The WWE and me

“This isn’t something a girl should be watching,” my mother used to say to me as I stared intently at the television screen every Monday evening from 9–11 p.m.

I tried my best to ignore her remarks and continued on my quest of becoming a devastatingly knowledgeable aficionado in everything WWE-related.

Not only did I learn as much about the professionals as I could, I mimicked their staggering personas to the point of near perfection. This is my life — I am, and always will be, an obnoxious wrestling fan.

To set the tone for how my lawless love for the sport came to be, I have to step back a few years. In hindsight, my mom was somewhat right about the whole intemperate fascination I had with wrestling. My passion was too strong and my judgment too weak, creating a severe imbalance in my ability to discern when I could and could not tell someone to “suck it!”

In my defence, I was only eight years old at that point and it was rather impossible to overlook the powerhouse that was D-Generation X. It was the Attitude Era after all.

Being the little badass that I was, I refused to comply with my older sister’s demands to stop performing the gesture in front of cars at stop signs. Although I had no idea what was being implied when I told someone to contract their lip and cheek muscles until I was 16, I doubt anyone has ever seen a more enthusiastic crossing of the arms on the crotch being delivered by a girl and I am pretty damn proud of that. Triple H and Shawn Michaels would have probably considered dumping the she-male known as Chyna for a chance to stand alongside me on the world’s greatest wrestling stage.
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Watching wrestling was a big part of all my siblings’ childhoods. Every action resulted in an immediate reaction by one of us, whether it was a feeling of excitement, anger, or the sudden urge to put someone in a sharpshooter until they cried and tapped out.

As a proprietress to five kids, my mom has always been quick to spot changes in our behaviour and find where to lay the immediate blame.

Although it is easy to deny some of these allegations, there was absolutely no doubt when it came to our conduct after watching wrestling.

My brother’s aggression upon coming to Canada was attributed not to mockery in the schoolyard due to his inability to speak English, but rather his keen commitment to the Ultimate Warrior.

My sister, on the other hand, took on the role of household diva by emulating Miss Elizabeth, who she claims to have idolized until the star’s drug overdose and passing in 2003.

I never stood a chance against my sister, who was affectionately nicknamed the Helganator, when it came to being put in a headlock.

Fastforward a few years to when my infatuation with Ric Flair and Canada’s own Captain Charisma, Christian, became full-fledged. I enjoyed woo-offs with friends and remorselessly attacked a few of them with slanderous statements about their mothers.

I’m so sorry, Mom, but attempting to embrace your moral stance is no match for that of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s, which included legendarily ruthless pontificating.

Needing an outlet to help cope with all of the awesome angles running through my mind when I watched WWE Raw, I decided to document every minute of each episode. Speeches were dissected, quotes were taken down, and hilarious fan signs were scribbled in the margins of my Hilroy notebooks.

I idolized the Divas and wanted to be just like them. Then came a realization, and quite a disheartening one at that: my body was nowhere close to how theirs were sculpted.

On the elementary school soccer field, I pompously declared to my fellow wrestling fans that I would get breast implants if it meant they were my sole ticket to WWE Diva stardom.

After nearly two years of being completely committed to the wrestling logs, I began to grow tired of the WWE. Maybe it was because my 10-year-old brother told me it was fake, or maybe it was because My Chemical Romance had begun to take over my free time.

Years passed and friends came and went. Puerile elation had been vanquished.

One night I decided to skip writing an essay and tune in to watch wrestling. I was devastated to find that I was genuinely confused as to who was honing the mat and the microphone.

What happened to the girl who knew every wrestler and every move? I felt as if I had betrayed myself.

Then everything came rushing back to me. That was not a jobber Mexican wrestler on stage — it was Randy “RKO” Orton!

As for that huge Mayan-looking man, well I had no fucking clue. I thought to myself “the WWE must be really desperate for a ratings grab. Who does that douche think he is, the Ro-oh my God?”

The self-proclaimed people’s champion was back. I was forced to deal with multiple emotions coming over me simultaneously. I was happy to see him, but infuriated that he had the audacity to return to the ring he had abandoned all those years ago for a shameful life in Hollywood.

As soon as he started ripping on John Cena though, he won me over. The return of the Rock meant something far more than Dwayne Johnson making a appearance to repair the lull in superstar activity at the WWE.

Calling Cena a “Yabba Dabba Bitch” was the single best thing that has happened to Vince McMahon’s Holy Wrestling Empire since the introduction of Muhammed Hassan and his endless barrage of irate affirmations concerning his unwelcomed presence at the WWE, due in large part to his ethnic background.

If you didn’t get that joke, I don’t give a crap. My love affair with World Wrestling Entertainment had been rekindled in a matter of minutes, even though it had been destroyed for years.

As influential as it may be, I took a little more from the entertainment giant than my mother claims I did. Sure, I became slightly verbally abusive at times, but the hundreds of hours I spent watching wrestling provided me with something else, something ethereal. I became fearless with my interactions with others, hiding barely any feelings and always speaking my mind.

My first year of university proved to be no different. While strolling down Bloor Street one sunny afternoon, I was stopped by a volunteer from the World Wildlife Fund. I pretended to look genuinely interested for a moment, and then dropped a big one.

With conviction, I clearly let the man know that I did not “give a single shit about” him or his organization for the sole reason that they “stole the WWF’s identity.”

He looked at me in sheer confusion and attempted to mitigate the situation by claiming that the World Wrestling Federation was “greedy” and “did not want to share.”

Looking back, I wish I could have altered the way I handled that encounter. Instead of resorting to harsh criticism, letting him know my standpoint with a sickening amount of grace and refinement would have sufficed. A solid “suck it” would have made my point loud and clear.

How he got here: Paul Martin

Before dreaming of becoming prime minister, Paul Martin was an undergraduate student at U of T. He graduated with an Honours BA in Philosophy and History from St. Michael’s College in 1961, after which he went on to complete his law degree, also at U of T.

“I was very actively involved in college life,” said Martin. He lived in residence, was a member of the Young Liberals, and could usually be found working out in the Hart House gym and swimming pool.

“I think it’s a win-win situation,” said Martin on U of T’s college system. “It offers you all the advantages of a major university [with] all the advantages of a smaller college system.”

Growing up in Windsor, Martin was very active in the Michigan civil rights movement. “[That] was during the time of Martin Luther King Junior,” said Martin. “If you talk to a lot of people my age, they’ll tell you the same thing.”

Martin had no intention of going into politics; rather, he planned to travel to Africa after finishing law school. He was convinced upon graduating, however, to gain practical business experience. “I went into business for two years and stayed for 20,” he laughed.
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Martin had a long career in business, and only after his children were older did he begin to consider entering politics. “I’d had some success, and so I decided at the point the time was come to fish or cut bait.”

Martin’s first summer job was on a fishing boat when he was 13. “We had a cottage on Lake Erie, and I just went down to the docks,” he recalled.

One summer, after working on oil and gas fields in Alberta, Martin hitchhiked up to the Hay River and Great Slave Lake where he found a job working as a deckhand on a tugboat in the Beaufort Sea. “I wanted to see what the far north was like,” he said.

“I had a great fascination with the north, and still do,” revealed Martin, who believes it was easier to get summer work when he was young. “You could get jobs because people were desperate. […] [I just] said, ‘Look here, I’ve got my union card! Can I get a job?’”

While working up north, Martin worked with the First Nations and witnessed “the absolute unfairness [with which] we as Canadians have painted out the country’s first people. [This] became one of my strongest convictions.”

Martin thinks that it is crucial for young people to have a variety of experiences before choosing a focus. “Before you make a career decision, you should have a pretty clear idea of what opportunities are out there,” he advised.

“If somebody isn’t prepared to get as wide a spectrum of what life is all about at a young age, they will inevitably cocoon themselves, and they’ll simply isolate themselves into something and they’ll miss out on what the rest of the world has to offer.”

Martin sees the value in working or studying abroad. “It is just impossible to deny [its] importance […] and the perspective that it gives you,” he said, particularly stressing the benefit of working in Africa.

Martin, who first entered the political world in his mid-forties, suggests that young people do not jump into political careers. “My own advice is that you should go into public life after you have some real experience behind you,” he said. “To understand where the world is going and what life is all about […] gives you an opportunity to make a contribution [that is] probably better than most.”

Holding the University of Toronto accountable

On Monday March 7, Students Against Israeli Apartheid — heeding the call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions — launched a campaign demanding that the University of Toronto divest from companies violating international law and perpetuating an illegal apartheid regime. In particular, SAIA has serious concerns with the university’s holdings in the following four companies: BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Hewlett Packard, and Lockheed Martin. These companies are actively involved in significant violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and U of T’s holdings in these companies make it complicit in the commission of these crimes.

BAE Systems is a global defence, security, and aerospace company and currently the world’s third-largest weapons manufacturer. It produced weaponry, including F-16 combat aircrafts, cluster bombs, and weapon components, used in Israel’s 2008/09 assault on Gaza. The Goldstone Report of 2009 concluded that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity in its assault on Gaza. BAE Systems — in which U of T holds $1,746,000 worth of shares — contributed to Israel’s weaponry used in these internationally condemned crimes against Palestinian civilians.

Northrop Grumman, another large weapons manufacturer, also contributed to the production of various components and weapons used in the killing of civilians by Israel in its 2008/09 attack on Gaza. Significantly, the company is the sole provider of radars for F-16 combat aircrafts – aircrafts which, according to Amnesty International, played a central role in the killing of Palestinian civilians and the wholesale destruction of Palestinian civilian and economic infrastructure. Shamefully, U of T currently holds $1,157,000 worth of shares in this company.
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Hewlett Packard, among the world’s largest information technology companies, is implicated in the ongoing collective punishment of Palestinians, through the production of checkpoint technologies used in the West Bank, and information technology infrastructure used to facilitate the ongoing naval blockade of Gaza. In particular, HP aids the Israeli Defense Forces in their occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by supplying them with personal computers, servers, and virtualization systems. By aiding and abetting the IDF — an institution which has enforced the illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967 — HP is implicated in numerous violations of international law and human rights.

Finally, Lockheed Martin, an arms manufacturer based in the United States, is currently the largest overseas supplier for the Israeli armament industry. In particular, this company is involved in the manufacturing of F-16 combat aircrafts and Hellfire missiles, which have together contributed to hundreds of civilian deaths in both Gaza and Lebanon. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has condemned the IDF’s use of such American-built military weapons, stating that hundreds of Palestinian civilians had been killed or injured in Israeli attacks, largely by tanks deployed in refugee camps and explosives dropped on heavily populated area.

In short, these companies reap profits from the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and violations of Palestinian rights. By investing in these firms, U of T not only reveals the hypocrisy of its stated commitments to human rights and social justice, but also becomes complicit in their breaches of international law. Furthermore, according to Principle VII of the Nuremberg Principles, “complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity…is a crime under international law.” In other words, U of T is in breach of international law through its indirect participation in, and profiting from, war crimes.

It is therefore imperative for all students, faculty, staff, and alumni who are committed to principles of equity and social justice, and who do not want to be part of an institution that so egregiously violates these principles, to join SAIA in demanding that:

(1) The University of Toronto Governing Council immediately divest of its stock in BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Hewlett Packard, and Lockheed Martin.

(2) The University of Toronto refrain from investing in all companies involved in violations of international law.

(3) The University of Toronto work with students, faculty, and staff to undergo a democratic and transparent process to ensure accountability to principles of social and environmental justice.

As the BDS movement gains momentum around the world, more and more institutions are cutting ties with apartheid Israel. Notably, in 2009, Hampshire College in the US became the first university to divest from Israeli apartheid. Divestment campaigns have also begun at many universities including Carleton University, York University, and UC-Berkeley.

We must remember that it was only after years of concerted pressure from students, faculty and staff that the U of T administration decided to divest from South Africa in 1988.

Unfortunately, our university was the last in Canada to take a stand against South Africa’s apartheid regime. Join SAIA to ensure that this time, U of T is one of the first universities — and not the last — to cut ties with an apartheid state.

Editor’s note: Look for the University of Toronto’s response in the coming weeks at the www.thevarsity.ca.

Boys will be Girls

We can trace Little Girls’ career back to 2009 when the music blog Gorilla vs. Bear posted their song “Youth Tunes” with an appropriate caption: “sometimes dropping a link to your two-day-old MySpace page in our comment section can result in having one of your songs given away for free right here on the blog.” The result: instant blog fame and the quick release of the band’s first album Concepts on Toronto label Paper Bag Records. Fortunately, they are still the band you name-drop into conversations during Canadian Music Week or NXNE so that your peers think you know what you’re talking about when it comes to Toronto’s music scene. The Varsity took some time to speak to Josh McIntyre, the brains of the operation, about what the band has been up to as well as the ever elusive sub-genre “doom surf.”

THE VARSITY: So what have you been up to since the release of Concepts?

JOSH McINTYRE: That came out on Paper Bag Records last October. Officially, as of three days ago, I’m not with them anymore, which I’m quite happy with. We got caught up in a bit of a legal battle for a while, which kind of sucked. I’m not going to get in to the details but basically my experience was not so great with them, and it’s over now so I’m really thankful. We’re signing with some new people soon. We’re doing something with Hand Drawn Dracula in Canada, and I’m not sure about the States yet, but we’ve been talking to some people there about putting out the next record.

TV: Do you feel that Toronto crowds are familiar with your work now?

JM: Yeah, we’ve played a ton in Toronto, almost too much. We’ve been doing a lot of shows at Parts and Labour and open up for a lot of Canadian and American bands that have come through to tour. We kind of have an ongoing joke as being the Parts and Labour house band because we play there with the band Metz all the time, so we definitely play Toronto shows a lot.

We’re doing two shows for CMW this Thursday. One is at Wrongbar with Metz, Austra, Ell V Gore, and Valleys. Then later on in the night we’re going to play the Hand Drawn Dracula showcase at the Garrison with Actual Water, Makeout Videotape, etc.
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TV: Is the press still saddling you with weird genres?

JM: Definitely. Me and my friends have this ongoing joke about calling it “doom surf.” When the band first started, NOW Magazine dubbed us as “doom surf,” which is nothing — there’s no such thing as “doom surf.” Then others are saying, like, “surf goth,” and just putting together buzz words to create this new genre but it’s basically just post-punk.

TV: So semantics aside, it’s post-punk. You’re not going to endorse the doom surf label?

JM: No, no. I’ve been saying minimalist post-punk just because it’s kind of stripped down, and that’s not even a buzz genre; that’s just what it is.

TV: I read that you were influenced by a lot of different genres and artists, ranging from hip hop to post-punk.

JM: I listen to a lot of hip hop. That’s basically most of what I listen to right now. I was producing hip hop for a while, so when I make music, it’s done the way a hip hop record would be put together. I had been producing hip hop for two years before Little Girls so when I did them all myself I’d have like a drum machine and then do bass and then layer things on top the way my favourite hip hop records were put together. But that being said, I do listen to a lot of other music, including post-punk.

TV: Does it influence your writing process?

JM: It’s going to change now a little bit because we’re writing as a band so that’s actually coming together the way a band usually writes music where we just jam. People come in with ideas and we turn them into songs but when I write and record on my own its done like a hip hop record.

TV: Do you have contemporary hip hop albums or artists to recommend?

JM: I would say all I ever listen to right now is Odd Future. I’ve been obsessed with them for quite a few months now. Their videos, artwork…everything they do is just incredible

TV: What would you be doing right now if you weren’t making music?

JM: Who knows – I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t making music. I’ve been playing music since I was about twelve years old, and that’s all I’ve ever been really good at.

TV: Are you going to see any bands at CMW?

JM: I know Kurt Vile is playing on Friday at the Great Hall so I’m probably going to want to see that. Austra, who we’re playing with, are really good, I haven’t seen them yet. And just a bunch of my friends’ bands are really good like Ell V Gore, Actual Water, Makeout Videotape, and Metz.

Irks & Quirks: Where’s the beef?

If you didn’t know already, the Howard Ferguson Dining Hall is the food facility for residents at University College. Affectionately known as “Fung” by residents of UC, this is a burgeoning hub of resident life where many of us come to dine and relieve our “funger.”

I write today not to complain about the lack of healthy menu choices or high cost of food that sometimes makes eating in the Annex a more affordable option. I will even avoid mentioning how food often runs out an hour before closing and that the lettuce in the salad bar is frequently frozen or brown. Rather attention needs to be drawn to a new initiative — “Beefless Tuesday” — which the University College Residence Council “proudly presented” at the end of January. The concept for this event is as straightforward as it is ridiculous. Every Tuesday, members of the UCRC harass students not to eat beef. While the meat is still available in Fung, the initiative tries to reduce the amount of beef consumed to help reduce UC’s carbon footprint. The event page on Facebook also includes a laundry list of other reasons to go beefless, predominantly religious and dietary in nature.

Don’t get me wrong. I think student councils serve an important role in providing services for students. However, I think they overstep their bounds when they take on the advocacy campaigns for special interest groups.

Banning beef creates an institutional precedent for actively lobbying student’s consumption habits. It’s the beginning of a process that takes away a student’s ability to choose what they put in their bodies. It also makes the uncomfortable suggestion that accommodation for special interest groups simply is not enough. Apparently, accommodation also involves limiting the freedom of choice for others. I have no problem with Fung providing halal and kosher options, even if it raises the cost of food. As soon as you take away my steak, I know there’s a problem.
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As an out of province student with close ties to Alberta, I also resent the residence council taking aim at one of the key industries that still supports many of my family members.

I lived through the mad cow scare that caused the crash of cattle prices and demand for Canadian beef. Ranchers are the backbone of our country’s cattle industry, an industry that supports thousands across the prairies. Beefless Tuesday creates an unsafe space that alienates everyone supported by Canada’s cattle industry, both directly and indirectly.

Beefless Tuesday is not only offensive, it’s illogical. While farting cows certainly contribute to global warming, methane gas makes up a very small part of all greenhouse gas emissions. While a successful boycott would certainly lead to unemployment and economic collapse for Canada, it won’t substantially help our efforts to reduce emissions. If student politicians were truly committed to improving environmental responsibility on campus, they would be working with administration to find critical solutions. How about advocating for seasonal and local produce or portion options to reduce food waste?

If you go to Fung you have the option of broccoli or no broccoli. Hoping to have a half portion of broccoli that you can pair with a salad? Either bring your elastic waist pants or get ready to waste some food. In the wonderful world of student politics, irrational ideology always overpowers pragmatic solutions. The standard political hack response to complaints such as mine is that a student government is a representative democracy and individual students cannot be consulted on every single decision. While this argument is applicable to municipal, provincial, and federal governments, voter turnout that floats in the single digits, and with the only awareness of student politicians being a smiling poster during campaign season, we can see that this kind of logic is flawed. Representative democracy is little else but a dream. If student politicians want to impose ideologically driven reforms they have the responsibility to include them in their campaign message, or at the very least host a town hall and plebiscite.

The fact that this article is even being published is indicative of what is wrong with the student experience at U of T. Student politicians are the first to point to Simcoe Hall as the source of the crummy student experience at this otherwise topnotch school. Ideologically driven students forcing their special interests upon their peers are equally to blame. Students should be using their positions in office to do some hard thinking on how to build some unity on campus and get the majority of students to care more about the school they are educated within.

Trying to force dietary choices upon students is simply a step in the wrong direction.

Fire at UTM

University of Toronto Missisauga’s Davis Building and Recreation, Athletic and Wellness Centre were evacuated on February 16 after several 911 calls reported heavy smoke coming from the building’s ventilation system. Though the evacuation was successful, two weeks after the incident, most students still remain in the dark about the events of that afternoon.

While contractors were changing the air conditioning pipes at the Davis Building’s fifth floor mechanical room, the vent’s cork insulation caught fire, causing smoke to spread to some classrooms, the main lobby, and the cafeteria.

“Cutting torches were being used to cut the metal pipes in the room […] and knowing that they’re going to generate some heat and potentially [trigger] the alarm repeatedly, we asked the fire security company to disable the building’s alarms until the construction was finished,” explained UTM campus police services manager Len Paris, who was directly involved with the operation.

According to Al Hills, Mississauga fire department platoon chief, two pumpers, one aerial ladder truck, and a total of 17 firefighters were dispatched to the university at approximately 11:29 a.m., three and a half minutes after the first 911 call.

As the fire alarm was off at the time, students were told verbally to evacuate the building and take refuge at the nearby Student Centre.

“It took a long time to remove the smoke from the building [but] everything was done according to [the fire department’s] policies and procedures,” Hills reported.

Fourth-year History major Marcia Soto agreed that the university neglected to give enough information about the incident even though they ensured student safety.

“The Student Centre was packed more than usual and some people told me that it’s because of a fire from a chemical experiment in one of the labs,” she said.

“To this day I am not sure about what happened that afternoon. I didn’t receive any emails during and after the fact, and it was only through the university’s Twitter account that I got a rough idea of what was happening,” said Matt Arias, a third-year Political Science major and one of the first people to post a picture of the scene on Twitter.

When told that construction work caused the accident, Soto and Arias said they wished they had been notified beforehand.

“[UTM] should have at least warned us that there was construction in the building and let us know that it might pose as a fire hazard,” Soto said.

Arias added that “it would have been better if emails were sent informing students about the precautions that the university was taking to ensure [their] safety.”

But according to Paris, UTM holds regular fire drills and has over 80 fire wardens trained to execute fire safety procedures on campus.

To prevent any future accidents, he said that the university is implementing more safety measures.

“We recommended that the contractors use a saw when cutting pipes as it’s a much safer alternative to the torch, and to cut longer lengths of pipes on the roof where it’s not a hazard.”

After the smoke was removed from the building at exactly 1:38 p.m., the fire alarm system was restarted and a health inspector ensured that all food products were safe in the cafeteria.

No injuries or damages were sustained.

Interview: Tristan Garcia, Hate (English only)

Read the bilingual interview.

THE VARSITY

There’s a lot going on in this book. When you started writing, was your intent to explore a historical period through a range of themes, or was it more specific than that? What was the spark?

TRISTAN GARCIA

I wanted to take on the contemporary world. Since adolescence I’ve naturally gravitated toward science fiction, fantasy, the literature of the imagination, which for me was like a refuge from the literature they teach in school, petrified literature, and from the contemporary novel, which is too occupied, for my taste, with dramatizing the conditions of its own expression (voice, narrative structure, literary enunciation) and not enough with representing the world.

I ended up with the fear of living in an ivory tower of fictions that are intoxicating, but that would no longer have anything to do with the real world, the day-to-day world: the life of ideas, current political debates, but also our bodies and our diseases …

I therefore tried to write an authentic “almost contemporary” novel, both funny and dramatic, borrowing multiple aspects of real events, debates, positions taken, and people to create characters somewhat like types, not quite original (because they call to mind people and common attitudes of the times) but not quite generic (because they each have their own identity, body, language, sometimes an eccentricity that — I hope — does not make them abstract figures).

I put the characters in an intermediary period between the past and the present, in the limbo of History and current affairs, somewhere between the ’80s and the ’90s, in the no man’s land of my childhood and adolescence. I wanted to bring back to life a comatose period that hasn’t yet entered History books, but is already more or less out of the headlines. And I tried to slip in a bit of the romantic between History and the everyday, between the already-dead past and the too-vivid present.

THE VARSITY

Did you know when you started that AIDS would figure so prominently in the book?

TRISTAN GARCIA

No. In the middle of this era that we still have trouble encapsulating, already out of the newspapers, barely in our History books, there were the very specific circumstances of the gay community, which experienced simultaneously the joy of emancipation (of body and spirit) and the tragedy of disease. AIDS was like the dark back of the shop of the glittering window displays of the ’80s and ’90s.

There is in the dramas, the individual and collective heartbreaks of this story of the French gay community, or in the disease herself, testimonies, autobiographic fiction (from Guibert to Dustan). But, in my opinion, none have given it a romantic dimension. It seems to me that the tale of events in the small Parisian gay community could find its place in the bigger story of the end of the millennium in France, in the West, and that this story comes to reflect itself in the tableau of this microcosm.

If I had written a novel about the ’80s in France without considering the gay community, its ebullience, and at the same time the appearance of the disease, it would probably have been a dreary, grey, and boring novel: not much happened in these years of decline, of disillusion in large collective movements, of ideas that the twentieth century produced (communism, avant-garde aesthetics, feminism, decolonization, underground pop culture, etc.) Aside from eternally rewriting Less Than Zero or American Psycho, I don’t see much else.

Cruelly, AIDS gave the period something tragic and romantic, something that ate at the body but also stimulated ideas, debates.

THE VARSITY

It seems to me that you set yourself the task of writing a couple removes from your own experience: two of your four main characters are gay, and the book’s plot follows how AIDS wreaks havoc within the gay community (of which you are not a part, I’ve read); the story is told from the perspective of a woman; and at least the earlier sections of the plot take place in the 1980s, a time when you were just growing up, hardly politically conscious. Was it necessary to have this distance from your subject? And if so, why?

TRISTAN GARCIA

Given my age, the timeframe of the narrative corresponded to the time period that I, like those of my generation, inherited and that I vaguely passed through, living outside Paris, without participating. It was more the time period when my parents were adults: the setting was the end of ideologies, even the end of History, the triumph of economic and cultural liberalism, the bitterness of leftism vanquished by the joys of money, prosperity, business, individual success, hedonism, the stock exchange and then new technologies.

During these years, I was a child and like all children, I didn’t perceive much of the outside world, the social world, except through the prism of my family. Once I was a teenager, I had the impression of inheriting a world that I didn’t really understand, and the novel was also an effort to live what I did not live: one almost always writes good novels when one writes about what came before us, about what we missed, about the generation that came before us. The novel is the art of the one who came just a little bit too late, it’s often a way of trying to relive as an adult the time of one’s childhood.

THE VARSITY

For the generation of gay men you write about, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic was a period of intense fear, pain, and anger. Was appropriation of voice a concern as you were writing? What has the response been within the gay community?

TRISTAN GARCIA

I’m not from Paris, I didn’t live through this period, I don’t belong to the community that is the canvass of the novel: basically, my legitimacy in writing it was null. But it’s fiction, not testimony.

I took the admitted risk of writing this novel, by considering that my complete lack of legitimacy as an observer or an actor in these events that I haven’t lived through perhaps gave me the chance to be its novelist, at once empathetic and distanced. According to some witnesses of the time period, it was successful: they recognized what they lived through in this small tableau. For others, it was a complete failure or indecent. Either because the novel didn’t bear enough resemblance to what their reality was, or because it bore too much resemblance, and I didn’t really have the right to talk about lives that weren’t mine. The reactions were mixed, rarely aggressive, often interesting. It’s normal: the relationship between fiction and reality becomes abrasive as we catch up with the present.

THE VARSITY

You’re a trained philosopher. What is the relationship between your work in philosophy and your novels ? How do you choose the medium for your ideas — are certain types of ideas better explored in a novel than in another form, such as the essay ?

TRISTAN GARCIA

In philosophy, I’m interested in more or less three fields: aesthetics (my thesis concerned the concept of representation), the animal question (I just released a book titled Us, animals and humans, which returns to the gnawing question of “animal rights” from a critical perspective), and metaphysics. Metaphysics don’t have much to do with my novels. For me, evidently, the theses that I defend in metaphysics (which are close to the “speculative realism” movement of Quentin Meillassoux or Graham Harman) belong to the same mental universe as the novels I have written or would like to write. But I doubt that someone who has read my articles on metaphysics and my novels would on the off chance identify the author of the former as the author of the latter. Too bad.

In aesthetics, I defend a position of “neither strictly classical nor strictly modern nor strictly contemporary” that pretty much corresponds to the style that I try to express in what I write: to talk about the contemporary world with classical forms and modern ideas, or something like that.

As for my interest in animals, it’s expressed in the second novel, Memories of the Jungle. [Note: There’s wordplay in the French tile, where Mémoires means both “memories” and “memoirs.”]

THE VARSITY

The title for English readers is Hate : A Romance. How did you arrive at a title so different from the original, La meilleure part des hommes (The Best Part of Men)?

TRISTAN GARCIA

The French title is a distant echo of a Spanish expression that my partner (who is of Andalusian descent) taught me: “of men, the best hung,” which is not very flattering for men, since it means that even the best of men deserve to be brought to the gallows.

The Best Part of Men, in French, means several things: ironically, it could designate, by antiphrasis, all that was revealed to be bad or immoral in the novel (especially betrayal). But it can also indicate that the best part of human beings was, as the epilogue says, that which stays hidden, that which even the lowest scum take with them to the grave. Often it seems to me that what is best about men is what they never succeed in giving, what stays imprisoned in themselves.

In English, there’s a distinction between “man” and “human,” which doesn’t allow for the French ambiguity between humanity and masculinity (since the book talks a lot about masculine homosexuality, and women, except for the unhappy narrator, are nearly excluded). In addition, it seems like The Best Part of Men means “most of,” “the majority of,” which would have produced a misinterpretation: the novel talks about a minority, the homosexual minority …

In short, we took the title of a chapter and we came to an agreement with the editor on Hate: A Romance.

THE VARSITY

Will latches onto this idea that hate has value, that it is stronger than both love and death, that it’s a means of self-expression. But hate’s relation to love and death is not entirely one of negation. As Liz paraphrases Will’s thoughts on this, “Hate = (love + death) – lies.” Will hates Doum — he wants to erase from the world any memory that Doum ever even existed — but Will is incredibly faithful in his hatred: he hates no one else like he hates this man. Given the relationship between love and hate in the equation above, does Will hate in this way just because he wants to be superfamous when he is dead (as he claims), or can his hate also be read as an expression of love?

TRISTAN GARCIA

I’m not a hateful person, but hate is a feeling that fascinates me. It’s a sort of remedy to the sentimentality of love in all cultures, which reduces love to a positivity, which excludes the negative. Will, deep down, wants hate, because he loves love too much to let everyone dirty it by rendering it vacuous, blissful, common. Rather than love moderately, like everyone else, he prefers to hate, frankly and completely. Deep down, pursuing his hate for Doum is for him the only way to stay truly faithful to him. He even discovers that he is more attached to [Doum] through hate than through love.

His faithfulness is a romantic value: I think that a novel lets us accept everything about a character (he can be ugly, bad, nasty), as long as the character is faithful, that is to say he holds on to his idea. Even a traitor in the novel can be faithful, if he betrays systematically, that is to say he is faithful to his betrayal.

The idea of the book is that Will appears to be the most incoherent and vicious character, but that unlike others, he doesn’t change with the times, he holds on to his hates right to the end, right to his death. This faithfulness, which only the narrator, Liz, is there to understand, is perhaps the best part of men (or humanity) named in the French title.

THE VARSITY

By the end of the book, we’ve seen the consequences of Will’s ideals, and it’s easy to place judgment on him as someone who willingly infects his partners: we can see Richard as a victim. On the other hand, it’s hard to resist a raw biological empathy with Will in the end, when his body betrays him. What balance did you hope to strike regarding the reader’s sympathies for this man?

TRISTAN GARCIA

Empathy in regarding Will is only possible, I believe, through the way he is seen by Liz, the narrator. The only woman in the novel, she is a half-character: she never acts, she always submits, but she teaches the reader to love William, who is insufferable, chaotic, disgusting, who defends indefensible values and who willingly infects his partners.

The reader’s empathy for Will has precisely to do with the disease, with the weakness of his body and with his defeat. The other characters coped with their time period, renewed themselves, changed political sides or returned back to their original social environment: William was used by the media, he served as a clown for a time, then, like all those who no longer amuse, he is sent back to oblivion. His humble social environment promises him no safety net: he falls.

In reality, I’d probably dislike a being like William; but through fiction, we can learn to love what is contrary to our values. In writing the book, I loved William. The reader who will appreciate the book will probably feel some of this love. But it is not an immediate love, flat and common: it’s a love that has passed through hate, that has stood the test of its opposite.

THE VARSITY

Despite the denial at the beginning of the book, so many striking similarities have been noted between your characters and real people (between Will Miller and Guillaume Dustan; Dominique Rossi and Didier Lestrade; Jean-Michel Leibowitz and Alain Finkielkraut) that some say this is a roman à clef. How do you respond?

TRISTAN GARCIA

A roman à clef assumes that each character corresponds to a real person. In reality, each of the main characters of the novel combines different facets of different individuals that existed. The philosopher, Lebowitz, is a type who corresponds to many French intellectuals of this generation, who started their career at the end of leftism, especially of Maoism, and who moved closer little by little to neo-conservatives. The truth is, it’s a common trajectory in France, which adopted the end of the intellectual sphere’s faith in Marxism.

Will shares certain common traits with Guillaume Dustan, a writer and eccentric personality of ’90s France. But Dustan came from a well-off background, he was an intellectual and he took up brilliant studies in law. William — readers of the novel would have remarked — comes from a very humble background, he’s more of a little punk, a willing idiot.

The character Dominique Rossi is, in a certain number of details or anecdotes, close to Didier Lestrade, a very important figure in the militant homosexual scene (but not only there). Lestrade was an influential music critic who introduced house music to France, who always defended contemporary R&B. He retired to the countryside and clashed violently with Guillaume Dustan about the problem of unprotected sex, of bareback. But Rossi, in the novel, is Corsican, from a university background, and ends up allied with the reactionary philosopher, which certainly wasn’t the case for Didier Lestrade. I recommend reading his Act-Up, une histoire, or his recent Chroniques du dancefloor.

To write a novel on the contemporary world, on debates of ideas, of politics, it was necessary to adopt the public positions of certain real personages. But it’s as if the novel reconstructed characters by sculpting them from different profiles of real people.

THE VARSITY

Liz disapproves of Will’s “autofictions” (a term that isn’t as widely used in North America as it is in France). What’s your own opinion of the current French literary scene?

TRISTAN GARCIA

At the time when I was writing this book, I was very angry with this genre’s domination of French literature. To me it was the flat literature of the contemporary ultraliberal universe: everyone no longer has anything but themselves, their “self” to transform in fiction. This genre was very popular in France.

I didn’t like these works that reduced literature to the single voice of the writer, to their body and their person: the writer uses their family, their origins, their diseases, their love stories, as if today everyone no longer has access to anything but their own experience, that we are no longer capable of embracing the world through imagination, through fiction. As if we are tired of the world, and wrapped up in individuality. This novel was written polemically against this idea: I wanted to tell the story of an era, of a sexuality, of communities who aren’t mine. For me the novel was always a tool for knowing the world: I don’t give a damn about myself, I’m not too interested in myself and I certainly don’t know myself. It’s up to others to know me, to tell me what I am. My role is to know others.

THE VARSITY

English readers are waiting for the translation of Mémoires de la Jungle. What can you tell us about it?

TRISTAN GARCIA

One can say that The Best Part of Men was an attempt at a novel of a different genre and that Mémoires de la Jungle is an attempt at a novel of a different species. It’s a novelistic experience no doubt stranger than the first, by which I wanted, a bit tired of the human voice, the speech and the body of our human species, to embrace the subjectivity of a different species, though a close one, to ours. It’s the Naïve novel (in the sense of a “Naïve” painting, as in the work of Rousseau the Douanier) of a chimpanzee who has learned to talk.

This idea has been bouncing around my head for a long time: after all, the chimpanzee is in us, and often I came to feel, as a human, like a fallen ape. Some years after my Baccalaureate, I took ethology courses, in particular those of Dominique Lestel, who had me read Gregory Bateson, Jerome Bruner, Frans de Waal and understand the major scientific stages in the modern study of chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans or bonobos. I read with great interest the theories, but also the anecdotes about the jungle adventures of “Leakey’s girls,” Dian Fossey, Jane Gooddall and the less famous Biruté Galdikas (models for the character Janet in the novel), the lab experiments of the Gardner couple, David Premack, Herbert Terrace or the Savage-Rumbaughs. I discovered the genius particular to these apes in captivity, managing sign language, lexigrams or artificial idioms like the Lantek, from Washoe to Koko, from Sarah to Nim, from Kanzi and Mulika to Louis.

These fascinating and romantic experiences were to a large extent ignored by literature and film.

During this whole time, I completely questioned my scholarly philosophical certainties about different human properties: language, culture, tools, laughter, consciousness of oneself or consciousness of death. I learned to recognize great apes’ social behaviour, culture, politics, tools and communication methods of great finesse. I was interested in this incredible variety of expressions, drumming, cries, gestures, postures … But what fascinated me the most, very quickly, was the fierce will of scientists, beginning around the ’40s and after the seminal work of Robert Yerkes, to educate and make great apes talk like humans.

And I wanted to make from that an original novel.

THE VARSITY

The story is told from the perspective of a chimpanzee? To what end?

TRISTAN GARCIA

The story is the following: in the future, humans have let Africa lie fallow. Only a few scientists continue to study fauna and flora, close to Lake Victoria. A couple of ethologists decide to adopt and educate a small chimpanzee at the same time as their young son and their older daughter. As the small ape, who is the narrator, learns to dress himself, to eat like a human being and to talk, in particular with the help of sign language, his human brother falls ill and regresses.

Having become an adult, the chimpanzee narrator, Doogie, is the victim of a plane accident. He crashes in the jungle of Cameroon. To survive and return home, at the zoo he has to progressively cast off his human education, relearn how to be an animal, regain his intuition, fight other apes, feed himself with leaves and insects.

As we go along in the novel, which is partly experimental, Doogie loses his ability to talk. His language becomes more difficult, more incoherent.

As is the case with The Best Part of Men, my main interest in writing this novel was to have a being talk in a strange, nervous, sometimes irrational voice. In the first book, it’s William Miller and his implausible reasoning, his familiar yet odd delivery, his wonky expressions, the rhythm of his inconsistent thinking, that interested me. In the second work, it’s the language of the chimpanzee. Doogie is this time omnipresent since he is the main narrator. In each case, it’s about language that’s far removed from mine, from my speech delivery, my type of thinking, and my general behaviour, which are rather composed. I look for characters who think and talk as differently from me as possible.

I don’t know if I’ve succeeded, but in writing I tried to have that which is not me speak through my voice. A sort of rational trance, perhaps.

L’entretien: Tristan Garcia, La meilleure part des hommes (Français seulement)

Lisez l’entretien bilingue.

THE VARSITY

Ce roman s’adresse à beaucoup. Lorsque vous avez commencé à écrire, aviez-vous l’intention d’explorer une période historique à travers des thèmes divers ? Aviez-vous une motivation particulière ? Quelle était la source d’inspiration ?

TRISTAN GARCIA

Je voulais me frotter au monde contemporain. Ma tendance naturelle me portait depuis l’adolescence vers la science-fiction, le fantastique, les littératures de l’imaginaire, qui étaient pour moi comme un refuge face à la littérature scolaire, pétrifiée, et face au roman contemporain, qui se souciait trop, à mon goût, de mettre en scène ses conditions d’expression (la voix, les structures de la narration, de l’énonciation, etc.), pas assez de représenter le monde.

J’ai fini par ressentir la peur de vivre dans une tour d’ivoire de fictions enivrantes, mais qui n’auraient plus aucun rapport avec le monde réel, avec le monde quotidien : la vie des idées, les débats politiques actuels, mais aussi nos corps et nos maladies …

J’ai donc tenté d’écrire un authentique roman « presque contemporain », à la fois drôle et dramatique, empruntant à des événements, des débats, des prises de position et des personnes réelles de nombreux traits destinés à construire des personnages qui seraient comme des types, pas tout à fait singuliers (puisque rappelant des personnes, des attitudes communes de l’époque) mais pas tout à fait génériques (parce que possédant une identité propre, un corps, un langage, parfois une excentricité qui n’en font pas — j’espère — des figures abstraites).

J’ai placé ces personnages dans une époque intermédiaire entre le passé et le présent, aux limbes de l’Histoire et de l’actualité, quelque part entre les années quatre-vingt et les années quatre-vingt dix, dans le no man’s land de mon enfance et de mon adolescence. Je voulais faire revivre une période comateuse qui n’est pas encore entrée dans les livres d’Histoire, mais qui est déjà plus ou moins sortie des colonnes de nos journaux. Et j’ai essayé de glisser un peu de romanesque entre l’Histoire et le quotidien, entre le passé déjà mort et le présent trop vif.

THE VARSITY

Est-ce que vous avez décidé dès le début que le SIDA aurait tant d’importance dans le roman ?

TRISTAN GARCIA

Non.

Au milieu de cette époque qu’on a encore du mal à cerner, déjà sortie des journaux, à peine entrée dans nos livres d’Histoire, il y avait le destin très particulier de la communauté gay, qui a connu simultanément les joies de l’émancipation (du corps et de l’esprit) et le tragique de la maladie. Le Sida a été comme l’arrière-boutique obscure de la vitrine à paillettes des années quatre-vingt et quatre-vingt-dix.

Il y a eu sur les drames, les déchirements individuels et collectifs de cette histoire de la communauté gay française ou sur la maladie elle-même des témoignages, des fictions autobiographiques (de Guibert à Dustan). Mais, à mon avis, rien ne lui avait encore donné une dimension romanesque. Il me semblait que le récit des événements de la petite communauté gay parisienne pourrait trouver sa place dans l’histoire plus large de la fin du millénaire en France, en Occident, et que toute cette histoire parviendrait à se refléter dans le tableau de ce microcosme.

Si j’avais écrit un roman sur les années quatre-vingt en France sans partir de la communauté gay, de son ébullition, et en même temps de l’apparition de la maladie, ç’aurait probablement été un roman morne, gris et ennuyeux : il se passait peu de choses dans ces années de reflux, de désillusion des grands mouvements collectifs, des idées qui ont fait le XXe siècle (le communisme, les avant-gardes esthétiques, le féminisme, la décolonisation, l’underground des cultures pop, etc.). À part réécrire éternellement Moins que zéro ou American psycho, je ne vois pas trop.

Cruellement, le Sida a donné à l’époque quelque chose de tragique et de romanesque, quelque chose qui rongeait le corps, mais aussi qui mobilisait des idées, des débats.

THE VARSITY

Il me semble que vous vous mettez à écrire hors de vos propres expériences. Deux de des quatre personnages principaux sont homosexuel, et l’intrigue suit la crise de SIDA qui dévaste la communauté homosexuelle (à laquelle vous n’appartenez pas, selon mes lectures). De plus, la narratrice est une femme et l’intrigue (au moins au début du roman) se déroule pendant les années 1980 quand vous étiez enfant, à peine politisée. Était-il nécessaire de se tenir à l’écart de votre sujet ? Si cela était le cas, pourquoi ?

TRISTAN GARCIA

Étant donné mon âge, le cadre temporel du récit correspondait à l’époque dont j’avais, comme tous ceux de ma génération, hérité et que j’avais vaguement traversée, en vivant en province, sans y participer. C’était plutôt le temps de l’âge adulte de mes parents : la mise en scène de la fin des idéologies, voire de la fin de l’Histoire, le triomphe du libéralisme économique et culturel, l’amertume du gauchisme vaincu par les joies de l’argent, de la prospérité, de l’entreprise, de la réussite individuelle, de l’hédonisme, de la bourse puis des nouvelles technologies.

Durant ces années-là, j’étais enfant et comme tout enfant, je ne percevais pas grand-chose du monde extérieur, du monde social, sinon par le prisme de ma famille. Une fois adolescent, j’ai eu l’impression d’hériter d’un monde que je ne comprenais pas vraiment, et le roman était aussi un effort pour vivre ce que je n’avais pas vécu : on écrit presque toujours de bons romans quand on écrit sur ce qui nous précède, sur ce qu’on a raté, sur la génération qui nous a précédé. Le roman c’est l’art de celui qui vient un tout petit peu trop tard, c’est souvent une manière d’essayer de revivre en adulte le temps de son enfance.

THE VARSITY

Pour la génération des hommes homosexuels que vous traitez dans le roman, le début de l’épidémie de SIDA était le temps de la peur, l’angoisse, et la colère. Pendant l’écriture du roman, est-ce que vous vous souciiez sur l’appropriation de la voix ? Quelle était la réponse de la communauté homosexuelle ?

TRISTAN GARCIA

Je ne suis pas parisien d’origine, je n’ai pas vécu cette époque, je n’appartiens pas à la communauté qui sert de toile de fond au roman : au fond, ma légitimité pour l’écrire était nulle. Mais c’est une fiction, pas un document.

J’ai pris le risque assumé d’écrire ce livre, en considérant que mon absence totale de légitimité en tant qu’observateur ou qu’acteur de ces événements que je n’avais pas vécus me donnerait peut-être la chance d’en être le romancier, à la fois empathique et distancié. De l’avis de certains témoins de l’époque, c’était réussi : ils reconnaissaient ce qu’ils avaient vécu dans ce petit tableau. Pour d’autres, c’était complètement raté ou impudique. Soit parce que le roman ne ressemblait pas assez à ce qui avait été leur réalité, soit parce qu’il y ressemblait trop, et que je n’avais pas vraiment le droit de parler de vies qui n’étaient pas la mienne. Les réactions étaient contrastées, rarement agressives, souvent intéressées. C’est normal : les rapports entre fiction et réalité deviennent abrasifs à mesure qu’on se rapproche du présent.

THE VARSITY

Vous êtes formé dans la philosophie. Quel est le lien entre votre travail en philosophie et vos romans ? Comment choisissez-vous le moyen d’expression de vos idées ? Y-a-t’il certains genres d’idées qui seraient mieux abordés dans un roman que dans une autre forme, tels que l’essai ?

TRISTAN GARCIA

En philosophie, je m’intéresse plus ou moins à trois champs : l’esthétique (ma thèse portait sur le concept de représentation), la question animale (je viens de sortir un livre qui s’intitule Nous, animaux et humains, qui revient de manière critique sur la question lancinante du « droit des animaux ») et la métaphysique. La métaphysique n’a pas grand-chose à voir avec mes romans. Pour moi, évidemment, les thèses que je défends en métaphysique (qui sont proches du courant qu’on appelle le « réalisme spéculatif » de Quentin Meillassoux ou Graham Harman) font partie du même univers mental que les romans que j’ai écrits ou que j’aimerais écrire. Mais je me doute bien que quelqu’un qui lirait mes articles de métaphysique et mes romans aurait pour l’instant peu de chance d’identifier l’auteur des premiers à l’auteur des seconds. Tant pis.

En esthétique, je défends une position « ni strictement classique ni strictement moderne ni strictement contemporaine » qui correspond à peu près au style que j’essaie de donner à ce que j’écris : parler du monde contemporain avec des formes classiques et des idées modernes, ou quelque chose comme ça.

Quant à mon intérêt pour les animaux, il s’exprime dans le deuxième roman, Mémoires de la Jungle.

THE VARSITY

Le titre du roman pour les lecteurs anglophones est Hate: A Romance (La Haine : Un Roman d’Amour). Comment arrivez-vous à un titre si différent de l’original, La meilleure part des hommes ?

TRISTAN GARCIA

Très lointainement, le titre français faisait écho pour moi à une expression espagnole que ma compagne (qui est d’origine andalouse) m’avait appris : « des hommes le meilleur pendu », ce qui n’est pas très flatteur pour les hommes, puisque cela signifie que même le meilleur des hommes mériterait d’être conduit à la potence.

« La Meilleure part des hommes », en français, signifiait plusieurs choses : ironiquement, cela pouvait désigner, par antiphrase, tout ce qui était exposé de mauvais ou d’immoral dans le roman (la trahison, notamment). Mais cela pouvait aussi indiquer que la meilleure partie des êtres humains était, comme il est dit dans l’épilogue, celle qui reste cachée, celle que même les plus grands salauds emportent avec eux dans la tombe. Il me semble souvent que ce que les hommes ont de meilleur est ce qu’ils ne parviennent jamais à donner, qui reste emprisonné en eux-mêmes.

En anglais, il y a une distinction entre « man » et « human », qui ne permet pas de conserver l’ambiguïté française entre l’humanité et la masculinité (puisque le livre parle beaucoup d’homosexualité masculine, et que les femmes, à part la malheureuse narratrice, en sont presque exclues). D’autre part, il me semble que « The Best part of men » signifie « la plupart de », « la majorité de », ce qui aurait provoqué un contresens : le roman parle d’une minorité, la minorité homosexuelle …

Bref. Nous avons repris le titre d’un chapitre et nous nous sommes mis d’accord avec l’éditeur pour Hate : a romance.

THE VARSITY

Will s’accroche à l’idée que la haine possède de valeur, qu’elle soit plus fort que l’amour et la mort, qu’elle soit une façon de s’exprimer. Mais la relation entre l’amour et la haine n’est pas la négation totale. Selon Liz, qui paraphrase les sentiments de Will, «la haine = (l’amour + la mort) – les mensonges ». Will hait Doum — il veut effacer tout mémoire de son existence — mais il est extrêmement fidèle à sa haine, car il ne hait aucune personne autant que Doum. Considérant l’équation ci-dessus, Will désire-t-il simplement la gloire après sa mort, ou est-ce que sa haine représente aussi un signe d’amour ?

TRISTAN GARCIA

Je ne suis pas quelqu’un de haineux, mais la haine est un sentiment qui me fascine. C’est une sorte de remède à la mièvrerie de toutes les cultures de l’amour, qui réduisent l’amour à une positivité, qui excluent le négatif. Will, au fond, veut de la haine, parce qu’il aime trop l’amour pour accepter que tout le monde le salisse en le rendant niais, béat, commun. Plutôt que d’aimer moyennement, comme tout le monde, il préfère haïr franchement, totalement. Au fond, poursuivre de sa haine Doum est pour lui la seule manière de lui rester vraiment fidèle. Il découvre même qu’il s’attache plus à lui en le détestant que lorsqu’il l’aimait.

Sa fidélité est une valeur romanesque : il me semble qu’un roman nous permet de tout accepter de la part d’un personnage (il peut être laid, mauvais, salaud), du moment que ce personnage est fidèle, c’est-à-dire qu’il tient à son idée. Même un traître de roman peut être fidèle, s’il trahit systématiquement, c’est-à-dire s’il est fidèle à sa traîtrise.

L’idée du livre est que Will est en apparence le personnage le plus incohérent et le plus malfaisant, mais que, contrairement aux autres, il ne change pas avec l’époque, il tient à ses haines jusqu’au bout, jusqu’à sa mort. Cette fidélité, que seule la narratrice, Liz, est là pour comprendre, est peut-être la meilleure part des hommes que le titre français désignait.

THE VARSITY

À la fin du roman on voit les conséquences des croyances de Will. Il est facile de le juger et de voir Richard comme victime. De l’autre côté, il est difficile de résister une empathie brute et biologique pour Will à la fin du roman, quand son corps le trahit. Quel équilibre espériez-vous à achever à propos de la sympathie du lecteur pour cet homme ?

TRISTAN GARCIA

L’empathie à l’égard de Will n’est possible, je crois, que par le regard que porte sur lui Liz, la narratrice. Seule femme du roman, elle est un demi personnage : elle n’agit jamais, elle subit toujours, mais elle apprend au lecteur à aimer William, qui est insupportable, chaotique, dégueulasse, qui défend des valeurs indéfendables et qui contamine volontairement ses partenaires.

L’empathie du lecteur pour Will tient précisément à la maladie, à la faiblesse de son corps et à sa défaite. Les autres personnages composent avec leur temps, se renouvellent, changent de bord politique ou reviennent vers leur milieu social d’origine : William a été utilisé par le système médiatique, il a servi de clown pour un temps, puis, comme tous ceux qui n’amusent plus, il est renvoyé vers l’oubli. Son milieu social modeste ne lui assure aucun filet de secours : il tombe.

Dans la réalité, je détesterais probablement un être tel que William ; mais par la fiction, nous pouvons apprendre à aimer ce qui est contraire à nos valeurs. En écrivant le livre, j’ai aimé William. Le lecteur qui appréciera le livre ressentira probablement quelque chose de cet amour. Mais ce n’est pas un amour immédiat, plat et commun : c’est un amour qui a traversé la haine, qui a fait l’épreuve de son contraire.

THE VARSITY

Malgré le reniement au début du livre, on a noté tant de similarités frappantes entre vos personnages et des personnes réelles (entre Will Miller et Guillaume Dustan; Dominique Rossi et Didier Lestrade; Jean-Michel Leibowitz et Alain Finkielkraut) qu’on appelle La meilleur part des hommes un roman à clef. Quelle est votre réponse ?

TRISTAN GARCIA

Un roman à clef suppose que chaque personnage corresponde à une personne réelle. En réalité, chacun des personnages principaux du roman assemble différentes facettes de différents individus qui ont réellement existé. Le philosophe, Leibowitz, est un type, qui correspond à beaucoup d’intellectuels français de cette génération, qui ont commencé leur carrière à la fin du gauchisme, du maoïsme notamment, et qui se sont rapprochés petit à petit des néoconservateurs. En vérité, c’est un parcours fréquent en France, qui a épousé la fin de la croyance des milieux intellectuels au marxisme.

Will partage certains traits communs avec Guillaume Dustan, écrivain et perosonnalité originale de la France des années 90. Mais Dustan venait d’un milieu aisé, c’était un intellectuel et il avait repris de brillantes études de droit. William — les lecteurs du roman l’auront remarqué — vient d’un milieu très modeste, il ressemble plus à un petit punk, à un idiot volontaire.

Dominique Rossi, le personnage, est proche par un certain nombre de détails ou d’anecdotes de Didier Lestrade, figure très importante du milieu militant homosexuel (mais pas seulement). Lestrade a été un critique musical influent, qui a introduit la house en France, qui défend toujours le r’n’b contemporain. Il s’est retiré à la campagne et s’est affronté très violemment avec Guillaume Dustan à propos du problème de la sexualité non protégée, du bareback. Mais Rossi, dans le roman, est corse, issu du milieu universitaire, et il finit par faire alliance avec le philosophe réactionnaire, ce qui n’est certainement pas le cas de Didier Lestrade. Je conseille la lecture de son Act-Up, une histoire, ou de ses récentes Chroniques du dancefloor.

Pour écrire un roman sur le monde contemporain, sur les débats d’idées, sur la politique, il faut nécessairement s’emparer des positions publiques de certaines personnalités réelles. Mais c’est comme si le roman recomposait des personnages en les sculptant à partir de différents profils de personnes réelles.

THE VARSITY

Liz rejette les «autofictions» de Will (ce terme est moins populaire à l’Amérique du Nord qu’en France). Que pensez-vous de la scène contemporaine de la littérature française ?

TRISTAN GARCIA

Au moment où j’ai écrit ce livre, j’étais très en colère contre la domination de ce genre sur la littérature française. Cela me semblait la littérature plate de l’univers ultralibéral contemporain : chacun n’a plus que lui-même, son « soi » à transformer en fiction. Ce genre a été très populaire en France.

Je n’aimais pas ces ouvrages qui réduisaient la littérature à la seule voix de l’écrivain, à son corps et à sa personne : l’écrivain utilise sa famille, ses origines, ses maladies, ses histoires d’amour, comme si chacun n’avait plus accès aujourd’hui qu’à sa propre expérience, que nous n’étions plus capables d’embrasser le monde par l’imagination, par la fiction. Comme si nous étions fatigués du monde, et repliés sur notre individualité. Ce roman était écrit polémiquement contre cette idée : je voulais raconter l’histoire d’une époque, d’une sexualité, de communautés qui ne sont pas les miennes. Le roman m’a toujours paru un outil de connaissance du monde : je me contrefiche de moi-même, je ne m’intéresse peu et je ne me connais certainement pas. C’est le rôle des autres de me connaître, de me dire ce que je suis. Mon rôle, c’est de connaître les autres.

THE VARSITY

Les lecteurs anglophones attend la traduction de Mémoires de la Jungle. Que pouvez-vous nous dire de ce roman ?

TRISTAN GARCIA

On pourrait dire que La Meilleure Part des hommes était un essai de roman d’un autre genre et que Mémoires de la Jungle est une tentative de roman d’une autre espèce. C’est une expérience romanesque sans doute plus étrange que la première, par laquelle j’ai voulu, un peu fatigué par la voix humaine, les discours et les corps de notre espèce humaine, d’embrasser la subjectivité d’une espèce différente, quoique proche, de la nôtre. C’est le roman naïf (au sens d’une peinture « naïve », comme chez le Douanier Rousseau) d’un chimpanzé qui a appris à parler.

Cette idée me trottait dans la tête depuis longtemps : après tout, il y a du chimpanzé en nous, et il m’arrivait souvent de me sentir, en tant qu’homme, comme un singe déchu. Quelques années après le baccalauréat, j’ai suivi des cours d’éthologie, notamment ceux de Dominique Lestel, qui m’a fait lire Gregory Bateson, Jerome Bruner, Frans De Waal et comprendre les grandes étapes scientifiques de l’étude moderne des chimpanzés, des gorilles, des orang-outangs ou des bonobos. J’ai lu avec beaucoup d’intérêt les théories mais aussi les anecdotes relatives aux aventures dans la jungle des « Leakey’s girls », Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall et la moins célèbre Biruté Galdikas (modèles du personnage de Janet, dans le roman), aux expérimentations en laboratoire des époux Gardner, de David Premack, d’Herbert Terrace ou des Savage-Rumbaugh. J’ai découvert le génie propre à ces singes en captivité, maniant des langages des signes, des lexigrammes ou des idiomes artificiels comme le Lantek, de Washoe à Koko, de Sarah à Nim, de Kanzi et Mulika à Loulis.

Ces expériences fascinantes et romanesques ont été ignorées en grande partie par la littérature et le cinéma.

Durant toute cette période, j’ai totalement remis en question mes certitudes philosophiques scolaires sur les différents propres de l’homme : langage, culture, outil, rire, conscience de soi ou conscience de la mort. J’ai appris à reconnaître chez les grands singes un comportement social, de la culture, de la politique, des outils et des modes de communication d’une grande finesse. Je me suis intéressé à cette variété incroyable d’expressions, de tambourinements, de cris, de gestes, de postures … Mais ce qui m’a le plus fasciné, très vite, c’est la volonté farouche des scientifiques, à partir des années quarante environ et après l’œuvre fondatrice de Robert Yerkes, d’éduquer et de faire parler des grands singes comme des hommes.

Et j’ai voulu en faire un roman original.

THE VARSITY

L’histoire est racontée du point de vue d’un chimpanzé ? Dans quel but ?

TRISTAN GARCIA

L’histoire est la suivante : dans l’avenir, l’Afrique a été laissée en jachère par les êtres humains. Seuls quelques scientifiques continuent d’étudier, près du lac Victoria, la faune et la flore. Un couple d’éthologues décide d’adopter un petit chimpanzé et de l’éduquer en même temps que leur jeune fils et que leur fille, plus âgée. Alors que le petit singe, qui est le narrateur, apprend à s’habiller, à manger comme un être humain et à parler, à l’aide du langage des signes notamment, son frère humain tombe malade et régresse.

Devenu adulte, le chimpanzé narrateur, Doogie, est victime d’un accident d’avion. Il s’écrase dans la jungle du Cameroun. pour survivre et revenir chez lui, au zoo, il doit se dépouiller progressivement de son éducation humaine, réapprendre à être un animal, retrouver du flair, combattre d’autres singes, se nourrir de feuilles et d’insectes.

Au fur et à mesure du roman, qui est en partie expérimental, Doogie perd sa faculté à parler. Son langage devient plus difficile, plus incohérent.

Comme dans le cas de La Meilleure part des hommes, mon principal intérêt dans l’écriture de ce roman était de faire parler un être à la voix étrange, nerveuse, parfois irrationnelle. Dans le premier livre, c’est William Miller et ses raisonnements invraisemblables, son débit familier et pourtant singulier, ses expressions bancales, le rythme de sa pensée inconséquente, qui m’intéressaient. Dans le second ouvrage, c’est le langage du chimpanzé. Doogie est cette fois omniprésent puisqu’il est le narrateur principal. Dans un cas comme dans l’autre, il s’agit de langues très éloignées de la mienne, de mon débit de parole, de mon type de pensée, de mon comportement général, plutôt posé. Je recherche des personnages qui pensent et parlent le plus loin possible de moi.

Je ne sais pas si j’y arriverai, mais en écrivant j’essaie de faire parler autre chose que moi par ma voix. Une sorte de transe rationnelle, peut-être.