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SubStance 32.3 (2003) 55-77

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Of Books, Bombs, and Backward Thinking:
Jean Dutourd's Reactionary Literary History

Ralph Schoolcraft

For C.M.K.

Against the backdrop of the Cold War and its bitter politicization of Parisian artistic circles, author and columnist Jean Dutourd complained in 1973 that rival acolytes no longer settled their quarrels through mocking battles of wit: "Jadis, on disait que le ridicule tuait... Aujourd'hui, ce sont les cocktails molotovs lancés par des sauvages hirsutes, fanatiques et analphabètes" (CE 20). He was to receive unwarranted evidence of this trend a few years later (though apparently the extremists were literate after all). On November 13, 1977, a small incendiary device was ignited in front of his building, causing minor damage to a local business. Unfortunately, during the July holidays of 1978, events took a much more serious turn. Dutourd returned to Paris to discover that his apartment had been blown up. This second attack consisted of a 54-lb. bomb detonated just outside his door. The blast propelled the elevator cage through the wall and across his bedroom, leaving little more than rubble in its wake.

While no arrests were ever made, a group calling itself the "Section franco-arabe du refus" (SFAR) claimed responsibility for the attack. The nature of their dubious "accusations" against Dutourd suggest a pro-Palestinian group (or individual): "Nous avons détruit le répère [sic] du provocateur Jean Dutourd, homme de plume au service de la presse juive. Ce premier avertissement aux intellectuels devrait faire réfléchir tous les nationalistes revanchards" (Le Monde, 16-17 July 1978, p. 14). On September 1, 1978, the group issued another statement after a similar explosion destroyed the residence of a prominent French television news anchor: "Notre coup de semonce n'a pas été entendu. Yves Mourousi a payé pour ses attaches et pour l'obstination du fasciste Jean Dutourd" (Le Monde, 1 Sept 1978, p. 7).

Despite the SFAR's garbled and inflammatory characterization of Dutourd, he has declined to delve into specifics of the case. He has offered only the same evasive, pat explanation: "Parce qu'on n'aime pas mon style, on me met une bombe." 1 This sidestep from the political to the aesthetic [End Page 55] represents more than an impromptu dismissal, however, for it echoes his attitude when faced with negative press: "Ce n'est pas tant ce que j'écris qu'ils [les critiques] détestent, mais comment je l'écris. Ma musique les fait grincer des dents" (DS 162). Over time, in fact, Dutourd has even come to conflate critics and terrorists. Asked whether these bombings were an indirect form of literary criticism, he retorted: "Pas détournée. C'est la forme actuelle de la critique littéraire... 'je n'aime pas ton style, donc je te fais sauter'... Comme ils sont incapables de vous réfuter dans votre propre langage, ils vous tuent" (ME 25). Given the emphasis he places on style, not surprisingly Dutourd also downplays the importance of content on occasion. Looking back on his career shortly after the attack, he remarked, "En fait, je n'avais pas d'idées du tout, car l'affaire d'un artiste n'est pas d'avoir des idées. Je n'avais que des sentiments, et assez élémentaires" (Disc 16). From 1979 onward, Dutourd remains constant in this assertion: "ideas"—especially in political philosophy—play no significant role in his views on literature. 2 In fact, Dutourd becomes quite intransigent on this point, insisting that politics should be rigorously avoided in literary matters: "Les ravages que cause la politique sur les intellectuels et les artistes sont variés et profonds comme les manifestations secondaires de la siphyllis" (CE 19). An author dedicated to producing great works must therefore forego the company of those infected with the political bug: "Il est impossible d'être à la fois un créateur en art ou en littérature, et un bavard de cellule ou de comité [au sens d'un engagement communiste...


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