Getting away from the gang (Pascal Quignard)


[..] fleeing at full speed whenever I catch sight of bodies that have any sort of faith in any sort of institution or being; fleeing the feebleminded and atrocious conviviality of our time; building a lesser dependency within a small network of polite expressions,
of harmonies between grammatical tenses and musical instruments,
of small softer regions of the skin,
of certain berries, of certain flowers,
of rooms, of books and of friends,
this is to what my head and body devote the essential part of their reciprocal, always unadjusted, finally almost rhythmic times.

Pascal Quignard, The Hatred of Music, translated by Matthew Amos and Fredrik Rönnbäck

Deaths (Michel Serres)

We no doubt became the humans we are from having learned – will we ever know how? – that we were going to die. . . But, by ending up destroying our lives, death constructs them: without the stiff cadaver it leaves behind, without the sex it was long believed to imply or the irreversible time it brings about, would we ever have painted the walls of caves, lit fires, sung within the lacework of language, danced for the gods, observed the stars, demonstrated geometrical theorems, loved our companions, educated children, lastly lived in society?

Michel Serres, Hominescence, translated by Randolph Burks

“But what is the point of writing . . .” (Annie Ernaux)


“But what is the point of writing if not to unearth things, or even just one thing that cannot be reduced to any kind of psychological or sociological explanation and is not the result of a preconceived idea or demonstration but a narrative: something that emerges from the creases when a story is unfolded and can help us understand — endure — events that occur and the things that we do?”

Annie Ernaux, A Girl’s Story, translated by Alison L. Strayer

This is, so far, the Ernaux that makes the most intense impression, though I will reread The Years again soon. Right before, I read A Man’s Place, affecting, but to a lesser degree perhaps.

All is Quiet

in his essay, Karl Ove Knausgaard captures concisely and perceptively the literary qualities of Thomas Bernhard, Michel Houellebecq, Jon Fosse and by extension his own writing; “the presence we feel has to do with a certain receptiveness, a certain alertness, a certain temperament, and what this opens up for us in the text. The strange thing about writing is that the self seems to let go, that what in our self-conception normally keeps the I together, becomes dissolved, the inner being reconfigurating in new and unfamiliar ways.”

I’ve yet to read Fosse’s fiction, but the essays that Knausgaard describes are collected in An Angel Walks Through the Stage and Other Essays (trans. May-Brit Akerholt) from Dalkey Archive. I require more time with the essays, but am fascinated with his singular way of looking at literature and art.

That it is influenced by Maurice Blanchot reminds me yet again to spend more time with his work, as what Fosse describes is close to what I seek and am fortunate to find in my literary touchstones: “Whereas telling connects with the social world, the narrative situation itself, and moreover comprises some element of entertainment, writing, Fosse seems to believe, connects with something else, with that part of our language which perhaps communicates only itself, like a stone or a crack in a wall.”

Annie Ernaux’s Happening (Lost in Translation)

Reading Annie Ernaux’s Happening. I am suspicious of its translation into English.

Ernaux writes: “En regardent la silhouette frêle, en imperméable, du petit employé, ses humiliations, devant la désolation sans espoir du film, je savais que mes règles ne reviendraient pas.” This is translated as: “As I watched the frail figure of the boy in his cheap raincoat, the humiliations he suffered during his pathetic existence, somehow I knew the bleeding would not come back.” I consulted the original because “pathetic existence” didn’t ring true, seeming like poor writing. But it isn’t apparently what Ernaux intended, I assume, more a statement on the mood, “hopeless desolation” perhaps, of the film.

Earlier, Ernaux writes: “Comme la dernière fois, des hommes attendaient, groupés au pied métro aérien.” Again I looked up the original because it is translated as: “Like last time, men were idly waiting, clustered at the foot of the Métro overhead.” That “idly” jarred as another piece of sloppy writing. How do you wait “un-idly”? But the adverb isn’t present in the original.

Further on, Ernaux uses the phrase: “pensant sans arrêt que je n’avais pas mes règles,” which is translated as: “obsessed with the fact that I no longer had my period”. There is a gulf of difference between obsession and perhaps, “thinking all the time”. The psychoanalytic jargon is used a few pages on when, “Je résistais sans pouvoir m’empêcher d’y penser à net événement. M’y abandonner me semblait effrayant” is translated as “Despite my efforts to fight it, I became obsessed with the idea. Obeying this impulse seemed a terrifying prospect.” Both “obsessed” and “terrifying” seem to escalate and change the tone of Ernaux’s prose considerably.

Although this translation reads fluidly enough, it seems to distort the original more than necessary. Translator friends with French: am I nitpicking? For now I’m going back to Alison L. Strayer’s translation of The Years, which seems to my amateur eye a more reliable rendition that is a considerable literary achievement in its own right.