Annie Ernaux in Stockholm, or writing as insurrection

Played on a grand piano, a meditative air ends. Annie Ernaux can go up on the platform. The winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature sits in front of a pedestal table. A little hunched over, her silhouette dressed in black stands out against the gilded paneling of the old Stock Exchange in Stockholm. And his speech begins, a 25-minute speech which unfolds with precision the genesis of his writing, a slow maturation mixing the intimate and the social, letters and politics, philosophy and current events.

A speech without euphemism

She says them in a soft, almost thin voice, but sometimes her words clash under the high ceilings of the Swedish institution. Since 1901 and the first awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature (to the Frenchman Sully Prudhomme), it has acted as a sounding board for the tumults of the world. Rarely, however, have they scolded so clearly as on December 7, 2022. No matter how solemn the circumstance. As in her novels, Annie Ernaux refuses detours and euphemisms. She quotes “the dictator at the head of Russia” and regret that it still exists “male intellectuals for whom works written by women simply do not exist”. The Academy should expect no less, which summarizes the work of the laureate as follows: “uncompromising and written in flat language”.

The author of The place therefore shows itself to be in conformity with its texts, born of an original visceral intention: “avenge my race”she summarizes, assuming her borrowing from Rimbaud, who said to himself “of inferior race from all eternity”. This race is that of “landless peasants” and workers, her family, in short, the object of a social injustice that she believed she could repair through writing – naivety, she explained. From childhood, literature represents for her a “value superior to all others”. She owes this sacredness to reading, to which she pays a fine tribute by quoting the books “ desirable » who started it: Wretched, Nausea, the stranger, David Copperfield… Perhaps Annie Ernaux got this attraction from her mother, who “preferred reading to sewing and knitting”.

strip the tongue

But the love of books and the thirst for revenge are not enough to end up, at the age of 82, on the stage of the Nobel Academy. With humility, Annie Ernaux describes the patient craftsmanship that led her to develop her language. She may well admire Proust and Flaubert, exit metaphors and long periods. “I had to break with the“write well”, “the beautiful phrase””, she explains. Annie Ernaux ends up bringing to light her own style, which will be, or almost, not to have one. A bare language is the best way, in his eyes, to speak his mind, but also to upset the established order.

There is also this choice of the first person, omnipresent in his novels. The use of the “I” does not come from narcissism, but from a “democratic conquest” for those who did not have the floor, she says, quoting Confessions of Rousseau. Beyond politics, however, “I” above all offers a means of “decipher a lived situation” as close as possible, she adds, to digging deep into a particular existence in order to better detect its universality.

From her beginnings as a writer, “avenge one’s race” is also to avenge one’s sex. “I wanted to describe everything that happened to my body as a girl, the discovery of pleasure, the rules”, she explains. Thus is defined the area of ​​his writing, “an area that is both social and feminist”.

A platform for its commitments

Her literary identity thus posed, Annie Ernaux can only take advantage of the platform of her speech at the Nobel Academy to lead her fight. She thus pays homage to the MeToo movement by citing “the revolt of these women who have found the words to upset male power”. She also salutes the women in Iran, who are rising up ” against the most violent and archaic form” of this patriarchy.

Finally, the writer recalls her attachment to equality. “Silence, in certain moments of history, is not appropriate”she asserts, saying she is guided by a “duty of care” in front of the current rise “of an ideology of withdrawal and closure, (…) based on the exclusion of foreigners and immigrants, the abandonment of the economically weak, on the surveillance of women’s bodies. »


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