09/08/2012 10:12 am ET Updated Nov 08, 2012

Reflections on the Richard Millet Case

Strangely enough, what I find most shocking in this Richard Millet affair (this editor at Editions Gallimard who caused a scandal in Paris by publishing "Eloge litteraire de Anders Breivik") is not the white trash racism he recycles, from one book to the next, in his story of the RER, where one feels surrounded by hordes of dark-skinned people.

It is not the tone, no doubt intended to be very Montherlant, of his reflections about "the" women (in one of the two other opuscules he published at the same time, one learns, among other elegant observations, that, once past 40, their skin has "the consistency of a ripe pear").

It is not even the enormous provocation of this long-time editor who, envious of others' success, as sometimes happens, has apparently just decided not, as Gide said, to "take himself for a great writer, as one may consider oneself a great hairdresser" (in the past 30 years, he has published a great number of texts, which met with general indifference), but to pull out all the stops, for his own benefit (a pathetic parody of ad man Jacques Séguela's quip, addressed to Sarkozy at the time of his election, "If you don't have a Rolex at 50, your life has been a failure"). In an earlier book, he had ventured to support Bin Laden ("there comes a moment when one can only prove Bin Laden right, provided he is not an American or Islamist fiction" -- L'opprobre, published by Gallimard) -- but no one was interested. Last May, he played the in-defense-of-Bachar-al-Assad card (a charge, meant to be "disturbing," against the media in utter "rapture" before the "insurgents" of Homs and Aleppo -- Printemps syrien, published by a smaller publishing house) -- that also fell flat. But now, he's outdone himself, shifted into high speed by actually offering "praise" for Anders Breivik, the serial killer of Utoya who is, he writes, "what Norway deserved" and whose act seems to him characterized by «absolute beauty» and "literary grandeur." Miracle! It works! The little bureaucrat of letters finally has his grand affair! This Warholian "15 minutes of fame" which, he explains, his hero, "a writer by default," didn't really want but that he, Millet, madly desired, and he's got it!

No. The real surprise, for me, has been the reaction of an entire part of the French literary milieu at the publication of these three libels fairly dripping with small-minded thoughts and spite.

There was the Pavlovian reflex of those who, as the first critics became aware of the existence of a book in which a psychopathic killer was thus presented as a "Malthusian hero," disciple of Baudrillard, started bandying about terms like thought police, organized censure, the triumph of the politically correct.

As always, I mean as in most of the great debates of today, there appeared this strange, new technique which consists of, above all, not taking sides, the better to dismiss the protagonists, back to back -- insulters and insulted, same fight; racists and anti-racists, the same lamentable antics; Breivik's victims and victims, "like Breivik," of the Norwegian social-democratic horror, a point for all sides, be on your way, there's nothing to see.

No less Pavlovian was the convening of the great Elders who were supposed to remind the stupefied reader than one can be a great-writer-and-a-perfect-bastard -- poor Céline! Poor Aragon!

As the affair wouldn't go away and there remained evil minds that found an editor recommending "the song of the Kalashnikov" and the "singular jubilation the fact of killing can inspire" bizarre, naturally there appeared this blogger or that one, speed versions of the editorialist, to compare this obscure actor of the literary scene, seeking a role and disgrace, with Marguerite Duras going off the deep end during a human interest story that made headlines in the 1980s, the Villemin affair (or the essayist Philippe Muray, no longer here to defend himself, whose thousands of pages of Exorcismes spirituels and Après l'Histoire, one should recall, quite apart from the fact that they never gave way to abjectness, were considerably more weighty than these three mediocre brochures).

They pulled the Literature and Evil number on us.

To "contextualise" the affair, they dared to cite Artaud, Sade or Bataille -- which seems to me scarcely less serious than not having leapt out of one's chair at the description of the "ethnic cloaca" that France, according to Millet, has become.

It went all the way to Antoine Gallimard, heir of the House that published Proust and Malraux and which, when faced with this kind of drivel in the past, found it signed Drieu La Rochelle (and marked, above all, by an entirely different style): asked to arbitrate, Antoine Gallimard thought to end the story by invoking a "freedom of expression" which he nonetheless should have known is sometimes the exact opposite of true freedom of thought.

And this is where we are.

This entire story would be laughable, there would be something pathetic in this desire to be a pariah that one senses on each page of these three books were the author's destiny not linked, precisely, to this House.

It is difficult to understand how the successors of Sartre and Malraux could continue to be published by a man for whom "what one calls literature" is no longer anything but "the hedonistic face of a nihilism of which anti-racism is the terrorist branch" and who perceives most writers who are his contemporaries as "henchmen" as well as "sycophants."

As one can well imagine, the affair has only just begun.