“Sir, if the bullshit is not reimbursed by social insurance, you will end up on the straw! “
In 1962, this is what launched in all his splendor a whimsical young man of 29 years, drink in hand, leaning on a bistro in Villerville, on the Normandy coast. Two years after the release ofBreathless, symbol of the New Wave, the one that his companions already nicknamed Bébel left the avant-gardes of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. On words of Michel Audiard, he was to be dubbed by the deep France and none other than the godfather of French cinema, Jean Gabin, in the masterpiece of Henri Verneuil, A monkey in winter. As Audiard would have said, these two did not have “the small wine or the petty stew”.
By this kind of telescoping of which the topicality has the secret, the chance wanted that Jean-Paul Belmondo dies a few days before a strange newcomer from Ontario makes the tour of the world. The contrast couldn’t be greater. While this symbol of an era marked like no other by freedom of speech and of thought – not to say of living – disappeared, we learned with fear that thousands of kilometers away, a dark school board had resuscitated a practice. millennial obscurantist: the autodafe.
It was known that the Inquisition burned the works of heretics (and sometimes the heretics themselves), that the monk Savonarole reduced Botticelli’s paintings to ashes, that the Nazis burned Proust and Zweig, that the Bolsheviks did the same with Kant and Descartes and that the Taliban first version burned 55,000 pounds. Now, in Puritan and decolonial Ontario, Tintin, Asterix, and Lucky Luke are being burned today.
Formerly, hated books were qualified as “impious”, “bourgeois”, “reactionary”, “subversive”, “scabrous” or “degenerate”. The new morality has simply changed vocabulary. She now claims that they have “disrespected” a minority, conveyed “stereotypes” or, to put it even more cryptically obviously modeled on English, that they contain so-called “inappropriate” remarks. The word boat par excellence! But, make no mistake, the logic is the same.
I can already hear the rumor going up to excuse the inexcusable. Even some authors whose books have been reduced to ashes will find a way to downplay it. It would be a simple anecdotal “slip”, an obviously well-intentioned error of course. For the most part, the perpetrators of this obscene gesture did not want to come to this. Unless we invoke an ancestral practice. What can’t we forgive those who want the good?
No matter how much we show off all the moral certificates in the world, we shouldn’t forget that all the censors want our good. Those on the right and on the left. Let us also not forget that while, fortunately, not all are criminals like in Nazi Germany, Communist China and some Islamic Republics, all have one thing in common: they do not want to live in a pluralistic society – and again less democratic.
In such a society, one does not fight ideas by burning a book. Neither is it done by banning it from libraries or by preceding it with patented “contextualizations” which infantilize the reader. We do this by writing another book. And we let the reader judge. Yes, this reader otherwise called “citizen”, the one to whom the Enlightenment once gave the freedom to read what he wanted when he wanted, whether or not it displeases the political and moral authorities of the time.
Doesn’t the democratic contract presuppose precisely that we accept to live with people who do not think like us, and that, even if they dare to caricature Islam, blaspheme or laugh at a cultural trait? ‘a minority ? In a democracy, truth can only emerge from a debate free from all censorship of ideas.
This decolonial autodafe is unfortunately only the latest in a long list of similar gestures. Think of the soft censorship of two pieces by Robert Lepage, SLAV and Kanata, the prohibition of certain words and the Lieutenant-Duval affair of the University of Ottawa. Not to mention the massive self-censorship today in museums, the press, universities and publishing houses.
The return of such practices also shows that we see schools and educational establishments less and less as places centered on knowledge and culture. How many pedagogues perceive them only as places intended to moralize the pupils, in short like madrasas of ecology, good-thinking and decolonial morality. That we are far from a school intended above all to train cultivated, educated citizens, and for that reason capable of self-determination and of judging for themselves. As if our societies, however imbued with racial diversity, feared diversity of opinions like the plague.
The 20e September 11th anniversary that we mark on Saturday is there to remind us that we have changed times. The one who saw triumph The ace of aces today seems very far from us.