola sont encore disponibles en anglais partout aux Etats-Unis ? On les réimprime tout le temps. ■

PROPOS RECUEILLIS PAR ALEXANDRE DEVECCHIO Le Règne du langage, de Tom Wolfe. Robert Laffont, collection, « Pavillons », 216 p., 19 €.

Voir par ailleurs:

An Open Letter to Wikipedia
Philip Roth
The NewYorker
September 6, 2012

Dear Wikipedia,

I am Philip Roth. I had reason recently to read for the first time the Wikipedia entry discussing my novel “The Human Stain.” The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed. This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip—there is no truth in it at all.

Yet when, through an official interlocutor, I recently petitioned Wikipedia to delete this misstatement, along with two others, my interlocutor was told by the “English Wikipedia Administrator”—in a letter dated August 25th and addressed to my interlocutor—that I, Roth, was not a credible source: “I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work,” writes the Wikipedia Administrator—“but we require secondary sources.”

Thus was created the occasion for this open letter. After failing to get a change made through the usual channels, I don’t know how else to proceed.

My novel “The Human Stain” was described in the entry as “allegedly inspired by the life of the writer Anatole Broyard.” (The precise language has since been altered by Wikipedia’s collaborative editing, but this falsity still stands.)

This alleged allegation is in no way substantiated by fact. “The Human Stain” was inspired, rather, by an unhappy event in the life of my late friend Melvin Tumin, professor of sociology at Princeton for some thirty years. One day in the fall of 1985, while Mel, who was meticulous in all things large and small, was meticulously taking the roll in a sociology class, he noted that two of his students had as yet not attended a single class session or attempted to meet with him to explain their failure to appear, though it was by then the middle of the semester.

Having finished taking the roll, Mel queried the class about these two students whom he had never met. “Does anyone know these people? Do they exist or are they spooks?”—unfortunately, the very words that Coleman Silk, the protagonist of “The Human Stain,” asks of his classics class at Athena College in Massachusetts.

Almost immediately Mel was summoned by university authorities to justify his use of the word “spooks,” since the two missing students, as it happened, were both African-American, and “spooks” at one time in America was a pejorative designation for blacks, spoken venom milder than “nigger” but intentionally degrading nonetheless. A witch hunt ensued during the following months from which Professor Tumin—rather like Professor Silk in “The Human Stain”—emerged blameless but only after he had to provide a number of lengthy depositions declaring himself innocent of the charge of hate speech.

A myriad of ironies, comical and grave, abounded, as Mel had first come to nationwide prominence among sociologists, urban organizers, civil-rights activists, and liberal politicians with the 1959 publication of his groundbreaking sociological study “Desegregation: Resistance and Readiness,” and then, in 1967, with “Social Stratification: The Forms and Functions of Inequality,” which soon became a standard sociological text. Moreover, before coming to Princeton, he had been director of the Mayor’s Commission on Race Relations, in Detroit. Upon his death, in 1995, the headline above his New York Times obituary read “MELVIN M. TUMIN, 75, SPECIALIST IN RACE RELATIONS.”

But none of these credentials counted for much when the powers of the moment sought to take down Professor Tumin from his high academic post for no reason at all, much as Professor Silk is taken down in “The Human Stain.”

And it is this that inspired me to write “The Human Stain”: not something that may or may not have happened in the Manhattan life of the cosmopolitan literary figure Anatole Broyard but what actually did happen in the life of Professor Melvin Tumin, sixty miles south of Manhattan in the college town of Princeton, New Jersey, where I had met Mel, his wife, Sylvia, and his two sons when I was Princeton’s writer-in-residence in the early nineteen-sixties.

As with the distinguished academic career of the main character of “The Human Stain,” Mel’s career, having extended for over forty years as a scholar and a teacher, was besmirched overnight because of his having purportedly debased two black students he’d never laid eyes on by calling them “spooks.” To the best of my knowledge, no event even remotely like this one blighted Broyard’s long, successful career at the highest reaches of the world of literary journalism.

This “spooks” event is the initiating incident of “The Human Stain.” It is the core of the book. There is no novel without it. There is no Coleman Silk without it. Every last thing we learn about Coleman Silk over the course of three hundred and sixty-one pages begins with his unwarranted persecution for having uttered “spooks” aloud in a college classroom. In that one word, spoken by him altogether innocently, lies the source of Silk’s anger, his anguish, and his downfall. His heinous, needless persecution stems from that alone, as do his futile attempts at renewal and regeneration.

All too ironically, that and not his enormous lifelong secret—he is the light-skinned offspring of a respectable black family from East Orange, New Jersey, one of the three children of a railroad dining-car porter and a registered nurse, who successfully passes himself off as white from the moment he enters the U.S. Navy at nineteen—is the cause of his humiliating demise.

As for Anatole Broyard, was he ever in the Navy? The Army? Prison? Graduate school? The Communist Party? Did he have children? Had he ever been the innocent victim of institutional harassment? I had no idea. He and I barely knew each other. Over more than three decades, I ran into him, casually and inadvertently, maybe three or four times before a protracted battle with prostate cancer ended his life, in 1990.

Coleman Silk, on the other hand, is killed malevolently, murdered in a planned, prearranged car crash while driving with his unlikely mistress, Faunia Farley, a local farmhand and lowly janitor in the very college where he has been a highly esteemed dean. The revelations that flow from the specific circumstances of Silk’s murder stun his survivors and lead to the novel’s ominous conclusion on a desolate, iced-over lake where a showdown of sorts occurs between Nathan Zuckerman and Faunia and Coleman’s executioner, Faunia’s ex-husband, the tormented, violent Vietnam vet Les Farley. Neither Silk’s survivors nor his murderer nor his janitor mistress found their source anywhere other than in my imagination. In Anatole Broyard’s biography there were no comparable people or events as far as I knew.

I knew nothing of Anatole Broyard’s mistresses or, if he ever had any, who they were or if a woman like Faunia Farley, injured and harassed by men from the age of four, had ever come along to help savagely seal his ghastly fate as she does Coleman Silk’s and her own. I knew nothing at all of Broyard’s private life—of his family, parents, siblings, relatives, education, friendships, marriage, love affairs—and yet the most delicately private aspects of Coleman Silk’s private life constitute practically all of the story narrated in “The Human Stain.”

I’ve never known, spoken to, or, to my knowledge, been in the company of a single member of Broyard’s family. I did not even know whether he had children. The decision to have children with a white woman and possibly be exposed as a black man by the pigmentation of his offspring is a cause of much apprehension for Coleman Silk. Whether Broyard suffered such apprehension I had no way of knowing, and I still have none.

I never took a meal with Broyard, never went with him to a bar or a ballgame or a dinner party or a restaurant, never saw him at a party I might have attended back in the sixties when I was living in Manhattan and on rare occasions socialized at a party. I never watched a movie or played cards with him or showed up at a single literary event with him as either a participant or a spectator. As far as I know, we did not live anywhere in the vicinity of each other during the ten or so years in the late fifties and the sixties when I was living and writing in New York and he was a book reviewer and cultural critic for the New York Times. I never ran into him accidentally in the street, though once—as best I can remember, in the nineteen-eighties—we did come upon each other in the Madison Avenue men’s store Paul Stuart, where I was purchasing shoes for myself. Since Broyard was by this time the Timess most intellectually stylish book reviewer, I told him that I would like to have him sit down in the chair beside me and allow me to buy him a pair of shoes, hoping thereby, I forthrightly admitted, to deepen his appreciation for my next book. It was a playful, amusing encounter, it lasted ten minutes at most, and was the only such encounter we ever had.

We never bothered to have a serious conversation. Badinage in passing was our specialty, with the result that I never learned from Broyard who were his friends or his enemies, did not know where or when he had been born and raised, knew nothing about his economic status in childhood or as an adult, knew nothing of his politics or his favorite sports teams or if he had any interest in sports at all. I did not even know where he was presently living on that day when I offered to buy him an expensive pair of shoes. I knew nothing about his mental health or his physical well-being, and I only learned he was dying of cancer many months after he’d been diagnosed, when he wrote about his struggle with the disease in the New York Times Magazine.

I had never been a guest in his house or he in mine, I knew him only as—unlike Coleman Silk, a revolutionary dean at Athena College in western Massachusetts, where he is the center of controversy over standard college matters like the curriculum and requirements for tenure—a generally generous reviewer of my books. Yet after admiring for its bravery the article about his imminent death, I got Broyard’s home number from a mutual acquaintance and called him. That was the first and last time I ever spoke to him on the phone. He was charmingly ebullient, astonishingly exuberant, and laughed heartily when I reminded him of us in our prime, tossing a football around on the lifeguard’s beach in Amagansett in 1958, which was where and when we first met. I was twenty-five then, he thirty-eight. It was a beautiful midsummer day, and I remember that I went up to him on the beach to introduce myself and tell him how much I had enjoyed his brilliant “What the Cystoscope Said.” The story had appeared in my last year of college, 1954, in the fourth number of the most sterling of the literary magazines of the era, the mass-market paperback Discovery.

Soon there were four of us—newly published writers of about the same age—bantering together while tossing a football around on the beach. Those twenty minutes throwing the ball around constituted the most intimate involvement Broyard and I ever had and brought to a total of thirty the number of minutes we would ever spend in each other’s company.

Before I left the beach that day, someone told me that Broyard was rumored to be an “octoroon.” I didn’t pay much attention or, back in 1958, lend much credence to the attribution. In my experience, octoroon was a word rarely heard beyond the American South. It’s not impossible that I had to look it up in the dictionary later to be sure of its precise meaning.

Broyard was actually the offspring of two black parents. I didn’t know this then, however, or when I began writing “The Human Stain.” Yes, someone had once idly told me that the man was the offspring of a quadroon and a black, but that unprovable bit of unlikely hearsay was all of any substance that I ever knew about Broyard—that and what he wrote in his books and articles about literature and the literary temper of his time. In the two excellent short stories Broyard published in Discovery—the other, “Sunday Dinner in Brooklyn,” appeared in 1953—there was no reason not to believe that the central character and his Brooklyn family were, like the author, a hundred per cent white.

On the other hand, over the years, not a few people had wondered if, because of certain seemingly Negroid features—his lips, his hair, his skin tone—Mel Tumin, who was adamantly Jewish in the overwhelmingly Waspy Princeton of his era, might not be an African-American passing for white. This was another fact of Mel Tumin’s biography that fed into my early imaginings of “The Human Stain.”

My protagonist, the academic Coleman Silk, and the real writer Anatole Broyard first passed themselves off as white men in the years before the civil-rights movement began to change the nature of being black in America. Those who chose to pass (this word, by the way, doesn’t appear in “The Human Stain”) imagined that they would not have to share in the deprivations, humiliations, insults, injuries, and injustices that would be more than likely to come their way should they leave their identities exactly as they’d found them. During the first half of the twentieth century, there wasn’t just Anatole Broyard alone—there were thousands, probably tens of thousands, of light-skinned men and women who decided to escape the rigors of institutionalized segregation and the ugliness of Jim Crow by burying for good their original black lives.

I had no idea what it was like for Anatole Broyard to flee from his blackness because I knew nothing about Anatole Broyard’s blackness, or, for that matter, his whiteness. But I knew everything about Coleman Silk because I had invented him from scratch, just as in the five-year period before the 2000 publication of “The Human Stain” I had invented the puppeteer Mickey Sabbath of “Sabbath’s Theater” (1995), the glove manufacturer Swede Levov of “American Pastoral” (1997), and the brothers Ringold in “I Married a Communist” (1998), one a high-school English teacher and the other a star of radio in its heyday. Neither before nor after writing these books was I a puppeteer, a glove manufacturer, a high-school teacher, or a radio star.

Finally, to be inspired to write an entire book about a man’s life, you must have considerable interest in the man’s life, and, to put it candidly, though I particularly admired the story “What the Cystoscope Said” when it appeared in 1954, and I told the author as much, over the years I otherwise had no particular interest in Anatole Broyard. Neither Broyard nor anyone associated with Broyard had anything to do with my imagining anything in “The Human Stain.”

Novel writing is for the novelist a game of let’s pretend. Like most every other novelist I know, once I had what Henry James called “the germ”—in this case, Mel Tumin’s story of muddleheadedness at Princeton—I proceeded to pretend and to invent Faunia Farley; Les Farley; Coleman Silk; Coleman’s family background; the girlfriends of his youth; his brief professional career as a boxer; the college where he rises to be a dean; his colleagues both hostile and sympathetic; his field of study; his bedeviled wife; his children both hostile and sympathetic; his schoolteacher sister, Ernestine, who is his strongest judge at the conclusion of the book; his angry, disapproving brother; and five thousand more of those biographical bits and pieces that taken together form the fictional character at the center of a novel.

Sincerely,

Philip Roth

Illustration by Andy Friedman.

Philip Roth has published twenty-nine novels. This fall, the Library of America will put out “ Why Write?,” his collected nonfiction from 1960-2013.


Philip Roth and the Nobel Prize in Literature

As he enters his eighties, could the man regarded as America’s greatest living novelist yet win the prize he really wants?
Jason Cowley
March 16, 2013

In 2011 Philip Roth was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement. In the lead-up to an intimate celebratory dinner that he was due to attend with Roth in New York, Rick Gekoski, chairman of the judges, asked around to see if there was anything he shouldn’t raise in conversation with the thin-skinned and easily irritated novelist. The answer was the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Nobel has become for Roth, who turns 80 on March 19, what the second world war was for Basil Fawlty: the great unmentionable. No one who knows him would doubt that this brilliant, proud, ultra-competitive and astoundingly self-absorbed writer wants to win the prize that no American novelist has won since Toni Morrison in 1993, and which his friend and mentor Saul Bellow won, at the age of 61, in 1976.

In a BBC interview in 2007, Roth, who lives alone in rural Connecticut but also keeps a flat in Manhattan, loftily dismissed prizes as “childish”. And yet the biographical note on every book he has published over recent years is little more than an inventory of prizes: “In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House …”

He has won everything worth winning, it seems, except the Big One, about which he must not be asked. …

Philip Roth was born in Newark, New Jersey, the second son of a lower-middle-class Jewish family. He attended Bucknell and Chicago universities. As a writer, he first came to prominence in the early 1960s, a time of heightened ambition and profile for the American novel. His early influences included Joseph Conrad, Henry James, Bernard Malamud, Isaac Bashevis Singer and, of course, Bellow, who had found a new way of writing about the tumultuous challenges of American modernity in a voice uniquely his own. For Roth, as for the likes of Bellow and Norman Mailer, writing was a kind of heroic activity, an art of public engagement and performance.

“When success happens to an English writer,” Martin Amis wrote in the early 1980s in an essay on Kurt Vonnegut, “he acquires a new typewriter. When success happens to an American writer, he acquires a new life.” Roth’s life changed, irreversibly, with the publication of his third novel Portnoy’s Complaint (1969). Wildly comic and wilfully outrageous, it made him famous and it made him rich. It also made him many enemies, especially in Jewish America – he was accused of self-hatred – and among social conservatives, who were appalled by the novel’s sexual explicitness and indecency (Portnoy is a furious masturbator), by its exuberant excesses and irreverence. This, after all, was the late 1960s and Roth was a man of his times, thrilled by the possibilities opening up around him.

Alexander Portnoy is a clever, disturbed young fellow and he’s sickened by his own American reality. He is in open revolt against the conventions and expectations of his petit bourgeois Jewish family. His mother swaddles him in love and he dislikes his father. What shocked readers most about Portnoy, Roth said in 2005, was not the sex, but “the revelation of brutality – brutality of feeling, brutality of attitude, brutality of anger. ‘You say all this takes place in a Jewish family?’ That’s what was shocking.”

Portnoy was the precursor to and archetype of all the Roth men who were to follow, from Nathan Zuckerman, Roth’s fictional alter-ego, and David Kepesh to Mickey Sabbath, the anti-hero of Sabbath’s Theater (1995), which is generally considered to be one of his three best novels. (The others are 1986’s The Counterlife and 1997’s American Pastoral.)

Roth Man, as Amis once called him, is sex-obsessed, narcissistic, garrulous, often raging. He knows no bounds. He is wary of commitment. He relentlessly asserts his individuality. But he is also isolated and often deeply, hilariously confused – many of Roth’s novels are existential comedies of misunderstanding.

In The Ghost Writer (1979), the first of the Zuckerman novels, Nathan is staying at the house of his literary hero, an aged and reclusive writer named EI Lonoff. An attractive young literary groupie is also staying in the house. Zuckerman convinces himself that she’s having an affair with the married Lonoff and, absurdly, that she is none other than Anne Frank. Roth Man understands, indeed insists, that in our singularity and isolation we are mysteries ultimately even to ourselves, and that life can be a kind of black farce – Kepesh, in the late novella The Dying Animal (2001), speaks of the “stupidity of being oneself”, of the “unavoidable comedy of being anyone at all”.

To Roth, for whom sex and death are inextricably linked, women can seem unknowable. There is very little romantic love in his fiction. He writes very well about the love between a parent and a child – especially in Patrimony (1991), American Pastoral and Indignation (2008) – or between siblings, but seldom, if ever, between a man and a woman, a husband and a wife. For Roth, marriage is a kind of cage in which couples are locked in mutual recrimination and loathing.

“Did Roth hate women?” asks the Russian-American novelist Keith Gessen, as part of a caucus organised by New York magazine to mark the author’s 80th birthday. He suggests that a man who spends so much of his time thinking about having sex with women cannot possibly hate them: misogyny is the accusation most often and most damagingly made against Roth. “Still,” Gessen continues, “it might be said that Roth is slightly less useful in a world that is slightly more equal than the world he knew; where men and women do not stand on opposite sides of the question of sex but arranged, together, sometimes helplessly, against it; where sex is less of a battlefield and more of a tragedy.”

Roth has been married twice and has no children. His second marriage, to the English actress Claire Bloom, ended notably unhappily. Roth fictionalised aspects of his life with Bloom and this wounded her. In 1996, she published a memoir, Leaving a Doll’s House, in which she denounced her former husband, accusing him of misogyny and adultery. She wrote of his “deep and irrepressible rage: anger at being trapped in marriage; fear of giving up autonomy; and a profound distrust of the sexual power of women”.

Roth himself has said: “Making fake biography, false history, concocting a half-imaginary existence out of the actual drama of my life is my life.” He is fascinated by doubleness and deception, hence all those metafictional tricks he plays and the alter-egos through whom he speaks. They invariably share much of his own early biography – the Newark boyhood, the conflicted Jewish identity, the troubles with women – as well as his preferences and prejudices. Several of his novels feature characters named Philip Roth – the best of them being Operation Shylock (1993), set partly in Israel and exploring the period when Roth was recovering from depression and a breakdown after heart surgery. He simultaneously asserts the veracity of the stories he tells while seeking to undermine them by drawing attention to their artificiality. Roth’s strategy is one of complete disclosure interwoven with complete disavowal. He’s only too happy to show the strings from which his creations dangle. …

In November last year, Roth declared that he would write no more novels. “I’m done,” he said. Can it really be that this most prolific and prodigiously gifted novelist, this writer who, after his divorce from Bloom and retreat to rural Connecticut, began publishing a series of masterpieces in his sixties and seventies, will write no more? There has, I think, been nothing comparable to his late flourishing in the history of Anglo-American letters. It is difficult to accept that this has now come to an end, when as recently as 2010 Roth published one of his most poignant and tender novels, Nemesis, set during a polio epidemic in wartime Newark.

Many of the novels of Roth’s late period are preoccupied with illness and death, as is Nemesis. The scabrous comedy and laughter disappeared from his work around the time of Sabbath’s Theater. The old rage was replaced by something approaching resignation. Even Zuckerman withdrew from centre stage and became, in Roth’s great political-historical trilogy comprising American Pastoral, I Married a Communist (1998) and The Human Stain (2000), the narrator no longer of his own, but of other people’s stories, a benign facilitator.

In Exit Ghost (2007), a belated follow-up to The Ghost Writer, an ageing and sick Zuckerman (he now wears nappies because of incontinence following prostate surgery) encounters a cocky, smart-talking literary academic in Central Park. The young man is described, in a jewelled phrase, as being “savage with health, and armed to the teeth with time”.

Philip Roth knows he is running out of time. He speaks now of the end – certainly of the end of his writing life. He ought to have won the Nobel Prize long ago, but perhaps his work is simply too American for the august Swedes of the Nobel committee, who have grumbled about the parochialism of the American novel, of how it looks inward rather than out to the rest of the world. That is nonsense, of course. The greatest living American writers – Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo and, preeminently, Roth – are universalists who in radiant prose ask, again and again: what does it mean to be human and how should we act in a world that is as mysterious as it is indifferent to our fate?

At the end of The Tempest, as he prepares to take his leave, Prospero, a magician of words, hints that “the story of my life” is ending, and now “Every third thought shall be my grave”. Roth has told the story of his life many times and in many different ways, and now he is done.

“At the end of his life,” Roth said in an interview last year, “the boxer Joe Louis said, ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’ It’s exactly what I would say of my work: I did the best I could with what I had.” We can ask no more.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman

Voir enfin:

Philip Roth’s complaint to Wikipedia
Author writes open letter to persuade the online encyclopedia to let him adjust inaccurate description of his novel
Alison Flood
The Guardian
11 Sep 2012

Philip Roth has written an open letter to Wikipedia after the collaborative online encyclopaedia refused to accept him as a credible source for the inspiration behind his own novel, The Human Stain.

The novel, about the New England professor Coleman Silk who is chased out of his job following accusations of racism, was described on Wikipedia as being « allegedly inspired by the life of the writer Anatole Broyard ». Roth, however, says this is not the case, and that it was actually inspired by something that happened to his friend Melvin Tumin, a Princeton professor who spoke the very words used by Silk in The Human Stain about two African American students: « Does anyone know these people? Do they exist or are they spooks? »

In a detailed open letter published by the New Yorker, Roth reveals that he petitioned Wikipedia to delete the « misstatement », but was told « that I, Roth, was not a credible source: ‘I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work,’ writes the Wikipedia Administrator – ‘but we require secondary sources.' »

Roth says the belief that The Human Stain was inspired by Broyard « entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip – there is no truth in it at all », and that « after failing to get a change made through the usual channels », he decided to write an open letter to Wikipedia because he didn’t know how else to proceed. His 2,000-plus word explanation has obviously convinced moderators on the site: it now credits the novel’s inspiration to Tumin, and even mentions Roth’s open letter.

Blake Bailey, who has just been appointed as Roth’s new biographer, will be taking notes – it doesn’t do to get the facts wrong about the Pulitzer-winning author, who earlier this year faxed the editors of The Atlantic over an essay’s assertion that he suffered « a ‘crack-up’ in his mid-50s ».

« The statement is not true nor is there reliable biographical evidence to support it, » wrote Roth at the time. « After knee surgery in March 1987, when I was 54, I was prescribed the sleeping pill Halcion, a sedative hypnotic in the benzodiazepine class of medications that can induce a debilitating cluster of adverse effects … My own adverse reaction to Halcion … started when I began taking the drug and resolved promptly when, with the helpful intervention of my family doctor, I stopped. »

Bailey told the New York Times last week that he had just signed a collaboration agreement giving him unlimited access to Roth’s archives, as well as access to his friends and interviews with the author himself. Already the author of biographies of John Cheever and Richard Yates, Bailey expects the Roth project to take eight to 10 years.

The biographer told the New York Times that there had been a « lengthy vetting process » to secure Roth’s agreement – Ross Miller’s previously planned biography of the author was, he explained, dropped in 2009 – with Roth asking what qualified a gentile from Oklahoma to write his biography. « I pointed out that I’m not an ageing bisexual alcoholic with an ancient Puritan lineage and I still managed to write a biography of John Cheever, » he said.

Voir également:

Éric Zemmour : «Le langage, trop fort pour Darwin»
Eric Zemmour
Le Figaro
15/11/2017

CHRONIQUE – À travers un éloge du langage humain, le célèbre romancier américain Tom Wolfe sonne la charge contre le darwinisme et, au-delà, contre l’establishment. Féroce et jubilatoire.

Tout le monde connaît Tom Wolfe. Son Bûcher des vanités ; son «nouveau journalisme» ; son admiration pour Balzac et Zola ; ses costumes et chapeaux blancs, ses pochettes multicolores, sa canne. Le dernier livre du grand écrivain américain n’est pas un roman mais c’est bien un Tom Wolfe. On y retrouve tout ce qu’on aime: le mélange savant de style élégant, littéraire, et de langage parlé et relâché ; ses portraits dessinés d’une main sûre et alerte ; son souci (très français, aurait dit Stendhal) de ne jamais être dupe ; son ironie jubilatoire qui mord au sang les grands prêtres du politiquement correct.

Dans ses romans précédents, Wolfe avait réglé son compte aux «loups» de Wall Street, aux féministes, aux antiracistes, aux universitaires américains, aux politiques corrompus. À tous les (petits mais furieux) rois de l’époque. Cette fois-ci, dans un court essai, il frappe encore plus fort, vise encore plus haut: Charles Darwin (et sa théorie de l’évolution) et Noam Chomsky (et sa linguistique). La méthode de Wolfe est celle d’un grand joueur de bowling: il lance sa boule sur une quille pour abattre l’autre. Imparable strike. Ce n’était pas gagné d’avance. Les rares qui osent s’aventurer sur ce terrain sont les évangélistes protestants et les imams musulmans: bigoterie et inculture à tous les étages. Notre auteur facétieux et subtil retourne les armes de ses adversaires contre eux-mêmes : la science contre les scientifiques ; l’expérimentation contre les chercheurs Avec Wolfe, c’est tout l’inverse. Notre auteur facétieux et subtil retourne les armes de ses adversaires contre eux -mêmes: la science contre les scientifiques ; l’expérimentation contre les chercheurs ; la loyauté contre les donneurs de leçons de morale. On est à la fois dans le romanesque, le journalisme et la re vue scientifique. À un siècle d’écart, de 1860 à 1960, les faits se répètent étonnamment. Darwin et Chomsky se com portent de même en autocrates imbus de leur supériorité face aux manants qui viennent leur mordre les mollets. À chaque f ois, des hordes de supplétifs font la police intellectuelle pour le compte du maître ; stratégie d’intimidation «d’inquisition néo -darwiniste» qui fera école au XXe siècle.

Iconoclaste, Wolfe remet la théorie de l’évolution de Darwin dans la lignée de toutes les narrations des origines de l’homme, de tous les peuples et de toutes les civilisations, même les plus primitives. La seule différence, explique -t-il, c’est que Darwin a construit son récit dans un con texte rationaliste, «scientifique». Même méthode et mêmes résultats un siècle plus tard avec Chomsky , qui donne ses lettres de noblesse à la linguistique, en transformant cette science sociale en une science «dure». Les écoles enseignent partout dans le monde que l’homme descend du singe ; et toutes les universités vantent la théorie linguistique de Chomsky qui explique qu’on naît avec un «organe du langage», forgeant une «grammaire universelle». L ‘enjeu est énorme: c ‘est la vision de l’homme, de son origine, de son destin. Darwin a détruit le récit biblique de la création de l’homme par un souffle divin. L’agnosticisme radical des sociétés occidentales en fut la conséquence essentielle ; mais les actuelles revendications des «vegan spécistes», ceux qui ne veulent plus faire de différence en tre l’homme et l’animal, sont les derniers enfants de Charles Darwin.

Chomsky est un peu moins célèbre mais son influence n’est pas moindre: sa théorie de «la grammaire uni verselle» vien t s’emboît er dans le dar winisme et le renf orce. Il conforte aussi tous les uni versalist es qui considèren t que l’homme est part out le même, qu’il n’y a ni cultures, ni na tions, ni ci vilisations, encore moins des races, bien s ûr.  Et voilà tout ce que cet ou vrage vient démolir a vec un seul mot: le langage!

Wolfe réhabilite les grands vaincus, les immolés sur le culte des maîtres de notre époque.

Le langage, propre de l’homme, qui a permis à cet être chétif de dominer tous les animaux. Ce langage qui n’est pas partout le même, qui n’a pas de grammaire universelle. Wolfe réhabilite les grands vaincus, les immolés sur le culte des maîtres de notre époque. Max Müller, le plus grand linguiste anglais du XIXe siècle, qui entendait, contre Darwin, «tracer une ligne ferme et indiscutable entre l’humain et le bestial». Et qui avertissait déjà: «Le langage est notre Rubicon et aucune brute n’osera le franchir.» Ou un obscur linguiste anglais, Daniel Everett, plongé à la fin du XXe siècle, dans la tribu amazonienne des Pirahas, et qui, après des années de polémiques féroces, obligea Chomsky et ses acolytes de reconnaître qu’ils avaient passé cinquante ans de leur vie à poursuivre des chimères: «L’évolution de la faculté de langage reste en grande partie une énigme.»

À la fin de son implacable démonstration, Wolfe sort la boîte à gifles: «C’est le langage qui a propulsé l’être humain au-delà des frontières étriquées de la sélection naturelle… La doctrine darwinienne de la sélection naturelle était incapable d’intégrer l’existence des outils, par définition naturels, et encore moins celle de l’Outil suprême, le Mot… Dire que les animaux ont évolué jusqu’à devenir des êtres humains revient à soutenir que le marbre de Carrare a évolué jusqu’à être le David de Michel-Ange.»

Le XXIe siècle n’a pas que des mauvais côtés. Les idoles du XXe sont abattues les unes après les autres: après Marx, après Freud, au tour de Darwin et de Chomsky. Leurs théories étaient devenues des lois, leur discours scientifique (ou plutôt scientiforme) avait occulté leur idéologie. Toutes les sciences humaines, histoire, géographie, sociologie, pédagogie, économie, etc., se sont hérissées ainsi de formules mathématiques pour faire croire à une objectivité de laboratoire, de langue anglaise pour faire croire à une universalité, et de jargon pour faire savants en blouse blanche: tous les historiens à la Boucheron, les géographes à la Lussault, les pédagogistes à la Dubet, tous ces historiens qui révèrent Paxton comme un nouveau messie, tous ces sociologues qui s’agenouillent devant Bourdieu, tous ces économistes qui rabâchent les maximes d’Adam Smith et de Ricardo comme des sourates du Coran, tous ces doctes universitaires gourmets qui se muent en prélats inquisiteurs, traitant de charlatans et de racistes ceux qui osent clamer que leurs rois sont nus, avant de les brûler sur le bûcher. Le bûcher de leur vanité.

Le Règne du langage . Tom Wolfe. Robert Laffont. 212 P ., 19 € .

Melvin M. Tumin, 75, Specialist in Race Relations
Wolfgang Saxon
The New York Times
1994

Prof. Melvin M. Tumin, a Princeton sociologist who wrote widely on human nature and the individual’s place in society, died on Thursday in the Medical Center at Princeton, N.J. He was 75 and lived in Princeton.

The cause was cancer, his family said.

Professor Tumin’s areas of interest ranged over race relations, social stratification, education, and crime and violence. At his death he was professor emeritus of sociology and anthropology at Princeton University, where he taught from 1947 until his retirement in 1989.

His courses at Princeton included social stratification, and human nature and social conduct. He was the author of nearly 20 books and more than 100 articles.

Professor Tumin served as director of the Mayor’s Commission on Race Relations in Detroit before going to Princeton. His subsequent research on segregation and desegregation in the early 1950’s was published in 1957 by the Anti-Defamation League, which he later served as a research consultant. Headed Task Force on Violence

He came to national notice with « Desegregation: Resistance and Readiness » (1958), a study of the attitudes of white male residents of Guilford County, North Carolina, and the factors underlying those attitudes. Another notable book was « Social Stratification: The Forms and Functions of Inequality » (1967). Reissued in 1985, it has been widely used as a textbook.

He directed a task force on individual violence of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. With Donald Mulvihill he contributed three volumes to its 1970 report « Crimes of Violence. » He and Prof. Marvin Bressler of Princeton were co-authors of a two-volume « Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Educational Systems, » published by the Office of Education in 1969.

Melvin Marvin Tumin was born in Newark and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in psychology from the University of Wisconsin in 1939. He received his Ph.D. in sociology and anthropology at Northwestern University in 1944 and taught at Wayne University before joining the Princeton faculty as an assistant professor. In the 1960’s he also taught at Columbia University Teachers College.

At Princeton he was also remembered as one of the first to speak up strongly in the 1950’s against what his friend Philip Roth, a former writer-in-residence at Princeton, called « blatant patterns of discrimination against Jews » in the university’s student clubs. Such discrimination took years more to overcome.

Professor Tumin is survived by his wife of 46 years, Sylvia Yarost Tumin; two sons, Jonathan, of Wheaton, Md., and Zachary, of Manhattan, and four grandchildren.

Voir enfin:

John Updike the Jew
In his Bech books, the great novelist of American WASPdom parsed the allure and otherness of Jewish writers
Adam Kirsch
Tablet
June 27, 2012

American novelist, poet, and critic John Updike, photographed in Boston, Mass., on Oct. 8, 2008.(Antonin Kratochvil/VII/Corbis)

Cynthia Ozick’s story “Levitation,” first published in 1976, deals with a pair of married writers—the husband Jewish, the wife Christian—who throw a party for their literary friends. The party turns out to be as middling as their careers—Ozick has them inviting all the literary celebrities of the hour (“Irving Howe, Susan Sontag, Alfred Kazin, Leslie Fiedler”), none of whom show up—and the star attraction turns out to be a professor who is a Holocaust survivor. Inevitably, the Jewish guests all congregate in the living room to hear him relate the horrors he lived through. Then, in a moment poised between satire and magical realism, the room full of Jews begins to float into the air, leaving the Gentile hostess behind:

The room begin to ascend. It lifted. It rose like an ark on waters. Lucy said inside her mind, “This chamber of Jews.” It seemed to her that the room was levitating on the little grains of the refugee’s whisper. She felt herself alone at the bottom, below the floorboards, while the room floated upward, carrying Jews. Why did it not take her too?

“Levitation” is Ozick’s seriocomic attempt to imagine what it might be like to be a Christian in a midcentury New York literary world largely populated by Jews. The Holocaust, in this sardonic fable, is an obsession and a badge of authenticity that the Jews, despite themselves, hold over the non-Jews; Jewishness and Jewish suffering become a kind of club to which outsiders would not necessarily want to belong, except for the nagging realization that they never can. The Jews’ levitation is at once a concrete symbol of their spiritual loftiness and a frightening example of their vulnerability, their readiness to be severed from the Earth. No wonder Lucy feels a mixture of envy and resentment when her guests take off for the sky.

“Levitation” can also be read as Ozick’s coded response to her contemporary John Updike, who six years earlier had published Bech: A Book, the first of what would become three collections of short stories devoted to the fictional American Jewish writer Henry Bech. The Bech books, which have just been reissued in paperback as part of Random House’s ongoing edition of Updike’s collected works, constitute a weird outlier in Updike’s enormous oeuvre. They are among his most personal, confessional works, dealing as they do with the inner life and professional misadventures of a novelist who in many ways resembles Updike himself. Often, reading the Bech stories, it is easy to imagine Updike drawing upon his own experiences and venting his own writerly spleen—about the fecklessness of publishers, the illusory nature of celebrity, the envy and resentment of rivals and critics. The sheer length of time Updike spent writing about Bech—Bech: A Book (1970) was followed by Bech Is Back (1982) and Bech at Bay (1998)—means that he occupied Updike’s imagination for as long, if never as deeply, as his greatest creation, Rabbit Angstrom.

Yet making his alter ego a Jew, Updike—who was, theologically and sociologically, one of the great novelists of Protestant America—also puts the Bech books in heavily ironic quotes. For Updike the arch-WASP to become Bech the Jew is a stunt, a knowing joke, before it is a confession or even the creation of a character. More, it is an opportunity for Updike to explore the same uneasy mixture of emotions that Ozick hinted at in “Levitation”: the fascination and alienation of a Gentile writer in a literary milieu dominated by Jews.

***

In 1971, in a small piece of Bechiana unfortunately not included in the paperbacks (but available online), Updike wrote a profile of himself for the New York Times Book Review under the byline of Henry Bech. “The book about me,” Updike-as-Bech reports Updike-as-Updike saying, “had not so much been about a Jew as about a writer, who was a Jew with the same inevitability that a fictional rug salesman would be an Armenian.” There is an unmistakable edge in this protestation, with its pointed embrace of rude stereotypes—just try asking an Armenian how he would feel about being called a rug merchant.

But the deeper irony lies in the fact that the identification of Jew with American writer should itself be that kind of stereotype, something so automatic as to seem cliché. Half a century later, the glory days of American Jewish writing seem like something out of a museum or textbook: We remember the names Ozick invited to her fictional party, then add even greater names like Bellow, Roth, Mailer, and Malamud, and wish we could have been part of it all. Reading the Bech stories is a useful reminder of how unexpected, how sheerly unlikely, this Jewish moment must have seemed to a Protestant writer of Updike’s generation.

After all, Updike, born in 1932 and raised, as so many author bios reminded us, in small-town Shillington, Pa., inherited a literary culture in which all the great names sounded much more like John Updike than like Bernard Malamud. For Updike to enter into his career and find himself suddenly the anomaly, an outlier against the Jewish average, must have been a surprise and could well have turned into an ugly shock—as it unmistakably did for Gore Vidal, who has always enjoyed dipping his toes in the waters of anti-Semitism. The Bech books can be seen, then, as Updike’s good-humored, essentially benevolent, but still curious and awkward attempt to figure out what was going on in the lives and minds of his Jewish peers.

The odd, sometimes bumpy tone of the Bech books comes from the way this imagined element, this inquest into the familiarly unknown, goes side by side with experiences and emotions clearly drawn from Updike’s own writerly life. A number of the Bech stories—there are 19 altogether—are satirical portraits of the American celebrity writer abroad. Updike, like almost every writer of note during the Cold War years, must have gone on his share of cultural exchange visits behind the Iron Curtain and to hotbeds of anti-Americanism in the Third World; and so does Henry Bech, usually to gently comic effect.

In “Rich in Russia,” Bech is handed a wad of rubles as payment of his Russian royalties and must find a way to spend them before he leaves the country. This allows him to write about the dreariness of Soviet department stories: “Here they found a vaster store, vast though each salesgirl ruled as a petty tyrant over her domain of shelves. There was a puzzling duplication of suitcase sections; each displayed the same squarish mountain of dark cardboard boxes, and each pouting princess respond with negative insouciance to [his] request for a leather suitcase.” Later, in Bulgaria, Bech falls in love with a dissident poetess, and in Rumania his life is threatened by a reckless chauffeur: “Is it possible,” Bech asks his translator, “that he is the late Adolf Hitler, kept alive by Count Dracula?” In “Bech Third-Worlds It,” the identification between author and character grows especially close, when Bech is protested in Latin America for voicing political views very like the moderate-conservative Updike’s:

Some years ago in New York City he had irritably given an interviewer for Rolling Stone a statement, on Vietnam, to the effect that, challenged to fight, a country big enough has to fight. Also he had said that, having visited the Communist world, he could not share radical illusions about it and could not wish upon Vietnamese peasants a system he would not wish upon himself. Though it was what he honestly thought, he was sorry he had said it. But then, in a way, he was sorry he had ever said anything, on anything, ever.

Updike always takes care that we cannot draw too close a connection between Bech and any one real writer. Bech, born in New York in the 1920s, served in World War II and fought at the Battle of the Bulge; his first novel, Travel Light, is described as a quasi-Beat story about motorcycle gangs and juvenile delinquents in the American West. His second, Brother Pig, and his third, with the intriguing title The Chosen, are barely described at all, except that they were conspicuous failures. When we first meet Bech, and for most of the first two books of Bech stories, he is completely blocked, and Updike wrings a rueful comedy from the way much of a writer’s career consists of impersonating a writer in public rather than actually putting words on paper. None of this makes Bech especially close to Mailer or Bellow or Roth or Salinger, his rough contemporaries; and of course his blockage makes him the polar opposite of Updike, who was famous for being unstoppably prolific.

Often, Updike’s attempts to mark Bech as a Jewish writer feel pro forma, and slightly off. Bech grows up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and goes to a public school in the east 70s, but Jewish writers of his generation were more likely to come from the Bronx or Brooklyn; it wasn’t until rather later that the West Side became a bourgeois Jewish neighborhood. At one point Bech’s father is said to have been a diamond merchant from Amsterdam—again, not an impossible background, but statistically quite unlikely for an Ashkenazi Jew like Bech; the choice of Amsterdam seems to owe more to Updike’s memories of Spinoza. More true to life is the way that, when Bech’s mother died, “He had scarcely mourned. No one sat shivah. No Kaddish had been said. Six thousand years of observance had been overturned in Bech.” Both the lack of piety and the guilt over breaking with tradition feel authentic.

What is genuinely illuminating in the Bech stories is not what Updike knows about Jewishness, which is not very much, but what he imagines about the way Jews think and feel. Echoing ancient tropes, he repeatedly comments on Jewish self-satisfaction and clannishness—without rancor, but also without recognizing that this sort of thing might put Jewish backs up. When Bech is asked whether Jews believe in heaven, he replies:

“Jews don’t go in much for Paradise,” he said. “That’s something you Christians cooked up.” … He went on, with Hollywood, Martin Buber, and his uncles all vaguely smiling in his mind, “I think the Jewish feeling is wherever they happen to be, it’s rather paradisiacal, because they’re there.”

This is an interesting inversion of what Ozick says in “Levitation,” where Jewish solidarity is based on a fascination with the hell of the Holocaust. But the idea that Jews occupy a self-satisfied center, relegating Gentiles to the periphery, crops up again and again in the Bech stories. In “Bech Weds,” the longest and most substantial story, we see Bech conquer his writer’s block by deciding to ignore quality and just produce prose. The result, Think Big, is a best-seller, but from the way Updike describes it, a horrendously bad one, sounding more like Jacqueline Susann than like the literary novelist Bech is supposed to be. Bech’s Gentile wife, Bea, is offended by one facet of the novel in particular:

“Do you realize there isn’t a Gentile character in here who isn’t slavishly in love with some Jew?”

“Well, that’s—”

“Well, that’s life, you’re going to say.”

“Well, that’s the kind of book it is. Travel Light was all about Gentiles.”

“Seen as hooligans. As barbaric people …”

“I’ve another idea for your title,”she said, biting off the words softly and precisely. “Call it Jews and Those Awful Others. Or how about Jews versus Jerks?

At the same time that Updike sees Jews at the center of things, he also writes of the Jewish sense of being alienated from America, geographically and culturally and spiritually. At the beach, Bech is jealous of a WASP teenager who “knew how to insert a clam knife, how to snorkel (just to put on the mask made Bech gasp for breath), how to bluff and charm his way onto private beaches (Bech believed everything he read). … He was connected to the land in a way Bech could only envy.” This is the comedy of the Jew as all brain and no body—a Woody Allen joke, and possibly a Philip Roth one. But Updike goes astray when he extends the analogy to Jews’ feelings about America as such:

Upon the huge body of the United States, swept by dust storms and storms of Christian conscience, young Henry knew that his island of Manhattan existed as an excrescence; relatively, his little family world was an immigrant enclave, the religion his grandfathers had practiced was a tolerated affront, and the language of this religion’s celebration was a backward-running archaism. He and his kin and their kindred were huddled in shawls within an overheated back room while outdoors a huge and beautiful wilderness rattled their sashes with wind and painted the panes with frost; and all the furniture they had brought with them from Europe, the footstools and phylacteries, the copies of Tolstoy and Heine, the ambitiousness and defensiveness and love, belonged to this stuffy back room.

This is true to a certain vein of Jewish feeling in Bech’s generation: Alfred Kazin writes in a related spirit about Brownsville in “A Walker in the City.” But what Bech does not represent is the way that most Jewish American writers rebelled against the parochialism and fearfulness of their immigrant ancestors by flinging themselves ardently into the arms of the “real” America. It is no coincidence that Kazin became his generation’s preeminent expositor of American literature, or that Bellow self-consciously wrote, with The Adventures of Augie March, a Great American Novel. If Updike found himself in a literary culture dominated by Jews, it was not because Jews were shy of America; on the contrary, it was because they loved the country and found it ready to reciprocate their love.

Yet Updike is persistently struck by the unlikeliness of this romance, especially in literary terms. “Bech Noir,” one of the last Bech stories, shows the now elderly novelist systematically murdering various critics who have panned him throughout his career: One gets shoved onto the subway track, another is sent poisoned fan mail. It is one of the stories where the thin line between Updike and Bech seems to blur: The glee with which Updike writes this revenge fantasy makes the reader uncomfortable, since it seems to be the bubbling up of unworthy personal grievances. Updike recognizes this and seeks to defuse it by self-parody—Bech ends up talking like a Raymond Chandler character, and the bloodiness of the plot makes it a caricature, a joke. Still, at the end of the story comes a serious moment. Bech is about to murder one “Orlando Cohen, the arch-fiend of American criticism,” and Cohen uses his last breath to denounce Bech’s work:

“You thought you could skip out … of yourself and write American. Bech … let me ask you. Can you say the Lord’s prayer? … Well, ninety percent of the zhlubs around you can. It’s in their heads. They can rattle … the damn thing right off … how can you expect to write about people … when you don’t have a clue to the chozzerai … that’s in their heads … they stuck it out … but that God-awful faith … Bech … when it burns out … it leaves a dead spot. That’s where America is … in that dead spot. Em, Emily, that guy in the woods … Hem, Mel, Haw … they were there. No in thunder … the Big No. Jews don’t know how to say No. All we know is Yes.”

In a century whose most famous Jewish writer was Kafka, the idea that Jews only know how to say yes is bizarre; but it goes directly to the heart of Updike’s beliefs about America and American literature. For Updike, tracing an intellectual lineage to Dickinson, Melville, and Hawthorne, what makes literature American is a post-Puritan, post-Protestant wrestle with the absence of a redeeming God. Jews, he suggests—as so many English professors suggested before him—cannot in their bones understand this kind of American experience. Just as, in the very first Bech story, Updike wrote that wherever Jews are they think it’s paradise, so now, in one of the last, he writes that Jews are too affirmative, too this-worldly, to understand the American longing for transcendence. In this sense, a Jewish writer can never “skip out of himself and write American.”

In this way, Updike ends up repeating the old exclusionary trope that Jews, in some essential way, can never understand the Anglo-Saxon spirit of English and American literature. He even goes so far as to have Bech, at one moment, confess that the English language is foreign to him: “English, that bastard child of Norman knights and Saxon peasant girls—how had he become wedded to it? There was something diffuse and eclectic about the language that gave him trouble. It ran against his grain; he tended to open books and magazines at the back and read the last pages first.”

But the plain absurdity of that last detail gives the game away: as though Bech, who has only ever known English, is compelled by racial memory to read it “backwards,” like Hebrew. If there was ever a barrier between American Jews and American literature, it was not a spiritual misunderstanding: All you have to do to prove that is look at how many Jews in the 20th century devoted their lives to teaching and explaining Melville and Hawthorne and Dickinson. Anyone can learn what is going on in anyone else’s head—that is the very principle of literature.

The barrier was, rather, the self-doubt instilled by sentiments like Updike’s, the insinuation that the Jewish soul was at odds with the American soul. But the truth is that the American literary inheritance can be passed down to anyone who wants to claim it. That category includes only a few people in any American generation, but they can be Jewish, black, Asian, or anything else, as easily as they can be Anglo-Saxon Protestants. And the continued vitality of the tradition is proved by the way it can be reinterpreted by each new generation that sees it with new eyes. The Bech books deserve to be read as a testament to the tensions that this process of reinterpretation can evoke—and to the powers of imagination and humor that allow it to succeed.

Voir enfin:

The Fraught Friendship of T. S. Eliot and Groucho Marx
Lee Siegel
The NewYorker
June 25, 2014

In 1961, T. S. Eliot wrote Groucho Marx a fan letter requesting a photograph of the comic actor and humorist. Groucho enthusiastically complied, and the two continued to correspond until they finally met, in June of 1964, in London, when Groucho and his third wife, Eden, went to the Eliots’ house for dinner.* So far as I know, Eliot never gave a public account of what transpired that evening. Groucho, though, described the occasion in a letter that he wrote to his brother Gummo the following day.

I am presently finishing up a short critical biography of Groucho and came upon the letters, most of which were published in 1965, in the course of writing the book. After reading them, I sat down and wrote a piece about the two men’s very peculiar exchange, commenting on its unexpected warmth despite their acute differences in temperament. Now that I’ve had time to reflect on the correspondence further, my reading of the tone of the letters has changed.

When I reread the letters for around the fifth time, I became aware of a simmering tension between the two men. One obstacle to writing a book about a comic actor like Groucho is that you unwittingly absorb the enthusiastic, celebratory tone in which many entertainment figures are biographized. The screen persona is so strong that, no matter how scrupulous you try to be, you end up collapsing the real person into the persona that sent you looking for the real person in the first place. And often, with actors, there is barely a real person to be found. When we hear or read the utterances of a celebrity, the words bounce off the public persona and create something like the loud interfering feedback from a microphone. It took me a while to connect Groucho’s words to his actual life.

But this became easier once I realized that the work was much darker than is commonly perceived, and that there was an almost seamless continuity between the life and the work. Groucho was driven by shame about his lack of formal education, having dropped out of school in the seventh grade. He had also been traumatized by catching gonorrhea from a prostitute while on the road at the age of fifteen. Reading his correspondence with his demons in mind, I gradually understood that what appeared to be harmless sarcasm was really a mordant sincerity.

The tension between Groucho and Eliot became suddenly palpable when I reread an exchange they had about the two photographs that Groucho had sent. Eliot assured Groucho that one of them now hung on a wall in his office, “with other famous friends such as W. B. Yeats and Paul Valery.” About three and a half months later, Groucho wrote to Eliot to say that he had just read an essay about Eliot, by Stephen Spender, that had appeared in the Times Book Review. In it, Spender described the portraits on the wall in Eliot’s office but, Groucho said, “one name was conspicuous by its absence. I trust this was an oversight on the part of Stephen Spender.” Eliot wrote back two weeks later, saying, “I think that Stephen Spender was only attempting to enumerate oil and water colour pictures and not photographs—I trust so.”

Could Eliot really have hung a picture of Groucho on a wall next to the two greatest poets of the twentieth century? Was Groucho right to be wary of being condescended to and patronized? Was it disrespectful of him to be so touchy? Was Eliot’s echo—“I trust so”—of Groucho’s stiff, formal language a deliberate dig at Groucho’s affectation or, perhaps, a parody of polite conversation? You begin to suspect that, underneath their respect for each other’s aura of fame, the two men felt an instinctive hostility toward the social type the other represented. Groucho was a pop-culture celebrity, a child of immigrants, an abrasive, compulsively candid Jew. Eliot was a literary mandarin, the confident product of St. Louis Wasp gentry, and an elliptical Catholic royalist given to grave, decorous outbursts of anti-semitism.

In 1934, Eliot published a book of lectures called “After Strange Gods,” in which this passage appeared:

The population should be homogeneous; where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterate. What is still more important is unity of religious background, and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.

Groucho, a highly cultivated man whose greatest regret in life was that he had become an entertainer rather than a literary man—he published some of his first humor pieces in the inaugural issues of this magazine—could not have been unaware of Eliot’s notorious remarks about Jews. They were loudly denounced in the Times, among other places. So even as he was basking in Eliot’s admiration, he seemed to feel compelled to cause Eliot some discomfort. And Eliot was hardly unaware, in the wake of the Holocaust, of the distress his 1934 remarks had caused. In his book, “T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form,” Anthony Julius writes that after the Second World War Eliot, “while unable to break free of an anti-Semitism that had become part of the processes of his thinking, had ceased to be comfortable with his contempt for Jews.”

So even as he was pleased by Groucho’s grateful acknowledgment of his attention, Eliot was anxious to convince Groucho of his good faith toward Jews. (“I envy you going to Israel, and I wish I could go there too if the winter climate is good as I have a keen admiration for that country,” he wrote to Groucho, in 1963.) At the same time, it’s possible that he never lost his unease with the fact that Groucho was so unabashedly Jewish.

In 1961, when the literati were still marvelling over Arthur Miller’s marriage to Marilyn Monroe, and before high and low culture had so thoroughly merged, the idea of a relationship between Groucho Marx and T. S. Eliot would have been the stuff of a never-to-be-written proto-postmodernist novel. But here was Eliot, writing to Groucho to ask him to send along a different photograph than the official studio shot that Groucho had first mailed. Eliot wanted one with Groucho sporting his famous mustache and holding his signature cigar. But Groucho waited almost two years before sending it. Growing impatient, Eliot pointedly wrote to Groucho, in February, 1963, that “your portrait is framed on my office mantelpiece, but I have to point you out to my visitors as nobody recognizes you without the cigar and rolling eyes.” Perhaps Groucho had sensed all along a belittling sentiment behind Eliot’s request for the in-character photograph; nevertheless, he put one in the mail shortly thereafter.

Though Eliot was considered the reigning poet of the English-speaking world, and Groucho his counterpart in the world of comedy—celebrated by the likes of Antonin Artaud—each man seemed to provoke in the other a desire to conceal an essential liability. Eliot seems to have wanted Groucho to consider him a warm, ordinary guy and not the type of stiff, repressed person who disdained from a great height “free-thinking Jews.” He can’t quite bring it off—his acquired British self-deprecation stumbles into an American boorishness. On the eve of Groucho’s visit to London, Eliot wrote, “The picture of you in the newspapers saying that … you have come to London to see me has greatly enhanced my credit in the neighbourhood, and particularly with the greengrocer across the street. Obviously I am now someone of importance.”

Compared to the buried anxieties that Eliot stirred in Groucho, though, Eliot’s strenuous bonhomie seemed like the height of social tact. The font of Groucho’s and the Marx Brothers’ humor was an unabashed insolence toward wealth and privilege. Born at the turn of the century to an actress mother and a layabout father in Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood, the brothers turned the tumult of their hardscrabble origins into a universal reproach to the rigidity of social class. The encounter with Eliot brought out Groucho’s characteristic tendency to hide his embarrassment about his origins by pushing them in his audience’s face.fSiegel

The Marx Brothers were hypersensitive to the slightest prerogatives of power; a person in authority had only to raise a finger to turn them hysterical and abusive. “I decided what the hell,” Groucho said once. “I’ll give the big shots the same Groucho they saw onstage—impudent, irascible, iconoclastic.” They fought with studio bosses and alienated directors and comedy writers. The humorist S. J. Perelman found the brothers to be “megalomaniacs to a degree which is impossible to describe.” There was a tremendous release in watching them utter and enact taboos in the face of power and privilege. That sense of liberation—of something unthinkable and impossible being deliciously actualized—is what makes even their less funny movies enthralling.

But underneath the compulsive truth-telling onstage there was a tremendous insecurity, which often expressed itself through acerbic joking about sex and sexuality. When Groucho appeared on an episode of William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line,” in 1967, an enmity sprang up between the two men almost immediately, with Groucho characteristically going on the attack the minute he perceived Buckley’s air of privilege and authority. At one point, as Buckley was trying to expose Groucho as a hypocrite for not voting for F.D.R. in 1944, Groucho turned suddenly to the moderator and said, of Buckley, “Do you know that he blushes? And he’s constantly blushing. He’s like a young girl. This is a permanent blush, I think.” The Marxes’ preternatural vulnerability to power and authority made them reach for their genitals the moment they ran up against the slightest impediment to their freedom. What Artaud, with a kind of condescending credulity, perceived as the brothers “brimming with confidence and manifestly ready to do battle with the rest of the world” was really a manic compulsion.

The same impulse to unman a social or cultural threat gambols across Groucho’s exchanges with Eliot. “Why you haven’t been offered the lead in some sexy movies I can only attribute to the stupidity of casting directors,” wrote the movie star to the rather dour literary man. Recommending his autobiography “Memoirs of a Mangy Lover,” Groucho wrote, “If you are in a sexy mood the night you read it, it may stimulate you beyond recognition and rekindle memories that you haven’t recalled in years.” He concluded another letter by writing, “My best to you and your lovely wife, whoever she may be.”

Call me hypercritical or unusually dark, but Eliot lived in one of the world’s most intricately coded social environments, and it’s hard not to read his reply to Groucho’s rudeness as a triumph of genteel passive aggression. Two weeks after receiving this last letter, he wrote, “My lovely wife joins me in sending you our best, but she didn’t add ‘whoever he may be’—she knows. It was I who introduced her in the first place to the Marx Brothers films [because she had no idea who you were] and she is now as keen a fan as I am. Not long ago we went to see a revival of ‘The Marx Brothers Go West’ [one of their worst films], which I had never seen before [though I know that it came out over twenty years ago]. It was certainly worth it. [It was certainly not worth it, or I wouldn’t declare that it was.]

Being manhandled in feline, Bloomsbury manner was perhaps too much for Groucho to tolerate. (His ego was permanently injured yet permanently inflated; he wrote his famous line “I do not want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member” in a letter to said club, not because he hated himself but because he actually felt that it was beneath him to belong to the club and expressed himself with characteristic ironic aggression.) Two weeks later, he shifted tack, from reducing Eliot’s individuality to sexual terms to reducing his public persona to his social origins.

Like the elementalness of sex, the elementalness of social origin was another club the Marx Brothers used to beat away social façades. In “Animal Crackers,” Chico accosts a wealthy guest named Roscoe W. Chandler at Mrs. Rittenhouse’s splendid mansion and asks him if his real name is Abe Kebibble. “Nonsense,” Chandler cries in faux-British tones. Chico then asks him if he’s ever been in Sing Sing. “Please!” Chandler says, and he tries to walk away. “How about Joliet?” says Chico. “Leavenworth?” “I’ve got it,” says Chico, “you’re from Czechoslovakia!” Harpo joins them, and Chico says, “Yes, now I remember! You’re Abie the fish peddle from Czechoslovakia!” Chico remembers that Abie had a birthmark somewhere. Chico and Harpo jump all over him, nearly undressing him, until they find the mark on his arm, at which point “Chandler” confesses to being Abie the fish peddle from Czechoslovakia, and in a heavy Yiddish accent offers them money to keep his origins secret.

In response to Eliot’s polite letter, Groucho, who was born Julius Henry Marx, reminded Eliot that his name was Tom, not T.S., and that “the name Tom fits many things. There was once a famous Jewish actor named Thomashevsky. [An actor like you, you Anglicized, Jew-hating phony.] All male cats are named Tom—unless they have been fixed. [You get the point.]” He ends the letter still refusing to acknowledge Eliot’s wife Valerie, and reminding both of Eliot’s less-than-Bloomsbury origins: “My best to you and Mrs. Tom.”

Groucho and Eliot had been promising to visit each other for three years before Groucho finally came for dinner at the Eliots, in June of 1964. According to Groucho’s letter to Gummo—the only existing account of the dinner—Eliot was gracious and accommodating. Groucho, on the other hand, became fixated on “King Lear,” in which the hero, Edgar, just so happens to disguise himself as a madman named Tom. Despite Tom Eliot’s polite indifference to his fevered ideas about “Lear” (“that, too, failed to bowl over the poet,” Groucho wrote to Gummo), Groucho pushed on. Eliot, he wrote, “quoted a joke—one of mine—that I had long since forgotten. Now it was my turn to smile politely. I was not going to let anyone—not even the British poet from St. Louis—spoil my Literary Evening.” Groucho expatiated on Lear’s relationship to his daughters. Finally, Eliot “asked if I remembered the courtroom scene in Duck Soup. Fortunately I’d forgotten every word. It was obviously the end of the Literary Evening.”

During the trial in “Duck Soup,” language is held over the fire of puns, double entendres, and non sequiturs until it melts into nonsense. (Or near-nonsense, anyway: “There’s a whole lot of relephants in the circus,” Chico says at one point.) In the trial scene in “King Lear,” Edgar/Tom protests the Fool’s own nonsense, saying, “The foul fiend haunts poor Tom in the voice of a nightingale.” Perhaps that was Eliot’s inner cry of protest at dinner, too. But Groucho was so defensive in the presence of the “British poet from St. Louis” that he seems to have missed Eliot’s subtle homage to his intellect. Groucho still could not shake the primal shame that was the goad of his comic art as well as the source of his self-protective egotism. “Did I tell you we called him Tom?” he wrote at the end of the letter to Gummo. “Possibly because that’s his name. I, of course, asked him to call me Tom too, but only because I loathe the name Julius.”

If the two men exchanged additional letters between the June, 1964, dinner and Eliot’s death, in January, 1965, none have been found. It is curious that there was no thank-you note from Groucho to Eliot after the dinner. Then again, perhaps it is no surprise, if the dinner convinced each figure that his infatuated expectation that the other man was wholly different from his public persona had no basis in his actual personality. Both men, it turned out—Groucho the flagrant misanthrope and Eliot the restrained one—were those rare figures in whom public persona and private personality aligned.

Lee Siegel is the author of, among other books, two collections of criticism, “Falling Upwards: Essays in Defense of the Imagination” and “Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television.” He is a frequent contributor to Page-Turner.


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