Fillon’s Suits. Nunez On Reading Aloud. Barbier’s Political Theater. Islamophobia According To Bruckner. The Role Of The Polls.Lacan And The Jihadists

03/17/2017 03:32 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2017

Now it’s François Fillon’s suits! How far can this travesty of “transparency” go? This digging into petty secrets? This slow slide into electoral suicide? No masters anymore; we are all servants (Hegel). The political craft and its mysteries are reduced to a custodial matter (Léon Bloy).

Reading quietly is what killed poetry, in so many words. So says Laurent Nunez in a lovely book, L’énigme des premières phrases (Grasset), where he grapples, among other matters, with a verse from Louis Aragon that sounds right only if you read it as it was written: in a bold and sparkling voice. One thinks of Augustine’s disapproval upon finding Ambroise reading in silence. Or of John of Fécamp, the eleventh-century monk and theologian of the “gift of tears,” pleading, lest literacy die, for reading with the “palatum cordis.” Or Victor Hugo, of course, explaining in The Man Who Laughs that Socrates could read only by “holding forth” with that “hermaphroditic air of being his own audience.”

A follow-up from Christophe Barbier to my theme of the supine corpse. Barbier’s Les derniers jours de la gauche (Flammarion) has a salutary theatricality missing from my most recent essay in the same vein. Politics treated by the media as if it were a sports event—check. The most diverting reality television on the air—check. But now with Barbier’s hilarious inventions, such as Hollande and Sarkozy chatting complicitly while watching a game on TV one night after the election. And his insightful suggestion of a new French revolution, this one as placid as it is implacable, in which the kings are beheaded before they are crowned (Juppé, Bayrou, Valls, Hollande, Sarkozy, Fillon…). A revolution in which everyone fires blanks? Or one with a long fuse?

Return to Iraqi Kurdistan. A screening in Erbil of my documentary, “The Battle of Mosul,” for a gathering of the protagonists of the film. There, in the faces of these friends of mine, lines of dread etched by having witnessed inhumanity carried to its extreme. The great conundrum of postnihilism may lie right there—in the difficulty, not of imagining a world without God, but of imagining evil without a devil. With the correlate that humans now bear sole responsibility for the evil washing over the world.

Judges, of course. Without a doubt, the independence of justice and the judiciary. But aren’t we trying to chase away the demon of populism with the poison of oligarchy?

Another must-read: Pascal Bruckner’s Un racisme imaginaire: La querelle de l’islamophobie (Grasset). Particularly the page toward the end that sums everything up, to wit (1) our suicidal lack of awareness (Tariq Ramadan, member of the Muslim Brotherhood and former adviser to Tony Blair); (2) the need to distinguish between our duty to protect believers (in the name of the republican principle of minority rights) and our right to criticize the beliefs they hold (in the name of free speech and inquiry); and (3) the urgency of creating, as we once did for Soviet dissidents, an effective system to assist those rebelling against Islam: not the believers but the nonbelievers; not the Muslims victimized by a supposed “Islamophobia,” but the free thinkers, the friends of the Enlightenment, the apostates—in short, those who, in the Islamic world, are most clearly threatened. A change of paradigm. A true act of generosity.

The polls are worthless? Really? Are we so sure that they now just say “whatever”? There is another hypothesis that I am surprised receives so little attention, and that is this: Polls are one thing; votes are another. Polls reflect the reality of the moment; voters, pondering that reality, either ratify or reject it. In other words, polls are one of many sources of the information that people use to determine how, ultimately, they will vote. It’s a little like a human chess expert playing against a computer or investors doing their best to get the drop on the market: Voters toy with what they are told about current trends and leanings. I’m not saying that this is a good thing. In fact, the speculative future of politics is downright disturbing. But it is a fact. It is, in fact, the epitome of the democracy of opinion.

Jyllands-Posten is the Danish daily from which first sprang, eleven years ago, the business about cartoons of Muhammad. In the course of an interview I conduct in “The Battle of Mosul,” I make the following observation: How weak and insecure the Islamists’ faith must be if they feel so threatened by a few harmless drawings! And what a mistake the prophets of decline are making in rattling on about the “decadence” of the West, whose values supposedly are no match for those of Islam’s new conquerors. Precisely the contrary is true, of course: Europe is strong; jihadism is weak.

Vincent Peillon, one of France’s Socialist Party leaders, did more damage in one slip than the most voluble Holocaust deniers when he reduced the existence of the extermination camps to the level of an urban legend.

Mobility. Displacement. A taste for disguise and decoys. The art of living, of living out not several lives but several bodies of work in a single life. Picasso’s idea of managing to cover as many eras as a single era will allow you to cover.

And, circling back once more to the example of the Peshmerga, whose name means “those who face death.” Who face it, not give into it. Who defy it rather than revel in it. The Peshmerga view is the opposite of Jacques Lacan’s sense of the martyr as articulated in his seminar on Antigone: “Only the martyrs know neither pity nor fear; believe me, when the martyrs are victorious will be the day of universal conflagration.”

Translated from french by Steven B. Kennedy.

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