INTERVIEW - For Le Figaro MagazineNew York Balzac scans America with Trump and Harvey Weinstein. At 86, the inventor of the "new journalism" has lost nothing of its verve and continues to send to the "bonfire of vanities" the conformism of his time.
He is one of the most important living writers. Perhaps the greatest contemporary "French writer", as his work is imbued with those of Zola and Balzac. The author ofLost illusions had the project to identify the "social species" of the time, just like Buffon had identified the zoological species. He wanted to "write the history forgotten by so many historians, that of morals" and "compete with the civil status."
As Balzac is "the secretary of society", Tom Wolfe, the inventor of "new journalism", is the secretary of his time, the ethnologist of the postmodern tribes: psychedelics under acid (Acid Test, 1968), the leftists of Park Avenue (Radical Chic, 1970), astronauts (The Cloth of Heroes, 1979), the golden boys of Wall Street (The Pyre of Vanities, 1987), the decadent students of the major universities (I, Charlotte Simons, 2004), immigrant Latinos in Florida (Bloody Miami, 2013) ...
His white suit, which he never leaves, is an instrument of diversion. A way of diverting attention so as not to have to say too much about his art or about himself. Wolfe has always preferred facts and long descriptions to psychology and text explanations. But at age 86, the dandy reaction has nothing to lose and does not elude any subject.
On the telephone, with a willingly distanced and mischievous tone, he enjoys the morals of progressive America and unmasks his hypocrisy. The phenomenon #Balance ton pork - and its consequences - could be, according to him, "the greatest farce of the twenty-first century". In his last essay, Tom Wolfe seems to be stepping aside. He debunks the evolutionary theses of Darwin. However, The Kingdom of Language (Robert Laffont) is in no way a scientific treatise. Through the figure of Darwin, an installed dignitary who has been able to erect his theory into dogma, Wolfe continues to observe the "human comedy".
LE FIGARO .- In your last book, The Kingdom of Language, you explain that it is the language that makes the specificity of the human being. In what?
Tom WOLFE .- There exists between the human being and the animal an essential difference, a line of demarcation as steep and irremovable as a geological fault: the word! Language has given the "human beast" much more than an ingenious communication tool. It is actually an innovation of the content of the atomic bomb! Speech was the very first invention, the first artifact, the first time an earthly creature, man, took elements of nature, in this case sounds, to turn them into something entirely new. and shaped by him, sequences of sounds that formed codes, which were called "words".
Not only is language a tool but it is the first of all, the one that made all the others possible, from the most basic of the picks to the first of the clubs to the wheel and the space rocket. Without him, no dance, no music, not even the humming of a ritornello, the beat of the drums, no rhythm of any kind or cadence to clap the hands.
In short, it is language, and it alone, that has given the "human beast" the strength to conquer every inch of land on this planet and to eat half of the edible resources of the ocean. And yet, this set cut of the globe is only a minor result of the power of words: its main feat is to have created the ego, self-awareness. Only language allows man to question his existence, to pursue it or to give it up.
No animal thinks of committing suicide or massacring their kind on a vast scale. Only the word allows us to self-examine and render the planet uninhabitable just like that, in the space of thirty or forty minutes nucled. It alone allows man to fantasize religions, and gods to give them body. Until today - and even more so today - the words that came out of Muhammad's mouth in the seventh century continue to galvanize and control the lives of thirty-five per cent of the world's population. Throughout a millennium and a half, those of Jesus exercised the same influence on a comparable portion of humanity before lose some of their resonance in Europeduring the second half of the twentieth century.
Your book debunks Darwin ...
In The Kingdom of LanguageI oppose the figure of Charles Darwin and that of Alfred Wallace. The first is a perfect gentleman installed in the British high society of the nineteenth century. The second, on the contrary, is a man on the ground, from a modest background. The type of autodidact that the aristocracy of the time dubbed "fly catchers". Wallace was the first, before Darwin, to defend the theory of natural selection. But if not born well, the paternity of this discovery was never attributed to him, the author of Origin of species attributing all the merit.
If Wallace was the first to define a theory of evolution, he was also the first to question this thesis. To wonder how man could have conceived figures, arithmetic, geometric shapes, but also to think a moral code, an ethical requirement, to experience the pleasure provided by music or visual art. At the end of his life, he concludes that none of these sublime and consubstantial attributes to humanity have any relation to natural selection.
How does your vision of the world differ from that of creationists?
Creationists refuse any idea of geological or biological evolution because they see God as the only creator of life. It's not my case. I am only showing the limits of the theory of evolution and confirming the inability of researchers to determine the origin of language. My only conclusion is that it is the language that separates the human being from the beast.
For the rest, I have no answer and I do not propose any narrative or ideology of substitution. No one can pretend to tell the true story of creation. Origin of species Darwin's is a scientistic version of Genesis. Darwin fell into the trap of cosmogony, this compelling need to elaborate the unattainable "Theory of Everything", a concept or narrative that would miraculously organize every element of the universe into a clear and precise system.
Since one of your first books, Radical Chic (The Leftism of Park Avenue in French), you castigate the politically correct, the cultural leftism, the tyranny of the minorities. Is the election of Donald Trump the result of this politically correct?
In this report, first published in June 1970 in theNew York MagazineI was describing an evening organized on January 14 by composer Leonard Bernstein in his 13-room New York duplex with terrace. The party was intended to raise funds for the Black Panthers ... The hosts had taken care to hire white servants not to offend the susceptibility of the Panthers.
The politically correct, that I call PC, for "police citizen", was born from the Marxist idea that everything that separates socially human beings must be banned to avoid the domination of one social group over another. Subsequently, ironically, the politically correct has become the instrument of the "ruling classes", the idea of an appropriate conduct to better mask their "social domination" and to give themselves a good conscience.
Gradually, the political correctness has even become a marker of this "domination" and an instrument of social control, a way to distinguish oneself from the "hicks" and to censure them, to delegitimize their vision of the world in the name of morality. People must now pay attention to what they say. It's getting worse, especially in universities. Trump's strength is probably to have broken with this lead screed. For example, very rich people are generally low profile while he boasts. I guess some of the voters prefer that to the hypocrisy of conformist politics.
In your work, social status is the main key to understanding the world. Is the Trump vote the vote of those who have no or no social status or whose social status has been despised?
Through Radical Chic, I described the emergence of what would be called today "left caviar" or "limousine progressivism", that is to say a left that largely freed itself from empathy for the working class US. A leftist who loves contemporary art, identifies with the exotic causes and suffering of minorities, but despises the "rednecks" of Ohio.
Americans have felt that the Democratic Party was so scrambling to seduce the different minorities that it was neglecting a still considerable part of the population. Namely, this working-class part of the population which, historically, has always been the spinal cord of the Democratic Party. During this election, the democratic aristocracy chose to favor a coalition of minorities and to exclude from its preoccupations the white working class. And Donald Trump only had to thinkexpensive to pick up all those voters and rally them to his candidacy.
What do you think of the Weinstein affair and the controversy #Balance your pork?
Nobody takes the trouble to correctly define the term of sexual assault. It's a catchall category that goes from rape to simple attraction. It is from this confusion that all excesses are born. I am divided between fright, as a citizen, and fun, as a novelist, for this wonderful human comedy. If this continues, it can become the biggest joke of XXIe century. In the local press, again this morning in the New York Post and the New York Times, these cases are in capital letters to the front page. Today, any man who lends anything what kind of attention to any woman, for example in his workplace, becomes a "predator".
Since this case, I hear everywhere around me men tell young women that they attend "I should not be seen with you here or there", "we work in the same company and I am in a hierarchical position higher and all that will be too bad. " Men are now worried about finding some attractive women. Here we are found to oppose the natural laws of attraction that should now be ignored.
Nobody talks about these women, and they are many, who take a real pleasure to meet in their workplace a male colleague they find attractive. A man they would not have had the chance to meet otherwise. I think that the world has not changed so much that we start to proclaim that today women do not suddenly want to attract the attention of men.
In truth, nothing has really changed, except that women have a powerful bullying tool they did not have before. They can now put in their place those men whose attention is too extreme or that they deem too vulgar, dismiss a rival professionally or take revenge on a lover "too goujat". To charge someone with sexual assault, it seems now that the only word of the woman is sufficient and some are already demanding a reversal of the law that would require the suspected man to prove his innocence.
You are the inventor of "new journalism". A journalism that is closer to literature in form, but which is also based on the thoroughness of the investigations and the accuracy of the reported facts. In the digital age and immediacy, is this journalism dead?
At the time, the offices of the Herald were in Times Square. It was enough to go down the street to ask people questions. I used what I call the Mars man technique. I arrived and said, "It looks interesting, what you do! Me, I'm coming from Mars, I do not know anything, what is it? "Today, some journalists never leave their office. They do their articles surfing the internet. Yet there is no alternative: you have to go out! When young writers or journalists ask me for advice, which is rare, I always tell them, "Get out!"
In the end, what was new journalism? I always thought it was simply a writing technique on a non-fictional subject with all the methods normally used for fiction. For me, one of the principles of the new journalism is to write scene by scene, as for a scenario. The future of this genre depends on young people getting started. But they read everything online now. And, when you read online, just for the simple reason that you read on a very bright background, you have a hard time reading long formats.
Once the eight hundred words are over, you start to tire. And all this invites journalists to shorten their writing. Reading is getting faster and it forces the author to give up a lot of techniques that can yet give an article a power unparalleled. It's getting harder to talk about details now, the decor, the way people dress, all of that takes up a lot of space. There will not be many writers or journalists that could be called feathers.
Style requires hard work. Today, we focus on everything that is effective. This is what journalists are trained for. Already in my day, we were asked to be short, because newspapers feared the competition of television. This did not stop the new journalism from being a success. I think it could work, even on digital formats. You know that all of Zola's books are still available in English all over the United States? They are reprinted all the time.
- Eric Zemmour: "Language, too strong for Darwin"
- Bock-Côté: "France takes a step closer to the politically correct American style"
- Young people would have little prejudice against religions