Thoughts On Friendship, Ovid In Mosul, Faulkner’s Masks, Decadence, And Terrorism According To Yann Moix

Battle of Mosul. With the Peshmerga Forces. November 2016.
Battle of Mosul. With the Peshmerga Forces. November 2016.

You fell out with a friend over terrorism and the war we’re fighting against it, which he thinks is a misnamed? That’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Nothing more or less than what Nietzsche felt on pondering Aristotle’s comment reported by Diogenes Laertius: “O philoi, oudeis philos” (O friends, there are no friends)—because in fact friendship slips away in the face of disagreement over issues of life and death or our idea of the good life. It is often said of me that I have every flaw in the world—“but you have to admit that he is good at friendship.” No, I am not. Not like that, anyway. With all due respect to the fake friends who grant me this virtue the better to deny me others, I realize, yet again, that I do not in fact possess this “morality of friendship,” which boils down to the immoral morality of mafiosi. I have broken with friends over Bosnia. Over Israel. Over Libya. I have gotten angry over a book, a movie, or a matter of aesthetics. And still today, between the truth and friendship, between justice and friendship, I choose, without hesitation, justice and truth.

New Year’s Day in Kurdistan. The following days in and around Mosul, where, with Gilles (Hertzog), François (Margolin), and Olivier (Jacquin), I am shooting the last scenes of what will be the sequel to my documentary, Peshmerga. What are we doing in this hell hole? What led four friends to gather there, at a certain moment, so far from those dear to them and so close to others—and I’m talking here not about the Kurds but about the Iraqis of the Golden Division—who are so unlike them and may not always wish them well? (I will come back to this point in a later column.) Honestly, I have no idea. I have little clue about what one might be seeking or fleeing when spending the first day of the year, all the good and the ill of which Ovid believed would recur over the twelve months to follow, in such a godforsaken spot. Yes, of course, there is the will to bear witness; the desire, yes, to rise to the occasion, the event that makes history. And, of course, there is the taste for adventure, as well as a dimly perceived fidelity to the masters who lit the way down this path. But what else? Or is that enough?

Back in Paris. On one of those nights of insomnia that paradoxically occur more often since I agreed to have my sleep remotely monitored by an electro-clinical Big Brother, I happened onto Faulkner’s 1956 interview with Jean Stein in which he speaks of the masks that turn him successively into bandit, southern planter, hopeless alcoholic, and poet. And he sees those masks as “dark twins” whose nonstop ballet makes up his “secret life.” Isn’t that the third answer, I wonder, to the existential question that I have been asking myself for forty years—the question of the multiplication of lives? Successive lives, strictly sequential (as with the great converts; or Pythagoras, who lived, legend has it, twenty entire lives). Simultaneous lives, led clandestinely (as with Romain Gary and Emile Ajar or Pessoa and his heteronyms). But here we have a third formula that suddenly seems more attainable: areas of double life, pockets of another life within this one, scraps of phantom life that can, at any moment, turn “me” into someone else. Upon waking in the morning, this all seemed less clear, alas. But does an insomniac ever really awaken?

I read in the papers that one of the main sources of the decadence of the West is supposedly that we, unlike the jihadists, are no long inclined to risk our lives to defend the idea of life that we claim to value. Curious. Because for my entire life I’ve observed just the opposite. I’m thinking of reporters, aid workers, humanitarians, and, at this very moment, around Mosul, French, American, and Kurdish soldiers (the latter being no different from the former two), who are in point of fact risking death, not without heroism, to defend a civilization that is supposedly in its death throes. Not to mention the citizens of Paris and other western cities who know that the next attack on them is being prepared in a command center in Mosul but who nevertheless continue to live, read, recite poetry, and celebrate—all of which are forms of resistance and courage. I reject the theory of decline. I do not believe in the idea of cyclical history in which empires continually crumble and die. All things considered, and even at the risk of fishing in the murky waters of reactionary thought, it is better to see things from the perspective of Thomas Carlyle, whose theory of the hero and of the role of the heroic in history I discovered by chance in Erbil (On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, 1841).

On the subject of jihadism, it’s Yann Moix’s Terreur (Grasset) that you must read. As well as, forthwith, the encouraging interview that he gave to the magazine Transfuge in connection with the appearance of his book. One never knows how much or what parts of a work will stick. And often it is in the most unexpected and apparently circumstantial texts that an author’s mind and spirit come to be permanently lodged. As with Sartre’s Situations. Or Mauriac’s Bloc-notes. Or the Journal of Julien Green. Or the Lettrines of Julien Gracq, which will certainly live on, whereas The Opposing Shore and Un beau ténébreux are already dissolving in the quicklime of pomposity and overwrought style. Well, in the powerful and already prolific work of Yann Moix, a forever young man whose beginnings I had the privilege of witnessing, there is Terreur, which comes to grips with the obliterating will of the terrorists and sets against it the superior force of a style that is stronger than nihilism.

Translated from french by Steven B. Kennedy.