Nancy Huston: “My generation must have been like Greta Thunberg's” | Babelia

The writer Nancy Huston (Calgary, 1953) has never been part of any clan. Not even as a child, alone in the schoolyard because she is the daughter of a teacher who did not stop moving throughout the Canadian geography. Not even when he arrived in Paris in the seventies, when he was a disciple of Roland Barthes and was introduced to feminist circles - he published in the magazine Sorcières with Marguerite Duras and Julia Kristeva–, although she never lost critical distance. In his adopted country, where he lived with the semiologist Tzvetan Todorov for almost 40 years, Huston remains an unpredictable thinker, an unaligned intellectual.

The author of Birthmarks or The fabled species lecture in his work on contemporary identity, the liberation of women (and their paradoxes) or the environmental crisis, which he has been warning for years. In his new book, Stone lips (Gutenberg galaxy), compares his formative years with those of Pol Pot, the head of the Khmer Rouge, pointing to European intellectuals as uncomfortable guarantors of the Cambodian genocide. In parallel, Huston recalls his own youth, marked by the abandonment of his mother, the discovery of his sexuality and the danger of prostitution, which he lived closely. Instead of empathizing with the victims, Huston prefers to do it with the executioners.

QUESTION. Do you think we are all potential dictators?

REPLY. I don't know women dictators, which already eliminates half of the population. But, if circumstances lend themselves to it, almost anyone who enjoys good health can become a dictator. It all depends on the education received. Pol Pot's was not bad, in that sense: both the Theravada school Buddhism, which encourages not to live in the world with very powerful affections, as the fact of having had an unfortunate childhood. It is the case of Hitler, otherwise.

P. Is this your most misunderstood book?

R. It is a harsh criticism of my generation, which I suppose felt attacked by what I am telling: that we participated in the tragedy by supporting the Pol Pot regime, just as we sustained the communists in Vietnam. In France, intellectuals followed the official line with total conformity. And there I include myself: I also followed her like a sheep ...

P. What is saved from Marxism?

R. His analysis of the emergence of capitalism and the oppression of the working class is very precise. The problem is that in the communist countries it was not long before a hierarchy emerged. The place of the king or tsar was reconstituted and, around it, courtiers emerged who enjoyed enormous privileges. The only difference is that they were called "members of the central committee", rather than court ...

P. His mother left home when she was little. How did it mark you?

R. I became a writer. I lived so far, in places like London, Madrid or Mallorca, that we could only communicate by letter from my native Canada. I tried to make my life look interesting and write pulsating letters. Her act was very brave, she was a feminist ahead of time. It took me years to start considering it inadmissible. Everything changed when I became a mother. When I saw how attached to me my daughter was, then I understood that something very violent had happened.

P. Write in French before translating to English. What are the advantages of bilingualism?

R. Everyone should speak a second language, because with it comes another way of understanding the world and identity. I have always believed that it gives you an advantage in family life, where we tend to become a little wild. Speaking a foreign language civilizes you.

P. Are you worried about the state of Europe?

R. Constato the revival of nationalist and protectionist tropisms. But the most important thing at the moment is climate change. We are heading towards catastrophes of an unprecedented extent.

P. Why have we taken so long to become aware of this crisis?

R. With the first warnings of scientists, back in the seventies, there was a concerted effort by economists and certain politicians to divert attention. The important thing was that the rich get rich. I am the first to blame for this distraction, because I am part of the masses that must have been involved. My generation must have been like Greta Thunberg's.

P. Do you think it's too late?

R. We are heading towards great mortality, but that does not mean that it will be the end of the planet. The Earth will survive because it is already cured of horror. You have already seen other species appear and disappear. Before, when I read Schopenhauer say that he didn't care if the human species disappeared seemed to me a barbarity. Now it seems like a possibility.

P. Is gender equality possible?

R. The thing to know is to articulate that equality does not exclude difference and that difference does not exclude equality. In France, as in the entire western world, there is a fashion of a gender theory that excludes that difference. What always falls into oblivion is motherhood, which is an issue that has always bothered both misogynists and feminists. Feminists are often very misogynistic. For example, although I did a lot for the cause of women, we can say that Simone de Beauvoir was misogynistic. He did not like what constitutes the specificity of female sex in all mammalian species.

P. How are women different?

R. When a woman joins a domain it changes. For example, when a government is less masculine it always transforms. At first, for women to be accepted as equals they had to prove that they were identical to men. Once installed in power they have managed to exhibit values ​​that men have not traditionally shown to have. We have seen it with Angela Merkel regarding Margaret Thatcher or Golda Meir.

P. Support the #MeToo and, at the same time, it is critical in some aspects. What does not convince you?

R. The gender debate has taken the place that Marxism once had. As with Marxism, orthodox positions are adopted. For things to change, men must free themselves as much as women. It is very good to fight against sexual aggressions, but we must go further. Women are co-responsible for male violence, because we continue to expect men to be strong and defend us. If we want an egalitarian society, why aren't there women on the war front?

P. He was one of the few intellectuals who criticized Charlie Hebdo after the Islamist attack of 2015. For you, does freedom of expression have limits?

R. The attack against Charlie Hebdo It was horrible and it tore a part of our soul, although I did not take that magazine in my heart for feminist reasons, precisely ... I have always found it sexist and homophobic. But Charlie Hebdo's problem had nothing to do with freedom of expression, it seemed a mistake to insist on that. Terrorists cannot be asked to respect freedom of expression. We must ask the laws and governments. Charlie Hebdo had it and used it, in a way that I disapprove of. I was very impressed with the anti-Islamist cartoons, which seem to me as violent as the anti-Semitic drawings in Germany in the 1930s. When they tell us that Charlie Hebdo also laughs at Catholics and Jews, I answer that it is not the same to laugh at an oppressed population than those who have the power. I do not say that it is well and I will never say something so atrocious, but we must realize that the word and the drawing are also acts.

P. What he says is that you have to know how to use that freedom of expression well?

R. The question we never ask ourselves is who is entitled to it. Who expresses and who has access to the means to express themselves? For example, all press bodies have been in the possession of men for centuries. Their freedom of expression was to present women as whores. That has influenced the mentalities and education of children. My stepson, when I was 4 years old, wondered why women were always undressing, because in the kiosks I only saw light women in clothes. The same thing happens with the population of the Maghreb or the Middle East: their representation reinforces existing prejudices.

P. For a while, he says he has stopped believing in the usefulness of fiction. Why?

R. I am less convinced about its political utility. I am surprised by his elitism. Literature should not become the opium of the elite. Writers must leave our offices and go down to the street. We are destined to change our way of life in the coming years. Each one must decide what proportion of his time and energy devotes to a literary work, either to read it or to create it, and which part he devotes to his duty as a citizen.

P. For you, good and evil exist?

R. I have never believed in good and evil. I don't know what they are. You have to have a slightly religious spirit to believe in them. Good and evil emanate from our judgments, because we are bound to have a justice system with prohibitions. But I must say that I almost never use these concepts in my personal life ...


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