Translated by Giuliano Adriano Malvicini
A novelist, essayist, editor, and member of the reading committee at Gallimard [France’s most prestigious publishing house], Richard Millet is now a writer condemned to inner exile in France, a country he no longer recognizes. In his latest work, Fatigue du sens (“The Fatigue of Meaning,” Pierre-Guillaume de Roux, 2011), he paints a clinical picture of a country tired of being itself, and of the most obvious symptom of this, mass immigration, this “human traffic in which the interests of organised crime meet those of international capitalism.” This is the record of a meeting with a writer-warrior.
Alain de Benoist: Your book is one long cry of sorrow and indignant rage in the face of the social pathologies caused by immigration. Quite rightly, you don’t attack the immigrants themselves so much as the general climate that made that immigration possible among other things. You talk about the “fatigue of meaning” that reigns in France, “a vast, exhausted body” — and you explain the source of this exhaustion very well. But you also denounce the market economy and “ethnic Disneylandization” (“Disneyland as the hedonistic re-emergence of the concentration camps”). What is the connection between these two phenomena?
Richard Millet: The connection is in the relationship between the hegemony of the Market and the populations subjected to the principle of globalization, which is establishing itself above all in what people no longer dare to call the third world and those nations that are tired of being themselves, eroded by imaginary guilt, by cultural debasement, by the collapse of all verticality and a petty bourgeois, insipid, Americanized, horizontal nihilism that has become the shared ideal or the only bond linking indigenous populations and immigrants. The Disneylandization of culture runs parallel to that of politics: “the melting-pot” as the ultimate horizon, and Obama as the virtuous version of Berlusconi. The Market can’t function without the law, as Michéa has demonstrated. While the Market doesn’t care about nations, traditions, peoples, vernaculars, culture, it has a great need for workers, of whatever kind. Hence the ethnicization of the legal sphere, the function of the law being not so much to defend immigrants and “minorities” as to force the recalcitrant back into line. Hence, it shouldn’t surprise us that in the face of certain resistances against its hedonistic-totalitarian program, propaganda has provided itself with apparatuses of repression like the Gayssot act and everything that has been gathered under the new organisation called, I believe, the rights of the person (“les droits de la personne”). We live in a system where the “fun” and the “cool” are the virtuous expression of a new type of totalitarianism.
Alain de Benoist: Like so many others, you have been struck by the foundering of school education and the collapse of culture that results from it. The crisis of education is above all a crisis of transmission. Why is it that we no longer are able to transmit?
Richard Millet: In order to transmit, you need a tool, which, as it happens, is language. But now, the transmission of this language has itself been relegated to a position of secondary importance — that is, when it isn’t treated with outright contempt, or forgotten about. Language today is in tatters. Look at the semantic fluctuation that results from the ideological feminization of professional titles. As far as syntactic and orthographic fluctuation is concerned, it’s a perfect reflection of the degradation of the social bond. Therefore, what we have is a crisis not of “values,” as people have tried to suggest, but a contestation of value as such, in so far as value is supposed to be the appanage of an old world, a world that’s “over” now, and of which our world is merely the inverted simulacrum. What could conceivably be more petty bourgeois, for example, than “gay marriage” or the pretense of sexual freedom? The very notion of transmission, and hence of knowledge, has become suspect, since the past is the thing that is regarded with the most suspicion of all, and as a consequence is subjected to endless “revisions.”
Alain de Benoist: Besides suicide, what solution could there be for those who, like you, feel that they are in a state of “inner exile”?
Richard Millet: It’s the others who are committing moral suicide, and the nations that are denying themselves. As for me, I’m surviving. That means inner exile, or voluntary apartheid, which presupposes an intense intellectual activity. One must look, listen, bear witness, look for other witnesses to our testimonies. The solitude of the witness is his or her strength. Considering that the worst has already happened, and without believing that anything better is going to emerge, but also without abandoning ourselves to despair, at least let’s show each other that we haven’t been fooled. Also, solitude is itself a form of dissidence . . .
Fabrice Valclérieux: You share the opinion of a growing number of witnesses — including the editors of Éléments, and corroborated by numerous national and international surveys — concerning the deterioration of French educational system. Could you tell us why, in your view, we’ve “come to this.” What are the reasons for it? And who are those “responsible”?
Richard Millet: During the years following the disturbances of May 1968, there was a determination to hunt down the “dominant ideology” and destroy all forms of authority, and in particular to liberate the “child.” I have taught for about twenty years, and I saw how around 1975 Giscard d’Estaing’s right began to implement, with the Haby reform, the leftist political program: the end of the grouping of classes by level (which were nonetheless easier to work with than with the morass created by the “single secondary school”), the challenging of the power of the teachers, the elimination of literary content in favor of journalism and communications, suspicion cast upon French history, the French language viewed as an instrument of class domination, and everything else that has been gradually been discarded in order to seem inclusive towards immigrants, who were becoming constantly more numerous and who had no desire at all to become French — particularly the Muslims. Teaching, just like everything else, is now an fluctuating structure that is endlessly being reformed, becoming more and more intellectually impoverished, and eroded at its very core by propaganda. How can people accept that grammar school or university graduates barely speak and write French or know French history? Doesn’t that reveal the true, cynical face of libertarian liberalism, which wants consumers, in other words, slave-“citizens”?
Fabrice Valclérieux: Do you think it’s possible to find a way out of this stagnation, and if so, what would it be?
Richard Millet: Stagnation? It would be more correct to call it a form of civil war that does not name itself as such. It’s the deployment within European territory of the double forces of intimidation, Islam and America: Islamism as the mirror of European bad conscience, and Americanism as the nihilism of an impossible melting-pot. A civil war that could itself be a violent source of hope if Islamism hadn’t been part of the Market and its strategy, and if the Americans didn’t have the technological and symbolic power to define the new world order.
Fabrice Valclérieux: As an editor and writer, what measures do you suggest could be taken to improve the level of knowledge and practice of the French language and French culture?
Richard Millet: I no longer believe in anything other the ordeals of the individual, inner experience, shattering encounters — the encounter with a work, a thinker, an artist. This presupposes the renunciation of “Culture” and its mythologies, or more precisely put, of the Cultural, which has been substituted for what Europeans called culture. As a form of opposition to the universality of “entertainment,” there has to be a return to an aristocracy of the spirit, a refusal of utility, humanitarianism, and guilt, a return to an aesthetic of endless separation. Universal culture depends on a few names, which are still active.
Michel Marmin: Don’t your criticisms of the contemporary novel lead to a critique of the genre itself? Couldn’t one see the novel, let’s say, since Richardson’s Pamela, as consubstantial with modernity and as the expression of the “horizontality” that you denounce? Isn’t it radically opposed, in that sense, to the tale (“conte”), which is in essence traditional and “vertical”? What does Richard Millet the novelist think about that?
Richard Millet: That crisis is the novel’s mode of existence since Sterne or even Rabelais, in other words, that the novel has to target the surface effects of horizontality, referring them to and confronting them with a form of verticality and the history of the language in which they are written. It’s that crossing, that critical dimension, sometimes grammatically dissident and aesthetically solitary, that interests me in Balzac, Flaubert, Proust, Kafka, Faulkner, Alejo Carpentier, Jouhandeau, Claude Simon, Thomas Bernhard, Sebald, and Handke. It is true, however, that I’m a bit tired of a genre that has become incapable of re-enchanting itself and producing myths, and hence only infernally perpetuates its own simulacrum.
Michel Marmin: Do you recognise any predecessors? You quote Péguy in the epigraph of Fatigue du sens. Reading your works, I thought more of Flaubert and Montherlant. Do such comparisons seem incongruous to you?
Richard Millet: I don’t know Montherlant well. Sollers brought to my attention the Jeunes filles series, which is marvellous, very modern, and very politically incorrect! As for Flaubert, I’m still haunted by his heroic conception of writing — which today is being eliminated as a consequence of most novelists’ ignorance of their own language, on the one hand, and on the other, of the Anglo-Saxon novel, which is unconcerned with “style.” My predecessors are more or less those I just mentioned.
Michel Marmin: There’s a great mystery in the contemporary world, and that’s music. While literature has settled into a sort of mainstream which is worse than anything, since it consists in smooth and painless “horizontality,” while contemporary art is truly contemporary to the extent that it no longer falls under the domain of the aesthetic, but under that of the market, serious music has known since Schoenberg an uninterrupted creative fecundity: you enthusiastically testify to this in your book Pour la musique contemporaine. Although I have been personally involved in certain currents of contemporary music, and despite having attended a lot of concerts, from those of Le Domaine musical, fifty years ago, to those of IRCAM, and having written a bit about the subject, I have never found an explanation for this mystery. Can you?
Richard Millet: Music presupposes a science, a knowledge that the other arts have abandoned in order to privilege the supposed authenticity of “self-expression.” A girl told me recently that she hadn’t found any schools in France where she could learn to draw, so she had to go to Florence to study art. Already ignorant of their own language, novelists don’t read anymore. I would venture to say that serious music is also an experience of the sacred, and is related to the great mysteries — you can hear that even in composers who were not themselves believers, like Debussy, Bartok, or Webern. And now, with the recent disappearance of the taboos against melody and traditional rhythms, this kind of music has been revivified, as exemplified by Dalbavie, Pärt, Rihm, and many others. But ignorance threatens this domain, as well. The composer Régis Campo tells me that his students are now incapable of listening to an entire symphony by Bruckner or Mahler, and are almost completely ignorant of literature. People can no longer bear silence, just like they no longer can bear solitude or freedom of thought.
Pierre Le Vigan: In Fatigue du sens you observe the “decay of the political in the realm of the religion of Humanity.” Isn’t this religion of humanity deeply linked to Christianity?
Richard Millet: The “humanity” I was referring to is a political concept, an ideological consequence of anti-racist globalization and human rights, not humanity in the Christian sense. In this political sense, humanity is a religion unto itself. Remember that the catechism of Michelet, who was a fierce anti-Christian and an indefatigable progressive — also a great writer, but simple-minded when it came to politics — is entitled La Bible de l’humanité (“The Bible of Humanity”).
Pierre Le Vigan: You talk about “the objective alliance between Protestantism and Islamism, the two religions that the market relies on for support.” Don’t you think that even if there is an Islam of the market and even if Protestantism may have (as Alain Peyrefitte argued) contributed to a capitalist economic dynamism, religious anxiety nonetheless constitutes an element of resistance against markets and the cult of material progress?
Richard Millet: Rather than of “religious anxiety,” I would rather hear people speak of certitude, of faith. I respect Islam as a faith. I do not tolerate the Islamization of Europe, which is the beachhead of an ongoing war that Islamic capitalism is having a hard time making people forget about. However, I am not naïve enough to believe in a dialectic between Islam and Christendom. That dialectic broke down under capitalism. All that’s left are grotesque and cynical simulacra of spirituality and a degeneration of the idea of religion. Religion as “culture”? Allow me to view things completely differently. The secularization of society, multiculturalism, and the intellectual terrorism of anti-racism have cut Europe off from its Christian dimension, and as a consequence, Europe has culturally become nearly illegible. Under these conditions, how can one look at a cathedral, listen to Bach, read Bossuet or Simone Weil? How can we resist the new order, now that we are blind and deaf?
Pierre Le Vigan: You write that “the praise of borders can only be a ruse of globalist horizontality.” Why? Is Régis Debray a “false friend” to you? And again, why is that?
Richard Millet: I have talked about how much I like crossing borders, traveling to other places, experiencing the “elsewhere,” and not global sameness, the totalitarianism of the identical. I like the universal in so far as it produces real differences, not a political and legal codification of the “Other.” I’m suspicious anything that has been co-opted by propaganda, including the sense of borders. As for friends, to the small extent that I have any, I have learned to distrust them. I told you I was alone . . .
Source: Éléments, November 1, 2011, online at: http://www.pgderoux.fr/fr/Livres/Fatigue-du-sens/10.htm