The United States is a great country, as everyone knows. This is why America has many friends, among whom one must also take account of its less amiable, jealous friends. One must not forget that America saved France in 1918 with the disembarkation for the second battle of the Marne and saved Europe from the nazis in the 1940’s. However, it could not save Europe from the Soviets, who are still increasingly dangerous, which many Americans still do not know.
After France’s liberation, many French men and Europeans who had been saved from the nazis and concentration camps were won over to a sort of Americano phobia which is rather complex and difficult to define. There were, therefore, a considerable number of anti-Americans. Among these there were, obviously, some former pro-Hitlerites.
But the anti-American passion after the war was so great and in part, irrational, that the words “U.S. go home” were posted on walls as well as on demonstrators’ signs. At first taken aback, Americans imagined that they had committed dreadful war crimes be tween 1942 and 1944, completely for getting that without them nazism would not have been destroyed, and France as well as the rest of Western Europe would have been destroyed.
Curiously enough, in spite of the political mistakes that the Americans had really made in abandoning Eastern Europe, the Eastern countries did not generate anti-American hatred. On the contrary, even after Yalta, when the East Europeans, abandoned by Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, were living in the worst existential conditions and under the worst tyrannies-by decree of this unfortunate pact-these peasants continued to have only love and friendship for the United States. For a long time they thought America would save them from totalitarian takeover. Alas, the Americans forgot these people involuntarily, or rather voluntarily. No liberating American army landed on Romanian beaches, nor invaded Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other subjugated nations.
It is not for this reason that some “intellectual” Americans became absurdly anti-American-feeling guilty about something indefinable, but feeling guilty and criminal simply because they were being accused instead of thanked as they had expected. Anti-Americanism took a dangerous form: The most closed of military secrets were opened to spies by people who were supposed to have the duty and the conscience to keep them secret. At international meetings such as those of UNESCO, American delegates often took sides against the United States. Irrational guilt was at play, with force and efficacy, among important American representatives abroad.
Many times I’ve tried to explain to Americans what they’ve done for Europe. It was impossible to make myself understood. Thus, I am one of the rare European intellectuals who has never been anti-American.
From time to time, singers like Joan Baez, in Paris and in other cities, sing songs in luxurious hotels about the misfortunes of the slaves of today’s Vietnam, and people massacred by the Vietcong are remembered. In one of the most sumpn1ous rooms of the Meurisse Hotel in Paris, Joan Baez denounces the new crimes, just as some years ago, in the same place, she denounced American soldiers.
Perhaps there is another, more subtle form of colonialism with which the United States has not been reproached. West European countries have equally contributed to this cultural and spiritual colonialism in the name of a certain Marxism and technology. I’m speaking about Far Eastern countries that, having become Marxist, have broken their attachments to thousand-year-old spiritual traditions. In this way, the new cultural colonialism is contrary to that of the past, in which the Asian countries’ cultures were left intact. For example, Indochina under French colonization was allowed a spiritual liberty because the colonizers did not tamper with their culture. Nowadays, China, Korea, and other countries, having forgotten their traditions so as to adopt technology and an excessive politicization, are no longer free, in spite of their political independence. National independence is not always synonymous with liberty, either physical nor moral. Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, and Romania are subjected to a single way of thought, to a cultural tyranny which, far from being simply political, is above all an ideological tyranny.
But the most important and serious thing had to do with politics and diplomacy: the Allies, with the Americans at the forefront, ceded half of Europe to Russia at Yalta. This is the principal reproach to the United States. However, the United States is, in spite of its faults but thanks to its values, the last fortress of the free world; it is a free world, a free world that its enemies are trying to encircle and that they are trying, or preparing to try, to destroy.
American state-of-the-art technology has elevated humanity above itself Of course, its conquests in outer space are grandiose, as well as those in medicine, biology, and physics. These conquests and these discoveries from which all humanity profits “super-humanize” humanity, if! may use that term. ls there in this a lack of spirituality or religion? Certainly not, since religion is not absent from it: we remember that on their first lunar flight the American astronauts read the biblical chapter of Genesis in outer space.
That must not make us forget, how ever, that modem technology possesses our whole planet to such a degree that ancient philosophers are forgotten. The young Chinese of Taiwan do not know Buddha, nor Confucius, nor the Tao, nor the superb, ancient Chinese literature. I’ve spoken to these young Chinese and I was astonished by their ignorance. I had gone over there in the hope of getting to know the true culture; I had to explain to the Chinese, despite my own scanty knowledge, what their great past culture was, who their wise men and philosophers were, and that these men were much greater than the great mathematicians and the great philosophers of today-greater than the Marxist experts and the great modem thinkers of Europe and America.
There was a time when every American saw in American society the perfect model for any society and any life. Then there arose, especially among artists and intellectuals, a contempt for America: a contempt of Americans for America. I can cite two examples: 1) An American journalist came to interview me in Paris about his country. He wanted to know the French intellectuals’ point of view. When he realized that I wasn’t antiAmerican, he got up, threw away his pencil, and tore up his notes. He hadn’t had a negative response and that dis pleased him since the others that he’d interviewed had subscribed to his negative view. 2) Some time ago, Arthur Miller had written a scenario telling the story of the liberation of a women’s prison camp in Germany. According to the truth and to the testimony of a former internee, either the Americans or the English had liberated the camp. The English director of this film showed the Soviets liberating the camp, which is entirely false. Arthur Miller did not protest. That is what disinformation is.
In any case, I don’t care for this realistic writer, because we know that reality is not realistic and that realism is always tendentious. The documentary writer who is a prisoner of his ideology cheats. He falsifies “reality” in favor of his ideology so as to impose this ideology. In France they say that if the real facts don’t conform to the ideology it is the fault of reality and not of the ideology. This explains the idolatry of communism or Marxism, of which Americans were the victims and many others still are. No, realism is not reality; realism is an aesthetic convention like any other. What is real is one thing for the man in the street, something else for astronomers and astronauts, something else again for biologists and physicists.
If you ask a physicist what reality is, he will be more perplexed than I am to define it He will tell you that he doesn’t know what reality is, unless it’s energy or a movement. But energy coming fr0m where and going where? Unlike the realist, the politician, the ideologue, or the authentic witness-so-called authentic-the poet doesn’t invent and doesn’t lie; he imagines. Truth dwells in the imaginary. We have known this since Freud and Jung, but we have not known it well enough. It is in the imagination that we find the permanent passion and anguish that is at the base of humanism. That is why dreams are true; they explain profound realities that have emerged from our extraconsciousness and are identical in all humans in all times. That is why Sophocles, Shakespeare, Novalis, and Rimbaud are understood. Progress in technology and the sciences does not necessarily, mean equivalent progress in the arts. That Arthur Miller was born centuries after Shakespeare and Homer does not mean that he is superior, nor that he has progressed further in relation to these great artistic geniuses.
To cite another example of ignorance of what is going on in the world or the strength of our enemies’ propaganda, I bring to your attention the following event: A few years ago when Castro, Cuba’s dictator, let a large number of his people leave the country, an even greater number of Cubans wanted to leave. Certainly there were criminals freed from prisons who sought refuge in America, but there were also many honest citizens. A graduate student pre paring her Ph.D. and I were discussing this once, and she said to me: But only the rich people left!” Alas, she didn’t know that the socialist revolution had taken place 25 years before and that there were no more rich people or capitalists in Cuba, except for the privileged few of the regime.
It is well known that America has had great writers that the public has unfortunately not always understood: Henry Miller, John Dos Passos, Steinbeck, and especially the great Faulkner, who, with Joyce, Proust, and Kafka, is the creator of great modem literature. More recently, we have the work of such authors as Capote, Saul Bellow, Singer, and others. In the plastic arts I can cite Calder, Pollock, and others. Today America has great men of the theater, of whom I will mention the greatest: Bob Wilson, much less known in America than in France. America has produced great cinematic artists like Humphrey Bogart and the formidable Marx Brothers, and others, many others who have recently died; and there are still others today. But there are scarcely any more new authors, because once more, the interest of young Americans is directed toward technology. Young people, young Americans who are listening to me, we must return to art and to literature. It is literature and not politics, literature and art alone that are capable of rehumanizing the world-and especially the theater, where we see ourselves live again in our love or our antagonisms.
Politics separates mankind because, of course, it is made up of partisans. Art reunites men and makes them brothers in anguish and in fundamental problems, brothers in metaphysics. The politics that today has primacy over the arts and even over science we saw in Russia several years ago, n Lysenko’s case, where biology had to conform to ideology: that politics no longer wishes to organize societies in which men would have the possibility of developing their personalities; politics is now only the desire to dominate.
For that instinct toward domination, my friends, substitute contemplation. It is in art and in literature that contemplation can speak to us. A person who does not love literature or who is not acquainted with it, is, if not a dehumanized being, an incomplete being.
I am immensely sorry about this extremely harmful fact. I deplore equally, with all my heart, the fact that people no longer know French, that it is less studied. French literature is so rich, yet they say no one studies French any more because France does not have the same industrial power as America, and because French is not useful in technology. Nevertheless, in the 18th century England had industrial primacy, which in no way prevented French from dominating as the universal language.
Not knowing the French language, its literature and theater, is a real catastrophe, a deficiency for all of us, something you are missing without realizing it perhaps. The masterpieces of French art and literature must not remain unknown; they must be studied, and the French language could be the meeting place of all cultivated spirits, as Latin used to be. In reality, French is culture; it can be the vehicle of a regenerated modern humanism. It could be a universal language.
In closing, I would therefore counsel you to give a bit less importance to politics and business (alas, we cannot do without businessmen, who are at the same time disagreeable and-again, alas indispensable). But direct your interests towards art and literature; enrich yourselves intellectually. I propose that you think about this and think about it more often than usual. Act, playact. In the theater one plays man’s fate, because art is a game––not a diversion but a tragic game, a game of knowledge, a ritual and spiritual game.
I am betting on the artistic disciplines and on literature. Malraux said that the 21st century will be religious or will not be at all. Make it be religious. Art is the human activity that is closest to the spiritual.