Monthly Archives: May 2020

Just A Little Worse

This is my quick and rough translation of Michel Houellebecq’s open letter about the pandemic published on Radio France, May 4, 2020:


Just A Little Worse
Answers to some friends

It has to be admitted: most of the emails exchanged in recent weeks were primarily aimed at checking that the person they were talking to was not dead or dying. But, once this verification was done, we still tried to say interesting things, which wasn’t easy, because this epidemic managed the feat of being both frightening and boring at the same time. A banal virus, with little or no reputation compared to obscure flu viruses, with poorly known conditions of survival, with unclear characteristics, sometimes benign, sometimes deadly, not even sexually transmissible: in short, a virus without qualities. This epidemic may have killed a few thousand people every day around the world, but it nevertheless produced the curious impression of being a non-event. In fact, my esteemed colleagues (some of them, nevertheless, are esteemed) did not talk about it so much, they preferred to address the issue of containment; and here I would like to add my contribution to some of their observations.

Frédéric Beigbeder (from Guéthary, Pyrénées-Atlantiques). A writer doesn’t see many people anyway, he lives like a hermit with his books, confinement doesn’t change much. I completely agree, Frédéric, when it comes to social life, it doesn’t make much difference. But there’s one point you forget to consider (probably because, living in the country, you’re less of a victim of the forbidden): a writer needs to walk.

This confinement seems to me the ideal occasion to settle an old Flaubert-Nietzsche quarrel. Somewhere (I’ve forgotten where) Flaubert says that people only think and write well when they’re seated. Protests and mockery of Nietzsche (I’ve also forgotten where), who goes so far as to call him nihilist (so it happens at a time when he had already begun to use the word wrongly and incorrectly): he himself conceived all his works by walking, everything that is not conceived in walking is null and void, moreover he has always been a Dionysian dancer, etc. Hardly suspicious of any exaggerated sympathy for Nietzsche, I must however admit that in this case it is rather he who is right. Trying to write if one does not have the possibility, during the day, of walking for several hours at a sustained pace, is strongly to be discouraged: the accumulated nervous tension does not manage to dissolve, thoughts and images continue to spin painfully in the poor head of the author, who quickly becomes irritable, even mad. Continue reading

A Climate of Suspicion, Uncertainty and Denunciation

Here’s my translation of Aleida Assmann’s contribution to the debate on Mbembe, and the relation between (non-)antisemitism and postcolonial studies:


A Climate of Suspicion, Uncertainty and Denunciation[1]

After the attacks on the director of the Ruhr-Triennale, Stephanie Carp, and the philosopher Achille Mbembe: suggestions for a more clearly formulated concept of antisemitism.

Germany has not only an old, but also a new antisemitism problem. The identity of the Germans cannot be detached from the Holocaust. The responsibility for this crime against humanity is linked to a special responsibility for the State of Israel. This responsibility is not only part of the German raison d’être of the state, but also shows itself in the close cooperation with people in this state and its institutions. It borders on being a miracle that Jews of the third and fourth generation are once again living in Germany after the Holocaust and have found a basis for their existence here.

It is all the more shocking that this Jewish life in Germany is now under dramatic threat. Wearing kippas makes people the target of verbal and physical attacks, Jewish community facilities are no longer safe and finally the attack in Halle suddenly calls into question everything that has grown and been achieved in this country. We cannot rest easy, the spread of the poison of antisemitism in right-wing extremist groups and on the internet has reached a new level of escalation and requires decisive action by the police forces, clear positions from politicians and the vigilance of all citizens. This fight against antisemitism needs all our efforts and should thus be unanimous by all means. Unfortunately, it is precisely this unanimity that is disturbed by a debate that distracts from this important task, confuses minds and targets the wrong opponents.

Targeted are the director of the Ruhr-Triennale, Stephanie Carp, and the philosopher Achille Mbembe, whose texts suddenly appear in the public spotlight and have found many readers who read them with only one interest: to discover suspicious statements in them. Jürgen Kaube immediately found what he was looking for in the FAZ and promptly confirmed the accusation of antisemitism based on the ‘fruits’ (findings) of his reading. The consequences of this hermeneutics of suspicion are severe for people in leading positions; they must expect to be dismissed and to face permanent stigmatization because the cultural-political spokesman of the FDP, Lorenz Deutsch, the antisemitism commissioner Felix Klein and the Central Council of Jews have turned this into a case. Continue reading