Jasieński’s sympathies are firmly with the proletariat and readers will find much about class struggle, the exploitation of the working classes, the ineffectiveness of parliamentary democracy and the weakness – if not the treachery – of social democrats. Comrade Laval, of the communists, thinks of the French authorities “And now they were calmly standing by while everyone died of hunger and the plague, to take over a disinfected Paris once more, smother it in police, drown it in democracy by opening the floodgates of futile parliamentary blather…” It’s the shock doctrine years before Naomi Klein – or even Milton Friedman.
Robert Looby reviews a new translation of Bruno Jasieński’s 1927 novel I Burn Paris, and finds many contemporary parallels
Some readers may find this all very dated. The idea that a people in the heart of Europe might be cut off from help and hung out to dry while they deal on their own with some kind of raging infection that might otherwise spread to the rest of the continent destroying economy after economy in a domino effect obviously has no place in modern, twenty first century Europe, though if you happen to be suffering from “internal devaluation” brought on by the black debt you might beg to differ.
What is at once his most outlandish novel – the sci-fi future species that features in the epilogue of Atomised has a massive secondary role here – is also Houellebecq’s most realistic, for it is in this work that he demonstrates so plainly how self-hatred, both his protagonist’s and his own, spreads outward, and how truly murderous – literally and literarily – this brand of nihilism is. More accurately, it demonstrates what is usually assumed ipso facto, that is, how much hatred a belief in nothingness and meaninglessness will really entail. For a novelist, this disdain is particularly dangerous, for it can easily slide into carelessness – if nothing matters, why bother creating a good work of art?
In fact I don’t think of literature, or music, or any art form as having a nationality. Where you’re born is simply an accident of fate. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be more interested in say, Dickens, than in an author from Barcelona simply because I wasn’t born in the UK. I do not have an ethno-centric view of things, much less of literature. Books hold no passports. There’s only one true literary tradition: the human.