Storytelling with Christian Salmon in London

Once upon a time… Il était une fois…

Last week I was driving in my trusty old Ford Mondeo down the M40 on my way home to London via my friend Liz’s allotment in Oxford. I had been on a whirlwind Easter weekend road trip which had taken me from Bayswater to Glastonbury, to Kelways nursery in Somerset and then to Shropshire to pick up my mother. We had then driven to see Joanna in Bristol to deliver a special French bread tin, then on to my brother and sister-in-law’s farm in West Sussex.  After a nice family Easter egg time, we drove back to Shropshire to drop my mother off.

So there I was driving along, wondering when my next work assignment would drop into my email inbox.

I stopped at the Warwick service station to manage the output-input of fluids that human-motorcar journeys require and to consult e-mail on my telephone. Instead of the expected translation from my sort-of coal-mining client in Lille, there was a message from Sarah at Verso, the publishers, asking me if I would like to interpret for Christian Salmon who was coming to London to promote his book, Storytelling: Bewitching the Modern Mind, which has just been published in English, translated by David Macey.

The power of the blogosphere connected us correctly. Sarah emailed me the details and I arranged to pop into Verso’s offices in Soho to meet Christian the next day. He is a charming, humorous French thinker and writer who has a wry take on the strange mediated world in which we now live. David Evans’s Financial Times review gives a succinct account of the book, which I recommend you buy, e.g. on Amazon.

Well, if you don’t buy it, at least read it, as it gives a lot of insight into the whoppers we have been fed about Afghanistan, Iraq and the way in which politics has been reduced to propaganda rather than democratic debate. There are some great stories (sic) about Weapons of Mass Distraction, the use of Afghan nail varnish removing press conferences to prompt our indignation and obtain our consent. And there are chilling accounts about how the link between video war games and real killing has blurred the distinction between real and virtual reality.

Thursday morning early a BBC car took us to the BBC television centre in White City, where Christian was interviewed by Sarah Montague for the Radio 4 Today programme. Another car dropped us back in town. The sun was shining as we walked across Hyde Park, resplendent in Spring blossom, so we stopped by the Serpentine to drink coffee and bask in the cool sunshine. Christian explained the ideas behind the book, which was first published in French in 2007 and has since been a surprising success, translated into several languages and selling tens of thousands of copies around the world.

Check out the Afterword to the English edition: Obama in Fabula for an explanation of Obama’s Magic Square: storyline, timing, framing and networking and you’ll get the picture.

We wandered through Green Park and St James’s Park and I showed Christian around the the fascinating area between Hungerford Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, which I blogged about in my Adelphi Amble post. Self-referential, moi?!

The Royal Society of Arts grandly hosted us in their auditorium, which used to be a covered street running from the Strand down to the Thames. Steven Poole, the writer and Guardian columnist, introduced Christian, I interpreted and there was an interesting discussion with the audience. I spotted Simon, a former JustGiving colleague, but he left before I had time to ask him what he’d thought about it. Christian’s Storytelling aroused a lot of interest, and he was interviewed on an iPhone by David Wilcox for Social Reporter.

After lunch and a period of quiet at home to calm a buzzing mind, I met Christian in the evening at the ICA for a talk about Making Believe, hosted and chaired by Ekow Eshun, with Julia Hobsbawm and Neil Boorman. Lots of engaged people were there, but there was not enough time to talk more about the invidual as personal brand-maker and self-promoter in our neoliberal capitalist age. This is discussed in Christian’s latest book, Kate Moss Machine, which is not yet available in English, but you can get it in French here.

Propaganda and debate. I heard the wonderfully incisive Shropshire Lass, Mary Beard on the radio this morning talking about the forthcoming British elections. She was lamenting the fact that there was so little to discuss in terms of content. Why would any one not want a fairer society? Why would anyone want to vote for one storyteller rather than another. The ‘historic’ debate‘ on the BBC this evening is perhaps just that, a hiSTORY. Let the people decide, I wonder about what? At least I am happy that I will be able to vote for Big Society, not Big Government, a Fairer Society and a Future Fair for All. Everyone needs at least three historic votes… Qu’en conclus-tu, Christian? What do you reckon, Christian?