Dr Dominic Glynn, a lecturer in French studies at the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR), says it is not until atrocities are committed in your back garden that you really engage with them.
Friday night’s attacks took place in the city I still call home though I now live in London. They took place in my neighbourhood, in the streets I’ve walked through countless times, in the places I go out to eat and drink in. Another night, I might have been there. As it is, I’m thinking today of friends of friends who were.
It is not until atrocities are committed in your back garden that you really engage with them. Theatre director Peter Brook explored this idea in his 1966 production US when an actress read out a poem in which the narrative persona wished a napalm bomb would explode in an English suburban garden, so that people in the UK might appreciate the atrocities of the Vietnam War.
Hopefully though, with the message literally hitting home this time, we, in France, might take more of an interest in events taking place in what are often presented as far-away lands. As a result, we might be able to work out solutions to extremism and terrorism that do not rely on stigmatisation and exclusion.
Certainly, it is not an appropriate response to embark on bigoted crusades and pander to fear as the right and far-right are doing by proposing various populist solutions which breach core principles of the Republic. And neither is it a good idea to declare war on terror, as the prime minister has done, thereby echoing the words of George W Bush in the aftermath of 9/11.
It is a good idea, however, to foster debate and to promote critical thinking. And as teachers, scholars, artists and writers, we have a particular responsibility to do so. May the Paris attacks drive us to engage in even more political, philosophical and theological discussions. Let them incite us to examine, critique, produce literature and culture, and thus hone our critical skills.
We might, for instance, consider satire, the political urgency of which I’m reminded everyday, as outside my office door, hangs a poster of exiled actor Max Miller portraying Adolf Hitler in one of his most famous sketches with the Lantern Company. In France, the Guignols de l’info were particularly irreverent in their portrayals of Salafists before industrialist Vincent Bolloré blunted their satirical knives. And then of course, there was the team at Charlie Hebdo.
We might, for instance, consider theatre. Classical theatre such as Molière’s scathing condemnation of religious hypocrites in Tartuffe, brilliantly translated by Ariane Mnouchkine in 1995 into an Islamist setting. Or contemporary theatre, such as Aiat Fayez’s La Baraque, in which pantomime buffoons make bombs in their makeshift factory for money, and which Ludovic Lagarde staged in the aftermath of the January killings.
We might wish to engage in big issues concerning cultural memory, theatre and democracy, resistance narratives, commemoration and remembering. In the coming months, I’ll certainly be looking to work more closely with colleagues at the IMLR at SAS, as well as other institutions, on such projects.
I’ll be returning to Paris shortly. And though, my head will drop to silently mourn those who lost their lives, I’ll get up again to remember them through living: by drinking, celebrating, flirting, singing, listening to music and dancing, as Luc Le Vaillant put it brilliantly in Libération today. But also by thinking critically and encouraging others to do so too. For this is how we will counter the flawed ideology that motivated the attacks. And this is how we’ll be able to say #memepaspeur.
Dr Dominic Glynn joined the IMLR in 2015, having previously worked in professional theatre and academia in France. His main area of scholarship expertise is in contemporary French theatre and his next research project engages with the cross-disciplinary question of what it means to be a writer by studying contemporary French theatre. It evaluates the standing of those that defined themselves as ‘authors’, ‘playwrights’ and ‘writers’ in relation to the rest of the field during the period 1989 – 2015.