IT SEEMS BOTH LONG AGO and only yesterday. The terrible attack on the Parisian journal Charlie Hebdo took place in January, but it both followed and has been followed by many all-too-similar events: The violence around and against speech shows no signs of stopping. All the more reason, then, to parse the complexity of polemical words and images, of the forms of discourse that are the toughest, the most incisive and the most puerile, the funniest and the worstat the forefront of which lies Charlie Hebdo’s extreme political and cultural satire. Because Charlie remains one of the knottiest and most misunderstood of outlets, Artforum asked renowned French art historian YVE-ALAIN BOIS to reflect on the publication’s unstinting critical eyeits relentless interrogation of any and all figures of authority, its singular advancement of comics as an artistic and literary genre, and its implacable challenge to the silencing and censure that ceaselessly threaten our freedom.
THE THING I FOUND perhaps most absurd in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre was to see comments, particularly in the American press, presenting the journal as racist and Islamophobic. Charlie Hebdo, racist? Only people who had never even leafed through the publication, much less read it, could possibly have had such an idea, unless the journal had dramatically changed since the years of my youth. Indeed, it is rather for its militant, absolutely constant anti-racism that I remember Charlie best. One of the most notorious characters invented by the cartoonist Cabu (Jean Cabut) was the repulsive beauf, a racist, xenophobic, misogynist, intolerant, and ignorant moron whose politics were closer to those of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front (one of Charlie’s pet targets from its inception) than to any other. As for the specific charge of Islamophobia, it didn’t square any
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