Philip Sollers’s August Diary
Who could not be proud to be French knowing that we have L’Oréal, that magnificent world-wide cosmetics enterprise? Everything about L’Oréal is fascinating: its suspect origins, its elderly inspired millionaire, its own fabulously treated contemporary artist, its tax evasion schemes, its island in the Seychelles, its discrete brown envelopes, its favourite minister, its domestic intrigues and family drama worthy of a super-Balzac.
This has been our summer soap opera, and I only hope it continues in autumn, when it would outdo, absolutely, whatever literature might have to offer. Well yes, there has also been Russia in flames, Moscow choking in smoke, the poorly-managed oil slick in Louisiana, diluvian floods in Pakistan and China, deaths at the German Love Parade, an Iranian sentenced to stoning (thank heavens Carla Bruni will put a stop to that), and the agitation surrounding the building of a mosque at the Ground Zero site in New York, but the L’Oréal affair is much better, more twisted, more vicious, a real-time vertical cut which exposes the geology of French society, with some even rather charming moments: for example, Mrs Woerth’s adorable hats, at the races. It took you to Switzerland, to the Indian Ocean, you visited sumptuous private mansions or day-dreamed about Luxembourg and Singapore.
Millions and millions swirl about and then disappear, then come back ten times larger, hide themselves in nooks and crannies which future retirees cannot even begin to imagine. And just let those retirees go ahead and join noisy street protests, neither banks nor the government will let themselves be intimidated. L’Oréal! L’Oréal! Solid gold! Suspense! Hidden microphones! Indiscrete butlers and accountants! Revelations about sex yet to come! Medical practitioners above suspicion! Lawyers foaming at the mouth! Unpublished photos! Quick, tell us: what happened next!
Power rapidly unleashed its parade of countermeasures. Forget about L’Oréal, the situation is really serious. You can see for yourself that crime is getting worse, everywhere, and that it’s caused by socialists and gypsies and travellers. Left-wing millionaires are just fooling you, and, once again, the powerful St-Germain-des-Près lobby is bamboozling you, real Frenchmen whose Franco-French origins are genuinely French. Take a good look at how these lax, irresponsible windbags, inspired by guilty Angel-Gabrielism, are really protecting drug traffickers. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that they are hand in glove with the Taliban-killing-our-soldiers.
The hypocritical leftwing pretends to oppose our reforms but will get with the program anyhow, since they’ve nothing better to offer the country with regard to security measures. Trust us, your big, older brother the president will always protect you and his lovely, people-friendly wife will sing you, at just the right moment, a charming lullaby. The planet itself is becoming extremely tiresome, you need a rest. The gypsies can go to Hell! Let the travellers move along, and smartly! Who cares if the Pope is displeased, if the Catholic Church is aggrieved? Why don’t these fine folk look to their own affairs and take care of their paedo priests? Spoken just like a true, old-time pro: how many divisions does the Pope command?
In spite of my own instinctive, deep-seated fear of them, I can’t help also secretly admiring the cold-blooded composure of these criminal French mothers. The late Marguerite Duras would have proclaimed them “sublime, of course they’re sublime”. Of course they are: these beings with ample outlines don’t show much, but quietly produce multiple pregnancies, bear their children alone and get rid of them immediately. All summer we’ve had babies in the freezer and now we’re getting them in plastic shopping bags. And we read in the papers that a couple caught up in this type of adventure is “outgoing, friendly, obliging, polite and courteous”. The wife is a care-giver and the husband carpenter and member of the local authority’s council. We are also informed that the local curate remains “stunned”. A new concept has taken hold, that of “neonaticide”. But the most puzzling part of these stories remains, after all, the extreme ignorance of the husbands, who noticed nothing at all, as they declare, and the brutal spotlight now shone on the haphazards of provincial coitus.
Forget about all those over-hyped American novelists: they’re running out of steam, their books are blatantly boring and their time is up. You’ve now got much better than that, in the original French version: the latest Houellebecq*, a wonderful storyteller, roman noir, black humour, where the author is his own subject and goes as far as describing his own, horrible, assassination throughout pages and pages written with commendable precision (as we learn a great deal about the reproductive cycle of maggots).
If there is any justice here on earth, the Goncourt Literary Prize should crown this powerful oeuvre. Houellebecq’s world-view is consistent: everybody always dies, everything must go in an inevitable apocalypse (where, incidentally, I discovered to my amusement that I myself disappeared long ago). And then suddenly, on the subject of Art, he offers this exclamation: “Picasso is ugly, he paints a hideously distorted world because his soul is hideous and that’s all there is to say about Picasso, the exhibition of his paintings can no longer be justified, he has nothing at all to offer, he has no particular handling of lighting effects, no innovation in the organisation of colour and shape, and there is finally nothing at all in Picasso, absolutely nothing worth noting, merely a pronounced stupidity and priapic daubings perhaps capable of seducing certain high net worth sixtysomethings.”
Is this hymn of hate a joke? Perhaps, though it mightn’t be. It could be that these are views shared by the present Home Secretary, by the President himself and are actually those of the President’s own father, a very bad painter, whose work was recently shown in a Gallery just opposite the Elysée Palace. And it’s quite possible that the vast majority of Frenchmen agree that priapic daubings are rightfully to be censured. It would therefore not be irrelevant to recall that in April 1940, the French Republic refused to bestow, prior to the arrival of German troops in the capital, French nationality on Picasso. He was treated like the dangerously delinquent anarchist that he was, and whose engagement in the Spanish War (Guernica) unequivocally demonstrated his foreign origin. Will Houellebecq be able, single-handedly, to arrest the irresistible rise in the price of his paintings? That remains to be seen.
• La Carte et le Territoire, Flammarion.
Philippe Sollers - leJDD.fr
Saturday 28 August, 2010