The passion to write

To be true, self-writing is beyond morality. “The Young Man” by Annie Ernaux begins with an adventure-turned-story between herself, the narrator, and a student thirty years her junior. In this short novel of almost forty pages, the great writer breaks a new taboo.

“If I don’t write them, things are not over, they have only been lived,” says Proust’s epigraph to Annie Ernaux’ latest book “Le Jeune Homme”. As an entomologist, the author analyzes the time relationship that goes hand in hand for a woman with an idyll with a younger man. “I was of legal age and drifted into semi-consciousness from time to time.” Or again: “He took me out of my generation, but I wasn’t in his.” As so often with Annie Ernaux, sociology occupies a paramount place: their relationship is lived under the eyes of society. And while the young lover throws back at her the images of the girl from a humble background that she was, young but also of the bourgeoisie that she has become thanks to her literary success and her CV. “He was the bearer of the memory of my first world.”

“The Young Man” (ed. Gallimard, 48 pp.) – ©DR

Next to the one who only exists under the name A., the present is just a “double past”, so much so that this relationship turns his life into “a strange and perpetual palimpsest”. Paradoxically, we have here an initiation novel of the oldest form. Annie Ernaux uncompromisingly dissects the effect of age difference. His sincerity about aging, about reclaiming time, “with him my memories seemed endless”, is so caustic that one wonders if, in the opposite case, a man with a much younger wife would have had so many…

But it’s not the age difference between the characters that troubles this novel. Because it is the story of an instrumentalization. The narrator embarks on this amorous adventure, she writes it herself, out of a “desire to trigger the writing of the book”: “The main reason I wanted to continue this story was because in a way it had already happened, that I was the fictional character.” Think of the plot of the film “La Discrète” by Christian Vincent (1990) when Annie Ernaux mentions the fact of “writing/living a novel”, the episodes of which she carefully constructs. Love is never mentioned. “Our relationship could be viewed from a profit perspective.” The novelist even mentions “the good deal.” It lies there, the actual transgression of the book, in the supposed instrumentalization of the other as the engine of writing.

What has become of the author of “Passion simple” (1992), one of the masterpieces of French passion literature?! “Since September last year I have done nothing but wait for a man.” This sentence went around the world. “Simple Passion” was a book written in the time of love entanglement. For his narrator, he was a way of enduring the pain of separation. Thus the simplicity of Annie Ernaux’s writing expressed the absolute and universality of passion. The imperfect she used was perceived as that of an “eternal repetition” of the love experienced. What separates these two books, “Simple Passion” and “Le Jeune Homme” are thirty years and the transition from the story of passion to the story of a love affair instrumentalized to make writing possible. Even in the edifice of self-writing, the time between the books, their silence, speaks a truth. This summer it would be a shame to put “Le Jeune Homme” in your suitcase without “Passion simple”.

“Simple Passion”, by Annie Ernaux (ed. Gallimard, 76 pp.) – ©DR

“The Young Man” and “Simple Passion”, by Annie Ernaux (ed. Gallimard, 48 pp. and 76 pp.)

Judith Hausz



#passion #write

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