A government that declares a state of emergency against fifteen year old kids. A country that puts its health in the hands of a soccer team. A cop in a hospital bed that complains that he was the victim of “violence.” A mayor that passes decrees against tree-house builders. Two ten year old children, arrested in Chelles for burning down a game library. This era excels in doing caricatures of situations that seem to escape it whenever they really do happen. It must be said that the media haven’t been very thorough in their efforts to smother, in reports of complaints and indignation, the bursts of laughter that should greet news like the above.
An explosive burst of laughter would be the proper response to all the serious “issues” that the present era likes to bring up so much. To start with the most brutally suppressed of them: there is no “immigration issue.” Who still grows up where s/he was born? Who lives where s/he grew up anymore? Who works where s/he lives? Who lives where his or her ancestors lived? And whose kids are these, the kids of our era; the children of their parents, or of television? The truth is that we’ve been torn wholesale from all belonging, that we aren’t from anywhere anymore, and that as a result we have at the same time an unusual penchant for tourism, an undeniable suffering. Our history is one of colonization, migration, wars, exile, the destruction of all roots. It is the history of everything that’s made us foreign to this world, guests in our own families. We’ve had our language expropriated by teaching, our songs by variety, our flesh by mass pornography, our cities by the police, our friends by wage labor. Add to that, in France, the ferocious and secular work of individualization done by a State power structure that notes, compares, disciplines, and separates its subjects from the youngest age, that instinctively sniffs out any solidarity it might have missed so that there’s nothing left but citizenship, the pure, fantasy state of belonging to the Republic. A Frenchman is more than anything a dispossessed, miserable man. His hatred for foreigners melts together with his hatred for himself as a foreigner. The jealousy mixed with dread he has towards the “cities” only proves his resentment for everything he’s lost. He can’t stop envying the so-called “ghetto” neighborhoods where there’s at least a little community life left, a few links between people, a bit of non-state solidarity, an informal economy, an organization that’s still not totally detached from those who organize it. We have come to such a deprived point that the only way we can go on feeling like Frenchmen is to curse the immigrants, and those who are in a more visible way foreigners like me. The immigrants are in a strange position of sovereignty in this country; if they weren’t there, the French would perhaps not exist either.
France is a product of its schooling, and not the other way around. We live in an excessively schooled society, where one remembers passing the college entrance exams as being a defining moment in one’s life. Where retirees still talk about how they failed some exam forty years ago, and how it messed up their whole career, their whole life. The Republic’s schools have been forming a kind of state subjectivity, recognizable among everybody, for the past century and a half. People that accept selection and competition so long as they get an equal chance. Who only want everyone to be fairly compensated for their lives like in some competition, according to their merits. Who mutely respect culture, regulations, and the best students in class. Even their attachment to their grand intellectual critiques and their rejection of capitalism are stamped with their love of schooling. It’s that state construction of subjectivities that’s collapsing a little more each day along with the decadence of the institution of schooling. The reappearance of the street school and of street culture after 20 years, to compete with the National School system and its cardboard culture is the most profound trauma that French universalism is undergoing at the moment. On this point, the most extreme right winger is in agreement beforehand with the most virulent leftist. Just the name of Jules Ferry , Thiers’ minister, theoretician of colonization, should make this institution suspect.
As for us, when we see professors issued from some “neighborhood watch committee” or another, come to snivel on “20-Heures” that they’ve had their school burned, we think back to how many times we dreamed of doing it as kids. When we hear a leftist intellectual burping about the barbarity of gangs of youths heckling passers-by in the streets, shoplifting, burning cars and playing cat and mouse with the riot cops, we remember what was said about the “rockers” in the 60s, or even better, what was said about the Apaches in the “belle époque:” A judge in the Seine court wrote in 1907, “It has been in fashion for the past few years to refer with the generic name apaches to all dangerous individuals, gangs of recurring offenders, enemies of society, without fatherland or family, deserters of all their duties, prepared to make the most audacious surprise attacks, and any and all attacks against persons or property.” These gangs that flee work, take the names of their neighborhoods, and confront the police are the nightmare of every good citizen individualized in the best French style: the former incarnate everything that the latter have renounced, all the possible joy that they will never have. There is a certain disrespect about existing in a country where a kid that sings his own songs gets snubbed by someone telling him “cut it out, you’re going to make it rain!” a country where academic castration pours out generations of well-policed employees. The persistent mystique of Mesrine has less to do with his honesty and audacity than with the fact that he took revenge for what we should all avenge ourselves for. Or rather, what we should avenge ourselves for directly, whereas instead we go on hedging and deferring it. Since there’s no doubt that the French constantly avenge themselves, permanently and against everything, for the annihilation that they are resigned to, with a thousand subtle, low acts: all sorts of malicious gossip; a mean, icy little jab here; some venomous politeness there. It was about time that fuck the police came to replace yes, Mr. Officer, sir! In this sense the nuance-less hostility of certain gangs merely expresses in a slightly less muffled manner the ambiance of meanness, the basically mean mindset, and the desire for redemptive destruction that this country is consuming itself in.
It’s such a usurpation to call this mass of foreigners we live among a “society” that even the sociologists have lately been thinking of giving up the concept, one that for a century has been their big bread-winner. Now they’re starting to prefer using the metaphor “network” to describe the manner in which these cybernetic requests connect to each other, the way that the weak interactions known by the names “workmate,” “contact,” “buddy,” “relations,” or “adventure” are knotted together. Just the same, it happens that these networks get distilled into a milieu , where nothing is shared but codes, and nothing is at stake besides the incessant reconstruction of an identity.
It’d be a waste of time to detail all that’s dying in existing social relations. It’s said that the family is back in, that couples are returning to the scene. But the family that’s returned is not the same family that went away. Its return is nothing but a deepening of the reigning separation; it just serves to fool people and it becomes itself through that deception. Everyone can bear witness to the doses of sadness that the family reunions ladle out from one year to the next: the forced smiles, that embarrassment at seeing everyone fake it in vain, the feeling that there’s a corpse lying there on the table, and that everyone’s acting like it’s nothing. From flirting to divorce, from living together to getting back together, everyone feels the inanity of the sad family nucleus, but the majority seem to feel that it would be even sadder to give it up. The family is no longer so much the asphyxiation of the maternal stranglehold or the patriarchy of cookies in your face, but the infantile abandonment to a fleecy dependency where everything is known, to a moment of carelessness in a world that no one can deny is crumbling, a world where “becoming independent” is a euphemism for “finding a boss to work for.” They’d like to use biological familiarity as an excuse to corrode any slightly destructive determination we might have about us, on the pretext that they watched us grow up; to make us resign ourselves to growing out of everything, like we grew out of our childlike seriousness. We must save ourselves from this corrosion.
The couple is like the final echelon in the great social debacle. It’s the oasis in the middle of the human desert. In it we seek all the divine tokens of the “intimate,” everything that’s so obviously gone from contemporary social relations: warmth, simplicity, truth, a life without theatrics or spectators. But once the euphoria of love passes, “intimacy” loses its priestly office: it too is a social invention, it speaks the language of women’s magazines and of psychology, and it is just as nauseatingly armored with strategies as all the rest. There’s no more truth there than there is anywhere else; there too lies and the laws of foreignness dominate. And when luckily some truth is found there, it brings up a division that deranges the very form of the couple itself. What makes people love each other is also what makes them friendly and ruins the utopia of autism for two.
In reality, the decomposition of all social forms is a blessing. It is for us the ideal condition for a savage mass experimentation, for new arrangements, for new loyalties. The famous “parent flight” has imposed a confrontation with the world on us which has forced us to become precociously lucid and foreshadowed a few beautiful revolts. In the death of the couple, we see the birth of disturbing forms of collective emotionality, now that sex is worn down to a string, now that manliness and femininity are dressed in such moth-eaten costumes, now that three decades of continuous innovation in pornography have exhausted all the attractions of transgression and liberation. We’re counting on what is unconditional about blood connections to make the framework for a political solidarity as impenetrable to state interference as a gypsy encampment. Even the most endless stream of handouts that many parents feel forced to give to their proletarianized offspring can become patronage for social subversion. “To become independent,” to become autonomous, can also mean to learn how to fight in the streets, to take over empty buildings, to never work, to love ourselves and each other like crazy and steal from shops.