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Christiane Taubira & Feminism

July 28, 2017 10 comments

Christiane Taubira is a French politician from the overseas department of French Guiana. She was minister of Justice from 2012 to 2016 and was instrumental in the law authorizing same sex marriage in France. She’s very literate, in love with literature in general and poetry in particular. Toni Morrison is one of her favorite writers because they share the heavy history of slavery and of the oppression of women.

She was invited by the director of the theatre festival in Avignon. He asked her to pick literature excerpts to make a performance during the festival. She accepted and she gave an interview to Télérama at the end of June to talk about the festival, her immense love for literature, her opinion that a politician should always be literate and rely on books to learn new things and keep in touch with the society. She’s a vibrant feminist and I wanted to share her answer to this question about the texts she selected for the show.

Journaliste: Sur quels thèmes portent les textes que vous avez choisis?

Sur les femmes, notamment: leur regard sur la planète, leurs conquêtes, ou les formes de discriminations qu’elles subissent. L’inégalité hommes-femmes est à mes yeux la matrice de toutes les discriminations. Une fois celle-ci éliminée, les autres –fondées sur des préjugés ou des faits culturels– s’écrouleront. Tant que nous n’aurons pas installé psychologiquement et intellectuellement cette nécessaire égalité au sein de nos sociétés, tant que les lois et les faits toléreront le sexisme, nous donnerons prise aux autres inégalités…

My translation:

Journalist: What do the texts you picked talk about?

About women, among other things. About their vision of our planet, their conquests, or the kind of discrimination they suffer from. Inequality between men and women is the mother of all inequalities. Once this one is eradicated, the others– based on prejudice or on cultural facts– will crumble. As long as we have not psychologically and intellectually settled this necessary equality in our societies, as long as laws and facts will tolerate sexism, there will be room for all the other inequalities…

Thought-provoking, isn’t it?

Science fiction in Europe. Reality in America.

January 15, 2016 14 comments

My Parents Open Carry (2015) by Brian G. Jeffs & Nathan R. Nephew.

A friend of mine sent me this children’s book for Christmas, not as an actual gift but as a oh-my-god-she-needs-to-see-this present. So here I am opening My Parents Open Carry and gasping from the first page to the last. Flaberggasted and appalled are the right adjectives to describe how I felt about this as a reader, as a mother and as a person.

The authors who committed this opus wrote its foreword and it tells everything about it:

This book was written in the hope of providing a basic overview of the right to keep and bear arms as well as the growing practice of the open carry of a hand gun. Our fear is that our children are being raised with a biased view of our constitution and especially in regards to the 2nd Amendment. Before writing this, we looked for pro-gun children’s books and couldn’t find any. Our goal is to provide a wholesome children’s book that reflects the views of the majority of the American people, i.e. that self-defense is a basic natural right and that firearms provide the most efficient means for that defense. We truly hope you will enjoy this book and read and discuss it with your children over and over again.

my_parents_open_carryFollows the edifying day of the Strong family who shops in different stores and tries to convince people that they should carry guns and ends up at the shooting range. Their thirteen years old girl Brenna receives her first gun because she got good grades and it’s her first practice day. (!!)

Apart from being morally condemnable, this book is also poorly written and illustrated. Children’s books are also literature and good ones require a talented writer and a gifted illustrator. No literary or drawing talent of any kind was poured in this book.

The substance? It is full of fallacious arguments, dumb comparisons and syllogisms. Stupidest comparison ever: carrying a gun is like putting on your seatbelt; it’s for your safety and you hope you’ll never need it. Syllogism? Chainsaws are dangerous and yet sold in shops. Guns are dangerous. Therefore, guns may be sold in shops. (!!!)

I assure you this is not April Fools’ Day and that this book actually exists. The comforting part of the foreword is that the authors couldn’t find any pro-gun children’s book. I don’t know if their assumption about the American’s people thinking that self-defense is a basic natural right is true. I hope not.

For me, reading this is like reading science fiction. The whole debate about open carry and conceal carry has no grounds because the carry shouldn’t exist in the first place. The saddest part of it is that these pro-gun advocates/writers live in constant fear. They think they can get robbed or attacked anytime and need to feel ready to fight back. They talk about checking their surroundings all the time. What kind of life is that? Fear is the worst leader to make intelligent decisions. It works with the least evolved part of our brain. Considering the rubbish this children’s book spews from its pages, this very part of the authors’ brain was involved in its conception.

I feel like sending President Obama a box of tissues. He’s not done crying.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité. We won’t back down.

November 14, 2015 32 comments

It all started like a normal Saturday morning. Going to the kitchen with sleepy eyes, picking up my cell phone to check messages and discovering not one but two worried tweets, checking on me. Thanks for your messages, Brian and Nino. Not sleepy anymore, I thought “Fuck, what happened again” and rushed to the radio and the website of Le Monde.

And then the horror. Again. To these pieces of shit who think they will make us change our way of life, I say: “We won’t back down”.

I’ll end this sad post with a quote reminding us what religion should be:

And if you would know God, be not therefore a solver of riddles.

Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children.

And look into space; you shall see Him walking in the cloud, outstretching His arms in the lightning and descending in rain.

You shall see Him smiling in flowers, then rising and waving His hands in trees.

Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

You won’t see Him put bombs to kill innocent people.

 

Politics, literature, Philip Roth…And me

August 8, 2015 9 comments

“Politics is the great generalizer,” Leo told me, “and literature the great particularizer, and not only are they in a inverse relationship to each other –they are in an antagonistic relationship. To politics, literature is decadent, soft, irrelevant, boring, wrongheaded, dull, something that makes no sense and that really oughtn’t be. Why? Because the particularizing impulse is literature. How can you be an artist and renounce the nuance? But how can you be a politician and allow the nuance? As an artist, the nuance is your task. Your task is not to simplify. Even should you choose to write in the simplest way, à la Hemingway, the task remains to impart the nuance, to elucidate the complication, to imply the contradiction. Not to erase the contradiction, not to deny the contradiction, but to see where, within the contradiction, lies the tormented human being. To allow for the chaos, to let it in. You must let it in. Otherwise you produce propaganda, if not for a political party, a political movement, then stupid propaganda for life itself –for life as it might itself prefer to be publicized. During the first five, six years of the Russian Revolution the revolutionaries cried, ‘Free love, there will be free love!’ But once they were in power, they couldn’t permit it. Because what is free love? Chaos. And they didn’t want chaos,. That isn’t why they made their glorious revolution. They wanted something carefully disciplined, organized, contained, predictable scientifically, if possible. Free love disturbs the organization, their social and political and cultural machine. Art also disturbs the organization. Literature disturbs the organization. Not because it is blatantly for or against, or even subtly for or against. It disturbs the organization because it is not general. The intrinsic nature of the particular is to be particular, and the intrinsic nature of particularity is to fail to conform. Generalizing suffering: there is Communism. Particularizing suffering: there is literature. In that polarity is the antagonism. Keeping the particular alive in a simplifying, generalizing world –that’s where the battle is joined. You do not have to write to legitimize Communism, and you do not have to write to legitimize capitalism. You are out of both. If you are a writer, you are as unallied to the one as you are to the other. Yes, you see differences, and of course you see that this shit is a little better than that shit, or that that shit is a little better than that shit. Maybe much better. But you see the shit. You are not a government clerk. You are not a militant. You are not a believer. You are someone who deals in a very different way with the world and what happens in the world. The militant introduces a faith, a big relief that will change the world and the artist introduces a product that has no place in that world. It’s useless. The artist, the serious writer, introduces into the world something that wasn’t there even at the start. When God made all this stuff in seven days, the birds, the rivers, the human beings, he didn’t have ten minutes for literature. ‘And then there will be literature. Some people will like it, some people will be obsessed by it, want to do it…’ No. No. He did not say that. If you had asked God then, ‘There will be plumbers?’ ‘Yes, there will be. Because they will have houses, they will need plumbers.’ ‘There will be doctors?’ ‘Yes. Because they will get sick, they will need doctors to give them some pills.’ ‘And literature?’ ‘Literature? What are you talking about? What use does it have? Where does it fit in? Please, I am creating a universe, not a university. No literature.’”

Philip Roth, I Married a Communist

And this is why some politicians despise literature, why I’ll never be a member of a political party, a political organization or a union. I’m not an artist, I’m not a writer but I’m on the side of the artist, of the writer. I want to see the particular, I want to see the shit, I want to frolic in the grand uselessness of literature.

Saturday bookish news

March 7, 2015 21 comments

Hello,

This is just a little post to share a few bookish news.

First, Héloïse est chauve by Emilie de Turckheim is finally available to British readers. It’s been translated by Sophie Lewis. I loved that book (my enthusiastic billet is here) and I was looking forward to its translation in English. Of course, Stu from Winstonsdad’s blog has already spotted it for his 2015 reading list. The Independent also published a glowing review here. Two things are disappointing from my point of view. First, the cover. Look at this! What the hell was the publisher thinking? It looks like paranormal romance.

Turckheim_Heloise_BaldMeyer_hostSee what I mean? Now, here’s the French cover:

turckheim_heloiseThe French cover reflects the atmosphere of the book which is perfectly described in the review of The Independent. Once again, I find an English cover vulgar and almost ridiculing the book it represents.

The other thing that irks me is the reference to Lolita by Nabokov. In French we say Comparaison n’est pas raison (Comparing is not reasoning) Well in this case, comparaison est déraison. While it’s certainly flattering to be compared to a literary genius, while Héloïse does have a love affair with a much older man when she’s underage, Heloise is bald has nothing to do with Lolita. When I read Lolita, I felt terribly ill-at-ease. I felt the kind of uneasiness that nestles in your stomach when you read about abuse, pedophilia and unhealthy relationships. Here, it’s a totally different feeling, more like being in an alternate universe and witnessing an unusual story.

So please, British readers, if you stumble upon this novel in a bookstore, don’t be put off by this cheap cover or by a potential misplaced reference to Lolita in the blurb (I haven’t seen the blurb on the physical copies) and give Emile de Turckheim’s book a chance. She deserves it. I’m truly happy that her novel made it into English.

Otherwise, this weekend is the Fête du Livre of Bron and I hope to see Philippe Djian tomorrow afternoon. He’ll be giving a lecture with Virginie Despentes. He’s one of my favourite contemporary French writers and I really hope I’ll be able to hear that conference. I’m a bit like a teenager who would have a chance to see Robert Pattinson. (Just following the previous trend of reference…)

Other bookish fest to come: Quais du Polar. (26-28 March) Marina Sofia has advertised the festival here and for Parisians readers (there might be some, who knows?), the SNCF is sponsoring the event: it costs only 25€ to come to Lyon by TGV that weekend. It’s a nice opportunity to discover a truly beautiful city.

I have my special membership pass, I’ll be meeting Marina Sofia there and I’m looking forward to it. It’s not going to help downsizing my TBR but I’ll live with it. The list of crime fiction writers attending the event is the following:

  • Paco Ignacio Taibo II (Mexico)
  • Leonardo Padura (Cuba)
  • Horacio Castellanos Moya (Salvador)
  • Daniel Quirós (Costa Rica)
  • Paulo Lins et Edyr Augusto (Brasil),
  • Luis Sepúlveda (Chili),
  • Santiago Gamboa (Colombia),
  • Ernesto Mallo (Argentina),
  • Diego Trelles Paz (Peru)
  • John Grisham (USA),
  • Elizabeth George (USA),
  • Anthony Horowitz (GB),
  • Don Winslow (USA),
  • Shannon Burke (USA),
  • Emily St John Mandel (Canada)
  • Maurice G. Dantec (Canada),
  • Attica Locke (USA),
  • Nicci French (GB),
  • Val McDermid (Scotland),
  • Denise Mina (GB),
  • Mike Nicol (South Africa)
  • Sebastian Rotella (USA).
  • Michael Connelly
  • Ian Rankin
  • Tom Rob Smith (GB),
  • Michel Quint (France)
  • Michel Bussi (France)
  • Maxime Chattam (France)
  • Yasmina Khadra (Algeria)
  • Caryl Férey
  • Ian Manook
  • Kishwar Desai (India),
  • Saul Black (GB),
  • Dror Mishani (Israel.),
  • Gert Nygårdshaug (Norway.)
  • Elena Piacentini (France),
  • Michaël Mention (France),
  • Christophe Reydi-Gramond (France)
  • Nicolas Matthieu (France).

Have you read books by writers of that list?

Btw, Quais du Polar wants to create a list of French-speaking book bloggers who read and review crime fiction. There’s a questionnaire here, if you want to participate. Now the tricky side of it: Am I a French-speaking book blogger? My native language is French but the blog is in English. It seems I don’t fit a proper category and to be honest, I love it! 😉

I hope you’re all doing well and I wish you a nice weekend.

Emma

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

October 12, 2014 10 comments

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. 2008 French title: Le premier qui pleure a perdu.

Alexie_DiaryI’ve already read Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie and I really enjoyed it. I thought I’d read another one by him someday. End of September, I discovered on Twitter that it was Banned Books Week, an event organised in the US to celebrate the freedom to read. Check out here the Top 10 of frequently challenged books. Browsing through the tweets, I became aware of two puzzling facts: there’s a need in the USA to organise such a week and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie was on the list of banned books in several high schools in Idaho, Missouri, Texas and other states  because it was judged offensive. Call it a pavlovian-voltairian reflex if you want, but when I hear about banned books, I want to become a knight in shining armour and rescue all these books in distress. (Yes, women have the right to picture themselves as knights in shiny armours, this is the 21st century)

So, on principle, because a big democracy like America shouldn’t need a Banned Book Week and because no writer deserves to be banned, I decided to buy The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and read it right away. That’s my way of protesting and I sure hope this billet will get retweeted and reblogged and advertised because the book community should be rebellious against censorship.

Imagine me starting Alexie’s YA novel, banned or challenged for the following reasons “Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group”. I expected some Indian Portnoy’s Complaint or some Justine or the unhappiness to live on a reservation or a Spokane On the Road. Actually, I’ve read the diary of fourteen year old Arnold Spirit, an Indian living on the Spokane reservation. One day, pushed by his math teacher, he decides to leave the reservation high school in Wellpinit to attend the high school outside the reservation in Reardan to have better chances to succeed in life. The novel relates his year as a freshman in Reardan, his struggle with his identity as he turned his back to his community in hope of a better future.

Traveling between Reardan and Wellpinit, between the little white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger. I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other. It was like being Indian was my job, but it was only a part-time job. And it didn’t pay well at all.

There’s no explicit language except one or two mentions of a boner and masturbation. But isn’t that part of adolescence, along with acne, squeaky voices and fear of blood stains on trousers? Arnold’s journey in Reardan is difficult due to his different background or to his poverty but nothing really bad happens to him in school. He’s not molested, bullied or insulted. There’s no more violence than on many TV shows. It’s a coming-of-age novel dealing with the usual dilemnas of adolescence. Who am I? Except that the answer is more difficult to find when you change of world. So what? Portnoy’s Complaint is not on the challenged books list and it’s a lot more challenging than Alexie’s book. Either these fools ban books they haven’t read or they’re not literate enough to notice there are lots of more explicit books about sex, booze or drugs than this one. Madame Bovary is more sexual than this!

My opinion is that Alexie’s tone bothers them. Arnold has a spitfire tongue, an incredible sense of humour and the novel is full of passages like this:

But she was lying. Her eyes always got darker in the middle when she lied. She was a Spokane Indian and a bad liar, which didn’t make any sense. We Indians really should be better liars, considering how often we’ve been lied to.

Or

“Jeez,” she said. “Who cares if a man wants to marry another man? All I want to know is who’s going to pick up all the dirty socks?”

Or

This guy was in love with computers. I wondered if he was secretly writing a romance about a skinny, white boy genius who was having sex with a half-breed Apple computer.

Or

Okay, so it was Gordy who showed me a book written by the guy who knew the answer. It was Euripides, this Greek writer from the fifth century BC. A way-old dude. In one of his plays, Medea says, “What greater grief than the loss of one’s native land?” I read that and thought, “Well, of course, man. We Indians have LOST EVERYTHING. We lost our native land, we lost our languages, we lost our songs and dances. We lost each other. We only know how to lose and be lost.” But it’s more than that, too. I mean, the thing is, Medea was so distraught by the world, and felt so betrayed, that she murdered her own kids. She thought the world was that joyless.

The last one stings a bit, just like the one questioning Indian’s habit to celebrate Thanksgiving. As Arnold points out: what should Indians be thankful for? I suspect these bigots can’t forgive Alexie for not using the mild Native American term or for bringing up topics they’d like to forget. –Note that Toni Morrison is also on the “challenged books” list. And she does exactly the same: her books give a voice to the history of black people in America.

Yes Alexie calls a spade a spade and he does it on a witty tone. When Arnold depicts Reardan, he sounds like the narrator in The Plot Against America when he describes the non-Jewish neighbourhoods in Newark. It’s genuine curiosity and he’s got the self-deprecating sense of humour one sees in Woody Allen’s films. Arnold has the exaggeration of a teenager; he’s loud, sends direct punches and questions the adults around him.

I’m against censoring books for teenagers. Everything can be read with the proper explanations. Personally, I put my hands on a Sade book in high school. Did it disgust me? Yes. Did it scar me for life? No. Thinking our teenage children don’t think or talk about sex is ridiculously naïve. (And forgetful of what we used to be) Thinking they don’t know about homosexuality is equally silly. Censoring a book that mentions the disaster alcohol brings on the reservation is plain stupidity. Teenagers will try alcohol, Sherman Alexie or not. And this book doesn’t mention under-age drinking but shows what kind of ravages alcohol do to families and lives. Isn’t it a proper message to convey to our children? And what about this:

“The quality of a man’s life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of his chosen field of endeavor.”

Is it bad for a teenager to read this? I don’t think it is. So I support Sherman Alexie’s book to the point of buying it again, in French, for my thirteen year old daughter. I can’t wait to hear what she thinks about it.

Paris in July : Madame du Châtelet

July 18, 2014 22 comments

Discours du le bonheur (1746/1747) by Emilie du Châtelet. (1706-1749) English title: Discourse on Happiness.

My participating to Paris in July organised by Bellezza, Karen, Tamara and Adria feels a bit like cheating. The aim of this blogging event is to celebrate anything French and since I’m French and living in France, I ooze Frenchness with all my pores. What kind of challenge is that? Actually, I wanted to take the opportunity of this rendezvous with French culture to read and write about Le discours sur le bonheur d’Emilie du Châtelet. (Discourse on Happiness)

Chatelet_BonheurI discovered Emilie du Châtelet when I read Voltaire’s biography. They had a tumultuous relationship but remained friends until she died. Emilie du Châtelet was a born scientist; she studied mathematics and physics and her most important achievement is the translation of Newton’s work into French. For a long time, her translation remained the only one available in French. She was brilliant and Voltaire admired her mind. If she were born today in this country, she could have a stellar career. But she was a woman in the 18thC and according to her, studying hard was the only way a woman could reach fame and posterity. She sure did and not only as Voltaire’s lover and study buddy.

With her discourse, Emilie du Châtelet aims at enlightening younger people in order to share her experience of life and help them reach contentment and happiness sooner, without losing time to figure it out by themselves. She sums up her thought marvellously in this quote:

Tâchons de bien nous porter, de n’avoir point de préjugés, d’avoir des passions, de les faire servir à notre bonheur, de remplacer nos passions par des goûts, de conserver précieusement nos illusions, d’être vertueux, de ne jamais nous repentir, d’éloigner de nous les idées tristes, et de ne jamais permettre à notre cœur de conserver une étincelle de goût pour quelqu’un dont le goût diminue et qui cesse ne nous aimer. Il faut bien quitter l’amour un jour, pour peu qu’on vieillisse, et ce jour doit être celui où il cesse de nous rendre heureux. Enfin, songeons à cultiver le goût de l’étude, ce goût qui ne faire dépendre notre bonheur que de nous-mêmes. Préservons-nous de l’ambition, et surtout sachons bien ce que nous voulons être ; décidons-nous sur la route que nous voulons suivre, et tâchons de la semer de fleurs. Let’s try to be in good health, to be devoid of prejudice, to have passions and to make them serve our happiness, to replace our passions by hobbies. Let’s try to nurture our illusions, to be virtuous, to avoid repentance, to push away sad thoughts and to never allow our heart to keep a spark of liking for someone whose love vanishes and who stops loving us. We have to leave love behind, eventually, at least if we get older, and that day must be the day when love ceases to make us happy. And, let’s endeavour to cultivate our fondness for studying because this liking makes our happiness independent from other people. Let’s protect ourselves from ambition and most of all, let’s try to know exactly who we want to be. Then we can choose which path to follow and endeavour to have it paved with flowers.

Well, the quote is marvellous in French. I had to translate it myself, and I’m not able to translate anything into 18thC English; you’ll have to suffer my translation in 21st century English, spoken by a non-native. (Perhaps it just means it’s time for you to learn how to read in French.)

She managed to pack a lot of thoughts in this paragraph, didn’t she? I like her realism. She says before this quote that she’s only writing for people of her social class. She doesn’t pretend to bring her pearls of wisdom to people who don’t share the same background. Not that she thinks that she’s superior or that they’re not worth it. It’s more that she’s conscious that some of her recommendations are difficult to pursue when you have to fight for your daily bread. It’s more a matter of respect. I also like that she starts by mentionning being healthy as the first thing to wish for happiness. She doesn’t mean that you need to be healthy to be happy but that you must not endanger your health to remain on the path to happiness.

A few things speak to me in that quote. I do believe that passions, in the sense of hobbies you’re deeply invested in, make life more interesting and bring us pleasure and happiness. That’s what reading does to me. By nurturing your illusions she means to remain capable of wonderment, to watch a magician without trying to understand his tricks. She believes in suspension of belief as a way to live happy times. She wouldn’t want to know how they make special effects in films. It’s also something I share with her. I enjoy shows from the audience and I’m not much interested in what’s happening behind the curtains or in literature how the writer built their book.

You may be puzzled by the “avoid any repentance” concept. She explains her point. She thinks wallowing in repentance is harmful to one’s happiness; that one should acknowledge and repair their mistake but not rub into it for too long. Understand, apologise, make amends and move on. It goes with avoiding sad thoughts and not letting disquiet invade your life and thoughts and gnaw at your ability for happiness.

In the introduction of this discourse, Elisabeth Badinter argues that all the references to lost love, letting go of your lover are a reference to her relationship with Voltaire. That’s what happened, he got tired of her as a lover, not as a friend or as a thinker.

I personnally think of reading when she mentions studying as a liberating passion: it brings you happiness on your own and on your own terms. When I think of it now, I was an easy child or teenager for my parents; give me a place to stay, enough books and I’m happy. I don’t get bored, I don’t ask for more and I don’t need anyone to entertain me. Well, I do need someone: I need writers and publishers to provide me with these wonderful books.

The best advice she gives is probably in the end: know yourself and try to figure out which road is the best for you.

Voilà, that was my contribution to Paris in July, a way to make you discover a great French lady, someone who was equal to the best scientists of her time and lived a grand passion with Voltaire. I hope I stirred your curiosity, that you’ll check her Wikipedia page or even better that it encouraged to read her biography. She’s introduction to French spirit.

Anyway I say Hi from France. Thanks to Bellezza, Karen, Tamara and Adria for hosting this event and thanks to the participants for the interest they show for my culture and my country.

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