Christopher Gérard Interviews Dominique Venner
Translated by Giuliano Adriano Malvicini
The following is an interview with Dominique Venner from 2001, originally published on the occasion of the release of his book Dictionnaire amoureux de la chasse. It seems fitting, as a last farewell, to let Dominique Venner himself speak.
Christopher Gérard: Who are you? How do you define yourself? A werewolf, a white falcon?
Dominique Venner: I am a Frenchman of Europe, or a European whose mother tongue is French, of Celtic and Germanic ancestry. On my father’s side, I am of old Lorraine peasant stock, but they originally emigrated from the German part of Switzerland in the seventeenth century. My mother’s family, many of whom chose military careers, is originally from Provence and Vivarais. I myself was born in Paris. I am a European by ancestry, but birth isn’t enough on its own, if one doesn’t possess the consciousness of being what one is. I exist only through roots, through a tradition, a history, a territory. I will add that I was destined to dedicate myself to arms. Certainly, there is a trace of that in the steel in my pen, the instrument of my profession of writer and historian. Should I add to this brief portrait the epithet of werewolf? Why not? A terror to “right-minded” people, an initiate of the mysteries of the forest, the werewolf is a figure in which I can recognize myself.
CG: In Le Cœur rebelle (The Rebellious Heart, 1994), you sympathetically evoke the memory of “an intolerant young man who carried within himself, as it were, the scent of a coming storm”: that was you when you fought first as a soldier in Algeria and then as political activist in France. So who was that young Kshatriya, where did he come from, who were his teachers, his favourite authors?
DV: That’s what the “white falcon” in your first question alluded to, the memory of intoxicating and dangerous times, during which the young man I was thought he could invert a hostile destiny through a violence that he had accepted as necessary. It may seem extremely presumptuous, but at the time, I didn’t recognize anyone as a teacher. Certainly, I looked for stimulus and recipes for action in Lenin’s What is to be Done? and in Ernst von Salomon’s The Outlaws. I might add that the readings of my childhood had contributed to forging a certain world-view that in the end remained rather unchanged. In no particular order, I’ll mention Military Education and Discipline Among the Ancients, a small book about Sparta that belonged to my maternal grandfather, a former officer, The Legend of the Eagle by Georges d’Esparbès, La Bande des Ayaks by Jean-Louis Foncine, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, and later the admirable Martin Eden. Those were the formative books I read at the age of ten or twelve. Later, at the age of twenty or twenty-five, I had of course gone on to read other things, but the bookstores back then were poorly stocked. Those years were a time of intellectual penury that is hard to imagine today. The library of a young activist, even one who devoured books, was small. In mine, besides historical works, prominent works were Reflections on Violence by Georges Sorel, The Conquerors by Malraux, The Genealogy of Morals by Nietzsche, Service inutile by Montherlant, and Le Romantisme fasciste by Paul Sérant, which was a revelation for me in the sixties. As you can see, that didn’t go very far. But even if my intellectual horizons were limited, my instincts went deep. Very early, when I was still a soldier, I felt that the war in Algeria was something very different from what the naive defenders of “French Algeria” said or thought. I had understood that it was an identitarian struggle for Europeans, since in Algeria they were threatened in their very existence by an ethnic adversary. I also felt that what we were defending there — very poorly — were the southern frontiers of Europe. Frontiers are always defended against invasions on the other side of oceans and rivers.
CG: In this book, which is something of an autobiography, you write: “I am from the land of trees and forests, of oaks and wild boars, of vineyards and sloping roofs, of epic poems and fairy-tales, of the winter and summer solstices.” What sort of a strange fellow are you?
DV: Very briefly stated, I am too consciously European to in any way feel like a spiritual descendant of Abraham or Moses, but do I feel that I am entirely a descendant of Homer, Epictetus, and the Round Table. That means that I look for my bearings in myself, close to my roots, and not in faraway places that are entirely foreign to me. The sanctuary where I meditate is not the desert, but the deep and mysterious forest of my origins. My holy book is not the Bible, but the Iliad, the founding poem of the Western psyche, which has miraculously and victoriously crossed the sea of time. A poem that draws from the same sources as the Celtic and Germanic legends, and manifests the same spirituality, if one goes to the trouble to decode it. Nevertheless, I don’t ignore the centuries of Christianity. The cathedral of Chartres is a part of my world as much as Stonehenge or the Parthenon. That’s the heritage that we have to make our own. The history of the Europeans isn’t simple. After thousands of years of indigenous religion, Christianity was imposed on us through a series of historical accidents. But Christianity was itself partially transformed, “barbarized” by our ancestors, the barbarians, Franks and others. Christianity was often thought of by them as a transposition of the old cults. Behind the saints, people continued to celebrate the old gods without asking too many questions. And in the monasteries, monks often copied ancient texts without necessarily censoring them. This continuation of pre-Christian Europe still goes on today, but it takes other forms, despite all the efforts of biblical sermonizing. It seems especially important to take into account the development of Catholic traditionalists, who are often islands of health opposing the surrounding chaos with their robust families, their numerous children and their groups of physically fit youths. Their adherence to the continuity of family and nation, to discipline in education, the importance they place on standing firm in the face of adversity are of course things that are in no way specifically Christian. They are the residue of the Roman and Stoic heritage which the church had more or less carried on until the beginning of the twentieth century. On the other hand, individualism, contemporary cosmopolitanism, and the religion of guilt are, of course, secularized forms of Christianity, as are the extreme anthropocentrism and the desacralization of nature in which I see a source of a Faustian modernity gone mad, and for which we will have to pay a heavy price.
CG: In Le Cœur rebelle, you also say that “dragons are vulnerable and mortal. Heros and gods can always return. There is no fatality outside of the minds of men.” One thinks of Jünger, whom you knew personally, and who saw titans and gods at work . . .
DV: Killing all fatalist temptations within oneself is an exercise from which one may never rest. Aside from that, let’s not deprive images of their mystery and their multiple radiations, let’s not extinguish their light with rational interpretations. The dragon will always be part of the Western imagination. It symbolizes by turns the forces of the earth and destructive forces. It is through the victorious struggle against a monster that Hercules, Siegfried, or Theseus attained the status of hero. In the absence of heroes, it isn’t hard to recognize – in our age – the presence of various monsters which I don’t think are invincible, even if they appear to be.
CG: In your Dictionnaire amoureux de la chasse (Plon, 2000), you reveal the secrets of an old passion and you describe in veiled terms the secrets of an initiation. What have those hours of tracking given you, how have they transformed, even transfigured you?
DV: In spite of its title, this Dictionnaire amoureux is not at all a dictionary. I conceived it as a pantheistic poem for which hunting is only a pretext. I owe my most beautiful childhood memories to hunting. I also owe it the fact that I have been able to morally survive the periods of ghastly despair that followed the collapse of the hopes of my youth, and reestablish a balance. With or without a weapon, in the hunt, I return to the sources that I cannot do without: the enchanted forest, silence, the mystery of wild blood, the ancient comradeship of the clan. To me, hunting is not a sport. It is a necessary ritual in which each participant, predator or prey, plays the part assigned to it by its nature. Together with childbirth, death and seeding, I believe that hunting, if it is performed in accordance with the right norms, is the last primordial rite that has partially evaded the disfigurements and the deadly manipulations of modernity.
CG: Elsewhere in this book, you evoke several ancient myths, several figures from still clandestine pantheons. I’m thinking of the myth of the Wild Hunt and the figure of Mithras. What do they mean to you?
DV: We could add to the list, most notably Diana-Artemis, the goddess of childbirth, the protector of pregnant women, of cows in calf, of vigorous children, of life in its dawn. She is both the great predator and the great protector of animality, which is what the best hunters also are. Her figure corresponds to the ancients’ idea of nature, which is the complete opposite of the saccharine notions of a Jean-Jacques Rousseau and of sunday strollers. They knew that nature was fearsome to the weak, and pitiless. It is through force that Artemis defends the inviolable realm of the wild. She ferociously kills those mortals who through their excesses put nature in danger. That’s what happened to two furious hunters, Orion and Acteon. By violating her, they had transgressed the limits beyond which the order of the world falls into chaos. That symbol hasn’t aged, on the contrary.
CG: If there is an omnipresent figure in your book, it is the forest, the refuge of outcasts and rebels . . .
DV: The whole literature of the Middle Ages – the chansons de geste or the Arthurian legends – saturated as it is with celtic spirituality, invariably embellishes on the theme of the forest, that dangerous world, that refuge of spirits and fairies, hermits and rebels, which is also a place of purification for the tormented soul of the knight, whether his name be Lancelot, Percival, or Yvain. In chasing a deer or a wild boar, the hunter penetrated its spirit. By eating the animal’s heart, he appropriated its strength. In the lay of Tyolet, by killing the roebuck, the hero gains the ability to understand the spirit of wild nature. I feel that very strongly. For me, entering the forest is much more than a physical need, it is a spiritual necessity.
CG: Could you recommend a few great novels about hunting still in print?
DV: The first that comes to mind is Les Veillées de Saint-Hubert by the Marquis de Foudras, a collection of short stories recently re-published by Pygmalion. Foudras was a marvelous story-teller, as was his countryman and successor Henri Vincenot — whose La Billebaude one of course has to read. He was to the world of castles and hunting with hounds what Vincenot is to that of thatched cottages and poaching. Among the great novels that initiate the reader into the mysteries of the hunt, one of the best is Le Guetteur d’ombres by Pierre Moinot, which transcends well-crafted literary narrative. In the abundant production of Paul Vialar, who was made famous by La grande Meute, I have soft spot for La Croule, a term that refers to the mating call of the woodcock. It’s a pretty novel, a quick read. The main character is a young woman, the kind one would like to meet once in a while, one who possesses a passion for the ancestral domain. I also suggest reading La Forêt perdue, a short and magnificent medieval poem in which Maurice Genevoix lets us re-experience the spirit of Celtic mythology through the impossible pursuit of a huge, invulnerable deer by a relentless huntsman, in whom we discover a young and daring Knight with a pure soul.
Vernal equinox MMI
1. Dominique Venner adds that the harsh and rhythmical translation of Leconte de Lisle (from around 1850) is his favourite. This version of the Iliad and the Odyssey is available in two volumes from éditions Pocket.
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