Art in the Face of Evil: Analogies between the Conceptions of Two French Resistance Fighters
- […] Quand tu regardes le journal télé, tu vois que c’est dans pas longtemps qu’un type va faire exploser la Terre… […] Et je peux te dire que tu pourras connaître par cœur tous les poèmes du monde, ça te fera pas survivre…- Et qui est-ce qui survivra?- Les mecs […] qui sont capables de rester trente ans dans les sous-sols en attendant que la poussière s’en aille… […] Je mangerai des rats. […] Les rats sont vachement intelligents, tu sais… Même plus que les hommes, c’est prouvé… D’ailleurs, ils sont pas à apprendre ces conneries de poèmes, ils s’entraînent déjà à rester en sous-sol pour l’époque nucléaire…- […] moi je préfère connaître tous les poèmes du monde et crever plutôt que de vivre sous terre et de bouffer des rats… [Benchetrit S., Le Cœur en dehors, Grasset et Fasquelle, Paris, 2009, pp. 96–98]Remember, it didn’t start with gas chambers. It started with politicians who divided the people “us vs. them”. It started with intolerance and hate speech. When people stopped caring, became desensitized, and turned a blind-eye, it became a slippery slope to genocide. [Unknown]
1.1. Comparing Albert Camus, a Committed Writer
1.2. … With Renaud Houlade, a Character Created by Jean Bruller, Another Committed Writer
1.3. Relevance of the Comparison between a Real Person and a Fictional One?
- As univocal: “there is only one legitimate meaning and every other meaning is considered erroneous, incorrect etc. […] all dialogue is ruled out—for there are only two possibilities (“for” or “against”, “same/identical” or “different”) which are very clearly—or even radically—defined from the axiological point of view”  (p. 246);
- As equivocal: “it allows for all the possible interpretations of a given cultural object that are at the same time completely disproportionate/incommensurable/untranslatable. But—just as in the case of univocal position—the equivocal approach also prevents dialogue/makes dialogue impossible, since there is not any common ground”  (p. 247);
- As analogical: “it is based on a similarity connecting—at least two—given objects. This commonality can be accompanied by any number of distinctions—and not the differences. The afore-mentioned similarities should not be confused with identity. Thus, precisely the same approach dialogue is possible”  (p. 248).
1.5. Interest in This Question—About Human Beings and Art—In the Present Time
2. The Human Being, “the Biggest Bastard of All Creatures”?
2.1. What People Are Capable of Doing to One Another
[…] we roast women and children, alive, in a church […] we massacre and […] we assassinate on the whole surface of the earth […] we decapitate women with an ax […]. We crowd people into chambers deliberately built to asphyxiate them […] everywhere hanged people sway in the trees […] we burn the hands and feet of people to make them betray their friends […] we make Bernard Meyer die as a result of suffering, blows, hard work, hunger and cold.
[…] we are surrounded by people (very good people, cultured people and the rest), not a single one of whom would risk a finger to avoid these horrible acts, which they cowardly want to ignore, or which they don’t care about, acts that some people even approve of and welcome […].
What are human beings? The biggest bastards of all creatures! The vilest and the most sneaky and the most cruel!
For four years, we […] made villages of orphans, we […] shot men in the face so that we did not recognize them, we […] have forced the bodies of children into coffins too small for them by kicking them with our heels, we tortured the brother in front of the sister, […] we have shaped cowards and destroyed the proudest of souls. (pp. 95–96) [trans. Estelle Carciofi]
For four years, every morning, every Frenchman received his ration of hatred and his slap. It was the moment when he opened his newspaper. Obviously, something remained of all that.
What remained is hatred. (p. 96) [trans. Estelle Carciofi]
2.2. Hatred, a Poison against Which Every Person Must Fight
[…] this is what we must triumph over first. These poisoned hearts must be healed. And tomorrow, the most difficult victory we will have to win over the enemy, it is in ourselves that it must take place, thanks to that superior effort that will transform our appetite for hatred into a desire for justice. Not to yield to hatred, to concede nothing to violence, not to admit that our passions become blind, this is what we still can do for friendship and against Hitlerism. (p. 96) [trans. Estelle Carciofi]
[…] when I am judging your atrocious conduct […] I will still give you the name of ‘human being’. To remain faithful to our faith, we are forced to respect in you what you do not respect in others.[…]
This is why, at the end of this struggle, from the bosom of this city which now has an infernal countenance, despite all the tortures inflicted on our people, in spite of our disfigured dead and our villages filled with orphans, I can tell you that at the very moment when we are going to destroy you without mercy, we are without hatred against you. (pp. 75–76) [trans. Estelle Carciofi]
2.3. Camus: No Hatred, and a Faith in Humanity
3. Art, Lies and Revolt
3.1. Art as a Lie, as a Beautiful Mask on the Horrible Human Face?
[…] a time when Racine would be ashamed of Bérénice and Rembrandt would feel the need to be forgiven for having painted the Night Watch […]. Today’s writers and artists have a sick conscience and it is fashion among us to apologize for our profession. In truth, some people are zealous to help ourselves to do it. (p. 205) [trans. Estelle Carciofi]
It was and it is still impossible for a concentration camp victim to explain to those who degrade him that they should not do so. (p. 209) [trans. Estelle Carciofi]
3.2. Art as a Revolt against Abstraction, Silence and Falsehood
Who will make clear to mankind what is really heavy and intolerable and what only grazes the skin locally? Who will direct the anger to that which is most terrible and not to that which is nearer? Who might succeed in transferring such an understanding beyond the limits of his own human experience? Who might succeed in impressing upon a bigoted, stubborn human creature the distant joy and grief of others, an understanding of dimensions and deceptions which he himself has never experienced? Propaganda, constraint, scientific proof—all are useless. But fortunately there does exist such a means in our world! That means is art.
4. Nothing Is True That Forces One to Exclude
4.1. Shadow and Light
“Errors are always caused by an exclusion,” Pascal says. […] The Greeks knew that there is a part of shadow and a part of light. Today we see only the shadow and the work of those who do not want to despair is to recall the light, the midday of life. (p. 181) [trans. Estelle Carciofi]
In the worst years of our madness, the memory of that sky had never left me. It was it who finally prevented me from despairing […] I rediscovered in Tipasa that we should keep intact in ourselves a freshness, a source of joy, and love the day that escapes injustice and come back to the battle with this conquered light. (p. 164) [trans. Estelle Carciofi]
Yes, there is beauty and there are the humiliated. Whatever may be the difficulties of the undertaking, I would like never to be unfaithful to either one or the others. (p. 166) [trans. Estelle Carciofi]
[…] there are again gutted comrades, members of bodies torn to pieces and eyes whose look has been crushed with heels. And those who did this could give their seat to someone else in the subway, just like Himmler, who had made torture a science and a job, yet came home by the back door at night, so as not to wake his favorite canary. (p. 22) [trans. Estelle Carciofi]
4.2. One Common Human Nature and Germs of Evil
4.3. Two Kinds of Fires
My role […] may be to serve, in my position, the few values without which a world, even if transformed, is not worth living, without which a man, even a new one, will not be worth being respected […]: the simple happiness, the passion for the beings, the natural beauty. (pp. 166–167) [trans. Estelle Carciofi]
[…] for those who know the tearings of the yes and the no, of the midday and of the midnights, of revolt and of love, for those who love the fire in front of the sea, there is, there, a flame which is waiting for them. (p. 131) [trans. Estelle Carciofi]
5.1. Human Being and Art: An Analogical Comparison between Renaud Houlade and Albert Camus
5.2. Camus: An Analogical Way of Thinking?
- The first danger is that any dialogue becomes impossible. In Nazi totalitarian ideology, there is only one way to define words and thus to understand the world around us. You are Aryan or you are not. If you are not, if you are Jewish, for example, you will be considered a thing and no longer a person. This is why totalitarian ideologies are “univocal”. If we do not keep in mind that “the other” may be distinct but not different from us, everything seems authorized, justified, even the worst violence.
- The second danger is that we may think that we are immune, that we are “the good ones” although the seeds/germs of evil are in each of us. This is another way of remembering that something is common between other people (who we can see as monsters) and us. As a character in a short story by R. Gary wrote: the “human case [is] a pretty nasty story in which everyone is compromised”  (p. 166). The Nazis were not extraordinary people, they were like you and me. If we forget this and draw (in a univocal way) an insurmountable border between two types of people: “people like us” as opposed to “people who have nothing in common with us” (because of their sexuality, their culture, the color of their skin, their political convictions, what they did), the worst becomes possible again.
5.3. Choice, Faith and Strength
5.4. An Essential Tool for Today
I will conclude with the last words of The Plague:
He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.[trans. Stuart Gilbert]
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|Renaud Houlade||Albert Camus|
|Both were French resistance fighters during the Second World War.|
|Both loved justice.|
|Both acted in accordance with values in which they believed.|
|Both had seen the horrors that people are capable of inflicting on others.|
|Both expressed their thoughts about human beings and art.|
|Houlade was disgusted by the whole of humanity.||Camus kept his faith in humanity.|
|Houlade thought art makes us forget the beast in us.||Camus thought art makes us remember|
what is dignified and beautiful in us.
|Following Houlade art is an unbearable lie.||Following Camus art fights against falsehood|
(and abstraction and silence as well).
|Houlade burned artworks.||Camus created artworks.|
|Houlade fell into despair.||Camus had hope due to his love of beauty, of humanity, and of the world.|
|Houlade was (self-)destructive.||Camus kept fighting and encouraged|
everyone to continue as well.
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Carciofi, E. Art in the Face of Evil: Analogies between the Conceptions of Two French Resistance Fighters. Philosophies 2019, 4, 18. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies4020018
Carciofi E. Art in the Face of Evil: Analogies between the Conceptions of Two French Resistance Fighters. Philosophies. 2019; 4(2):18. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies4020018Chicago/Turabian Style
Carciofi, Estelle. 2019. "Art in the Face of Evil: Analogies between the Conceptions of Two French Resistance Fighters" Philosophies 4, no. 2: 18. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies4020018