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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Ce vote "réinvente la politique"

by Interview by Patrick Apel-Muller

This Vote "Reinvents Politics"

Translated Tuesday 17 April 2012, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Isabelle Métral

Christian Salmon [1], founder of the Writers’ Parliament [2], analyzes the ’novel’ of the campaign and calls for support for the presidential candidate of the Front de gauche, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Huma: The machine for formatting minds, hidden behind the art of story-telling, isn’t it pushed to its limits in this campaign period? So Nicolas Sarkozy is having difficulty recreating the armed robbery he managed in 2007 ...

Christian Salmon:
Yes, the thief has been unmasked. The prestidigitator who enchanted the public with his magic tricks has been undone. The decoding of the story-telling has finally born fruit. Just as inflation destroys confidence in a currency, the inflation of these stories has ruined the credibility of the narrator, Sarkozy.

Huma: Hasn’t the triumphant capitalism of the decade of the 1990s, in Europe and the rest of the world, run into an exhaustion of its solutions? Isn’t reality in the process of outstripping that fiction, the "new narrative order" that it wanted to establish?

Christian Salmon: Story-telling only became a technique of communication once it had been imposed on the management of enterprises, and on marketing. It is a technique for mobilizing wage-earners, and for capturing attention in order to direct, to prescribe, to constrain, to create concensus concerning so-called "shared values". This is what I call the "new narrative order". Since 2008, the neo-liberal sorcery, which pretends, contrary to all evidence, wealth is not to be shared but must be left to trickle down, was unmasked by the explosion of inequalities, by massive unemployment ... Haven’t we, for much too long, permitted solidarity to be denounced as being an immoral encouragement to idleness, equality to be hypocritically incriminated as being detrimental to meritocracy, rendering hospitality to be blamed as blindness to the perils of migratory fluxes? Haven’t we, these last 20 years, consciously constructed walls between workers and the unemployed, between French people and foreigners, between active and retired people, between insiders and outsiders? Haven’t we already heard, in this campaign, the words liberty, equality, fraternity flouted, to the profit of such so-called values as work, family, authority, which no one, happily, has had the idea to inscribe on the pediments of the city halls?

Huma: You judge that the future of nations depends on the capacity of the electors to choose good histories (stories) and to decipher their meanings. Isn’t there, in the campaign of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a story in which a large part of the country recognizes itself, whether it is ready or not to vote for him, because it calls up the rebellious history of the country, calls up what we designate as the "French exception"?

Christian Salmon: A people’s history, just as the love-life of individuals, knows periods of unequal intensity. There are periods of low voltage in which life becomes dark. Then there are the periods of high voltage, which the cynics qualify as irrational, and which we, with Deleuze, call "revolutionary becomings", moments that do not provide ready-made solutions, but liberate fields of possibilities. Revolutions are thunder-bolts one can always label, in hind-sight, as being illusory, but which transform in depth our perceptions. As when a mature man will suddenly find himself buying a bouquet of flowers for his loved-one, French people periodically find their way back to the florist’s shop. Suddenly, they are in a springtime mood. They go out in the streets, they occupy the public parks. There he is, the citizen who had disappeared from political campaigns subjected to some stupid narrative, where one is supposed to choose a candidate as one chooses a brand-name, in a rogue wave of sympathy.

Do you recognize yourself in this campaign of the Front de gauche?

Christian Salmon: As the observer of political life that I am, I recognize the symbolic effectiveness of this campaign. The citizen is in exultation. Yes, I call for a vote for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, because his candidacy is reinventing politics, all the while re-establishing contact with the origins of democracy. On a technical level, it reconciles the three ages of communication, the three T’s: la tribune, la télévision, la Toile [3] The campaign of the Front de gauche has created its own network, a network that is educated, conscious, or as Jean-Luc Mélenchon is fond of saying, "a thinking network" [4]. The assemblies at the Bastille, the Capitole, and the Prado, surpassed, both in numbers of participants and in strength of contagion, the great democratic assembly in Denver in 2008, for the nomination of Obama (80,000 persons). But that’s not all; the campaign of the Front de gauche accomplishes a triple displacement of the public debate. First, from the scene of the sovereign and his rivals to the scene of the forum, of the public square. Second, it militates not only for social change but also for a change of perception. Third, it renders contagious a certain state of mind: the ironic inversion of top and bottom, that carnival spirit that presides over periods of great upheavals. It is with the emergence of a new language that one recognizes the coming of social change. The right to call things by other names, to tear down rhetorical walls, to enrich a common language. To cause words like "sharing", "solidarity", even "love" to be acclaimed by citizens’ assemblies (by assemblies, not by imbecile crowds who have come to acclaim a leader), this is where Jean-Luc Mélenchon has succeeded: a syntactical inversion, a discursive reframing. It is a form of alchemy, where a set of irrational causes finds, at a certain moment, an adequate political expression, that is, a syntax and a narrative in which a majority can recognize themselves. That’s what politics is all about. And we have no other reason to love it.

[1Christian Salmon is well-known as author of "Storytelling" and of "Storytelling saison 1", 2007 and 2009, of "Kate Moss Machine", 2010, and of "Ces histoires qui nous gouvernent", 2012.

[2Parlement des écrivains

[3The podium, the television, the internet.

[4The French phrase réseau pensant inevitably calls to mind Pascal’s image for man of as a "roseau pensant" (a thinking reed) in his famous Pensées.

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