Eric Fassin: “Cinema must put an end to the sexual exception, otherwise it will endanger the cultural exception”

France continues to put an end to what I called “the sexual exception” in 2011. It was for a long time a national exception: “America is the war of the sexes; France is the conversation between the sexes. » But who can still believe in this rose-tinted novel? There was also the political exception: “It’s an aristocratic tradition of libertinism! » The Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, exposing the president of the International Monetary Fund in league with the pimp “Dodo la Saumure”, broke the spell of this fable.

However, the cultural exception persists. Frédéric Mitterrand, then Minister of Culture, did not hesitate to declare in 2009 [after the director’s arrest in Switzerland in connection with an accusation of rape of a minor in the United States] : “If the world of culture did not support Roman Polanski, that would mean that there is no longer any culture in our country. » But perhaps we are experiencing the last tremors of a cultural nationalism which tomorrow will seem less French than French.

This is the effect of a logic that has been imposed since #metoo broke out. With each new case, we are told that we should separate the man from the artist. To continue to celebrate his films, it would be enough to forget Polanski: nothing to do with the work! Certainly, but “it’s the same body that rapes and films,” replies a feminist collage – and the same person who is rewarded. However, recent accusations are moving a question that seemed to belong to the past. Sociologist Gisèle Sapiro put it this way: Can we dissociate the work from the author? (Threshold, 2020). Here it is renewed, since the old antithesis between the work and the author is shaken by the recent shaking of the separation between man and artist.

Precariousness is the rule

How can we separate the author from the work when the two are clearly intertwined? The titles of Jacques Doillon, La Fille de 15 ans (1989), and Benoît Jacquot, La Désenchantée (1990), refer to a person as well as a character, an actress but also a young girl, under the gaze of a man, the filmmaker. In the work as in life, they are the same bodies, but also the same stories. We are barely in fiction when the author’s life shines through so much in his work, with the repetition of these stories of mature men and adolescent girls, of father figures seduced by youth. The words of the victims thus put back on the agenda a question that we thought had been settled since Marcel Proust’s Against Sainte-Beuve [published posthumously in 1954] : the necessary distinction between the author and his work.

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