Young Writers Les Décalés Are Upsetting The French Literary Establishment

This was published in the September 2008 issue of Dazed & Confused (vol. 2 issue 65, p. 76):

Young Writers Les Décalés Are Upsetting the French Literary Establishment

In one of his early stories, the French advertising executive turned writer Frédéric Beigbeder imagined Saint-Germain-des-Prés — the ultra-posh heartland of Parisian publishing — overrun by hordes of vandals from the deprived banlieues. It ends with the pope of French letters, Philippe Sollers, dangling upside down à la Mussolini from the local church steeple.

This carnivalesque tableau foreshadows the literary revolution that is gaining ground across the Channel. “We’re witnessing the democratisation of writing,” explains 26-year-old Antoine Dole who instigated the movement two years ago. “What used to belong to an intellectual elite is being reclaimed by the people”.

When Dole was doing the rounds with his first manuscript, the big publishing concerns advised him to ditch his dark romanticism in favour of the kind of books people read on the beach. Instead, he decided to go it alone and was met, predictably enough, with accusations of vanity publishing. He drew the conclusion that authors, particularly in France, need authorisation to be admitted among the happy few.

In November 2006, Dole produced the first issue of a home-made fanzine which showcased the growing number of young writers who, like him, were using the internet to bypass mainstream publishing. It proved so successful that, early last year, an indie publisher (Editions du Cygne) helped him launch a bona fide literary journal called En Attendant l’or. It immediately became a word-of-mouth success via MySpace and a focal point for sundry “word activists” — bloggers, slammers, rappers — who did not fit within the conventional definition of what a French writer is meant to be. In the space of two issues, a new literary scene emerged — “Les Décalés” (“The Offbeats”), a group of writers who reject high culture, embrace multiculturalism and set great store by friendship. “We don’t hang around book launches to shake hands,” says Dole. “We don’t do public relations. This is primarily a human adventure”.

For the next issue of En Attendant l’or, which will be released in book form by Autrement, Dole has teamed up with 22-year-old novelist Elsa Delachair who is busy establishing links with similar movements abroad. Dole himself is involved in many other projects — a second novel, an anthology of French hip hop and a micro-publishing venture called Impact Verbal. Its mission statement is highly political, since it defines the kind of writing it intends to champion as “a form of resistance against a patriarchal and authoritarian establishment”.

Another major development was the launch in 2006 of eXprim’, a book collection published by the cheekily-named Sarbacane (peashooter). 28-year-old Tibo Bérard (the former editor of a now-defunct literary magazine) wanted to focus on fiction written by young people for young people, but which can also appeal to older readers. The result is the coolest of collections — a kind of Two Tone Records of the publishing world. Antoine Dole’s debut novel, Je Reviens de mourir (“I Have Died Again”), which they have released, is currently at the heart of a controversy reminiscent of the recent emo death cult Daily Mail campaign. It has been accused of being a misogynistic apology for suicide and is consequently being banned by some bookshops and libraries. The collection’s rapidly-expanding stable also includes authors like Edgar Sekloka, Hamid Jemaï and Insa Sané who represent the painful birth of a new multicultural French society, from which this whole movement has sprung.

(Illustration by Hayley Hutton.)