A Lack of Fraternity: Our Columnists Bring Festive Book News from Europe, America and the Alternative Scene-Including Riots, Covert Politics and Holy Toast
Hussey, Andrew, New Statesman (1996)
There has been a chill wind blowing through Paris recently. The city has been plagued by strikes that look likely to continue for months--as long as unions and the government are locked in a stand-off. In the suburbs, gangs of rioting immigrant youths are once again setting fire to cars and fighting running battles with the police. Unlike in the riots of 2005, which nearly brought the government down, the gangs are armed this time, mainly with cheap hunting rifles and air pistols. They move in small, predatory packs with the stated aim of shooting policemen--who are themselves tooled up in paramilitary gear. The violence is sporadic, but there is no real end in sight: there are now parts of the city's outskirts that look more like Gaza than Paris.
It is all the more apposite that the biggest literary event of the Parisian festive season is the publication of the memoirs of Philippe Sollers, a vain, gossipy but undoubtedly talented novelist who is the epitome of snobbish, bourgeois, mondain Paris (Sollers's Maoist youth is only further proof of this pedigree). At the age of 70, Sollers is seeking to establish himself once and for all as the greatest writer of his generation with Un vrai roman: Memoires. He sets out with waspish attacks on the great writers of his vintage (Julien Gracq, Patrick Modiano and Le Clezio all come in for a battering), an account of his love affair with Julia Kristeva and of the "cultural terrorism" that he launched on the world with the journal Tel Quel in the 1960s (which introduced the likes of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault). Above all, Sollers sees himself as a libertine in the 18th-century tradition, arguing against mediocrity and in favour of intellectual dandyism. …