Richard Millet is an accomplished figure in French literature. His book Le Sentiment du Langue (The Feeling of Language) won the Académie Française’s 1994 essay award. His work as an editor for celebrated publisher Gallimard, meanwhile, helped produce two recent Prix Goncourt winners — including the 2006 novel Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones) by American author Jonathan Littell. Now, however, Millet is getting attention of an entirely different kind with a new work attacking immigration and multiculturalism, and describing the acts of convicted Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik as “formal perfection … in their literary dimension.”
That bookish qualifier, says newsweekly L’Express in its critique of Millet’s new essay, “Éloge Littéraire d’Anders Breivik” (Literary Elegy of Anders Breivik), is a “gratuitous facade” for an otherwise “vindictive text” and thesis. Indeed, though Millet states he does not approve of Breivik’s murderous actions on July 22, 2011 that left 77 people dead, he does write the slaughter was “without doubt what Norway deserved.” The reason? Norway, Millet contends, allowed immigration, multiculturalism and the domination of foreign customs, language and religion to become such dominant influences that a self-designated defender of traditional society felt compelled to take decisive action.
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“Multiculturalism, as it has been imported from the United States, is the worst thing possible for Europe … and creates a mosaic of ghettoes in which the [host] nation no longer exists,” Millet told France Info radio on Aug. 27. “Breivik, I believe, perceived that and responded to that question with the most monstrous reply.”
Little wonder that such views — published just as Breivik was being sentenced Aug. 24 — have sparked controversy in France. As word of Millet’s writing spreads, so too may the objections it has inspired.
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If so, that may only serve to reinforce Millet’s accusations that most of Europe — and indeed the West — is dominated by the same attitudes that motivated Breivik’s attack. Breivik, Millet writes, is “an exemplary product of Western decadence” and a “child of the ideologico-racial fracture that extra-European immigration has introduced in Europe.” Because he sees the resulting “loss of national identity” and “Islamization of Europe” decaying “Christian roots” everywhere, Millet appears to believe acts similar to Breivik’s may be replicated outside Norway as well.
“Within this decadence, Breivik is without doubt what Norway deserved, and what awaits our societies that won’t stop blinding themselves in denial,” Millet writes in “Éloge Littéraire d’Anders Breivik,” one of three essays published under the collective title Langue Fantôme (Ghost Language) on Aug. 24 by publisher Éditions Pierre-Guillaume de Roux. “European nations are dissolving socially at the same time as they’re losing their Christian essence in favor of general relativism.”
After the disclaimer in which he insists he does “not approve of the acts committed by Breivik,” Millet admits being “struck by their ‘formal perfection’ and ‘literary dimension.’” But unimpressed critics contend Millet’s artistic conceit and florid prose rationalizing Breivik’s acts are little more than an apology advancing extreme-right doctrine. In its Aug. 27 review, the daily Le Monde points to his accompanying essay, “De l’Antiracisme Comme Terreur Littéraire” (Antiracism as Literary Terror) as reflecting Millet and his conservative worldview:
The man hates a lot, and [does so] in a refined style that’s sometimes obscure. But it’s sufficiently clear for the objects of his malice to distinctly appear: social democracy (and democracy, full stop), extra-European immigration, the remainders of Marxism and their supposed corollaries of ignorance, political correctness and the weakening of language. All of that is leading to the crumbling of Europe — a decomposing continent where “a civil war is under way.”
Though such views are regularly championed by the extreme right, their association with Breivik’s massacre is something leaders like Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front party have assiduously avoided. Indeed, Le Pen has attacked efforts to explain or justify Breivik’s killing spree as a consequence of extreme-right views put into action. Given the enduring taboo of seeking to explain Breivik’s acts as anything short of madness, Millet’s essay may not only lead Le Pen to deny any ties to the author or his work — but may also force the venerable Gallimard to do likewise.
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Though the famous Paris publisher has no involvement with or responsibility for Millet’s controversial essays, it’s nevertheless coming under pressure to sever its relationship with a man airing such controversial views. On Monday, francophone Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun called Millet’s essay a “ridiculous, useless and, above all, disgusting provocation.” Ben Jelloun told France Info that Gallimard, publisher of Ben Jelloun’s books, had to realize Millet “can’t be part of this organization and, elsewhere, propose such horrible things.”
Author Annie Ernaux agreed, telling Le Monde on Monday that Millet’s writing represents “a dangerous political act” by a Gallimard employee that “engages the responsibility of the company.” She said “a collective reaction from all Gallimard writers” to force action on Millet’s case is now under consideration.
But even as he echoed the “indignation over such cretinous and notorious statements,” Gallimard author Jean-Marie Laclavetine nevertheless told France Info that people protesting Millet’s essays must “be careful about [becoming] thought police”
“Everyone has the right to think as he wishes and write what he wants,” Laclavetine said. “I think it would be very bad for Gallimard to fire him. I too wish Richard didn’t think what he thinks and wrote what he wrote, but that’s his right.”
Neither the controversy surrounding his essays nor calls for his ouster from Gallimard seem to bother Millet. Indeed, the man who described Breivik’s 77 victims as “mixed-raced, globalized, uncultivated, social-democrat petit bourgeois,” appears to take a certain pride in the anger and consternation his essays have provoked.
“I’m one of the most hated French authors,” he told France Info on Monday. “It’s an interesting position that makes me an exceptional being.”
Given his previous accomplishments as an editor, Millet could have made that literary boast before publishing his essays. Now that they’re out, he can add peerless polemicist — and possibly leading ideologue — of Europe’s extreme right to that list of distinctions.