Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Dear Janet Albrechtsen

This is the content of a letter I sent, dated 4 September 2007, to a well-known journalist, Janet Albrechtsen, at The Australian.

You wrote recently:

Who can forget how European intellectuals danced on the graves at ground zero? French philosopher Jean Baudrillard declared his "immense joy" when planes flew into the twin towers.

Your evocation of the great intellectual Baudrillard dancing on the graves at Ground Zero, and expressing his pleasure in the wake of the terrorist acts of September 11 is misleadng, indeed absurd, and stems surely from a misreading of what he actually said in his article entitled L'esprit du terrorisme, published in Le Monde, November 3, 2001. Here is a key passage in that article:

Tous les discours et les commentaires trahissent une gigantesque abréaction à l'événement même et à la fascination qu'il exerce. La condamnation morale, l'union sacrée contre le terrorisme sont à la mesure de la jubilation prodigieuse de voir détruire cette superpuissance mondiale, mieux, de la voir en quelque sorte se détruire elle-même, se suicider en beauté. Car c'est elle qui, de par son insupportable puissance, a fomenté toute cette violence infuse de par le monde, et donc cette imagination terroriste (sans le savoir) qui nous habite tous. Que nous ayons rêvé de cet événement, que tout le monde sans exception en ait rêvé, parce que nul ne peut ne pas rêver de la destruction de n'importe quelle puissance devenue à ce point hégémonique, cela est inacceptable pour la conscience morale occidentale, mais c'est pourtant un fait, et qui se mesure justement à la violence pathétique de tous les discours qui veulent l'effacer. À la limite, c'est eux qui l'ont fait, mais c'est nous qui l'avons voulu.

He is describing in subtle language a gigantic abreaction (psychological term designating the expression and consequent release of a repressed emotion) that could be detected in many comments surrounding the tragic events of September 11. I would paraphrase Baudrillard's wordy analysis by the following trite statements:

— For many observers throughout the world, the USA had become too big (hegemonic).

— Many people said to themselves: The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

— These same people hoped (unknowingly) that the big fellow might one day bite the dust.

To express the latter sentiment, Baudrillard evoked « cette imagination terroriste (sans le savoir) qui nous habite tous ».

Throughout that article [which did in fact raise many eyebrows in France because, as in all psychological demonstrations, the reasoning was subtle], Baudrillard was attempting to analyze a recent planetary event in an objective clinical fashion. He was never standing on a political pedestal and voicing vulgarly his own personal opinions. And to suggest that this humanist was immensely happy to witness the Twin Towers terrorism is not only wrong; it's ignoble.

The mindless intervention of Bush in Iraq — condemned globally, since the start, by French intellectuals, politicians and ordinary people — has introduced us to the daily phenomenon of murder and torture. If you're seeking examples of individuals capable of dancing on the graves of innocent victims, you'll find lots of them in the universe created by Bush. But Jean Baudrillard was not that kind of a person.

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