put yourself in the place of cetaceans

“Praise of the Whale”, Camille Brunel, Rivages, 112 pages, 16 euros, digital 13 euros.

in Ark “Titanic”. (Promotion, “Le Monde des livres” of January 28, 2022), Eric Cheviard expresses regret that the books are full “Sharply few animals”. True, there are many literary bestiaries, but the animals found there are, for their true examples, the same as the surimi for the crab: transvestites, “Teddy bears, two-legged pigs named Leo and Lea”. The author makes this sharp observation: “The sixth mass extinction has begun in the literature. »

Without treating ultra-transformed products under cellophane, book beasts still lose their passion: living flesh risks becoming a sluggish idea. When editor Emily Colombani of Rivages invites him to write a eulogy to the creature of his choice (to continue Praise the Rabbitfrom Stephanie Hosche, to Taxi, Lillian Auzas, both published in 2021), Camilla Brunel chooses a whale. Aware of the risk of confusion that entails such a work, the author Animal Partisan (Alma, 2018) designs it Praise the whale Contrary to cultural histories: “I didn’t want to talk about whales in literature, he told the World of Books. The theme was not symbolic whales, but real whales. »

“You can’t write about whales without positioning yourself in relation to Melville”

However, before launching the author had to fill a gap: reading Moby DickHerman Melville (1851). “You can’t write about whales without positioning yourself in relation to Melville”, he admits. The detour with Captain Ahab was not such a fictional turn: “Mostly it’s a documentary! »he was glad to see.

This desire not to lose sight of reality flows even into the section that Camilla Brunel dedicates “cinema” cetaceans. Film critic, author of the book Cinema about animals (UV, 2018), the author briefly returns to the image of whales on the screen, but to emphasize their absence: “Before, there were almost no whales in the movies Pi’s life [d’Ang Lee, 2012]. » Or inquire about images of cetacean enthusiasts obtained from phone calls and GoPro. On the edge of water and reality.

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So Praise the whale does not follow any work, it is strongly written against one of them, without quoting him: Whale in all its statesFrancois Garda (Gallimard, 2015), whose reading “catastrophe” – no less than Camille Brunel, an anti-species activist (he will be a candidate from the Animal Party in the next parliamentary elections). “The author speaks of the closeness between cows and whales, but admits that he could never eat whales when he admits that he eats cows”, he criticizes. But above all : “He forms a nostalgia for the” great whaling epic “”this is a hunt for cetaceans (including their fat), which began in the early 19th centuryand century. However, Camilla Brunel claims: “I wanted to write something that said, ‘We should be ashamed of this whaling case.’ It is impossible to be nostalgic. If so, it is because we did not use violence against him. »

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