I am the other

The tragic events of January finally forced France's political class to face the fact that culture and education are the only hope for the future of this country. What is now left of that realisation? Will culture tomorrow be this form of civil education for adults we sorely need, one that would have the ability to change the very fabric of society? Will education finally become the main concern of this country, aiming to create beings capable of critical thoughts and masters of their own fate? And what about the people, now that this moment of realisation is passed? Will they have the courage to choose culture over ignorance, to open up to the world rather than to withdraw among themselves, to take a chance on the future rather than remain immobile? Is this painful awakening for France the beginning of a time when culture is more than just an attraction for tourists or a superfluous luxury, but a bond that would transcend class, a source of wealth to nurture, the destiny of politics? The word of culture has suddenly taken on a slew of new meanings, becoming part of the fundamental definitions of the concepts of republic, laïcité, citizenship, and brotherhood. But what will remain when, a few months from now, the dissolution of economic mirages will have deprived us of our thirst for what could be?

Artists, audiences, citizens, the work ahead of us is daunting, for our task is no longer to carve out a niche for culture in a world dominated by commerce and greed, but to put culture at the centre of a social project that cannot exist without it. We have to further open up the definition of the word culture and make it the basis of a better society. The term of politics itself has become synonymous for many of our fellow citizens with party machinations, power plays, and rampant greed over civil service. It is up to us to make it mean more than that again, to give it a future. In this struggle, there can be no hierarchy, no division; culture professionals and education workers share a common engagement with the public, fight alongside them. We must make our individual destinies bigger by integrating others', propose an alternative to communitarianism, promote the love of the mind, offer equal opportunities to all forms of intelligence, and make sure that our children dream not only of being billionaires, but also of experiencing the world in a spirit of openness and joy.

What a beautiful idea to think that the huge movement that brought France together has finally found its expression in this perfect phrase, “I am the Other.” For that is the greatest mystery and the highest necessity of the human experience. One often pictures artists as narcissists, but their inalienable freedom could not exist if it weren't directed towards this wonderful otherness, this ecstasy of escaping the constraints of one's own life, to know every possible destiny, and in particular the fates of those whom society usually deprives of their voice.

Avignon offers a utopia that takes the form of a constant question: have we given up on the idea of a better world? What makes the strength of the festival, forever renewed by its audience, is its ability to ask this question not only in intellectual terms, but also in this moment of shared experiences that are the three weeks of the Festival. What is a successful festival? Perhaps it is a festival that acknowledges the way the world has changed and manages, thanks to the power of its artists and the enthusiasm of its audience, to welcome this change with a paradoxical pleasure. We'll of course continue to see the world with lucidity, as we have always done; contrary to what some may think, artists don't live cut off from reality, although politicians and the elites often do. Lucidity however isn't synonymous with despair. Ours, at least, isn't governed by the violence of statistics, by the dogmatism of evaluations. It is a living, growing thing, motivated by indignation rather than resignation, its mere existence a denial of the icy silence of numbers and statistics. If war plays a part in many of the works of this edition of the Festival, it is to limit its power of seduction and understand how to prevent it from becoming a fatality.

The Festival could be summed up as three weeks of loud and beautiful din, not the kind that would drown out the world but rather the buzzing of enthusiastic crowds, the joyful confusion of celebration, the racket of hope. One can sometimes find this din tiring and want to clear one's head in the shade of a silence full of rustling interiority; there are more than enough gardens in this city-festival, in the literal and metaphorical sense, to do just that. But in any case, this silence that could be desperate or guilty, that would make one feel incomplete and alone, has now been broken. Above us, the stars of the Avignon sky envy us our questions and our impatience, because one cannot learn what it means to be human by being apart from humanity.

Olivier Py