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April Diary

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It is curious that that the supposed "insult to the nation" delivered by those who dared to point out France's closeness to the genocidal regime in Rwanda caused more uproar, provoked more indignation, and, it seems, elicited more emotion than did the outrage inflicted on the 800,000 victims of the genocide. I know that France is debating that closeness. I understand how President Kagame's words may have caused offense. But was it really necessary for the Gallic rooster, while flashing its spurs, to neglect to give the dead their due or to fulfill the duty to remember, as most of the democracies, but not France, managed to do?

Alexandre Arcady's film on the Calvary of Ilan Halimi, the young French Jew who, in January 2006, was kidnapped and tortured to death because he was a Jew, will open in Paris at the end of the month. In one astonishing scene, the abductors send Ilan's family a cassette in response to their request for proof that their son is alive. On that cassette, we hear the young man say, essentially, "I am a Jew; my father is a Jew; my mother is a Jew"--the same words uttered by Daniel Pearl in a similar situation several years earlier. I cannot imagine that those words came to him by chance. My astonishment stems from the fact that when he was within an inch of death, when his body was an open wound and his soul a plaintive cry, barely alive, the young martyr could still find the strength for that glorification of the name accompanied by a miraculous act of coded transmission.

Is it a twinge of nostalgia for our shared past at France's esteemed Ecole Normale Supérieure? The satisfaction of having worthy adversaries? Or the fact that that adversary is one of the most eminent representatives in France of one of the occupations I most respect, that of the war reporter? Whatever the case, it was not without pleasure that I read Renaud Girard most recent book, Le monde en marche (World on the move, CNRS Editions, 2014), which collects the best of the chronicles and reports that have appeared in recent years in Le Figaro. I swear. I protest. About Rwanda, I believe the opposite of what Girard writes. But I lap it up. The events he recounts replay in my mind. And, confronted with this page cabled from Mogadishu or that page offering a surprising glimpse into the mystery of modern China, I recapture the joy of "young friends" (in the sense of Sartre, Nizan, and their cohort) acknowledging the contributions that each has made.

Beny Steinmetz is reputedly the richest man in Israel as well as one of its most prodigious philanthropists. I picture him, ten years ago, at his home in Arsuf, near Tel-Aviv, on the occasion of a fundraising dinner he gave on behalf of the Institute for Lévinassian Studies, which Alain Finkielkraut, Benny Lévy, and I founded. At the time of the dinner, Benny Lévy had just died, leaving Alain and I to speak for the institute. I remember Steinmetz, at once generous and intrigued, signing the first check and putting the first questions to us, as impassioned by Jewish philosophy as he was determined to rescue a forum for thought that was, at the time, imperiled. Yet on April 12 I read a British newspaper account that depicts Steinmetz as the villain in a bad spy novel, a fantastic tale of intrigue that leads us from the Guinea of President Alpha Condé, who has fast become an expert in opacity and electoral fraud, to traps set by the FBI. Maybe I'm naïve, but I don't believe it. I cannot bring myself to believe that the same man would be capable of both acts.

Dumézil's advice to Michel Foucault: "Do not write anything that has not been spoken, and do not say anything that is not destined to be written." On the one hand, we have Flaubert's theory of testing a text by reading it aloud--that's familiar. On the other hand, we have the less-known concept that a word, even when spoken, contains a secret writing that is its watermark of meaning and that establishes its value. I have that concept in mind whenever I give a speech, as I did this morning in Paris to open the congress of the World Association of Psychoanalysis. What is the real? Why is it, in Lacan's thinking, a synonym for the unnamable and impossible? Am I at odds with it, or is it at odds with me? All of that is improvised but at the same time, and appropriately, mysteriously written.

My other book for the week--and another "young friend." This one I met much earlier, in the late 1960s, at the height of the red years of which the Ecole Normale was the epicenter. I am referring to Alexandre Adler and his Quand les Français faisaient l'histoire (When the French made history, Grasset, 2014), which is devoted to the French Resistance. Every page stirred me. De Gaulle, Jean Moulin, Pierre Brossolette, Daniel Mayer, Pierre Mendès-France, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, and Maurice Kriegel-Valrimont--plus the shadow of my own magnificent father, who early on joined the International Brigades in Spain. Was that not the noblest company in the world, Adler asks. It is in my eyes. And would it not be the best possible example of honesty, bravery, and hope for today's morose France?

This month the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre is presenting the most dazzling and, paradoxically, most modern production of "The Misanthrope," staged by French actor and director Michel Fau. Modern, despite the fact that the costumes are true to the period, the diction more than classic, and the lines delivered as they would have been in Molière's time: but with a complete absence of eroticism--degree zero of seduction. We watch a grimacing Alceste, heavily made up, whose diatribes against the human race and its inevitable foibles sound like terrorist imprecations or the vituperations of Pol Pot. And, at the end, in the center of a tableau vivant that is as dark as a Goya, we watch as Célimène is verbally stoned by Philinte, Oronte, Eliante, Arsinoé, Acaste, Clitandre, Du Bois, and Alceste himself. If you happen to be in France this month, do not miss it. It is sensational.

Translated by Steven B. Kennedy