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The angler, the carp and the revisionist

Once upon a time there was an angler who, on meeting a stranger, said in a frantic voice: “It’s a miracle! I’ve just made a unique, an unprecedented catch: in yonder stream, it so happens, I hooked a two hundred-pound carp.”

The stranger, who, as luck would have it, was a sceptic, a disciple of Pyrrhon, one of the school of Saint Thomas, in short, a revisionist, asked, in a guarded manner, whether he might see the monstrous catch.

“Would you, by chance, be casting doubt upon my word?” inquired the angler, adding: “It’s quite simple: if you don’t care to believe me, I’ll show you the place where I caught it.”

The revisionist objected that what interested him was not so much the place as the fish. Nonetheless, he ended up conceding: “All right! Let’s go see the place!”

Once at the spot he noted that, in the way of a stream, all that lay before him was a rather modest trickle of water. He took it upon himself to make this remark to the angler and pointed out that never could a carp of such size have cavorted in so sparse a current.

He called a few passers-by to witness and, before them, went so far as to poke fun at the angler. He thought himself entitled to maintain, in a mocking tone, that there existed in France no carp of such weight. For him, in his own words, the amazing carp had about it too much of the scent of a farcical Jewish recipe for stuffing, or of some Hebraic fiction. With a snigger, he brought up Tobit’s magical fish and the Leviathan monster, along with the “great fish” (which was not a whale) that swallowed Jonah, him of the miraculous rescue at sea.

What followed was to prove that he had spoken too much.

The angler considered that the sceptic, in scoffing at him, had ridiculed all anglers and hunters who, in France, were legion. As he saw it, there was danger afoot and so he must act. In effect, such insolence threatened to bring discredit upon the thrilling tales of which anglers and hunters were at times so prolific. Thus the angler proceeded to lodge a grievance with a well-established body bearing the name “Fishing, Hunting and (Biblical) Tradition.”

For some time this organisation had made a speciality of targeting the revisionists in their entirety. The latter, at their end, found fault with the venerable body for being too quick to take offence, for behaving irascibly and often carrying on with an ungodly carping over nothing. Of substantial electoral weight and anxiously courted from left, right and centre, the said organisation was accused by the revisionists of deploying some especially violent militia groups. The revisionists went so far as to assert that “Fishing, Hunting and (Biblical) Tradition” was part of a vast pressure group: “the Biblical Lobby.” To which claim their opponents retorted, perfectly coolheaded, that no such lobby existed.

The impudent carp-doubting revisionist was sued by the organisation for personal injury caused, the group claimed, by allegations that were both untruthful and malicious.

The court handed down its ruling.

At first, it allowed itself to hold that, far from being untruthful, the revisionist’s remarks on the magical carp might very well be accurate. But, in a latter instance, the court got a better grip on things. It ruled that, despite everything, the revisionist, in his statements taken as a whole, his failure to show charity towards the angler and his want of penitence might well have been inspired by malice. As a result, the revisionist found himself ordered to pay heavy fines and damages.

Still, in the years that followed, the criminal persisted. He renewed his observations and questions about the phenomenal carp. He was challenged in other lawsuits, assailed with more fines, administered some firm physical punishments (one of which left him at death’s door), dismissed from his post, cursed. All to no avail. Doubtless the devil drove him.

To silence the revisionist and his ilk for good, a heavy blow was called for.

It was dealt on the 14th of July 1990. It is on the symbolic date of July the 14th that in France the people, in the name of democracy and republican virtue, commemorate the taking and destruction of the Bastille in 1789. On the same occasion, they commemorate the abolition of the privileges of birth and the advent of a new era of liberty, equality and fraternity. A salutary recourse to Dr Guillotin’s machine had at times been needed in order to make those who remained insensitive to the beauty of such ideals see reason. On July 14, 1990, then, there appeared in the Journal officiel de la République française a special-purpose law, made to measure and designed to have an effect just as automatic as that of the guillotine’s blade. Straight away, it prohibited, without examining the substance of the matter beforehand, any challenge to or casting of doubt upon the stories told by a certain category of anglers and hunters. Deputies and Senators had passed this law in an atmosphere of democratic terror, brought to boiling point thanks to the providential, albeit sickening, affair known as “the Carpentras cemetery outrage.”

To ground their prohibition in law, the legislators turned to a judgment pronounced, nearly a half-century earlier, by certain victors who had proceeded to try certain vanquished. The victors had got the brilliant idea of setting up an international military tribunal in order to punish those vanquished. Devising their own laws and rules, the judges and prosecutors had, in their wisdom and of common accord, decreed: “The Tribunal [i.e., themselves] shall not be bound by technical rules of evidence” (Article 19 of their Charter). They had also specified: “The Tribunal shall not require proof of facts of common knowledge but shall take judicial notice thereof” (Article 21). By a last provision, they had taken care to warn the accused that any accusatory reports made by the victors’ various commissions would be admitted with no discussion allowed, since the Tribunal “shall also take notice” thereof (Article 21, continued). At this time, that is, in the period of 1945-1946, some strong-minded fellows jeered at a justice by which, in their words, Samson, with the blessings of the Eternal (God of armies and vengeful God), cynically assigned himself the right to judge one whom he had just overwhelmed and held at his mercy. Some wags made sarcastic remarks about military justice which, according to them, was to justice what military music was to music. Happily, by the 14th of July 1990, or almost half a century later, the minds of the population had been so adjusted by years of proper guidance that it had become unseemly to talk such madness, to let fly such witticisms. All now marched in step and in the same direction. Under a seeming diversity of opinion, all had at last understood that Good and Justice were always on the side of the victors, and Evil and Crime on the side of the vanquished. Necessarily.

Armed with this law, French judges no longer had to judge. They needed only to submit. They duly executed, with the most exquisite grace, and rulings rained down upon the revisionists.

It may also be said that today the heads both of “Fishing, Hunting and (Biblical) Tradition” and of the lobby-that-does-not-exist ought to declare themselves fully satisfied. The magical carp has become an object of worship. Museums are dedicated to it, richly endowed by the French taxpayer. The radio, television and newspapers chime with a thousand tales confirming the Carp’s existence for us. In the course of it all, this Carp has acquired a capital C. It has become the Unique, the Ineffable and the Indescribable (here again with capital letters). It is nowhere to be seen but it is everywhere. Its story is taught in all the schools of the land. Adolescents listen open-mouthed to the old anglers and hunters, male and female, who come to dispense (in return for hard, cold cash) their astonishing testimonies about the Golden Carp. As if seized by a joyful frenzy, a thousand institutions pour forth streams of gold and silver to the national and international associations assembling the millions of witnesses who, having one day seen the magical Carp, afterwards dispersed to all points of the globe. Abroad, these witnesses have, for the most part, amassed fine fortunes, attesting to their know-how and indubitable honesty. To these rich folk the banks today spontaneously bestow hefty offerings. The insurance companies do likewise, along with the museums, factories, laboratories, telephone companies and railways. “A worldwide stampede into servitude,” claim the vile revisionists, taking a phrase from Tacitus; but, as everyone knows, the Roman historian was nothing but a Nazi; in a famous work dedicated to them, had he not sung the praises of Germania?

If one believes the newspapers, the truth of the story of the Golden Carp is hardly contested any longer and, each day, the rich grow richer.

And yet!

Yet, the rumour maintained by the sceptics remains current. To such a degree that – sad to say – even the anglers and hunters seem taken with doubt. Of course, without interrupting their usual moaning and chanting, they cry out against and attack more than ever the odious breed of revisionists but these acts of theirs are, precisely, but swipes, shouts and complaints. Where are the arguments? What must be offered in reply to the few doubters who still demand to see the Carp or, barring that, its depiction? What is one to say to those who piously visit the spot where the angler made his miraculous catch and who still see there only a babbling brook? But, to begin, what is to be done in the face of the simple, stupid and nagging observation made by the Sunday angler or the laboratory scientist according to whom the species of carp that dwell in the rivers of France can never have produced a specimen of two hundred pounds?

The truth of the matter is that doubt gnaws at our noble anglers and hunters. And they no longer make a secret of this. “The day when we are no longer here, no-one will believe in the fabulous Carp any more”, they cry.

The revisionists smile. In their turpitude, they retort that history, at least such as it is conceived by historians worthy of the name, is precisely made of events to which the witnesses have vanished, or will one day vanish. Then, in their perversity, they dare to add that, on the other hand (again from a historian’s viewpoint), what does risk being erased with time are rather the poppycock, the tall tales, the lies of one’s day and age. And, with insolence, they dare to conclude: “Such is the lot that, inexorably, awaits the story of the Golden Carp, which is nothing but an outrageous lie, a pure legend, a wild nonsense, an abracadabric April Fool’s prank.”

How can the story of the divine Carp be saved from the accursed revisionists’ constant efforts to undermine it?

At this dawn of the new century, in these excruciating times, that is the question haunting the high priests and worshippers of the lucrative Golden Carp. By their side, a good number of others are also seeking an answer to this harrowing riddle, which carries a thousand political and monetary implications. More and more, one may notice all sorts of people – the historians to heel, the journalists at the trough, the politicians with their scandals to hide, the idolaters of the Golden Calf or the servants of the Almighty Dollar – wondering: “How, yes how,” they ask themselves, “can we save the worldwide religion of the divine Golden Carp from ruin?”

They are losing all hope of finding a solution.

And everything goes on as if the revisionists, sure of their work and sniggering behind the scenes, held the key to the mystery.

April 1, 2001