6 January 2015

Christophe Donner: L'Empire de la morale (2001)

I don't think it mentions anywhere in this book what the narrator's name is, but it's quite clear that Christophe Donner is writing about his own history, and that the 'roman' (or 'novel'), as the book is described, does in fact contain a great deal of autobiographical information, sufficient for it to come into the autofiction genre or sub-genre.

As an adolescent, the narrator has a recurring 'hallucination' that his fingers are swelling to a huge size, becoming spongiform. He's sent to a special institution in Bougival until he more of less cures himself, but the whole exercise is really a settling of accounts with his parents.

His mother is initially a child psychoanalyst, then she moves to psychoanalysing adults, whereas his father is a communist. The narrator feels that he has to dissect these what he calls 'religions', in an attempt to rescue himself from his demons.

The trouble is, he's somewhat reductive and attacks Freud largely on the grounds of his study of the unconscious and more particularly because of the Œdipus complex. He picks easy targets, as it's not too difficult to ridicule Freud for interpreting dreams as essentially sexually based, and nor is it difficult to destroy an argument that reduces actions to a desire to have sex with your mother and kill your father. Especially if, as Donner says, Freud based his arguments on a false premise about Œdipus: why should he have had a guilt complex about issues he knew nothing about?

And then of course there's communism, although Donner spends most of his arguments against communism by talking about Lenin's syphilis and its effects: there's very little about Marx and Engels, from whom the idea of communism of course comes: was the USSR actually communist then, or simply tagging the name to a very violent regime?

The narrator of L'empire de la morale sees a great deal of violence in both communism and Freudianism, in fact so much that they become the twin evils of the 20th century: after all, communism paved the way for Nazism, didn't it? Er...

By now it's apparent that the narrator is a pretty reactionary, pretty right-wing individual. What we're talking about here is someone who sees socialism, communism, and anarchism as extreme threats to the world, but of the insanities of the right there is barely a mention. What of western governments' supporting, say, Pinochet, or Duvalier, or Saddam (until he became the bogie man), what of the evils of neo-liberalism, which believes in unfettered capitalism, is increasing the wealth of the already-wealthy beyond all reason, and allowing the poor just to die in their rags and ignorance? Not a word.

Sorry, and sorry for the cliché, but left has always been right, and right always has and always will be wrong. The misappropriation of words should never be taken at face value: who today would call, for instance, the French Parti Socialiste actually socialist? Only a fool.

I enjoyed reading this book for a number of reasons, but mainly because it introduced me to the painter Eugene Gabritschevsky, who seems to have been a fascinating (and crazy, but why not) artist. Shame about all the right-wing bullshit though.

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