Céline Curiol: "The ones who know the most are the ones who doubt the most. The most ignorant, the youngest" Listen to this article

Céline Curiol (Lyon, 1975) is not overly pleased when she hears Balzac’s name at the beginning of a conversation, in a cafe in the Paris neighborhood of Belleville, in the high hills northeast of the French capital, where she Life is full time. new novel, rules of origin (Peripheral/Erata Naturae). The differences are obvious, but we argue that this polyphonic tale of nearly a thousand pages, with an unusual novel breadth and unusual acuity, shares the ambition of nineteenth-century works that are dissected when analyzing the great issues of our time. . The changes taking place in a society in the care of an entomologist, complete transformation. Saving the distances, a similar narrative rigor emanates from the pages Curriol penned, the same irrepressible seriousness about the human comedy he has had to live with. “Unlike the writers of the 19th century, I do not aspire to objectivity, because I know it does not exist. I learned this through journalism,” says Kuriol, a former correspondent for Radio France and Freedom in New York, where he lived for 11 years before returning to Paris.

Actually, Curiol was not going to be a reporter or writer. Before that, she wanted to be an engineer, because the letters didn’t seem like a proper destination in the lower-middle class Lyon where she grew up. He graduated, but did not practice. “Still, it served me well, even while writing. I aspire to translate the scientific demands of engineering into the field of literature”, he assured. In this respect his novel is like a cathedral. It is played by six characters, whom the reader will follow on four different days in 2015 and 2016. A journalist who comes across a migrant at his door one night and does nothing to help him. His sister, an environmental expert, recently set out in Dubai, the most unnatural place on the planet. A company employee, suspiciously reminiscent of Amazon, fired for not producing enough. An associate manager faced early retirement. Victim of a psychological attack. And a young man tempted by fanaticism after visiting a Salafist mosque. What do they have in common? “Everyone feels that there is a gap or inconsistency between their ideals and the way they act,” replies the author.

“Starting a book is like starting a romantic relationship: if we knew how complicated it was going to be, we would definitely prefer not to start it”

From the random cross between these men and women – it is no coincidence that their first defender was Paul Auster – something akin to the X-ray of the present would emerge, which does not escape all of its great themes: racism, terrorism, barbaric capitalism. , unbridled consumption and distressed environment. The result is the making of a great historical novel, keeping it away from the plethora of testimonies and autobiographies that reign in current French literature. “I wanted to do something big, challenge myself as a writer. But I never thought it would be so difficult. Actually, man always starts the book unconsciously. It’s like starting a romantic relationship: if we knew how complicated it was going to be, we would definitely prefer not to start it”, he smiles.

If I put it in the neighborhood where it lives, that’s because it is one of the last districts in Paris where “people of different social classes and different origins” coexist in one relative melting pot which, in the French fantasy, could awaken the worn-out republican ideal brotherhood, When it was published in 2021, the book became a word-of-mouth phenomenon, despite its immense length. Perhaps this benefited him from coming after imprisonment, when many readers began to read almost endless novels, from the works of Proust to Ulysses. “There may be a higher tolerance for longer texts, but it depends on the content. It benefits literature above all that just wants to be entertainment. I am a pessimist, because the place of literature is going backwards”, counters Curiol. “I am a professor in a university and I see to what extent my students do not study. When I ask him which is his favorite book, he says harry potter, And his age is 22 years. The boom in juvenile literature has fueled reading, but access to great literature has not. I think at the age of 12 or 13 you can already read Kafka or Dostoevsky.

“My students don’t study. When I ask him which is his favorite book, he says ‘Harry Potter’. And his age is 22 years. Literature for teenagers has promoted reading, but they lack access to great literature.

Curiol chose 2015 because it was “the year that drove all calamities” from terrorist attacks. charlie hebdo and the Bataclan to the rise of the French extreme right, was undergoing the collapse of traditional structures for the benefit of the parties. cheerleaders In the service of a divine person, like those founded by Macron or Melenchon. Curiol sets his book in an isolated society in which individuals live in different realities. “It was said that social networks would democratize information and give rise to a new enlightened citizenry, but what happened is that information became propaganda. We never imagined parasitism and manipulation”, says Curiol. But it also blames individuals, not just the wicked GAFA: “There are studies showing that the people who know the most are the ones who are the most skeptical. The most ignorant are those who doubt the least.

There is no solution in sight in a book that may be less idealistic than one might expect, except perhaps for the age-old and sympathetic to the infallible notion, described in the novel by Curiol as “the valuable foundation of every human congregation”. does. His novel, which he does not hesitate to devote to “To Love” (hence, in capital letters), defends a relentless and somewhat desperate search for equal points with those who are on our antipode. . Their characters are puzzled creatures who try to gain control of their lives. They can also be seen as depressive symptoms, a condition the author is already aware of. He overcame them in 2014 by writing an essay where he sought refuge in literary texts. “What surprised me the most is that with the advent of depression, my ability to imagine disappeared, which is as important to me as breathing,” he confesses. The same happens with their characters: they can’t imagine what continuity they want to give their lives to. It is more clear to Curiol: he is preparing his new book, a walden For the 21st century that would lead her to settle in a cabin without running water in the French Camargue, where these rebellious urbanites would devote themselves to observing animals and nature. Isn’t Thoreau’s alienation, which is so admired in our time, a kind of misogyny? “Yes absolutely. I am very curious about the lives of others, but I also identify myself as a misanthrope. I hate the meanness and aggression of others. But sometimes I meet people I don’t know at all and I find that they think the same way as me. And then I tell myself that there are so many of us, that I’m not alone.” That’s exactly what this monumental book is about.

‘Rules of Ascension’. Celine Curiol. Translation by Regina López Munoz. Peripheral/Erata Naturae. 976 pages. €28.50.

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