FIGAROVOX / INTERVIEW - By publishing "brief histories of culture", Jérôme Clément and Jean Rozat retrace the history of French culture in forty dates. They are optimistic about the permanence of culture, despite multiculturalism and the digital age.
Jérôme Clément was founder and president of Arte for twenty years. He is the author of The cultural emergency (Grasset, 2016).
Jean Rozat worked at the Ministry of Culture before starting an audiovisual career. Formerly managing director of Arte France, he is also the author of documentaries.
Both have just published Short stories of culture (Grasset, April 2018).
FIGAROVOX.- From Rabelais to Hugo, from the Théâtre populaire to Marguerite Yourcenar's reception at the Académie française, you devote a large part of your briefs to French literature and the rise of language. For you, is French culture defined above all by its literature?
Jérôme CLÉMENT and Jean ROZAT.- How does one define the culture of a country except first through its language? Ours appeared for the first time in Strasbourg in 842, in a very particular political context, to settle the succession of Louis the pious son of Charlemagne. This text - an oath - is written in Romanesque and Tudesque, ancestors of French and German, which replace the Latin used until then. It is not therefore a literary but legal text.
It is true that we made many references to the great authors, Rabelais, Montaigne, Descartes, Hugo ... forgetting in passing Ronsard, Molière, Voltaire or Chateaubriand. French literature is so rich that we can not talk about everyone. But we had to make choices, to leave room for musicians, architects, painters or other artistic genres that appeared later.
It is all these artists and intellectuals, speaking in a language more and more common, who made the French culture.
One of your "briefs" brings us back to 1777, with the appearance of copyrights under the impetus of Beaumarchais. Does the digital era threaten cultural creation? Or do you prefer to see the condition of possibility of a true cultural democratization?
Beaumarchais did indeed make a remarkable step forward by creating the Society of Authors and Composers Dramatic (SACD) which, for the first time, defended the authors and, by paying them, allowed them to live from their works.
Digital opens new and surprising perspectives for the creation of images, sounds or other modes of expression. It is a tool that we measure every day the immense possibilities totally new for the creation, but also for the diffusion, possible in real time and all over the world, of unpublished works. As with all new fields, digital technology facilitates the emergence of original talents and promotes democratization by making available content that would not otherwise be available. Still, it is necessary to make good use of it.
What poses a problem is the internationalization, because all the texts, the images or the music circulate constantly and it is necessary to define a mode of control which protects the contents and sets rules of use and exploitation without harming the creators. That's why one of the big questions of the day is GAFA's contribution to authors' remuneration. These large international corporations, now American, must contribute to the financing of creation and pay taxes accordingly. We need new Beaumarchais for the law to adapt to this new reality. We need international rules and vigorous European action.
Culture is not the hedonistic enjoyment of the creations of the past.
On the cover, you have chosen this painting by Fragonard, Le Verrou, to which you had devoted one of your briefs. Is not this indicative of a certain vision that you have on culture: you seem to privilege avant-gardists and artists in advance or away from their time ... Should culture always push us?
Fragonard is the direct heir of François Boucher and the contemporary of Laclos or Sade, much more sulphurous than him. He is well of his time, and his painting shows it, provocative, mysterious and subject to many interpretations. All this will lead to the Revolution, which shows once again that cultural movements precede political movements as we saw with the Battle of Hernani in 1830 or May 68 more recently. Culture is not the hedonistic enjoyment of the creations of the past. It is a ferment of aesthetic, intellectual and social challenge.
But we have always believed that culture has to shake things up. Did not we choose for motto at the launch of Arte: "Are you bothered by Arte"?
A little over a year ago, a candidate in the presidential election declared that"There is no French culture". Is your book proof of the opposite?
Vast debate. Every country is made up of many communities that each have their modes of expression, their codes, their references. See today's young people, different from their elders, or those in the suburbs who are not the same as those in rural areas.
In a context where the market seems to remain the essential reference, what place for culture in society?
There is a French culture that embraces all of them, forged by centuries. It shares with others elements and universal values. But it has its own specificity, especially its ability to accommodate elements from elsewhere. As we have written, the Sistine Chapel or Don Quixote are also part of our culture, as Moliere or Voltaire are a part of Russian culture. What about Kundera, a Czech author who writes in French and considers that Cervantes and Kafka are major references? If culture is sometimes played with borders and minds, it also has a geographic and historical rooting.
Since the candidate mentioned above has become President of the Republic: what is your assessment of one year of Macron presidency in terms of cultural action?
French culture is the fruit of ancient heritage, Latin, Gallic, German ... more than two millennia.
The influence of a year's presidency, even Jupiterian, can not change much.
President Macron is unquestionably more cultured and more interested in culture than his two predecessors and his speeches testify. Still, if the words are essential to define a project, it also requires deeds and not just credit reductions to make a policy. And especially a vision. We expect the rest in a context where the market seems to remain the essential reference: what place for culture in society and what means?
You write in conclusion of your book that "The country is strong enough to withstand the tremors of today's world, thanks to this immense culture born of this long history". But must we still accept this culture and transmit it ... Is multiculturalism not an obstacle to the transmission of a national culture?
We remain resolutely optimistic: if we take a step back, the upheavals of the current world do not seem likely to call into question a multisecular heritage. French culture has seen others. Above all, we must adapt, believe in our creative capacity, protect our heritage, encourage our artists and always be convinced that culture must have a prominent place in society. This is the challenge of liberalism.
Every cultural project is political.
Multiculturalism is a reality that is not new. There were Burgundians, Bretons, Alsatians, as much as Jews or Protestants, as today Arabs or minorities Polish and Italian. It takes a while for everything to be based on a common culture that, without denying the peculiarities, will evolve and be transformed into unifying. It is already his wealth and it will be his success, yesterday as today.
You also show that a large part of French culture was built even before the existence of a real sovereign state. Do you think that the state intervenes too much in cultural creation?
The state in France has always been very active since at least François 1st, who gave his status to the French language, built Chambord, and brought Leonardo da Vinci. From Louis XIV to Versailles, then from Napoleon to the presidents, all played a major role until De Gaulle created the Ministry of Culture in 1959.
The function of the state is to create the conditions for creativity to flourish and artists to have the means. It is then to protect, preserve and make accessible the heritage. It is finally to ensure the dissemination of the works in question to the greatest number. Because it is the condition of personal fulfillment and community life. In this sense, any cultural project is political. To our leaders, to all of us, to grasp the urgent need for our country as for each of us. The editorial advises you:
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