Inves­ti­gat­ing new forms of writ­ing about real­i­ty, Ser­dar Ay, edi­tor of the Kur­dish mag­a­zine Wêje û Rexne (Lit­er­a­ture and Crit­i­cism) and Fanch Ar Kazeten­ner con­duct­ed an inter­view with writer Joseph Andras. Here is a ver­sion in English:

Wêje û Rexne : Twit­ter @wejeurexneFace­book.


Your most recent book has just been pub­lished. You exam­ine a lit­tle known fig­ure of the French Rev­o­lu­tion, Camille Desmoulins. Pour nous com­bat­tre (To fight against you):  isn’t this almost a title for a polit­i­cal pro­gram in the cur­rent context?

I exam­ine the cre­ation of a news­pa­per Le Vieux Corde­lier. There­fore I look at its author, its read­ers, its sup­port­ers and its oppo­nents. Desmoulins is but one of the many char­ac­ters in what I con­sid­er above all as a fres­co, a col­lec­tive com­po­si­tion. But you are right: the title aims at address­ing some­thing to our times. It is part of a verse in La Mar­seil­laise (the French nation­al anthem). This book pro­vides pre­cise facts, of course — averred, dat­ed, doc­u­ment­ed, some­times vast­ly com­ment­ed over three cen­turies. But above all, there is most­ly the friend­ship, the dis­sensus, the com­pro­mise, the coher­ence, the puri­ty, the vio­lence, the law, faith, moral­i­ty, real­ism, strat­e­gy, effi­cien­cy and cyn­i­cism.  There is the van­guard, the mass­es, the peo­ple, class­es, the State, intel­lec­tu­als and pow­er. What dri­ves, affects and mobi­lizes these rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies is not exhaust­ed sole­ly in the his­tor­i­cal relat­ing of events. And there are also these two notions struc­tur­ing the whole of the book: that of the Rev­o­lu­tion and that of the Repub­lic. If my inter­est in this peri­od is long stand­ing, the writ­ing owes much to our cur­rent “repub­li­can” atmos­phere. To its unbreath­able air. One might even say that Pour vous com­bat­tre is a line-by-line dia­logue with our present con­text, as you call it. Fight­ing against the cur­rent “repub­li­can” force, while fight­ing inter­nal­ly what led toward our fail­ure. This dual move­ment winds its way through the entire text.

In 2016, you refused the prize attrib­uted to your nov­el De nos frères blessés (Of our wound­ed broth­ers) by the Académie Goncourt, one of the most pres­ti­gious prizes in France. “Com­pe­ti­tion, and rival­ry are for­eign notions in my eyes to writ­ing and to cre­ation” you indicated.This rais­es inter­est­ing reflec­tions from the point of view of the sit­u­a­tion of lit­er­a­tures from dom­i­nat­ed coun­tries and minorized lan­guages. For exam­ple, because of humil­i­a­tion and stigma­ti­za­tion bring­ing on a sort of infe­ri­or­i­ty com­plex, the writer goes in search of recog­ni­tion — to such an extent that he often finds him­self cre­at­ing a fetish out of the writer and lit­er­a­ture. In the oppo­site case, in order to “decol­o­nize the mind”, some feel the oblig­a­tion to come out from behind the words they used as a hid­ing place in order to make some “noise” that will strike against the silence and the deaf­ness to which they are sub­ject­ed, in order to “invent a peo­ple” (in the mean­ing attrib­uted to the words by Deleuze), in order to “emerge out of the great night”. Because most of the per­sons in this peo­ple of the great night do not know their mater­nal lan­guage in writ­ing. What do you think about this?

I can’t answer you con­cern­ing dom­i­nat­ed lan­guages and ter­ri­to­ries since my mater­nal lan­guage is French and that I do not know in my own being what it means to be a minor­i­ty. Except polit­i­cal­ly, but that is in an entire­ly dif­fer­ent reg­is­ter. I under­stand the psy­cho­log­i­cal, social and polit­i­cal mech­a­nisms at work in the desire for recog­ni­tion, in the search for val­i­da­tion and legit­i­ma­cy, in the search of rat­i­fi­ca­tion by already con­se­crat­ed instances. I know that I can incur the objec­tion to the posi­tion I defend: refus­ing, means hav­ing the lux­u­ry of doing so. My posi­tion stands on two legs, in fact. One being polit­i­cal and the oth­er, inter­nal work­ing out of issues. The 20th cen­tu­ry left us the lega­cy of an idea I attempt to appro­pri­ate — let us say, more than that cen­tu­ry, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary union work in its midst: the “refusal to achieve”. Behind this, we find peo­ple such as Albert Thier­ry and Mar­cel Mar­tinet.  “For as long as our tri­umph will not be at the same time that of every­one, let’s have the chance of nev­er suc­ceed­ing!” Elisée Reclus said before them. The com­mu­nard (a fig­ure of the Paris Com­mune of 1870). I am para­phras­ing him in fact, with­out nam­ing him, in the over­ture of Au loin le ciel du Sud (The south­ern sky in the dis­tance). It is a refusal both indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive of the the rules edict­ed by those in the world above. Your dec­o­ra­tions, your approval, the coor­di­nates of your social order do not con­cern us. There is some of that. And also some­thing much more basic, so basic that I’m not too sure how to for­mu­late it with­out embar­rass­ment: I have a spon­ta­neous­ly anar­chic rela­tion­ship to insti­tu­tions, to hon­or­a­bil­i­ty, to podi­ums. But say­ing “anar­chic” already sup­pos­es an a pos­te­ri­ori order­ing. It politi­cizes a feel­ing, an intu­ition, a way of being over which I have no con­trol — char­ac­ter, as they say. But I would like not to be talked to about this refusal any more. That is to say, that it be per­ceived as a norm. That no one ask me any­more why one refus­es podi­ums, but rather why one agrees to stand on them. That we reach a col­lec­tive agree­ment that the artis­tic does not enter in cat­e­gories of com­pe­ti­tion. We are far removed from this. One only needs to count the peo­ple who, at the time,  con­sid­ered the let­ter to which you refer, rather than as a mark of dis­tinc­tion as who-knows-what cal­cu­lat­ed maneu­ver­ing. Well and good: as always, the rot­ten ones project on oth­ers the rot that con­sti­tutes their person.

You who nev­er show your face, use the image of your main char­ac­ters as cov­ers on two of your books. Can this be explained by the mean­ing you ascribe to what is com­mon or by the will to bring to light these for­got­ten van­quished ones, in order to “feed anger against the guilty” as you have said?

It is pure­ly anec­do­tal, not to say ridicu­lous, but my “face” is vis­i­ble by any­one who would have the odd idea of being curi­ous about  it — on inter­net or in the media. I uphold a rather rus­tic notion: that I write, there­fore, what mat­ters is what I write. I won­der why one expects a writer to exhib­it any­thing oth­er than that for which he is fash­ioned: pil­ing up syl­la­bles on paper. That being giv­en, one can indeed see on the cov­ers of De nos frères blessés and of Kanaky, por­traits of Fer­nand Ive­ton and Alphone Dianou. I approach this per­son­al­iza­tion in a dialecdti­cal man­ner — if you’ll for­give me the fan­cy word. One, it answers the bio­graph­i­cal per­spec­tive of these two texts; two, it con­sti­tutes a dia­logue with the title. Two titles res­olute­ly col­lec­tive: “our broth­er” and the name — vol­un­tar­i­ly left unut­tered — of a coun­try. This com­bi­na­tion allowed me an answer to this ten­sion, this knot, if not to say this most clas­si­cal of dilem­na when­ev­er one moves into the polit­i­cal sphere; how to artic­u­late the indi­vid­ual and the col­lec­tive? At what moment does one fall into hero­iza­tion? Into the myth of the “great man”? In a read­ing of His­to­ry that would tram­ple the numer­ous and their upsurges? At the oppo­site end, on the con­trary, at what moment does one crush all indi­vid­ual and sub­jec­tive per­spec­tive in the sole name of the group and of the mass­es? Plac­ing a fig­ure — unique, by def­i­n­i­tion — and titling in the plur­al was the way I found in order not to sac­ri­fice anything.

In De nos frères blessés, one reads “Death is one thing, but humil­i­a­tion inserts itself under the skin, it implants its tiny seeds of anger, and destroys entire gen­er­a­tions”. How doe one pro­ceed to de-humil­i­at­ing the spirit?

It’s a dif­fi­cult ques­tion. And I’m not cer­tain that I’m the per­son in the best posi­tion to answer . What I under­stand polit­i­cal­ly on the top­ic, I owe to oth­ers — which is to say to those who, per­son­al­ly, in their fam­i­ly, have expe­ri­enced and relat­ed social, polit­i­cal, memo­r­i­al humil­i­a­tion. The sen­tence you quote refers to colo­nial trau­ma. In an almost clin­i­cal, psy­cho-ana­lyt­i­cal sense. We are famil­iar with the many answers for­mu­lat­ed by heirs to this sto­ry: the reha­bil­i­ta­tion of a past either hid­den or destroyed, reap­pro­pri­a­tion of dis­hon­ored sig­ni­fiers, demands for sym­bol­ic or finan­cial, repa­ra­tions, debt for­give­ness, strug­gle here and now against the con­crete reper­cus­sions from this past. In France, it appears to me that the heirs to colo­nial his­to­ry and immi­gra­tion call for noth­ing oth­er than “jus­tice, truth and dig­ni­ty”. They call for equal­i­ty and that only this equal­i­ty will allow break­ing the chain of humil­i­a­tion or of a deficit in con­sid­er­a­tion. Clear­ly, only impe­ri­al­ists speak of “repen­tance”. What I can do in this mat­ter, is sup­port these strug­gles, inas­much as I can, and, as a writer, a pur­vey­or of tales, “write while lis­ten­ing”. I’m using here writer and jour­nal­ist John Gibler’s expres­sion. Mean­ing to avoid  engulf­ing  — I’m think­ing specif­i­cal­ly of the kanak issue — the wit­ness­es and actors’ dis­course. Insist­ing on resis­tance prac­tices at the people’s lev­el. Re-direct­ing the crit­i­cal eye toward those in pow­er, to power’s struc­tures as well as to its agents. One shouldn’t attempt to awak­en the reader’s com­pas­sion but rather blow on its embers. There are vic­tims, this is obvi­ous, but leav­ing the read­er alone with them, face to face in a glar­ing light, seems inop­er­a­tive to me. It par­a­lyzes, it weighs down, it inhibits, it afflicts, it turns inward, in short, it dis-empow­ers Expos­ing refusals and des­ig­nat­ing the orga­nized sup­port­ers of inequal­i­ty, pro­vides oth­er affects. It  sketch­es a pos­si­ble response. Or, at the very least, and this is already not so bad, it main­tains afloat the very notion of a response.

In your writ­ings, vio­lence occu­pies an impor­tant space, between humans through colo­nial vio­lence, as well as toward ani­mals. How do you envis­age this ques­tion of violence ?

Vio­lence”, is always the vis­i­ble phys­i­cal vio­lence ema­nat­ing from below. Union mem­bers tear off the shirt of an Air France exec­u­tive, Yel­low Vests throw up bar­ri­cades in front of shat­tered win­dows of lux­u­ry bou­tiques, PKK fight­ers hit upon some bar­racks, activists mis­treat hunt­ing instal­la­tions. But there is a choice involved in using the word “vio­lence” to speak of this — and to speak of noth­ing else. An edi­to­r­i­al, media, polit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal choice. Rea­son for which most of my books sug­gest a shift. A time inter­val. They take a step back upstream. They take a look at the foun­da­tions, the way an arche­ol­o­gist search­es the ground. Tak­ing into account only the top­ics I have cov­ered: Fer­nand Ive­ton want­ed to sab­o­tage mate­r­i­al, Alphonse Dianou and his com­rades were held hostage by gen­darmes, Hô Chi Minh became a war chief and the Ani­mal Lib­er­a­tion Front destroyed a sci­en­tif­ic research lab­o­ra­to­ry.  All of them were described by the pow­er­ful and their jour­nal­is­tic hench­men as “vio­lent” and “ter­ror­ists”. Yet there is rarely any men­tion of the vio­lence that awoke “the vio­lence”. Of State ter­ror, of legal ter­ror, of par­lia­men­tary ter­ror, of ter­ror in times of “peace”. The tale is trun­cat­ed to the extent of pro­duc­ing some­thing oth­er out of it: the last chap­ter becomes the start of the sto­ry. Thus, there is “vio­lence” that is for­mu­lat­ed, that is described as such: the dis­possed sud­den­ly turn­ing on the own­ers; the exploit­ed who, one day, say “stop, that’s enough”. And there is the vio­lence that is nev­er put into words. The work­ers at the Knorr fac­to­ry in Dup­pigheim were fired in 2021 fol­low­ing delo­cal­iza­tion of pro­duc­tion to Roma­nia and Poland. But that is not con­sid­ered as vio­lent. It’s “a reor­ga­ni­za­tion of exper­tise cen­ters”. A French­man with low rev­enues does not live for as long as does an upper-lev­el exec­u­tive in the same coun­try and a  fair­ly recent study from the Labor Min­istry  indi­cat­ed that “with com­pa­ra­ble qual­i­ties”, Arab job seek­ers had 31,5% less chances of being con­tact­ed by recruiters: that is not vio­lent. Léa Salamé and Nico­las Demor­and (media fig­ures) don’t call on any­one to “con­demn” those vio­lences. Because that’s the world as it is. On Europe 1, all will agree that work-relat­ed acci­dents are “sad”, but the sad­ness does not call for any­thing fur­ther. I could mul­ti­ply the exam­ples. Going upstream in the riv­er, in this way, and bring­ing to light the vio­lence of which we are told it is no such thing: that is what I  have want­ed to do.

You are wary of the aes­thet­ics of defeat as well as of rev­o­lu­tion­ary intox­i­ca­tion. You bring up those who were swept aways, crushed, erased by the His­to­ry (of the dom­i­na­tors). Through their “mem­o­ry”, what “real­i­ty” (as a means of pro­jec­tion into the future) are you attempt­ing to show or to build?

My under­tak­ing is based on a dual urge. First of all, pro­vid­ing my small share to the refor­mu­la­tion of His­to­ry and, by this, sharp­en­ing our mem­o­ry. I am far from being alone in this busi­ness. Who  remem­bered Ive­ton out­side the cir­cles of his­to­ri­ans and mil­i­tants? Who had heard of Lizzy Lind af Hage­by and her accom­plice? Who knew the life of Alphonse Dianou? Since New-Cale­do­nia is still French, Dianou is a French cit­i­zen de jure: he head­ed an action that upset the polit­i­cal game over there — hence over here also, in one way or anoth­er. In the strictest mean­ing of the term, he cut His­to­ry in half. What I am about to say is less sec­ondary than it may first appear: Dianou has no exis­tence on Wikipé­dia — an ency­clo­pe­dia the weight of which every­one is famil­iar when it comes to the dai­ly spread of knowl­edge. His­to­ry — which is to say the saga of the pow­er­ful — hands out the posi­tion­ing and deliv­ers the good marks. Last year, Macron car­ried out an “enlight­ened com­mem­o­ra­tion” in favor of Napoleon: try doing the same with Robe­spierre! Yet this is a fig­ure much less bar­barous than the first. Even Napoleon admit­ted they had laid it on thick in his case. Sec­ond­ly, I take to heart Vic­tor Serge’s invi­ta­tion to fol­low “the rule of the dou­ble duty”. Fight­ing against the ene­my while car­ry­ing out the strug­gle in our own ranks. Or, at least, accord­ing to the times and the cir­cum­stances, while keep­ing my eyes wide open. This is how I would like to con­tribute to draw­ing atten­tion to the refusals of the for­got­ten and the uncount­ed, with­out con­tra­dic­tion; salut­ing the losers in the eyes of what the mas­ters call suc­cess: hon­or­ing the losers among the losers, by which I mean those that ours have sac­ri­ficed once they man­aged to attain pow­er. I do not self-define as a Trot­skyst but the Trot­skyst ges­ture is famil­iar to me. I know well this tra­di­tion of repres­sion, exile and of plur­al fronts. We return here to Serge and his rev­o­lu­tion­ary oppo­si­tion to “rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­formism”. We could also men­tion the anar­chists: the for­ev­er beat­en. The great sac­ri­ficed ones. This was the cen­tral ques­tion of my book on Hô Chi Minh. It is the cru­cial one in Pour vous com­bat­tre. I know, notably in the most lib­er­tar­i­an mind­ed ones, the respect giv­en to the defeat­ed ones, to fail­ures, to mar­tyrs, to the mag­nif­i­cent losers. I know this that much more clear­ly that I have  some­where in me some­thing of this incli­na­tion. But I strug­gle with it. It is eas­i­er to love Jesus than Saint-Just, Rosa Lux­em­burg than Lenin, Makhno than Cas­tro, Val­lès than Chavez.  I could sign off on every word of  the “left­ist melan­choly” his­to­ri­an Enzo Tra­ver­so men­tions.  Sim­ply remain aware of com­pla­cen­cy. Of a lean­ing toward dandy­ism. Of the lit­er­ary style. Because I wish to wit­ness the defeat of the ene­my, its deba­cle in the field. I would like us to man­age in break­ing all the struc­tures of sub­jec­tion, one by one. True, we are walk­ing through the ruins: the crimes of the Stal­in­ists and of the social-democ­rats, but yesterday’s corpses must not block off all of the hori­zon. I attempt then to live in this ten­sion: let’s try. We will fail, undoubt­ed­ly. Cer­tain­ly, even. Then, we will have to try again. It will always be that much snatched away from the mon­eyed class, from the forces of the unjust. The rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies of 1789 held out for two years at the head of the Repub­lic, after which they killed one anoth­er in con­di­tions that con­tin­ue to affect me. No mat­ter. For over 230 years, we have lived on what that hand­ful of years made pos­si­ble by smash­ing doors and win­dows. Start­ing with the demo­c­ra­t­ic pos­si­bil­i­ty. A trifle…

You glad­ly “dig into the poets’ bag”, bor­row­ing their tools. What space is reserved to oral­i­ty in your writing?

A space that may appear as para­dox­i­cal. By which I mean that my texts are very “writ­ten”. Com­ma after com­ma. What is owed to ran­dom­ness is only called the uncon­scious. Every­thing is knit­ted, framed, weighed. In this sense, my writ­ing is at the oppo­site end of a cer­tain writ­ten “oral” tra­di­tion, of a tongue that flows, impro­vised, auto­mat­ic or dia­logued. What calls to me are the rhyth­mi­cal poten­tials and the reserves of poet­ry in prose, its share of singing. They are what allow me to spend so much time glued to my table. But oral­i­ty is essen­tial to me, musi­cal­ly speak­ing. Like many authors, I often com­pose out loud. The melod­ic line pro­vides the direc­tion. My rela­tion­ship with poet­ry can prob­a­bly also be found in a cer­tain taste for brevi­ty and con­den­sa­tion. In the fact of sharp­en­ing the pen­cil to a point.

You have trou­ble writ­ing at length?

Yes. I strug­gle. I have nat­ur­al dif­fi­cul­ties in dilut­ing a point — just as, in dai­ly life, I have trou­ble fol­low­ing wordy, dif­fuse dis­cus­sions. I nev­er tell myself that my books must be brief: once they are done, I see that they are so.  With­out wish­ing it or aim­ing for it, I see in this a call to poet­ry. And to song — that I do not set apart, in fact. I don’t know if there would have been a S’il ne restait qu’un chien with­out Brel’s song “Ams­ter­dam”, for exam­ple. That rela­tion­ship to poet­ry, is also a mat­ter of com­pan­ion­ship. There is noth­ing of the eru­dite in me in this mat­ter: my knowl­edge is strag­gly, incom­plete, frag­men­tary. But in the end, yes, poets feed me as much as prose writ­ers do. It could be a pres­ence, an image, a cer­tain col­or. Before writ­ing a page, it may hap­pen that I will open a col­lec­tion by Khaïr-Eddine for exam­ple, to catch a tone, a note. When Lorand Gas­par writes “the sun cut itself out slowly/the way my moth­er cut the bread”, I can’t see how prose could ignore that. Or if it does, almost always, bore­dom takes over. A “lit­er­ary” lan­guage devoid of bumps, with nos jumps and with­out music, I find com­pli­cat­ed to fol­low. In S’il ne restait qu’un chien, we come across Cen­drars and I had Fondane’s Ulysses in a cor­ner of my mind — we come across it often in fact in Au loin le ciel du Sud. I take a few words from Rim­baud, with­out quo­ta­tion marks, in Ain­si nous leur faisons la guerre. There is some Mayakovsky and some Pasoli­ni in Au loin — I do believ­er there was also some Nâzım Hik­met but it ran off the pages. He will return, some­where else, one day or another!

You base your writ­ing on inves­tiga­tive mate­ri­als you gath­er your­self in an approach resem­bling that of an inves­ti­ga­tor, a jour­nal­ist, a his­to­ri­an. What con­nec­tions to you make between the writ­ing involved in jour­nal­ism and in lit­er­a­ture? How can these two forms of writ­ing nour­ish one another?

Every­thing fits togeth­er with­out dif­fi­cul­ty. I am not a his­to­ri­an but I spend my time with his­to­ri­ans. I am not a jour­nal­ist but I close­ly observe the news and am inter­est­ed in the con­di­tions of media pro­duc­tion. I nev­er set foot in a uni­ver­si­ty but I read as much human and social sci­ences as I do lit­er­a­ture. When the moment comes to write, these var­i­ous tools and means of expres­sion show up or con­flate seam­less­ly. It is a palette with sev­er­al col­ors at my disposal.

In Ain­si nous leur faisons la guerre, you ques­tion the “rela­tion­ship” between human and the liv­ing non-human around the top­ic of the pub­lic vivi­sec­tion of a dog in Lon­don in the very begin­ning of the 20th cen­tu­ry, the kid­nap­ping of a baby mon­key ren­dered blind in a Cal­i­forn­ian research lab in 1985 and the escape of a cow and her calf, who broke away from a trans­port on the turn­about of Charleville-Méz­ières in 2014. What must be done in order to go “toward an ecol­o­gy of the nar­ra­tive”, mean­ing rais­ing the prob­lem of human­i­ty in the “City”, in mod­ern lit­er­a­ture, and mov­ing toward a lit­er­a­ture of a human­i­ty on a “Plan­et”?

I don’t use the “ecol­o­gy of the nar­ra­tive” expres­sion but I think I know what it deals with. In truth, all I do is pro­long in lit­er­a­ture — and more par­tic­u­lar­ly in the book you men­tion — my own rela­tion­ship with the world of the liv­ing. Ani­mals mat­ter in my life; they find them­selves at the heart of my texts for this rea­son. I do not dis­con­nect ani­mals from humans. This would be a sci­en­tif­ic aber­ra­tion, at any rate. The rela­tion­ship we estab­lish with ani­mals is close­ly linked to that we estab­lish amongst our­selves, where  the “we”, as we know it, is wide­ly het­ero­ge­neous and con­flict­ed. In the long march toward eman­ci­pa­tion, we will not be able to make the econ­o­my of a reflec­tion on the fate we reserve to ani­mals. We can­not work at the dimin­ish­ing of vio­lence in social rela­tion­ships while silent­ly wad­ing in the blood of oth­ers. But what I’m stat­ing is evi­dent: I’m sim­ply fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, the fem­i­nists, the envi­ron­men­tal­ists, ethol­o­gists or anthro­pol­o­gists who, for a long time, have refused to crown Homo sapi­ens as the Earth’s Grand Sov­er­eign.  There is no air­tight­ness in pol­i­tics. No scat­tered “caus­es”. I believe there is nev­er any­thing oth­er than con­tin­u­um and com­bi­na­tions. The regime of inequal­i­ty is made of  a ball of hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent threads. A skein. This does not mean that this mobi­liza­tion or that one can­not demand auton­o­my — but by the nature of things, this auton­o­my can only a relative.

The Kur­dish writer is some­times blocked by the inten­si­ty of real­i­ty when writ­ing fic­tion, which requires remov­ing one’s self from the “con­text” or the “real­i­ty” affect­ing him or her on a per­ma­nent basis. “Kurds live their nov­el, it is impos­si­ble write at that lev­el”, they say. What are your thoughts on the lit­er­a­ture of those times when one believes  he or she has cap­tured “the breath of His­to­ry” and the “lit­er­a­ture of extreme sit­u­a­tions”? How to pull back from the “cli­mate” so as not to neu­tral­ize crit­i­cal thinking?

Except for De nos frères blessés, I have not writ­ten any fic­tion.  And even there, it was a bas­tard-fic­tion — very large­ly rest­ing on facts and doc­u­ments. Today, which is to say six or sev­en yrars lat­er, I would not write this book in the same way. I rarely go back on my texts, but Pour vous com­bat­tre is much clos­er to me, organ­ic — in terms of a cap­ture of His­to­ry, of nar­ra­tive pol­i­cy, of struc­tur­ing of the nar­ra­tive.  Undoubt­ed­ly, I had not per­ceived this imme­di­ate­ly, but I am wary of his­tor­i­cal lit­er­a­ture one could call “ento­mo­log­i­cal”. Look­ing at the trench­es, the Paris Com­mune, or, I don’t know, the Span­ish war, the way one would look at a but­ter­fly nailed to a frame. No one can deny there exists a lit­er­ary aura to the past. A height­ened romanesque and lyri­cal pos­si­bil­i­ty. Rebel­lion enchants every­one when it doesn’t cost any­thing: it can even become the object of a vis­it to a muse­um. Of course, one can relate by tak­ing hold of the past in order to allow the read­er to draw “lessons” from it. This is con­ve­nient. Human­is­tic. To put it in oth­er words, I fear a his­tor­i­cal lit­er­a­ture in which the dis­played rad­i­cal­ism has no bear­ing on our time. I approach His­to­ry in order to rub up against it in a sin­gle move­ment, with the mas­ters of the moment. I’m quite cer­tain I would be unable to write a book on nazism: I feel the need to take the blows. When Valeurs actuelles [French right-wing mag­a­zine] tells me I’m glo­ri­fy­ing a ter­ror­ist and Le Monde [French news­pa­per] says I’m Manichean, I have the par­tic­u­lar­ly pleas­ant feel­ing of a job well done. In speak­ing, I sud­den­ly recall a com­ment con­cern­ing Au loin le ciel du Sud: some­one telling me they loved Nguyên Ai Quôc’s ini­ti­a­tion tale but noth­ing about the Yel­low Vest insur­rec­tion in the streets of Paris which I relate. That’s not how it works: it’s all or nothing.

Sev­er­al research­es show that lit­er­a­ture is see­ing impos­ing exten­sions these days: “From a lit­er­a­ture defined by its dis­in­ter­est, its auton­o­my, to con­tem­po­rary writ­ings will­ing­ly social and polit­i­cal, from the crown­ing of the author to ama­teurs of fan­fic­tions, from the unique pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with style to non-fic­tion, from the apol­o­gy of orig­i­nal­i­ty to the required inves­ti­ga­tion, from the soli­tude of the cre­ator to field lit­er­a­tures, from romanesque nov­els to writ­ings about non-human worlds, from the cult of the text to writ­ings out­side books, from the West­ern tro­pism to world lit­er­a­ture, from a lin­guis­tic con­cept to an approach informed by cul­tur­al anthro­pol­o­gy and nature sci­ences.”  From this, how do you see the new dynam­ics in lit­er­a­ture writ­ten in the French lan­guage? What space to you think you occu­py in this new lit­er­ary land­scape? 

I’m not ter­ri­bly knowl­edge­able in mat­ters of lit­er­a­ture stud­ies and the­o­ries. I catch on to the branch­es as I fly by.  As for my place, this is a mat­ter for oth­ers to say: I only have two or three ideas about the posi­tion I build. I absolute­ly do not see books as unique enti­ties, self-enclosed, sus­cep­ti­ble of being received and under­stood sep­a­rate­ly: they are ele­ments, assem­bled in var­i­ous ways, of a work site of which I am igno­rant, of course, of the shapes it will take on. But my bit con­sists of the junc­tion between lit­er­a­ture, hence art, and pol­i­tics. How to occu­py this space with­out falling into social­ist real­ism or dec­o­ra­tive mar­gin­al­i­ty, in the “cul­ture mode”? How to grasp  for­mal research and read­abil­i­ty? How to set up a dis­cus­sion between song and usage? How to move, to com­pose between those two poles, exter­nal­ly and in them­selves? It’s an ongo­ing reflec­tion. “In me, the poet fights the mil­i­tant and the mil­i­tant fights the poet”, Kateb Yacine said in a book of inter­views. He was speak­ing of an “unavoid­able” civ­il war. From the onset, I’ve had the feel­ing I must not take my eyes off these two struggles.

If, far from being an essence, lit­er­a­ture is first of all an idea, what is lit­er­a­ture for you?

I’m still won­der­ing how one can answer this ques­tion, after the hun­dred illus­tri­ous def­i­n­i­tions already pro­nounced! Fol­low­ing Sartre, obvi­ous­ly. So, all things con­sid­ered, I offer these com­mon­place words: I con­sid­er lit­er­a­ture as the affect­ing and aes­thet­ic part of pro­sa­ic language.

You ded­i­cate one of your recent works to the impris­oned Kur­dish singer Nûdem Durak. What is your rela­tion­ship with this singer  and more gen­er­al­ly, with the Kur­dish people?

As a gen­er­al cat­e­go­ry, the Kurds don’t evoke much for me. No more than do Pales­tini­ans, Alge­ri­ans, Viet­namese, Rus­sians or French peo­ple. My inter­na­tion­al­ist links are first and fore­most polit­i­cal, ide­o­log­i­cal. What I can say, on the oth­er hand, is that in my polit­i­cal tra­di­tion, I , like many oth­ers, hold in great­est esteem the social, demo­c­ra­t­ic, social­ist, fem­i­nist or rev­o­lu­tion­ary Kur­dish move­ment. It is among my friend­ships and inspi­ra­tions. As for Nûdem Durak, I went to Kur­dis­tan in order to meet her fam­i­ly. I will go back again. She was sen­tenced to nine­teen years in prison for her involve­ment. But a polit­i­cal pris­on­er is nev­er an iso­lat­ed indi­vid­ual: that, again, is a mat­ter of how the sys­tem is constituted.

Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges

Sup­port Kedis­tan, MAKE A CONTRIBUTION.

We maintain the “Kedistan tool” as well as its archives. We are fiercely committed to it remaining free of charge, devoid of advertising and with ease of consultation for our readers, even if this has a financial costs, covered up till now by financial contributions (all the authors at Kedistan work on a volunteer basis).
You may use and share Kedistan’s articles and translations, specifying the source and adding a link in order to respect the writer(s) and translator(s) work. Thank you.
KEDISTAN on EmailKEDISTAN on FacebookKEDISTAN on TwitterKEDISTAN on Youtube
Le petit mag­a­zine qui ne se laisse pas caress­er dans le sens du poil.