In Praise of Offensiveness: 30 Years of Les Inrockuptibles

Vorbemerkung der Redaktion: Die französische Kulturzeitschrift Les Inrocks (bzw. Les Inrockuptibles) wird dreißig. Das Editorial des aktuellen Chefredakteurs Pierre Siankowski findet sich hier, natürlich in französischer Sprache. (Sein Vorgänger Frédéric Bonnaud ist jetzt Leiter der Cinémathèque Francaise, was über das Standing der Zeitschrift schon einiges sagt.) Danilo Scholz hat seine kleine Hymne an Les Inrocks in englischer Sprache geschrieben. Eine Übersetzung ins Deutsche machen wir als Zeitschrift für europäisches Denken in diesem Fall einfach mal nicht. (ek)

They released their 1000th issue last year, but only this week do the folks at Les Inrocks publish their official 30th anniversary issue. To celebrate, they picked thirty works that defined their approach to culture. Many names will be familiar. Les Inrocks is quite loyal once it has fallen for an artist. At the movies: Apichtpong Weerasethakul’s Oncle Bonmee, Lynch’s Mulholland Drive Tarantino’s Jacky Brown, Gus Van Sant’s Gerry, Wong Kar-Wai’s In The Mood For Love. Their taste in music has never really moved beyond indie rock, with the notable exception of Daft Punk. It’s the least interesting aspect of the whole magazine, even though initially, it was certainly the most important one. Obviously Bourdieu has to make an appearance: after feeling uncomfortable in the media spotlight for years, he reached out to a new audience in the mid-1990s, as one of the intellectuals supporting the general strike against Alain Juppé’s proposed pension and social reforms.

It says something about the standing of Les Inrocks that they managed to meet virtually every author, director, musician included in their list (provided they’re still alive). And it gets painfully personal at times. I’d been wholly unaware of the personal tragedy – the death of close collaborator, the suicide of his partner – surrounding the making of Leos Carax’ film Holy Motors.

The reporting of Les Inrocks both after the Charlie Hebdo and the November attacks has been, to my mind at least, absolutely exemplary. It has been matched by no other publication, least of all in the US where much of what was written in January purported to be an angry reaction to the claim (made by who exactly?) that people on the other side of the Atlantic would not understand the particularly aggressive – and racist – French take on satire. Note to self: no argument that needs a strawman this badly can stand on its own feet.

Les Inrocks knew more than a few of the dead. For them, in some way this was an exercise in journalistic mourning but it was complemented by an impressive drive to figure out what was going on. They immediately went back to the banlieues and asked people about their feelings instead of talking about them. They mobilised intellectuals and reproduced their irreducibly divergent opinions where others would have sought to smooth them over. They spoke out in favour of the freedom to offend even as they laid bare, almost week after week in 2015, the deep-seated racism in French society and its institutions. They looked into the fuck-up that is Western involvement in the Middle East, while pithily wondering in their review of Alain Badiou’s little book on the November attacks whether it might be a little too simplistic to blame it on capitalism and leave it there. They were first uneasy about, then opposed to the state of exception. The plans to strip citizenship from bi-nationals – and bi-nationals only – convicted of terrorism horrified them.

Still, their focus remains resolutely on culture. And their homage to Bret Easton Ellis, who is palpably flattered that someone flew out to L.A. to talk about a book written a quarter century ago, retraces the scandals that would have nearly made the publication of American Psycho impossible. Horrified by the graphic depiction of violence, Simon & Schuster annulled the contract. When Knopf leapt in, the editors tried in vain to convince the author of the beneficial effects of a few cuts that’d have to be made. Upon publication, the critical response was devastating. (Though according to Les Inrocks, the L.A. Times review was rather enthusiastic, very much to the dismay of the readers.) In Europe, American Psycho changed the face of contemporary literature almost instantly. The ripples caused by the book can be found in the works of Houellebecq (the atrocious murders committed by David di Meola in Elementary Particles), Virginie Despentes, Pierre Mérot, Philippe Djian. In Germany, entire sections of Christian Kracht’s Faserland are inspired by the litany of brands that swamp the reader’s eye in American Psycho. And Rainald Goetz could go on about the literary qualities of Bret Easton Ellis for hours. Yet Les Inrocks also chose to include American Psycho because of its continued political relevance, as the following passage reveals:

„What is it?“ I ask, opening the folded page.
„It’s an article on your hero, Donald Trump.“ McDermott grins.
„It sure is,“ I say apprehensively. „Why didn’t I ever see this, I

Patrick Bateman’s violent excesses have often been decried as acts of pure nihilism. Such was the moral outrage that few seemed to care that his deeds were driven by a twisted kind of idealism. When Bateman feels low, any presence – in talk, images, or thoughts – of Trump functions as a pick-me-up.

Faded posters of Donald Trump on the cover of Time magazine cover the windows of another abandoned restaurant, what used to be Palaze, and this fills me with a newfound confidence.

Later, his name is even invoked to make a U2 gig no one feels like going to appear slightly more enticing:

None of the girls are particularly excited about seeing the band and all have confided in me, separately, that they don’t want to be here, and in the limousine heading toward somewhere called the Meadowlands, Carruthers keeps trying to placate everyone by telling us that Donald Trump is a big U2 fan.

The property tycoon is a major priority for the main protagonist. The latter’s aim is “to get myself invited to the Trump Christmas party aboard their yacht.” One of his favourite books? Trump’s The Art of the Deal.

It gets to the point where people in Bateman’s entourage grow tired of hearing the name all the time.

„Not Donald Trump again,“ Evelyn moans. „Oh god. Is that why you were acting like such a buffoon? This obsession has got to end!“ she practically shouts. „That’s why you were acting like such an ass!“

From (the prescient power of) fiction to reality in less than 15 years. Wake up and smell the coffee.

But you know what? Trump will disappear, Les Inrocks will last. Or as they said in their anniversary editorial: “La culture est une arme.”