The most-read author of our time, Georges Simenon, conversed for a long while with our contributor Ingrid Etter, for readers of Noir et Blanc... A straight-talking session, touching on many subjects, that revealed his opinions on the thousand-and-one things of life, at once so dissimilar and yet bound together so closely.
The novelist's house, in chic, suburban Lausanne, Switzerland, is a "house of the future," austere through its functionality, exacting in its comfort. Simenon himself jokes openly about his mania for order and the organization that governs its regulation.
But isn't he, himself, the very image of this clinic-like building (which a simple change of furnishing might suffice to convert to a true clinic)? Isn't he, himself, a man who lives "in the future"?
He can allow himself this, because he "sees" the future. Not like a fortune-teller, certainly, but with the knowledge of a meticulous observer of life and beings, with the talent of a psychologist and a sociologist.
So what has he to say about the violence breaking out all over the world? His ideas on fashion and the generation gap? His declaration of the obsolescence of marriage as we conceive it and the end of many hypocrisies? For Simenon, hypocrisy is like a personal enemy.
And his best friend, for which he never tires of doing battle, is undoubtedly, freedom. Freedom in every area, freedom that he applies every day with respect to others, even his own children, that he also applies to protect himself. Read here what Georges Simenon has to tell us...
The manifestations of violence of today's youth are, in general, a superficial agitation. In fact, the number of the young extremists is insignificant. There was violence at the beginning of the century sometimes even more troubling. But people ignored it. Think of the colonial wars, for example or even the anarchists of the 1900s. Clearly, these have been eliminated with the complicity of society, terrified at the idea of seeing the collapse of established order.
In those times, a battle took up but a few lines in the papers, and then, a good number of days or weeks after it had taken place; or they called it a "punitive expedition" and didn't speak of it anymore. Rare were the people who were offended by it.
And don't forget the horrors of the 1914-1918 war, horrors that have only been surpassed by Hiroshima. Which was worse? Some 200,000 human beings men, women and children annihilated suddenly...
The actual facts of history, as they are presented nowadays... that is the big difference between now and the past.
Gutenberg invented printing, considered by humanity the first great revolution. And printing led to the Renaissance, whose blossoming took place after terrifying dissent and a half-century of incredible violence.
The young are right to reject
Radio and the television are the origin of the greatest revolution, the one in which we are living. Riots and fighting invade our homes daily, often in technicolor.
With our meals we watch the convulsions of the dying, and the blood that floods the screen appears to spill onto the tablecloth. These scenes fill the radio, newspapers and magazines, making up the bulk of the daily news.
Youth can no longer remain impassive in the face of such events. Boys and girls the age of my son Pierre, 11, who smilingly follow the adventures a cowboy movie with its shots and punches, quiver like Pierre when they see the excesses of race riots or policemen hitting students.
And so it's no surprise if teenagers reject the morality of their parents, a morality whose effects comprise all that they witness daily: brutality, injustice, war, hypocrisy.
A characteristic sign of the older generation appears when French radio and television, for example, often use the expression the "forces of law and order" when describing the action taken to suppress a riot. At those moments, I always wonder why they don't have the courage to use the simple, six-letter word, "police".
And further, the "forces of law and order" is an expression that means order at any price, the preservation of our padded security, of our comfortable way of life.
We have lost all that.
Our way of life is disappearing, whether we like it or not, and of course the young naturally show greater impatience than we for this transformation to come about.
It's their business, not mine
We must prepare ourselves for the year 2000, whether by violence, or by evolution. Violent revolutions almost always miss their initial goal. Take the French Revolution, which produced Napoleon, a phenomenal killer. And those who defend the status quo have the majority generally with them: those who are afraid of all change or who see their prerogatives threatened, wind up with a Nixon or a Franco.
Fortunately, the signs of evolution are more obvious than those of revolution.
It is the young who set the tone. They replace our values and our morality which they regard with fright or disgust with their own. They are right.
The students of the Middle Ages were better off than today in the 13th century, a student could become the dean of his university a dean! Nowadays, students struggle to become involved, no matter how modestly, in their academic life. But a good wind is blowing. I notice with pleasure that my younger son finds his school life more interesting and less severe than his eldest brother who attended the same establishment.
My experience as a father and I have four children has taught me that the young need the maximum of independence. All I want is for them not to hurt themselves. That said, they enjoy great freedom.
I allow them to watch any programs on television, with the exception of youngest, when it's his bedtime. I don't supervise their reading. They can read whatever they want, without regard to their age. I've never cared about bad grades. Besides, success and good grades in school are different things. Sacha Guitry was thrown out of nearly all the high schools of Paris, and I certainly don't think he's done too badly with his life. One could also give the example of Churchill.
I don't worry about influencing my children in their choice of a career. It is their life, and their business.
The only way for the older generation to maintain contact with youth is to make an effort at understanding, and to show greater humility. We must not take pride in the examples that we give them we should have the candor to admit it.
Hypocrisy is the sin that the young reject most violently. Why should they accept our objections?
Between two glasses of alcohol, a cigarette in the mouth, we blame them for smoking and drinking. They know very well that our "drugs" are as bad or worse than marijuana. Consider, for example, a man who gets drunk at cocktail parties, drinks heavily every day and who, every year, goes for a one-month cure in a rest home or a spa. Well, what's the reaction of his children? And how about the average man, the father who passes a part of every day in his favorite café, drinking his daily poison in small doses?
If we allowed the least harmful drugs, we could eliminate the biggest danger, which is the existence of the traffickers and the hardened professionals. And we should also endeavor to increase the number of detoxification centers, to provide all necessary care for a good recovery.
And these measures should be applied first to those it concerns the most the young.
The fear of seeing the collapse of the sacrosanct order, or the presentiment of its imminent downfall, shows itself in the reactions of the older generation with regard to the little things of life. The fashion of long hair is one. My son Jean, who is twenty, clearly has long hair. I don't say that I like it. But the length of his hair is his concern. It is his business, not mine.
Why these naked thighs?
On the other hand, browse any museum and you will discover galleries full of important character portraits, of middle-aged men who not only wore their hair long or in ponytail, but who covered it in powdered white wigs, wigs that were certainly the stuffiest and most uncomfortable. No one ever said that they were effeminate or mad, that I know of.
Fashion is never reasonable. Under Louis XI it was a criminal act for a woman to wear panties they saw it as a trick of the devil.
In the time of Louis XIV, the ample dresses of the women of the court were quite useful when they wanted to urinate under the steps of the park of Versailles without crouching down and without being immodest. To that extent, those dresses were somewhat convenient.
Today's fashions are no more reasonable than those of the past. At a time when the streets are cleaned, where means of transportation are fast, convenient and comfortable, it is hard to see the reason for the high leather boots that the young girls love so much. And if these boots are supposed to protect against the cold weather, then how do you explain the naked expanse of thigh between the mini-skirt and the boots? Even the very long coats seem to be made to collect currents of air, and some, from the hips, are merely a sort of fringe. My own daughter spends most of her time at home in a bikini, and at night she sleeps wrapped in an old cashmere sweater... And there's no point in reasoning with her. Whatever it may be, such idiosyncrasies are hardly important.
Changing the laws is what is necessary.
Yes to marriage... for three or six years
Marriage, as we understand it, will become obsolete within the next 25 years.
We will make the necessary arrangements for the consideration of the children couples will unite for three, six, or nine years, with each time the possibility to renew the experience or to abandon it at will.
It won't make the lawyers rich, but at least the torments of separation and legal divorce will definitely end.
Even at the present time, rare are the young people who wait for a pot-bellied mayor or a civil servant to tell them that they have official permission to sleep together.
If they want to sleep with each other or to live together, they simply do it. It is much healthier behavior. Hypocrisy is dead. The British previously the most hypocritical race in the world set the example.
Women's liberation is an important factor, maybe the most important of this evolution. Thanks to the pill, the woman has finally achieved equality with man. In the new society she will certainly be the first to ask for a change of partner. And it will work very well. Capable of earning her own living financially independent interested in her own career, she will be able to dictate her own conditions.
In any case, the fifty-year-old millionaire won't abandon his middle-aged companion for an 18-year-old starlet anymore, because it won't be just the men who are the business millionaires. The starlet will earn nearly as much as the prosperous businessman and will no longer be interested in the gray-hairs.
I used to say that the best room for a woman was the harem and that the Turks had found the best solution. But that was utopia.
Other changes are heralded by the reforms undertaken by the Catholic church, the bastion of tradition. In this regard the Protestants have long been more advanced.
After her confirmation, at 16, a girl receives the key to the house she is considered an adult. At that age, most of my daughter's Protestant friends had permission to return home at any time they wanted, their family feeling that they had reached a sufficient degree of maturity.
Prisons of the future
Criminality hasn't increased in an alarming measure, taking into account the population explosion. I often wonder how so many people are able to obtain plastic explosives! Most of the anarchists that I have met, and there are quite a few, even in this "peaceful" Switzerland where I live, are pleasant, nice people, conscious of being sought by the police and of the slimness of their odds. But if anarchists are opposed to all social organization, the Maoists, on the other hand, are more dangerous. They want to transform and destroy.
But neither anarchists nor Maoists are part of the world of crime.
In years to come, the criminal code, with its antiquated laws nearly everywhere, will be completely modified. Doctors and psychiatrists will take up the baton from the men of law. In Russia they use the expression "anti-social" instead of "criminal". In the west this expression will also replace the word "assassin". Jails will become centers of cure. Highly placed magistrates are now studying such reforms that will affect society deeply.
For youth the future is a challenge, rich in hope and even danger... a future that they will master very well.
Remarks collected by Ingrid ETTER
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