I am just back from a very “intimiste” conference given by Emmanuel Carrère at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne in one of its most prestigious but smallest room. I was honored to spend two hours listening to Emmanuel and be able to ask him a couple of questions.
Two years ago, after reading his most rewarded book on Limonov, I came to reconsider my understanding of Vladimir Putin’s politics. I wrote a short note on March 2012 (see below).
Emmanuel Carrère is one of the happy few french writers that can live from their writings. He started as a journalist and then move on to writing novels and scenario.
I was flabbergasted at how he managed to combine his journalist and novelist skills in writing Limonov that he himself doesn’t dare as classifying as non-fiction or novel, just a “récit”.
As Europe is going through turmoils, I would love to see him writing about Martin Schulz, a former football wannabee and alcoholic whose life is not as poetic as Ed Limonov but that I believe Emmanuel Carrère would be the best to “recite” and make us believe in Europe again.
Interestingly, when I mentioned to Emmanuel Carrère the political and opinion impact his Meisterwerk could have, he modestly considered he had no right in writing “tribunes”. Emmanuel see his work as an “artisan” that gets passionated at a subject, gather information and just write.
When the hot topic of Crimea got mentioned, Emmanuel refused to comment but concluded that even if one tries to write with “uchronie” (alternative history) one would have to get some deeper information about the subject…
original post (2012)
I’ve been reading Limonov, a book from Emmanuel Carrère… about Limonov. I won’t spoil the book by telling too much about Limonov, here I want to explain how I found again all the clichés about how I, as a French, would see Russia and Vladimir Vladimirovich.
I spent hours arguing with my Russian friend about Vladimir Putin and his politics. I used to strongly believe that he was driving Russia to a regressing path and my French arrogance would lead me to laugh at some of my Russian friend’s beliefs.
Emmanuel Carrère has written his book in a perfect way, starting by flattering my prejudices about Russians and then slowly taking me to realize that it was really more complicated and better than I thought… And thinking back at some arguments I had with my Russian friend, French politics and its specific issues has not really been going forward either in the last years.
First I was comforted in my views that Putin was a manipulating person when Emmanuel report that as Garry Kasparov was competing against Putin with the party “the Other Russia” it was clear to the journalists covering the campaign that Vladimir Putin would use a puppet to keep the seat warm for a couple a years before it would be legal for him to take the power back.
Then of course there is this running joke of what he calls the“double administration” concept. As I was not yet allowed to drive a car, I was taught in history classes about the drama of Russian communist economy: having one person doing the work, one controlling, one controlling the controller, etc. He could also have mentioned those trucks rotting without tires because no tire had been planned by the central communist party… that is just what I expect as the background of any french student. Emmanuel even brings it to the next level quoting Pyatakov who allegedly believed that a Bolshevik would believe that white was black if the party told him so!
Then there is this Russian concept of zapoï, this cultural Russian relation with alcohol where it seems to be part of being a man to drink oneself to unconsciousness, for this he refers to Moscow-Petushki. French on the other side we give us a good image of enjoying moderately and as connoisseur wine and other alcoholic drinks with “appelation d’origine contrôlée” as if we pretended to control anything when it comes to alcohol.
And then fast forward, there is Putin in power and there is Mikhail Khodorkovsky in jail and another quote from Emmanuel Carrère : Krylenko saying that it is not enough to sentence guilty people, sentencing innocent ones is much more impressive… And that was pretty much reflecting what I thought of the justice under Putin before reading this book: Limonov.
Emmanuel in his book develops the idea from Limonov that capitalism in Russia came like colonialist Catholics in Africa: a good intention alienating the average citizen. And he goes on explaining how he considers that people like Boris Berezovski, Vladimir Goussinski, Mikhaïl Khodorkovski, and the other russian oligarchs played the change of system at the expense of the Russians, especially the ones from the gloubinka.
And there is this striking parallel between Valdimir Putin loosing his job, and his pride, when the Soviet bloc disappeared and Russians loosing there pride at the same time as there social condition.
So looking back at it, I can understand why Vladimir Putin could make sense and balance the political and economical landscape of Russia. Now it is not for me to say if he is the right person to stay in power and we will only be able to judge in several years. But one thing is for sure, if alcohol is addictive, political power as well.