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Was Rimbaud An Economist?

Vincent Battesti

Art. review of L’Horreur Économique for d.pict, 1998.

Was Rimbaud An Economist?
About: Viviane Forrester, L’Horreur Économique, Paris, Fayard, 1996, 215 p.

 Review for the journal e-zine d.pict, 1998.

See the paper on the web archive (the original site is dead).

Actually, this title is not from my own, but imposed by the journal. I do not consider it completely suitable.

d.pict - a magazine for arts and media, initiates by Änne Söll, Judith Marth and Dorle Schmidt. Deals especially with contemporary art and electronic culture. Radikal chic!

Was Rimbaud An Economist?

L’Horreur économique, by Viviane Forrester.

L’Horreur Economique” has been a best-seller since its first release in 1996 in France (350 000 ex. In France), also translated in Italian, Spanish, German, Brazilian, Korean... [1]. An incredible success-story for a strange book, a hostile pamphlet that seems to be written in one go out in the spirit of anger. Even Forrester’s publishers are surprised by the sales in non-western countries. Could its success be due to the particular mood at the end of the millennium? “Globalization has had a consistently bad press in Europe, associated in the public mind with economic ills for which it is not responsible. Bookstores in London, Berlin or Paris carry such titles as”Has globalization gone too far?“[...] A French journalist, Viviane Forrester, entitled her book on the subject:”L’horreur Économique“. It is the age-old reflex of shunning the unfamiliar” said Maria Livanos Cattaui [2].

Well, of course, she has not read Forrester. What is the book’s first aim? “Just” to try to decode the “pensée unique” (unique thought) and the resolute trend to define the world only by the economic system.

One of her major arguments is the end of employment as we know it (maybe the core of her argument was taken from Jeremy Rifkin, The End of Work, Putman’s Sons, New York, 1995). She argues that the so called ’Crisis’ is not a crisis at all, but a change of civilisation, a change everybody –economic leaders, politicians, the whole society –fails to recognize, nobody wants to see. We prefer to continue to believe in an unchanged world view world with “work” as its sacred axis. Society persists in humiliating the unemployed by forcing them to look for work when, statistically, it is proven that none will be found.

V. Forrester deconstructs ideologies and tries to dismantle propaganda from the political and economic elites. Especially our economic elites. Political nations, in the worldwide arena, are more and more reduced to mere “municipalities”, losing their prerogatives. Through a new definition of its sphere of action, wide as the world, economy is an anarchical (and virtual) free market run by a privileged, computer-literate “caste”, new fearless and merciless super-heroes. 
What is interesting in Forrester’s book is not really in this depiction, but rather in the critique of this dominant ideology i.e. the neo-liberal theory and practice. Even if she does not use this term, she highlights processes of “naturalisation” of socio- economic facts through some “effects of reality”. In this regard, Forrester can be said to popularize one of Pierre Bourdieu’s fundamental ideas, namely his notion of ideologies’ “symbolic violence” [3] For the first time in History, human beings are no longer needed; needed to sustain the profit producing machinery. [4] Viviane Forrester, this “Nitro-Chanel” (dixit the daily newspaper Libération), was born in 1927 in Paris. She lived through WWII, and has related her experience of Jewess during this period (Ce soir, après la guerre). She’s a novelist, an essayist and a literary critic for Le Monde, Le Nouvel Observateur, La Quinzaine litteraire [5] and a member of the Jury Femina.

Forrester has the ability to point out the aberrations and contradictions of the contemporary capitalist system, especially between collective and individual interests, “Is prosperity a benefit for the community or for the”happy few“despite routine and efficient discourses on”Forces vives de la nation“? She is a radical when she redefines such familiar expressions as”assisted“. She asks: 
”Are they really unemployed people or heirs, assisted from the cradle to the grave?“ [6] A quick tour of the internet illustrates the infatuation with Forrester’s perusal and the spiteful reactions (“On peut qualifier, sans exagérer, cet essai de minable”).

It is not surprising that the PCF (French Communist Party) has received this book favourably (see the on-line journal Regards) even though Forrester’s critique of traditional parties is very scathing; that politicians of the PS (Socialist Party) quote Viviane Forrester (even in debates in the Senate). 
The “Cercle de la Cheminée” (Circle of Economic and Political Thought, a French liberal club) has shelved this essay in the category “Books we hate”. In fact, she’s quoted everywhere and “horreur économique” has made its way into everyday French vocabulary [7].

This “Economic Horror” is, at the same time, fascinating and disappointing. Fascinating for its power to revitalize the reading of capitalism with quite an original approach and often a sensitive understanding of the living conditions of underprivileged classes.

It is disappointing because it is lacking a more serious scientific analysis. It is not a sociological work originating from a university, it is “just” an essay, and many assertions, for example with the idea of the “end of work”, remain to be proven.

One regrets this lack of detail in the text especially when one expects a consolidation of her argument. 
When I refer to the lack of ”detail“, it doesn’t mean I am looking for a”concrete instruction of how to fight neo-liberalism“. We can’t expect Forrester to provide some sort of ”combat handbook”. As a sociologists, it is not her job to find a “solution”, but first to give us tools for understanding. Does this book deal with issues of the Economy? Well, this question was already answered by the self-designated economy “specialists” (Alain Minc for example).

According to them, Ms Forrester is just a well-dressed leftist, a novelist with a fertile fantasy, all but qualified to attack an economic system! It’s heresy to talk about such subjects without statistic, and without a university degree, they could say.

Nevertheless, this work has everything to be a best-seller among the readers of the Figaro (French Right) or the VSD (populist) newspapers: an intelligent deconstructivist critique. It could be an upcoming cult-book.

vincent battesti

[1According to the publisher Fayard: 300 000 ex. in non- French-speaking publications –about 50 000 in German (Paul Zsolnay Verlag), 50 000 in Italian (Longanesi), etc., and to be released next spring in English (Polity Press).

[2Maria Livanos Cattaui is Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce.

[3The last three years, Bourdieu becomes willingly engaged in a violent critique of neo-liberalism. See for example Bourdieu P. Contre-feux, Propos pour servir à la résistance contre l’invasion néo-libérale, Paris, Ed. Liber Raisons d’Agir, 1998.

[4“Overemphasis? It is what is said”before“, when it is still time to know that one fingernail, one strand of hair, one outrage can already constitute the beginning of the worst. And crimes against mankind are always crimes of mankind. By it committed.” (p. 201, French edition, translated by me)

Ainsi des exiles (1970, novel, Gallimard et Folio)
Le Grand Festin (1971, novel, Denoël) Virginia Woolf (1973, essay, Quinzaine Littéraire)
Le Corps entier de Marigda (1975, novel, Denoël)
Vestiges (1978, novel, Seuil)
La Violence du calme (1980, essay, Seuil et Points-Seuil)
Les Allées cavalières (1982, novel, Belfond)
Van Gogh ou l’enterrement dans le blés (1983, biography, Seuil et Points-Seuil)
Le Jeu des poignards (1985, novel, Gallimard)
L’œil de la nuit (1987, novel, Séguier)
Mains (1988, essay, Séguier)
Ce soir, après la guerre (1992, narration, Lattès et Livre de Poche, 1997 Fayard)
L’horreur économique (1996, essay, Fayard)

[6”In the USA, Edmund S. Phelps noticed, employment is promoted with prejudice for salaries whereas in Europe salaries were promoted with prejudice for employment. Perhaps. But nothing, nowhere, acts with prejudice for profit!" (p. 171, French edition, translated by me)
“What reasonable correlation can exist, for example, between losing a job and to get evicted, to find oneself in the street? The punishment is beyond compare with the advanced motif, given for obvious. That a lack of ability to pay, a lack of ability to pay anymore is handled as a crime is in itself surprising if we think about it. However, to be punished in this way, to be thrown out on to the streets, for not having been in a position to settle a rent payment because you have no more work (while employment is missing obviously and officially everywhere) or because your attributed job is low-remunerated, too low compared to the exaggerated cost of too scarce housing, all this belongs to dementia or a deliberate perversity. The more so as a domicile will be required to keep or to find this job when this one is needed to find a domicile.”
 (p. 68, French edition, translated by me)

[7Even by the Gouvernement du Québec

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