Politics and passion in a new book by a brilliant intellectual
People are mortal, so they die – no, I did not say that, although it took effort to remain silent. The pompous seriousness with which Lefranc announced the otherwise truly unexpected death of Druon went further than his usual somewhat grandiose manner approaching self-parody. That self-parody got a mocking organ grinder going in my head. I was utterly surprised, however, by his next sentence. “He committed suicide,” the commissioner added, looking at me. Now all his behaviour was becoming obvious. A polite, but firm telephone invitation: “Right now. Naturally, I can wait a few minutes if you have something urgent to do…” I have never heard such decisiveness from him before. Although Lefranc always made sure to emphasise his position of authority, he never demanded real obedience. Appearances were enough for him. I had often had the impression that the more he depended on me, the more he took care in demonstrating his seniority. I got into the game of emphasising his managerial competence so much that at times I began to fear that I was exaggerating, and that my superior would view my irony as appalling rudeness. Until now, however, nothing of the sort had happened, and Lefranc would swallow my subservience with the face of a cat stroked under the chin. Now I understood the behaviour of the office staff that struck me the moment I had entered the building: those frightened glances when greeting me, those uncertain steps… A thought had even crossed my mind that the earlier rumours of reorganisation might turn out to be true, especially when I saw the expression on the secretary’s face before I had the time to tell her I was a god. “Boss, the commissioner wants you to call him. Should I put you on the line?” “So… do we know anything?” I was buying time face-to-face with Lefranc since I realised that Druon’s suicide was hard to believe. “You know… we’re all in shock. Such a king of life… suicide… anyone but him. Well, not everyone. If they told me, you committed suicide… heck, even if they showed me the photos and evidence, I wouldn’t believe it. Even if I saw your corpse… I hope you don’t feel offended?” “On the contrary, but what about Druon?” “He shot himself with his service pistol – well not exactly a service pistol since we are not really like the military despite all those recommendations to be armed and trained. Why am I even saying this when you know it as well as I do? He shot himself in his office at night, last night. The guard heard it. He banged on the door but couldn’t open it. Finally, they broke it down with the commander. That’s about it… You were friends with Druon.” I did not like Lefranc’s take on our relationship. “We knew each other.” “Exactly. Very well.” “Not too well.” Lefranc bristled, “I didn’t mean it like that. But all things considered… and just in case, I’d like to suggest that you talk – well – informally for now, to an officer… since we are not an ordinary police force and there will be no formal interrogation, you understand… Here and now, if possible. I mean, the colonel is waiting in the office next door. I would much appreciate it, of course, and I hope you’ll agree.” The commissioner’s voice told me that refusal was not an option. I had never heard that tone from him before. Colonel Jugnot was polite, but inattentive. He went through the motions, but he seemed to think about something else and, while pretending otherwise, he appeared to have no interest in his interlocutor. Years of training. The subject of interrogation must be set at ease and relaxed – and an aura of indifference or inattention serves this purpose well.
Excerpt translated by Mirek Lalas
Politics and passion in a new book by a brilliant intellectual
What do the three short stories and two short plays by Bronisław Wildstein have in common? Politics and passion. Politics – though not in the sense of disputes between parties, and not as those usually blunt pins used by any given editorial staff of a media outlet to prick the public figures they dislike. Politics here means the interpersonal sphere, or rather, that part of it where people are driven not only by their feelings and passions, by their personal gains or loyalties, but also by their convictions and a vision of how to run the world.
This should come as no surprise since Wildstein, a man of many endeavours and talents – an oppositionist, writer, émigré activist, philosopher and editor – has always been most curious about the way convictions shape people’s lives and attitudes while they intertwine, and sometimes merge, with their more private reasons and motives. Even as we read the volume’s first story, The Lion, we see it unfold on two levels, so to speak. Is Alexandre Kojeve – an outstanding philosopher, a “restorer of Hegelianism” and at the same time a high-ranking official of a French government agency – the story’s protagonist? We never get a clear answer, even though we should remember that Wildstein’s prose is always written like a roman a clef where the “key” matches with various degrees of precision.
Of more importance than the captivating, though rather cliché combination of “operational” events – a charming young woman, heaps of praise, an envelope with money – is the build-up unravelling on another level (the underground?) of this prose: an operation of self-justification in which the protagonist proves to be a master.
Similar “operations” – self-justification, invoking higher reasons, and using them to cover one’s nakedness – are carried out in other stories and plays of this volume by protagonists active in various areas of public life, be it an office, a boarding house, or a theatre stage after the curtain has fallen. Though Wildstein, the author of several novels, attempts the drama genre for the first time, he succeeds in his effort. His plays, however, might almost be considered puppet shows: his characters are driven to action, wound up by the spring of the doctrine they profess, and led by the thin wires of pride.
Translated by Mirek Lalas
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