Do you think the despicable attack on author Salman Rushdie is just another case of bigotry? Come back down to earth. Behind the attack, it is not only freedom of expression that is suffering, it’s the art itself that we knock down. Decryption.

Everything was fine (for me). I had just returned from a literary festival on the Île de Ré – yes, the authors sometimes have to collect some compensation after the self-confinement that writing entails – and I was just about to start the corrections of an upcoming novel when I opened my Twitter feed: Salman Rushdie, the 75-year-old Indian-born author, had just been brutally attacked in New York. More precisely: he had received more than a dozen stab wounds during an intervention that he was to give to the Chautauqua Institution, by a fanatic who, according to The worldwas ” obsessed with the Iranian revolution “. That is.

Since then, and this is quite normal, everyone has been worried – as if the situation were new – about the fate of freedom of expression. The event indeed sounds like an ultimate Warning “, according to the solemn front page of the newspaper Pointwhich echoes the no less necessary one of JDDtitled ” Salman Rushdie, freedom stabbed “. And since then, Bernard-Henri Lévy’s widely relayed call for the convalescing author to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature can only be welcomed. Indeed, how can we find a better symbol when it comes to an attack which targeted not only the person of Salman Rushdie but also and above all his work, of which The Satanic Verses earned him a fatwa in 1988?

Because it is there, around the question of creative freedom itself, that the collateral victim of this odious act is hidden, which does not only harm freedom of expression in the strict sense – the free speech, that is to say the possibility of being able to express ideas freely, in particular in the public space. By creative freedom, I mean the freedom of artists and all those who use their know-how to produce aesthetic forms: novels, films, music, paintings…

Rushdie is indeed not only a man of thought – he has written several essays – he is above all a writer, author of more than a dozen novels with a clearly identifiable style that some have described as “ magical realism », at the crossroads of myth and reality. That is to say if the originality of his work is one of the decisive elements for appropriating the work of the man of letters who is from this point of view in no way an ideologue, or a simple agitator of opinion. And this is precisely where the problem lies. Rushdie not being (even) a professional debater, or a follower of TV show controversies, it is indeed at the root of his work that we are attacking, that is to say at the source creativity itself.


Therefore, all creators should feel concerned about the Rushdie case. Including those who, a priori, feel wrongly left out of the conversation because they devote themselves to less naturally controversial genres: cinema, series, music, fashion… Yet it is the same aesthetic gesture that is targeted in that case. Why then should it be restricted to the field of books and literature, in a context where the decline in the practice of reading is already tending to marginalize this world? If there must be solidarity with Rushdie, it must extend to all artists, in any case to all those who feel concerned and in some way required by the democratic framework which allows the free exercise of their work. .


The proliferation of acts of extreme violence against writers and artists (the massacre at Charlie Hebdo only dates from 2015) almost mechanically creates the risk of an impoverishment of literary production – not in the quantitative sense, given the over-production that continues to plague the market, but rather in the qualitative sense. Make no mistake: far be it from me to imply that contemporary creation, for example in France, is bad. Every year, we discover new pearls: Emma Becker, César Morgiewicz, Tristan Garcia…


But for all that, looking at the bookish landscape in the face, aren’t we gently annoyed by the rather hallucinating profusion of works called “ feel good “, which, as indicated by a user on the Babelio site, designate a text ” funny, even wacky, (…) which puts you in a good mood, gives you a boost, does you good and is a quick read »? Because if I happen to read very good ones that we would place without hesitation in this category, I cannot get out of my head the idea that this trend, in itself highly respectable, carries it is the seed of a certain decline in literary diversity, and of the reduction of the book to an object of entertainment – ​​which it undoubtedly is in part, but not entirely: the novel is not just a spectacle, it is also an object of knowledge, and the same remark could apply to (good) cinema. We have never thought so much as before a Kubrick film.

My friend Stéphanie Hochet seems to share my concern, and confides to me: ” I think a bit like Riss, of Charlie Hebdo, that freedom of thought is useless if it is not used. (…) In 2012 I released The Ephemeridesthere is an SM prostitute lesbian character who is racist, I’m sure that today I would have hesitated a lot and I don’t know at all if my character would have been perceived as a character, before being judged as a blemish “. She adds : ” You have the impression today that some readers are waiting for you around the corner, if you ever make a mistake in thought. »

If we must doubtless be satisfied with the fact that certain authors are marginalized from the public space after multiple racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic stances have been taken, and if we can in the same way understand that there are writings prohibited, or very strictly regulated, because of their ultra-violent content, if we must also react when positions taken, wherever they come from, constitute incitement to hatred or discrimination, no one , absolutely no one should feel the slightest fear of wanting to undertake one of the most beautiful things in the world: making art.

By Tom Connan

The article is in French

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