In the hours after the Nov. 13 attacks in France, novelist Agnès Desarthe, 49, who lives in the Tenth Arrondissement of Paris, shaped her reflections on the challenges of living as a target of terrorism into an essay. -- "Some calls arrived from abroad. -- People talked to us, and in their voices, in their worry, we realized that this was happening to us. -- To us. -- But who are we?" ...
LIVING BEYOND IMAGES OF TERROR
By Agnès Desarthe
Le Monde (Paris)
November 14, 2015
We didn't hear the sirens. Soccer was on the TV. A friendly France-Germany game. It was a symbol, one among others. In moments of tragedy, they show themselves to us, those convincing hallucinations. France-Germany. Friendly. An hour later, several commentators were agreeing in saying that we were at war.
We didn't hear the sirens, neither those of the police nor those of the SAMU nor those of the ambulances. We were all there together and, looking back, like a hen with dementia, on the day after the massacre, I can't stop counting my chicks. Mine, those of my friends, the friends of friends. The circle widens. We reassure each other. It's a reflex against fear.
Around 10:00 p.m., the telephones started to ring; we always hear that one, that intimate siren. People were worried, about us, because we live near the Place de la République, because our children go to the places whose images we now see over and over: window panes shattered, blood stains, bodies half-naked, thighs, shoulders of people unknown to us. I cover my eyes, as if my glance hadn't, years ago, lost any shadow of immaculateness. We have already seen bodies torn apart, decapitated, dismembered, silhouettes falling from windows, soldiers trampled on, raped, dead bodies, dead bodies, dead bodies. We have already seen everything and I cover my eyes. Is it out of respect for the violated privacy of those who appear for a brief instant on the screen? Is it so I won't have to believe it, like an ostrich? Or is it so I can continue to believe? Believe in what? In humanity, in happiness, in rectitude, in honesty, in thought.
LEAVE THE MORBID ARENA
The telephones rang, all at the same time. We reassured each other. Some calls arrived from abroad. People talked to us, and in their voices, in their worry, we realized that this was happening to us. To us. But who are we? Us, the residents of Tenth Arrondissement. Us, the Parisians. Us, France, a country where, I learned recently, seventy-five languages, other than French, are spoken every day. A country of rivers and forests. A country where you can get free medical care. Where most people are morose. Where people aren't very polite. Where school is obligatory. Where people don't like strangers any more than they do elsewhere. A country with a temperate climate, with a cuisine that's overrated according to some. A country that looks at itself and doesn't recognize itself. Despite the modest utopias we've achieved, progress, research, relative comfort, the reflection in the mirror screams something else, an inarticulate word, incomprehensible. Who are we? Us, democracy. Us, secular people. We people who eat at the restaurant. We people who go to the concert. We young people and we old people. We everybody. At any time, in any fashion.
Yesterday, all through the night, today, and perhaps tomorrow, we have been, are, will be targets. Not to let yourself be reduced to that, to the double role terror offers us: spectator or target. You watch the series from your sofa or you move about the city trying to avoid fire from a Kalashnikov. When death becomes a game, it's imperative to leave the arena. Leave the morbid arena, the fanatical arena, the simplistic arena, the degrading arena. And propose other rules, other games. Get out of the duality of how and how not to, and not let ourselves be fascinated by mirrors. Be oneself. Love living. Be human.
--Agnès Desarthe is a writer. She is the author of Ce cœur changeant ('This Changing Heart'), (L’Olivier, 336 p., 19,50 €.)
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, Washington 98447-0003