A recent essay, entitled “Literary Eulogy for Anders Breivik”, has prompted some within France’s literary community to criticise the author, Richard Millet, for openly sympathising with the man responsible for killing 77 people in Norway last year. A recent 18-page essay by respected French journalist and author Richard Millet has caused a major stir within the country’s literary community. For a hint as to why, look no further than the work’s title, “Literary Elegy for Anders Breivik”.
Millet penned the essay after delving into Breivik’s 1,500 page online manuscript, “2083: A European Declaration of Independence”, in which the self-styled Norwegian “crusader” detailed the reasons that led him to kill 77 people in Norway’s capital, Oslo, and the nearby island of Utoya on July 22 of last year .
To some, Millet’s review of Breivik’s manifesto smacks less of criticism than sympathy, if not outright admiration.
“Breivik is among the disenchanted who become lone, grey wolves. There is something grey about Breivik. Because of this, he could have been a writer,” Millet wrote.
Literature, Islam, money and blood
Millet goes on to describe Breivik as “a desperate and despairing sign of how Europe has underestimated the ravages of multiculturalism. He is also a sign of how spirituality has been beaten down for monetary profit…. Naively, Breivik, far from incarnating evil, has become a sacrificial instrument for all the evil that is eating away at our societies”.
From Millet’s point of view, literature, immigration, the dictatorship of money, and Breivik’s massacre are all interconnected.
The literary critic elaborates by expressing his regret that Europe has, over time, “renounced asserting its Christian roots” and that it “refuses to consider the Muslim call to prayer as sounding the death knell of Christianity, and therefore the end of our nations”.
“Amid such decadence, Breivik is without doubt what Norway deserves, and what awaits all societies that continue to blind themselves in order to better deny themselves, in particular France and England,” Millet wrote.
A ‘contemptible’ and ‘disgusting’ text
Millet’s essay, which was published on August 24, triggered an outpouring of condemnation in the days that followed. Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun labeled the piece a “useless and disgusting provocation”, while French journalist and literary critic Sylvain Bourmeau described Millet as “dispicable” and his prose as “contemptible”.
Much of the shock over Millet’s opinions comes from the fact that he is an important figure within France’s tight-knit publishing world. Over the course of his decades-long career, Millet has risen through the ranks to become one of the country’s preeminent editors.
An editor at French publishing house Gallimard, Millet serves on the company’s reading committee for its prestigious “La Blanche” edition, which has published the works of such authors as Albert Camus and Marcel Proust. Millet has also been credited with discovering two of France’s most impressive new literary talents: Jonathan Littell, a French-American writer who won the coveted Prix Goncourt for his 2006 debut novel, “Les Bienveillantes” (translated into English as “The Kindly Ones”) ; and Alexis Jenni, whose first novel, “L’Art français de la guerre”, also won the Goncourt in 2011.
Millet, however, is no stranger to criticism. After the publication of his book “Opprobre” in 2008, Gallimard CEO Antoine Gallimard let it be known that although Millet was “one of his best editors”, he did not want to see his publishing house put out another of his books.
While Millet’s latest controversial work was released by another, smaller publishing house, acclaimed Gallimard author Annie Arnaux said his views “implicate the entire publishing house” and, as a result, required “a unified response from all Gallimard authors”.
No doubt foreseeing the scandal over his “Elegy”, Millet published two other books last week, including a fictional novel that describes itself as pitting an author against “his enemies, who look to marginalise and confine him to literary oblivion”.
Norway still struggling to cope
For the moment, the controversy has had little impact in Norway, which is barely starting to move on after the end of Breivik’s ten-week trial last week.
Erling Rimehaug, a journalist for Norwegian daily newspaper Vart Land who covered Breivik’s trial, says most Norwegians have decided to turn a deaf ear to such controversies as a way to protect themselves.
“Of course there are those who are going to try to use Breivik as a way to shock people. We expected that,” Rimehaug said. “But for many of us, what happened is so painful that we’ve become almost immune to this kind of controversy.”
Vibeke Knoop Rachline, who works as a correspondent in Paris for the Norwegian daily Aftenposten, agrees with Rimehaug’s point of view.
“Why is there this willingness not to see? It’s not indifference or coldness. It’s more like shame,” she told French newspaper Le Monde.