In her new book, a scathing satire of the era of likes and overexposure, the author dismantles the mechanics of success at all costs.
With Irrefutable essay of successology, Lydie Salvayre signs a text halfway between a treatise and a pamphlet, which holds up a mirror – grimacing – to an era rewarding exposure, even self-exhibition; where success, which has become the measure of everything, asserts itself as a universal religion. While brushing the portraits of the “bookstagramerto millions of subscribers, of the “influential man” or even of the different specimens of writers that can be observed today, she borrows both from moralists and from the manual of personal development to deliver, in a ironically, the keys to literary, artistic and social success in the 20th century. Interview.
In video, Taubira moved by reading a passage from her book on November 13
Lady Figaro. – Would you say that your essay is inhabited by a form of fury?
Lydie Salvayre. – I was angry, and in me anger is driving force. She is the source of many of my books – “Sing, O Muse, the wrath of Achilles…”, as it says in The Iliad. I was angry to see talented people ignored at the expense of others whose success was perceived to be due to market construction. Angry to see people fooled by mediocre badges extolled by advertising and the cult of appearance. Then I went on the Net to see if there were advice sites for success in life. They were innumerable and I saw in them the symptom of a time when success had become the value of values, with all that that implies of violence, lies, base manoeuvres, since success is placed above above all and that the means employed do not matter. And, in the background, I asked myself the question of what it was like to succeed in life. Is it really practicing “show off and boasting”, to use the words of Robert Walser in The walkwho regretted that they had become the values of his time?
Have moralists inspired you?
I had in mind the satirical tradition which began among the Greeks with Theophrastus, and continued with Horace, Juvenal, Petronius, Rabelais, Swift – from whom I stole the title, since he himself wrote a Irrefutable essay on the faculties of the soul – and La Bruyère, which I adore. These authors are moralists and not moralizers: it is not a question of catechizing or brandishing a vigilante word but of taking a step back and questioning what success hides, on what it is based. Taking the example of these writers, I thought I would make an inventory of the best ways to achieve this. I had fun mixing in references to personal development manuals, which since the famous How to make friendsby Dale Carnegie, abound today until they are devoted to entire shelves – “How to become an infectious optimist”, “How to conquer your fears”, “How to achieve your goals”…
I thought that our beautiful sensitivity, which today we would call sentimentality, was disappearing in favor of performance, mastery, self-praise
This Irrefutable essay of successologydoes it not have certain kinships with your previous book, devoted to Cervantes, dream standing ?
I hadn’t made the connection, but we are sometimes blind to what we write. There is indeed in these two books a paradoxical eulogy, a practice of antiphrasis and an address, to Cervantes in dream standingand to candidates for success in this Irrefutable Essay of Successology. As well as a celebration of the same ideals. I am happy to have finished this book with a sentence of Proust: “Real books should be the children not of broad daylight and conversation but of obscurity and silence.” I thought that our beautiful sensitivity, which today we would call sentimentality, was disappearing in favor of performance, mastery, self-praise. And I was afraid that this would be detrimental to literature as well. When I see books by talent show singers or reality TV stars promoted on television, when everything seems to be reduced to the visible, to glitter, when it seems to me that is the vocation of literature than going to see, precisely, behind appearances…
What has changed from, say, the days of the Balzac’s Lost Illusions ?
Alas, we read La Bruyère, Balzac or Jelinek, and we see everywhere the same taste for success, the same appetite for glory at a low price, the same immense vanity – and little virtue. And then, what is unbearable to me above all, are the false virtuous people who give themselves the right to give moral lessons to increase their compassionate capital, speaking in the name of all the victims, of all those who are in punishment, to better profit from a just cause. In Balzac’s time, at least, we were not so aware of all the suffering minorities! And, of course, we didn’t have the social networks , which increase the possibility of showing off. “Show up, show up, show up!” : such seems to be the motto of our time, accompanied by an incredible passion for the like, that is to say for immediate and unreflective approval.
We find in this book the mixture of tones and registers of language that you also like in your novels…
I appreciate in the manifesto its lapidary, collected, piquant character, which does not bother with contortions. The longer it goes, the more I like biting books.
My birth in a Spanish family that jabbered French gave me a taste for the baroque and mixed registers, as one finds in Cervantes, Shakespeare or Quevedo, a great writer of the 17th century who can practice the most sublime language while intertwining the coarsest strokes. He thus wrote a text whose title was translated by: “Heurs et Malheurs du trou du cul”… What was for me a reason for shame – to speak in spite of myself a language punctuated with misunderstood, faulty expressions – is become a honey and a way to claim my origins. There is in Spain – we see it today with Rodrigo Garcia and Angelica Liddell– a taste for vulgarity that Picasso had noted and which seems to have been curbed in France by classicism. Rabelais marvelously blends the most diverse registers, followed by the classics, which have at heart to be at the height of royal prestige and make sure to evacuate everything that touches on popular defilement. And this is how a French cannon was born, from which fortunately Céline or Queneau derogate…
On video, The Super-8 Years by Annie Ernaux and David Ernaux, excerpt
Through this false praise of a literature without transgression or stomach, did you have the idea of writing a literary manifesto?
Rabelais said that there were those who wrote with frozen words and those who wrote with jokes. We don’t really know what that means, but we see right away that it’s above all a question of not complying with norms and rules in order to break taboos and received ideas – and laugh a little under the hood, too. … I appreciate in the manifesto its lapidary, compact, piquant character, which does not bother with contortions. The longer it goes, the more I like biting books.
Does this parody manual also have a political dimension?
I would say that my journey as a class defector, or transclass, made me all the more sensitive to ill-gotten successes, linked to the fact of being born into a prestigious family, having money, power , network or influence. While others have neither the codes, nor the culture, nor the knowledge of the rules to follow to achieve… And I was led to reflect on what meritocracy really meant, which is perhaps not than a mask of virtue placed on an uninhibited Darwinism.