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Concepts of territory and ownership seem to be at the root of much human conflict; where did these ideas originate, and why do we cling to them?
For many centuries, the city was a crucially important center of commerce, but with new technology that's no longer the case, and the politics of owning a place are different. Nevertheless, the place remains important. A friend of mine recently said there are two things today that can't be deterritorialized or virtualized: They are Jerusalem -- nobody wants virtual Jerusalem, they want to own the actual soil -- and the other thing is oil. The capitalistic nation states live on oil, and although that could be changed, the whole society would collapse if it did. That's why oil is a problem. It's more of a problem in America than it is in Europe, but we share the same concerns. Everything is always more in America, for obvious reasons.
Is the past more apt to be a source of pain or pleasure for people?
This differs from one person to the next, but I'm fortunate in that I have a happy relationship with the past -- I even keep happy memories of difficult parts of my life that I know were terrible. I'd like to repeat my life, and would accept that everything be repeated endlessly, exactly as it happened. The eternal return.
What's important to you today?
How can I answer such a question? Many things private, public and political are important to me, but I think of all these things with a constant awareness that I'm aging, I'm going to die, and life is short. I'm constantly attentive to the time left to me, and although I've been inclined this way since I was young, it becomes more serious when you reach 72. So far I haven't made my peace with the inevitability of death, and I doubt I ever will, and this awareness permeates everything I think. It's terrible what's going on in the world, and all these things are on my mind, but they exist alongside this terror of my own death.
At what point did you become an adult?
This is an intriguing question. I've always believed everyone has more than one age, and I carry three ages within myself. When I was 20 I felt old and wise, but now I feel like a child. There's an element of melancholy to this, because although I feel young in my heart, I know objectively that I'm not young. The second age I carry is my real age of 72, and every day I'm confronted with signs that remind me of it. The third age I carry -- and this is something I only feel in France -- is the age I was when I began to publish, which was 35. It's as if I stopped at 35 in the cultural world where I work. Of course that's not true, because in many circles I'm considered an old, well-known professor who's published a lot. Nonetheless, I feel as though I'm a young writer who just started publishing, and people are saying, "Well, he's promising."