Faced with the coronavirus and the containment it causes, Gallimard publishes one or two " Crisis leaflets "signed by the great feathers of the House such as Erik Orsenna, Sylvain Tesson, Cynthia Fleury, Régis Debray or Danièle Sallenave, in order to reflect on the questions raised by the epidemic and to keep the link with the reader. 43 titles have been published to date. UP' has chosen to offer you each day an extract from a selected text and author.
"Prudence is done. Now it's time to take the next step: think, understand, interpret the chaos and take the risk of providing a minimum of certainty for all. This is the role of intellectuals." I quoted her in A Certain View of the World, but this is my chance to repeat it. It's a line from an excellent Swedish novel, The King's Personal Doctor by Per Olov Enquist. The queen wants to learn how to ride a horse. She gets into the saddle and asks her riding instructor what the rules are. Here is what he answered: "The first is caution. The second is boldness. " Okay. Caution is done, it seems to me. It's time to move on to boldness.
We must take the plunge.
I don't know what that means to the health care workers right now, to be bold. But I do know exactly what it means for intellectuals: to put sadness aside and think, to understand, to interpret chaos, to list monsters never before seen, to give names to phenomena never before experienced, to stare ignoble truths straight in the eyes and, once you've done all that, to take the risk of providing everyone with a minimum of certainties.
And so, at work, everyone to the best of their ability and talent. I'm not particularly in shape these days, but nothing will stop me from writing what I know. Because that's what I do for a living.
The end of the world isn't for now. Nor will we find ourselves in the midst of anarchy, in one of those situations where the class dunce makes the law, the big guy sitting in the back row who doesn't understand anything and gets off on hitting you. Let's wake up: that's in the movies. Let's get our heads together. For we humans are a species with tremendous patience, intelligence, and strength: we have taken over the world and made it our playground in one of the most violent and cynical operations imaginable; and that's not all: we are so well aware of it that we have given a name to the spoils of this raid, anthropocene, and we are now so sure of ourselves that we are even considering, recently, giving freedom to a part of the natural world. That is what we are. We have always fought viruses. Often they have brought us to our knees. But it turns out that, in this uncomfortable position, we have become even more patient, stubborn and cunning.
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Alessandro Baricco, "Crisis leaflets" No. 36, Gallimard, 7 April 2020, 10 a.m.