Preceding / Following
"A conception of future society that would not include institutional provisions for free dissent -- however radical it might be -- could promote the development of a new form of repressive state."
Pierre Vidal-Naquet, La Torture dans la Republique, ed. de Minuit, p. 177
"Whereas gas chambers have existed, the simple act of wanting to insert in a daily newspaper an article whose author questions their existence undermines the respect of good moral standards.
First instance Court of Lyon, June 27, 1979
"The first generation of human rights is that of 1789 (political rights), the second dates to 1946 (social rights), the third begins today (the right to know)."
Pierre Drouin, "Le Rapport Lenoir. La fin de la societe du secret," Le Monde, September 20, 1979
"It is not customary for justice to sleep with victors."
"I have a vague idea that truth must be in danger when error so easily accumulates, in its defense, public pronouncements about commemorations at the Sorbonne and gossips about fakes."
Jean Paulhan, De la paille et du grain, Oeuvres completes, tome IV, p. 337.
"If the actors in historical crises have the time and taste to observe, they will feel overtaken by what they see is happening; if they are not fooled by official explanations that are given to them or that they give to themselves, all that remains after the event is the amazement to have been put in such a state; they frequently believe what they say and what their theologians proclaim; this version, friendly to memory, becomes the historical truth of tomorrow."
Paul Veyne, Comment on ecrit l'histoire, Le Seuil, p. 231
"French society is fragile because it refuses the truths that hurt or simply disturb. In wartime, foreign or colonial, our brainwashing reaches a degree that has always frightened the Anglo-Saxons. And in peacetime?"
Jaques Fauvet, le Monde, November 6, 1979
This is not the first outburst of this professor of Humanities, Robert Faurisson. In 1961, when our currently dismal literary scene was full of valiant polemics, an article by Robert Faurisson appeared. It was devoted to an interpretation of Rimbaud's sonnet, "Voyelles" (Vowels) (1). It proposed to decipher this famous sonnet by showing that its true significance was of an erotic character and that it described the female body "in coitus."
At that time, the war in Algeria was dragging on. In the streets of Paris and its suburbs, Algerians were victims of the most scandalous racist attacks -- both by the police and by the people. The police patrolled with machine guns in hand, "nigger hunting." The left whispered solemnly, "peace in Algeria," and believed fascism was on the rise, while leaving to De Gaulle and his agents the conduct of the war. While all this was going on, the press got carried away by the serious problem of the interpretation of a sonnet. Doulce France!
This first Faurisson affair attracted neither my attention nor that of some of my contemporaries. But the literary world shook, down to its foundations. Proponents and opponents confronted each other behind closed doors. We witnessed violent arguments by Sabatier, Kanters, Pieyre de Mondiargues, Bonnefoy and Breton, who "approved in general" the daring interpretation of the rather austere little Humanities professor at the very prudish Vichy School for Girls, while the verdict of Etiembe came as a bolt: schizophrenia! (2)
I do not know if the debate abated, or how the famous sonnet is taught nowadays to schoolboys (or if "Voyelles" is in schoolbooks), but in any case, it went on until 1968 when Etiemble wrote a book against it.
Were it not for the insistence of my eminent colleague, Mr. Faurisson, I would undoubtedly have forgotten these disparate events. But how can I resist giving my opinion to somebody who became famous for having detected under each vowel one of the embellishments of coitus? According to him, I have not written enough about these verses. Will this volume assuage his hunger?
This is on the book jacket! (3)
Now, as in 1961, I don't feel I have to take sides in the quarrel. But from outside of the inner circle, we can appreciate the fine mechanics of Faurisson's proposition, while at the same time professing a high esteem for Etiembe's style, his enthusiasm and his courage. Due to the retrospective interest aroused today by other Faurisson writings, and while remaining above the fray, I would like to point out some other remarks of O. Mannoni that came just in the heat of the battle. (4)
The question of interpretation of the texts of Rimbaud has taken on a new life as a result of a courageous and radical attempt which may be good to consider -- not necessarily to approve of it completely -- but because it follows a clear path to its ultimate end and by so doing makes it into a model. Using correct methods, it consists of several approaches leading to a worthwhile enrichment of meaning, while at the same time exhibiting such fear of the properly poetic in Rimbaud's work, that some of the supposedly most profound interpretations seem so artificial as to be discounted.
He later adds a general remark pertinent to the future works of this rabid critic:
It is rather surprising to see the extreme passion with which several critics brandish their interpretations of these fourteen verses. They reveal an extraordinary intolerance. Where could such energy come from? It may be the simple classical anger that every true believer dreams of exterminating, in the person of his adversary, all of his own obscure doubts. Fanaticism seeks the help of unsteady convictions. Yet, it would seem that there is no reason to lose one's calm.
It was with another thunderbolt in the serene sky of our Humanities that Faurisson would launch a new debate in 1972, this time about Lautreamont. Here, too, we quote from the dust jacketof the book which is the copious file that was his Ph.D thesis. (5)
The work of Lautreamont has never been read for what it is: a brilliant, cheerful counterfeiting of pontificating moralism. Les Chants de Maldoror and Poesies are two buffooning fantasies. Isidore Ducasse appears successively as a Tartarin (or Fenouillard) of vice and virtue. He pretends to defy -- notice this style -- the "crab of debauchery" and the "boa of absent ethics." A flowering of priggishness and comical absurdities adds to the flavor of two entertaining satires.
But to reveal them, one has to read without prejudice, line by line, word by word, and all the text: an elementary precaution sometimes neglected by commentators, especially those of the New Criticism school.
There was a lot of praise for Lautreamont' surrealist genius. The real genius is that of the pompous stupidity expressed through the intervention of the two grotesque characters of the "bard" and the "poet." The works of Isodore Ducasse (1846-1870) are among the most prodigious literary mystifications of all time.
The viva was quite lively, as reported by Jacqueline Piatier, who variously described the author as sputtering, unperturbed, ironist, prophet and reckless archer. "But what is important is that we laugh." (6) By launching an attack on both the new and the old schools of criticism, Faurisson exposed their divergences in burlesque vein.
There are three ways to see a text. There are three ways to see things, people, texts. There are three ways to look at a ball-point pen and to talk about it.
1.-- The old criticism declares: "This object is a Bic ball-point. Its function is to write. Let us set it back in its historic context: we recognize in this object the "style" of the Elders. Here it presents itself in a modern form: it is practical, easy to handle and transport; it has its autonomy. Let us see its socioeconomic setting: it follows the contingencies of industrial mass production. It is cheap; it is consumed and it is thrown away. Let us describe it (it is worth noting that the old criticism tends to delay this description, which should logically have preceded everything else; it would seem that it is afraid of reality, that it would only tackle at the end of a turning historic motion, which gives it a thoughtful cast): this Bic ball-point is made of a case, an ink canal, a cover, and a metallic point. The whole is mostly made of soft or hard plastic. The case is blue, white and gold. Its cross section is hexagonal; its form is elongated. Let us find out who is the author of this work and what he says about it. We discover that this object is manufactured in the factories of Baron Bich. This industrialist is well known. Let us see what<italic> Paris-Mach, Jours de France and <italic>France-Soir said about him: Baron Bich did not conceal how, why and for whom he had conceived and manufactured this product. He is its producer and therefore knows his business better than anybody else. He went so far as to tell the secrets of his product. He revealed all this thought. His intentions might be summarized in this: "First and foremost, I thought of workers, low-wage earners."
2.-- The new criticism turns up and declares: "The old criticism no longer interests many people. Its views are rigid. They are the expression of a society that has fossilized around 1880-1900. All in all, weren't Taine, Renan and Lanson the upholders of Sainte-Beuve? Let us honor these old men; they are touching. But they are outdated. By whom? Of course, by us, in all modesty. This is what has to be understood. Things don't say what they are supposed to say, or even what they say. The same applies to people and to words. We have to look around, underneath and through them. This Bic ball-point [the name is flat and despicably circumstancial] is only incidentally this. It is... an arrangement of<italic> structures. Of form. Of context at the same time (but not: successively) historic, economic, social, aesthetic, individual. Here, all is in all and conversely. This object [ob-ject] is a set of scripted and scriptural structures, where different systems of bluish and translucent mat finish are conjugated. A shimmering gossamer reality that is to be captured in a maze of complexities and modulations. The tube is anaphoric [it wears its point in front]. The interior of the object [ob-ject] is registered inside the tube. The tube is the hinge element, thanks to which the internal extent of the work is articulated into a signicant volume. Thus, every theme occurs at the same time, under cybernetic [it moves] and systematic [it is constructed]. A psychoanalytic deciphering is in order. It is known that Baron Bich is very keen on sailboats. He is haunted by the America Cup, that so far he has not been able to win. Well, look at this anaphoric point. It is clear that the baron has operated a transfer on the structure of the ball-point Bic. Notice this offensive manner of splitting the tides in the context of a society turned entirely toward production and consumption. What the baron does not succeed in, on the tides, he tries somewhere else. On another<italic> level of analysis, we might also talk about a phallic symbol. From this viewpoint, it is not uninteresting to notice that in order to baptize the object [ob-ject] in question, the baron undertook either to amputate the letter H [Bich became Bic] or to ablate this letter. The amputation may be interpreted in different ways, which we had better skip. As for the ablation, it may be understood as a discrete and moving sign of belonging to a "Homo" entity of the Balzac type, reinterpreted with such finesse by Roland Barthes in his S/Z. But other structural decipherings are possible: for example, according to the imaginative conscience of Bachelard, the perceptive conscience [or: a-thetic of self] of Marleau-Ponty, the ontologic sentimentality of Jean Wahl, the Marcelian meditation of the body, and more generally, the phenomenological intentionality." (N.B. All of this last sentence appears in l'Univers imaginaire de Mallarme, thesis of J. P. Richard, 1961, all of the ontologic gobbledygook of my new criticism can be found in the first pages of this work.)
3.-- The criticism of all time is surprised by so much science and so little common sense. It goes straight to the point. This is its first move. Its first move is not to go around in circles. It does not want to know who, what, or where, or when. This is neither the author's name nor his declarations. No commentary, no philosophy. Show me this. It examines it at a distance and close up. It sees Reynolds. A priori, the object would be a ball-point made by Reynolds. Caution! Reality may not correspond to appearance. It is yet to be seen. Another examination of the object is in order. Could it be a fake? This appearance of ball-point may hide I don't know what: a weapon, a microphone, sneezing power. Everything is to be carefully examined. The test result may be that I am not able to tell. Consequently, I refrain from telling. And I will not pretend to have an explanation. I will not comment. I will <italic>shut up. The criticism of all time has formidable requirements: to think before speaking; to start at the beginning; to shut up when there is nothing to say. A good example of this criticism (always advocated but rarely practiced) is the story of the golden tooth, told by Fontenelle. The illustrious professors made fools of themselves while the anonymous goldsmith diagnosis was correct, straight and true.
Shocked by this "these henaurme," Jacqueline Piatier's conclusion is not unfavorable:
Lautreamont is doubtless not as easy as he is made out to be by Mr. Faurisson, whose reasoning goes as follows: If the Chants de Maldoror are made to say a lot, then they must not say much. But even in his simplistic way, Mr. Faurisson cannot be dismissed, either. It cannot be denied that he put his finger on some of our ailments and that wherever he goes, he leaves a trail of good mental and verbal health that is quite pleasing to our youth. His thesis at the Sorbonne earned him a doctorate degree with distinction, while at the same time, celebrated by our modern abstracters of quintessence and by Pierre Dac, a comic who dabbles in the logic of absurd, whom Faurisson thinks Lautreamont resembles, Isidore Ducasse attains true glory.
Here, too, the press would firmly fight
for or against Faurisson's ideas (7).
He explains what he calls his method, in an interview with Les Nouvelles litteraires (8).
A common point, among many, if not most, advocates of the new criticism, and the old criticism as well, is the repugnance to attack the texts directly and to talk about them in plain, everyday words. In order to analyse a text, the "Paleo" and the "Neo" need a whole set of historic, psychological, linguistic, or psychoanalytic considerations that seem to me to be pure alibis. "Paleo" and "Neo" are more or less in agreement, on disparaging the search for an original and veritable meaning. However, I am convinced that we are still inflicting false meanings and misinterpretations on French texts, as well as on Latin, Greek, Hebrew or Chinese texts. We must look for the letter before looking for the spirit. Texts have only one meaning, or there is no meaning at all.
It may be a double meaning (as in irony, for example), but this amounts to only one meaning. Often, it is not found. Sometimes, we imagine that we found it, and, a little later, we realize that it is not so. A word taken separately may have several meanings, but as soon as it is inserted into a sentence, it tends to lose this aptitude very fast. We must not confuse "meaning" with "feeling." The same text may inspire the most contradictory feelings: we then give this or that meaning, but this absolutely does not amount to saying that it has all these meanings at the same time! To attribute a quality to somebody does not mean that this person is endowed with this quality. I would like that literary criticism accept this hard law of meaning, just as physicists accept the law of gravity. As for the university, I reckon that some of its representatives teach people to read "between the lines." As for me, I first try to read the lines. This is already quite difficult.
--What do you teach your students?
I train them in the "critique of
texts and documents" (literature, history, media, etc.)
If, in a text reputed to be historical (but aren't these reputations
prejudiced?), they find the words "Napoleon" or "Poland,"
I forbid that their analysis take into consideration what they
think they know about Napoleon or Poland; they have to content
themselves with what is said in the text. A text thus scrutinized
by the blunt, naked eyes of a layman and without any cliches,
takes on interesting depths. Furthermore, this is an excellent
means to detect all kinds of falsifications and "fabrications."
My students call this the "Ajax" method because it
scrubs, cleans and shines.
I doubt that this method is sufficient
to understand a text and satisfy all levels of curiosity that
it arouses in me. And I will not a priori reject all other methods
of critique, keeping in mind that they may lead to grotesque priggishness.
What is certain is that Faurisson's care in dealing with texts at the basic level could but lead him to work on literary or other texts related to cruel events of our era and to scour them with his "Ajax method." Whether or not we accept this method for entirely gauging or judging a text, simple common sense requires that it be considered as a precondition of obvious merit: we have to begin with reading what the texts say before interpreting them.
Thus, when the Faurisson affair broke out in 1978, several newspapers got hold of the assignment he gave his Lyon students: "Is the Anne Frank Journal authentic?" In the confusion and insinuations that followed, the thing would invariably take twists of antisemitic provocation. It was a question of context. The imputation was all the simpler (it was in the form of a question but the reader was supposed to understand that Faurisson's answer was negative) that he had not published anything on his research work, which needed finishing touches. As it turned out, the close analysis of the text attributed to the young Anne Frank clearly shows that it is a literary fake. Obviously, this in no way diminishes her tragic fate.
The best, here too, is to see for oneself (9). The reader is referred to the work itself in order to see why the statements of Mr. Nodot, vice-president of the Rhone Federation of L.I.C.A., are slanderous.
Faurisson did not come up by himself with the libel against the journal of Anne Frank. The "promoter" of this abject affair is Ernst Roemer, an old Gestapo collaborator, who was fined 1500 marks for circulating a pamphlet on this subject. He appealed to the court in Hamburg. Anne Frank's father, still alive, presented to the court decisive conviction material: the original journal.
(1) Bizarre #21-22, 1961.
(2). See beginning of this debate in Paris-Presse of 9 November 1961, Combat of 4 December 1961, l'Observateur litteraire of 28 December 1961, and 11 January 1962, Rivarol of December 1961, N.R.F. of January 1962, le Figaro litteraire of 13 January 1962, le Monde of 3 February 1962, Lettre d'Etiemble of February 1962 and of 24 February 1962 (reply of R.F.), Les Temps modernes of March 1962, etc.
(3) Le Sonnet des voyelles. De l'audition coloree a la vision erotique, Gallimard, Les Essais 139, 244 p.
(4). O. Mannoni, "Le besoin d'interpreter", Les Temps modernes, #190, March 1962, pp.1347-1361. Here pp.1350 and 1354. Faurisson's writings on this subject are assembled in A-t-on lu Rimbaud? (suivi de: l'Affaire Rimbaud), J.-J. Pauvert, reed. 1971. Latest republication : La Vieille Taupe, BP 9805, 75242 Paris cedex 05, where the book (203 p.) is still available (120 F.)
(5) A-t-on lu Lautreamont? Gallimard, Les Essais 170, 1972, 433 p.
(6). "Maldoror entre M. Prudhomme et M. Fenouillard", Le Monde, 23 June 1972.
(7). Faurisson's next book, La Cle des "Chimeres" et "Autres Chimeres" de Nerval, J.-J. Pauvert,1976, 140 p. did not stir the same passions. Public habit or Nerval's lesser prestige?
(8). 10-17 February 1977, "Je cherche midi a midi". Comments reproduced by Gerard Spiteri.
(9) This text will be given in the annexes, to be displayed soon in this site. The English translation has been published by the Journal of Histoirical Review, Summer 1982, 3, 2, p. 147-209. The French original version is visible at <http://www.aaargh-international.org/fran/histo/SF/SF1.html>
(10) Le Droit de vivre, February 1979.
This text is the first chapter of the second part of the unpublished English translation of Verite historique ou verite politique / Le dossier de l'affaire Faurisson / La question des chambres à gaz, published in Paris in April 1980 by the publishing house La Vieille Taupe (= the Old Mole). ISBN 2-903279-02-0. Copyright © 1978 by La Vieille Taupe. The book is still on sale and may be ordered from the publisher, BP 98-05, 75224 Paris cedex 05, France. We believe it costs 150 F (around 30-35 US$)
The original French text is available at <http://www.aaargh-international.com/fran/histo/SF/SF1.html>
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