[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]
I hadn’t intended on posting anything on the brouhaha over the PEN American Center’s honoring Charlie Hebdo with its annual Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award—the gala ceremony happening last night—and the open letter protesting this that was signed by six—then 204—PEN members: nitwits, dupes, and/or ignoramuses all of them (on this particular question, at least). On the stupidity of the 204, Charlie Hebdo’s Philippe Lançon—who was seriously wounded in the January 7th attack—got it exactly right in a commentary, in the latest issue (just out today), on the PEN controversy and the protesting writers
Ce n’est donc pas leur abstention qui me choque; c’est la nature de leurs arguments. Que des romanciers d’une tell qualité—Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Taiye Selasi—en viennent à dire autant de stupidités mal informées en aussi peu de mots, avec toute la vanité des belles âmes, voilà qui attriste le lecteur que je suis. Même si ce lecteur sait, par expérience, qu’un bon écrivain n’est jamais rien de plus, ni de moins, qu’un bon écrivain: un type qui sait bâtir quelque chose de beau, de surprenant et d’intelligent, mais qui, en dehors de son art, peut hélas penser et écrire à peu près n’importe quoi.
I’m so bored arguing about Charlie Hebdo. I’ve said everything I have to say on the matter—in numerous posts on this blog and debates on social media—and don’t feel like repeating myself. So in lieu of doing that, I will link here to a few commentaries on the brouhaha that I found particularly good (and which do not include anything by Glenn Greenwald):
Todd Gitlin, “PC Thought-Bots Embarrass Themselves With PEN Boycott,” in Tablet (May 4th).
Nick Cohen, “Charlie Hebdo: The literary indulgence of murder,” in The Spectator (April 29th).
Adam Gopnik, “PEN Has Every Right to Honor Charlie Hebdo,” in The New Yorker (April 30th).
James Kirchick, “Weaker than the Sword: Charlie Hebdo, PEN, and writerly cowardice in the face of armed aggression against free speech,” in The Walrus (May 4th).
Michael Moynihan, “America’s Literary Elite Takes a Bold Stand Against Dead Journalists,” in The Daily Beast (May 5th).
Robert McLiam Wilson, “If you don’t speak French, how can you judge if Charlie Hebdo is racist?,” in the New Statesman (April 29th).
Arthur Goldhammer—seeking middle ground, overly so IMO—, “PEN America, Charlie Hebdo and the virtue of self-restraint,” in Al Jazeera America (May 4th).
N.B. The PEN debate has been a purely Anglo-American one. It has been noted in France but nothing more. The latest (brewing) Charlie Hebdo debate here, which caught everyone unawares over the past week, is around the incendiary pamphlet—due out tomorrow—by the polymath dilettante, intellectual bomb thrower, and illuminé extraordinaire Emmanuel Todd, Qui est Charlie? Todd’s pamphlet is less about Charlie Hebdo than the January 11th marches and the four-odd million people across France who participated in them. After reading the interview with Todd in last week’s Nouvel Obs, in which he laid out his argument, I was so beside myself with ire that I declared right there and then that I would never read another word by the S.O.B. and, moreover, be sorely tempted to commit an act of aggression against his bodily person if our paths were to cross in public (and, pour mémoire, I have had not bad things to say about Todd’s writings in the past). Listening to (the insufferably arrogant, imperious) Todd on France Inter on Monday morning was the clincher. Perhaps I’ll come back to this subject.
UPDATE: Paris-based Russian-American writer Vladislav Davidzon has an excellent, bull’s-eye commentary in Tablet (May 5th) “In Paris, PEN Boycott Makes Americans Look Like Crude Provincials.” The lede: “Why the political and cultural battles being fought here [in the US] have nothing to do with what happened over there.”
In his commentary Davidzon links to two pieces on Charlie Hebdo by the Paris-based philosopher Justin E. H. Smith: “Charlie Hebdo and literature,” published on Smith’s blog (May 1st); and an essay from the April issue of Harper’s, in which he discussed the CH killings and the response of the Anglo-American left, “The Joke.”
2nd UPDATE: Charlie Rose interviewed Charlie Hebdo’s Gérard Biard and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, in New York for the PEN gala, on his show (on May 4th), which may be watched here. Their English is good!
3rd UPDATE: TNR senior editor Jeet Heer has an interesting critique of Charlie Hebdo (May 8th), “The Aesthetic Failure of ‘Charlie Hebdo’.” The lede: “The French satirical magazine refuses to evolve, using a stale artistic strategy from the 1960s.”
4th UPDATE: Following an exchange (July 22nd) with a friend about Emmanuel Todd’s book, I am linking here to all the critiques I’ve seen of it—critiques that, taken together, reduce Todd’s crackpot arguments to smithereens (the one by Mayer & Tiberj is, from a social scientific standpoint, the most important); for the record, I have seen not a single review or op-ed that outright defends Todd; on social media, “Je ne suis pas Charlie” people have linked to Todd but without commentary and refrained from engaging in a full-throttle defense of his theses when confronted with contradictory arguments (e.g. from the likes of me); no one, or so it seems, wants to go out on a limb and take Todd’s side:
Hubert Heurtas, “NON, le 11 janvier ne fut pas une imposture,” in Mediapart (May 1st).
François Héran, “Un esprit de système caricatural,” in Libération (May 3rd).
Daniel Schneidermann, “Charlie: débarrassons le livre de Todd de sa gangue de «portnawak»,” in Rue89 (May 4th).
André Burguière, “Le professeur Todd nous prend pour des charlots,” in L’Obs (May 6th).
Joseph Macé-Scaron, “Emmanuel Todd, intellectuel zombie,” in Marianne (May 7th).
Jean Matouk, “Emmanuel Todd: mieux vaut croire qu’il est malade,” in Rue89 (May 9th).
Henri Tincq, “Non, Emmanuel Todd, je ne vous suis pas dans votre portrait de la France religieuse,” in Slate.fr (May 12th).
Nonna Mayer & Vincent Tiberj, “Le simplisme d’Emmanuel Todd démonté par la sociologie des «Je suis Charlie»,” in Le Monde (May 19th).