August Coda: Amalek And Daesh; Why Trump Will Lose; And The Guyotat Show In Paris

"Tombeau pour cinq cent mille soldats".
"Tombeau pour cinq cent mille soldats".

Those who still doubt the need, if not to impose a total blackout on terrorists’ names, then at least to curtail the soap opera quality of news coverage of terrorist acts might ponder the implications of a strain of Jewish philosophy that offers a pretty clear compass in these matters.

On the one hand, zakhor does indeed enjoin us to “remember what Amalek did.” But then there is lashon hara: Refrain from “evil speech.” Make sure you “wipe out” the name of the evil one and of his children from “under heaven.”  With the result that on Purim, which commemorates the failure of the umpteenth attempt to exterminate the Jewish people by a descendant of Amalek, a cacophony of whistles, rattles, and stamping drowns out the name of the would-be exterminator.

The name is said but not heard; the killer is distinctly identified, but his name is muffled; he is fallen, deposed. And nothing is more foreign to this great Biblical and later Talmudic strain of thought than casual, complacent mentions of murderers’ names. To be sure, there is one exception to this rule, which pertains to the latter-day Amaleks known as the Nazis. Because only the Nazis devoted all of their energy to covering up, along with all traces their crime and the victims’ bodies, the names of the criminals.

By contrast, today’s Amaleks, the jihadist Amaleks, are doing exactly the opposite. They boast of their crimes, revel in them, glorify them. To ensure that no one can ignore them, they leave their ID cards at the scene of the crime. Which means that when we drink in that identity, when we become obsessed with this face and that name, when we echo the claims of responsibility that are an integral part of the jihadist project, we are not resisting but collaborating.

* * *

One last word about Trump. Unlike Michael Moore, I am betting on his defeat. I believe he has committed two errors necessarily fatal for anyone aspiring to the presidency of the United States. The first was to dishonor American veterans by doing after the parents of a soldier who died in Iraq, by citing the commensurate “sacrifices” that he had supposedly made while creating jobs, and then, immediately afterwards, by smirking that he, too, had a Purple Heart—one given to him by a supporter as a gift. 

Parallel to that was the second error—but come to think of it, could he prevent it?—the error of allowing to come to light the web of contacts, collusions, and compromises about which I wrote two weeks ago, a web that betrays his closeness to the leader of a power with which his country is locked in a new cold war. America has plenty of flaws. As Sartre said, the country is subject to fits of fury. It tolerates lapses of patriotism no better than it does slights to its heroes. And never will it elect a man who, when every television channel in the country was finding Putin’s hand behind the pirating of e-mail communications within the Democratic National Committee, is capable of exclaiming, “Hey, Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the thirty thousand e-mails that are missing.”

It is a perfect moment to reread Tocqueville, to ponder the passage in which he describes America as a country in which reflexive love of country becomes “a sort of religion,” and to conclude that in that America, the country of Democracy in America, the Donald is walking on thin ice.

* * *

August is the time of year when, as the news slackens, the scribe looks back over the weeks just past and thinks about the events of which he failed to take note. Among them, this year, was the Pierre Guyotat show at the Galerie Azzedine Alaïa in Paris, which the misdeeds of Daesh, the purulence of Putin, and the travesty of Trump prevented me, week after week, from describing.

And yet what a treat that exhibit was for people like myself who came of age (and came to care about literature, which amounts to the same thing) at a time when the government was banning Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers, a novel that Michel Foucault deemed “one of the fundamental books of our time,” and when Roland Barthes, Michel Leiris, and Philippe Sollers joined forces to pen the preface to Eden Eden Eden. In the exhibit were manuscripts so heavily covered in deletions and insertions that they resembled a palimpsest. Others—red, green, black—were like blocks of living visual matter, compact yet luminous.

There were drawings, some dating from the period when the future author of Arrière-fond (Background) believed that he would become a painter like Gauguin. Not to mention the many contemporary artists who thronged Alaïa’s gallery in the Marais, either in person or represented by their work, to salute a man whom they consider one of their most estimable coequals in the world of letters: Bernard Dufour, who passed away in July, capturing Jacques Henric’s photo of the writer’s face; two portraits by Miquel Barcelo; a work by Daniel Buren echoing Guyotat’s unpublished “L’Histoire de Samora Machel”; a copy of Eden found in the street in Newcastle, sodden with rain and then dried out, which Michael Dean says set him on his path as an artist; and Elijah Burghe’s “Bachelor Machine (Guyotat Version).” Klaus Rinke came from Austria expressly for the show, as did Juliette Blightman from Berlin.

And from Los Angeles came Paul McCarthy, who had had a translation done of the last page of Guyotat’s last work, recorded a reading of it, listened to the recording two hundred times, and, while listening, did a hundred drawings on an iPad. All this—the encounters curated by my tireless young colleague Donatien Grau, the collisions of matter and spirit, the smoking ink, the still-warm forms, the shifting memories—deserved a column. And here it is, better late than never.

Translated from French by Steven B. Kennedy 

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