Archives de Catégorie: Emancipation
Interview with Vice
VICE: The End of Eddy works on two levels. There’s the personal side which examines your early life and the violence you endured, then there’s the wider implication of that life: the condemnation of poverty and violence in certain sections of French society. Was it your intention from the outset to tackle such broad political and social issues?
Edouard Louis: What I wanted to do, firstly and above everything else, was to talk about these dominated, excluded people whom I describe in the book. It is about this village in the North of France, far from any city, any station, where 20 years ago everyone would work at a factory – which has now closed – where people are now jobless and hopeless. And about how this violence which people suffer from ends up creating more violence. If you suffer from violence all your life, in the end you inflict it upon others, for example upon gays, upon what people call « strangers », or women.So from the outset that is what I wanted to talk about – these people who we never hear about and never talk about. I didn’t know that the book would be translated into 20 or 25 languages, I thought I would sell maybe 800 copies – so I didn’t think about « will it be about the north of France, or something more? » At the same time you could say that William Faulkner wrote about a tiny region in the American South, but all the issues he discussed were universal. And precisely because he focused on a microcosm it exposed all the characteristics of this world we live in, the racism and the violence.
Another thing that’s remarkable about the book is that your tone is rarely accusatory. Many people may find that surprising given the litany of abuses you suffered growing up. But the feeling in the book is that it is not the fault of those who persecuted you.
I think violence is at the heart of the book. The fact is that violence is the invisible foundation of our lives. You are born and suddenly people tell you, « you are a nigger », « you are a faggot », « you are just a woman » – you don’t even understand language, but you realise that there is already something that labels you, and this label will define your life, your future. And that sort of thing is much more present in the region I grew up in, precisely because of the violence people suffered from, that they then perpetuated. People there are excluded, so they exclude. I could just as well have called the book something like « Sociological Excuses ».When I was a kid I hated my mother, and hated my father. My father would say « we need to put gays and Jews in concentration camps » almost every day and I thought he was talking about me, that I was included in this category of people who were to be killed.
And then in leaving the village and starting to write the book, I realised that the causes of this violence and hate are not in my father, they are much bigger. The book is not saying « my father is poor », but that the system made my father poor. Not that « my father is violent », but the system makes my father violent. There is a chronology to this in the book, and chronology is important. When I first introduce my father I describe his life first, that his father would beat his mother, and then I say my father was violent.
Your decision to use your own life, to name and describe your parents, cousins, grandparents, the people you went to school with and knew from birth to the time you left the village, as all being complicit in this situation must have upset a lot of people? Yet it is the personal aspect that acts as a vehicle for the wider sociological issues. That must have been a hard call to make?
It was sometimes very difficult to write such personal things. Even to expose myself like I have in the book. In the first scene of the book two guys come up to me at middle school and spit in my face. I was scared because I didn’t want to be seen as a victim, or only as a victim. Of course I was a victim at one point, like most people are at some point of their life. Who can say, « I was never a victim in my life »? Nobody, except liars. But my revealing these intimate things I would imagine is precisely the interesting thing about the book. The border between what is private and what is public is a historical border and we put in the shadows of privacy what we don’t want to address. When Simone de Beauvoir talked about the woman, people (including Camus) would say, « Oh it’s not our business to know about women’s lives. » You have to expose these things.
On top of that I didn’t really think about these revelations as a risk because I didn’t think I would sell many copies. There were no books in my village, no books in my house. I simply never thought it would reach those people, that it would reach my family.
People tell me, « You didn’t think enough about your family », but for me when I write a book I think more about queer people, or people of colour, or women than I think about my family! What is this rebirth of the family values? Be kind to your parents? When I talk about women being beaten, gays being assaulted, or these people voting for Marine Le Pen – more than half my village have voted for her – that is far more important to me than my Mama or my Papa.
As I said, the book’s tone is not accusatory, in the wider context it is not these people you are attacking.
Some people have told me that the book is « contemptful ». I asked them which part they found to be so, and they said, « For example you say in the book that your father didn’t wash every day », to which I said, « I don’t despise that. It’s your problem if you think it’s disgusting. I don’t. » I am just describing the situation and plus, I explain why this situation takes place.
You mention Marine Le Pen, and clearly the book’s vivid depiction of an under-exposed section of French society – the section from which a part of her voter base is likely to come – is very timely, given her growing power.
Of course the way people read or interpret books is always different, but in one way of course the book is about the rise of all this populism, all around the world. When I was reading articles about Brexit for example, those voting for it who were quoted in the media were saying the exact same things that my mother would say when voting for Le Pen: « Nobody listens to us, nobody cares about us, we are worthless… » Those responsible for what is happening are those often left-wing people who have never listened to these sections of society who feel ignored.
The End of Eddy was written out of anger. I had moved to Paris and I would hear these Parisians talking about the working class, well they thought they were talking about the working class, but they were actually talking about the distance between them and the working class. Everything they said just illustrated that gap instead of the subject they meant to discus.
This must have left you in an odd and, at times, uncomfortable situation? You are feted by the left wing, literary crowds around the world – seen as a contact point for that elite with the working classes. Yet you are part of that working class, and are left somewhere between those two worlds?
It was complicated. Part of these elites attacked me when I published The End of Eddy. Some of the liberal left, when they talk about the working class, they like to create a mythology about « the good people », the simple and honest people, who are not « pretending all the time » like the bourgeoisie. Who are these people? Who are they talking about? About white, straight, men? They aren’t talking about the poorest, about queers, women, Arabs. They are talking about a minority, the brave white straight working class man, and because of that the others, the majority, suffer.
Lately, some so-called intellectuals have tended to see the class war in opposition with what they call « identity politics ». They suggest that, since the end of the 20th century, political movements for emancipation have focused more and more on gender, race, sexuality, and less and less on social class war. But this opposition between class and identity is wrong. I try to point out that every single class issue is an issue of gender and sexuality, as the philosopher Geoffroy de Lagasnerie pointed out.
For example, in the book, to be a working class man means to reject what was perceived as the « feminity » of the bourgeoisie: the men who cross their legs when they sit, the bourgeois who eats small plates in place of the big meals of real men.
Even more, constructing your masculinity in this village means refusing to play by the rules of the education system, to challenge the teachers, and to auto-exclude your self from the possibility of further study and therefore, to be condemned to stay in the same social class as your parents. To read was considered as something effeminate, sexually suspicious, something for « faggots ». So, we will never achieve a class revolution without achieving a sexual and gender revolution.
In the same way that the intelligencia, if you want to call them that, have maybe reacted badly to your book, presumably there’s also been a reaction from those depicted in The End of Eddy?
Obviously the big problem here is that when you talk about the reaction of poor people – most of the time they will not be reading the book. Mostly they were excluded from school young, they were excluded from legitimate culture… some people want to say that everybody can read.
But it’s actually so much more radical to acknowledge that these people are so harassed by their work, and had such violent experiences at school that most of the time they do not read a lot. Of course there are exceptions, but mostly they don’t. My father never read a book in his life, my mother neither. So it’s hard to address the question of how the book affected those depicted.
I do however think that a book can play a role beyond it’s readers, for example the life of black people was changed by the work of James Baldwin or Toni Morrison even for those who didn’t read the work. It entered the minds of people who read and made the issues discussed present in the political arena.
And what of those critics from that section of society, those who said it the book isn’t a true depiction of that life?
This is the very key to book! I wrote it to find the violence that I didn’t feel when I was a kid. If violence is always with you, you just call it life. You think it’s normal. When I was a kid, sometimes we ran out of food. My mother would say « just drink some milk for your meal », I was hungry, so I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t find that to be « violent ». I needed to leave the village to understand that that is indeed a sort of violence – for a 10-year-old kid to not have food to eat. So that’s another issue, that those from that world who do read the book may just see these things as normal. As a queer person of course I had a different point of view from many of those around me. In the end the book was not so much about homosexuality because I don’t have much to say about it. For me being queer was a tool for investigating this milieu. To see things differently. I was excluded for it and that meant I could see that world differently.
Finally, how did the book’s success effect your relations with your family, who are so thoroughly examined within it?
There were two very different reactions. With my father I talked to him again after five years of silence. I was 21 when the book was first published so it had been a quarter of my life not speaking to him. He called me and said, « Edouard, I am so proud of you ». He stopped saying racist and homophobic things. My mother was angry and went on a campaign against me, saying I had betrayed her. But then again she was manipulated by the media. A very stupid French paper went to the village and took my mother to a house that wasn’t hers, and shot her in a more bourgeoisie environment, asked her to dress differently and so on. There was something disgusting about that, these journalists going to see the poor, like on a safari of some sort. And what did they think? Did they think they would go to the village and see crucified gays in the street? Violence is something so much more subtle.
« Penser dans un monde mauvais » de Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, à paraître dans la collection « Des mots »
Début janvier 2017 paraîtra aux Presses Universitaires de France, dans la collection « Des mots », le livre de Geoffroy de Lagasnerie « Penser dans un monde mauvais ».
Parce que nous vivons dans un monde mauvais, tout auteur doit nécessairement se poser la question de savoir comment ne pas être complice, volontairement ou involontairement, des systèmes de pouvoir : qu’est-ce qu’écrire dans une société marquée par la violence, la domination, l’exploitation ? Comment concevoir une pratique de la pensée qui ne contribue pas à la perpétuation de ce qui existe mais qui soit, au contraire, oppositionnelle ? Quels sens ont l’art, la culture et le savoir – et surtout : à quelles conditions ont-ils du sens et de la valeur ?
Dans le cadre du festival du journal Le Monde, je dialoguerai avec Jean Birnbaum sur le thème « Face à la violence, se réinventer ». Il y sera question d’Histoire de la violence et d’En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule mais aussi, plus généralement, de violence sociale, de littérature et d’émancipation.
La rencontre se tiendra dans le Grand Foyer du Palais Garnier le samedi 17 septembre à 16h.
Il est possible de réserver des places et d’obtenir plus d’informations ici.
Suite à la publication de Para acabar con eddy Bellegueule en espagnol, une fondation a été crée à Madrid, qui porte le nom « Fondation Eddy« , et qui offre des appartements dans le centre de Madrid à des jeunes victimes de discriminations sexuelles. J’ai été bouleversé par l’annonce de la création de cette association, qui se veut l’équivalent de l’association Le Refuge en France.
Sur le site de la fondation, on peut lire qu’elle met à disposition des appartements pour les jeunes victimes de LGBTphobie, sérophobie, que ce soit dans le milieu social, familial, scolaire, professionnel ou conjugal. Elle accueille les réfugiés gays, lesbiennes et trans sans papiers ayant dû fuir leur pays à cause de leur orientation sexuelle.
Dans le cadre de la Fête du livre de Bron, je ferai, le samedi 5 mars à 15h30, un dialogue avec Virginie Despentes sur la littérature et l’émancipation.
La rencontre se tiendra à l’Hippodrome de Parilly, salle des Parieurs. 4-6 av. Pierre Mendès France, 69500 Bron.
I first gave this lecture at Columbia University, in 2015 / Translated into english by Adam Briscoe
When I try to remember my childhood, or when when memories of my childhood strike me, against any decision of my own, it is the rage which hits me the strongest.
The story of my childhood is a story of rage and anger. I don’t recall a single day in which my mother wasn’t standing in front of the television screaming at the politicians, “They are all the same!”; Not a single day in which my dad wasn’t complaining about the doctor of the village, or the mayor, saying that they were always against us, and against our best interests. By us, I mean to say those without money, those who never even went to high school, the jobless, the hopeless.
My grandmother also screamed, and probably her mother and father before her. The screams were passed down from one generation to the next, but the screams saved no one from their destiny. Because we didn’t know what to do with these screams. They were there, among us, encumbering us; we didn’t know to whom they should be addressed, except to the television which always remained cold and placid.
We were uncertain of who was responsible for our unhappiness. It would change according to the nightly news. We had to avoid screaming in front of other people, because my mother always told us that complaining would give us a bad reputation. Plus, even when she was screaming she would never talk about suffering for fear of being seen as a complainer. Because of all of this, as Aimé Césaire said, we always pass by, “detoured by our screams, our cries.”
« And in this inert town, this squalling throng so astonishingly detoured from its cry as this town has been from its movement, from its meaning, not even worried, detoured from its true cry »
I have a particularly humiliating memory of a lost cry: my father became a street sweeper after an accident at the factory left him unable to do his job. One day, during election time, a politician, a minister of the government visited my father’s place of work – his damp corner of the basement. My father had always hated this man and would frequently insult him whenever he appeared on television. When he saw the minister arrive, crowned by his status, evidenced by his clothes and his intimidating demeanor, encircled by his bodyguards and aides, my father didn’t dare say a thing. He kept silent, as though he was suddenly humiliated by all the attributes of power. He came home and said that he hadn’t confronted the minister. In fact, they joked around together. He added, he thought he wasn’t such an asshole after all, but kind of a good guy. I felt wounded by this treason precisely because it was my parents who had taught me to hate this man.
I believe that what so deeply moved me when I discovered the books of Violette Leduc was her cascade of shouts and complaints. The batard famously begins, for example:
“My case is not unique : I am afraid of dying and distressed at being in this world. I haven’t worked, I haven’t studied. I have wept, I have cried out in protest. These tears and cries have taken up a great deal of my time. I am tortured by all the time lost whenever I think about it. I cannot think about things for long, but I can find pleasure in a withered lettuce leaf offering me nothing but regrets to chew over. There is no sustenance in the past. I shall depart as I arrived. Intact, loaded down with the defects that have tormented me. I wish I had been born a statue : I am a slug under my dunghill. Virtues, good qualities, courage, meditation, culture. With arms crossed on my breast I have broken myself against those words.”
She shouts, she cries, she moans. Her complaints are the material of her writing. She addresses her cries to others, to the world, to Simone de Beauvoir, to the reader. Violet Leduc knows how to cry. Her complaints touch us because they provide us another way to live and exist, which is, in her case, a way of screaming.
When I try to remember my mother or my sister, and their disordered rants, I tell myself that they fail where Violette Leduc succeeded because she turned her screams, her cries, her lamentations into an instrument of transformation.
She shows in La Folie en Tete, that there is an ambition, a desire behind this manner of being: “To cry louder, thats the goal for which I strive.” Who would rescue me if I didn’t have my sobs.”
Violette Leduc complains because she asks for help, because she wants to be rescued. And what is so beautiful in saying this is that we understand that her “becoming” is something which takes place outside of her. She complains to bring close this externality, this rescue. What I believe, and what I will try to point out today, is that we can find in this way of thinking, pushed as far as Violette Leduc did, a very powerful reflection about what “becoming” and becoming free and autonomous means.
Violette Leduc was perhaps the only writer who broke away from the figure of the hero who haunts the memoire and particularly the memoires of those sociology calls class transfuges – those rare individuals who weren’t born into a privileged and intellectual milieu, but who as Violette Leduc, James Baldwin or Peter Handke became writers – even if they had three very different childhoods.
I remember when I read Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, or A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke – I take these authors, though I could take many others, like Pierre Bourdieu – when I read these books, I was unsettled by the impression that these authors had always wanted to be authors, were born “authors,” or in a more general way, were always different, and always more free than their peers ( is it necessary to precise that I talk about Baldwin and Handke with an infinite admiration ).
They had always been more free than the others, and the story of the first part of their life always looked like a struggle against their circumstances, a struggle against the milieu into which they had accidentally been born. This people, the tranfuges, were always-already free in an alienated world where they fought to become something else, against and despite their milieu, in order to achieve their difference. James Baldwin writes, “Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent – which attitude certainly has a great deal to support it.”
Of course, there are many who help them, we know the elementary school teacher of Albert Camus, or the one who takes young James Baldwin to the theater. Of course there are uncertainties, like Pierre Bourdieu who hesitates between adhering to the scholastic system and pursuing the masculine values of his milieu which encourages him to reject school. But these elements are always either supplemental or peripheral to their innate desire for escape, the will to flee, the force of flight.
Most of the time, as Didier Eribon revealed about the auto-analysis of Pierre Bourdieu, the transfuges keep silent about the probable origins of their difference, which is just another way to let us think that they always were, in a dormant state, what they became. The will to flee seems to have always been present, the difficulty comes not from the creation of this will, but from the struggle of the will against unfavorable circumstances.
I despaired in reading the lines of James Baldwin, Pierre Bourdieu or Peter Handke. When I read them, around the time I was eighteen years old, I started to feel the need to write. But if I tried to remember my childhood, I didn’t see myself as a child always-already free, and even less as a born writer. I had written some little texts or poems for Mother’s Day, just like all the other children. And I didn’t do it like a task which would have unveiled what I was dreaming for my future.
On the contrary, as I showed in Finishing off Eddy Bellegueule, my childhood had been a story of my struggle not to flee, where I did everything in my capacity to fit in. I was a gay child, a queer child, effeminate, and I was the shame of my parents, because they always dreams of having as a son a real boy, a tough guy. They found in their arms a skinny little boy with a high voice, who hated soccer, and wanted to play with dolls. When we were around their friends, they would lower their eyes whenever I would speak because they were ashamed of my intonations and what I was saying. So I had the same dreams as them of conforming to what was presented to me as normal. I had wanted to follow the model set by the popular kids in school. I had dreamed that they wouldn’t lower their eyes when I spoke. I hadn’t always dreamed of leaving, even less of writing.
And I had the thought, many years later, while reading Notes of a Native Son: If I hadn’t always been different, wasn’t it proof that I would never be. Was something missing when I was born. I thought: wasn’t it the proof that I would never be a writer? If the writer-tranfuges are born different, extraordinary, then they aren’t ordinary, and in this fact, they maintain the frontier with the ordinary, and a fortiori, with the masses. What becomes fascinating in the life of the transfuge is precisely these extraordinary and unknowable characteristics. The beauty of her life is rightly its distance in relation to that of the reader. It’s this suffering of the frontier that I have shown and which Violette Leduc can free us.
Violette Leduc breaks free from the myth of the autonomy of the will, and she substitutes for this myth a much more generous and inclusive approach. The force of Violette Leduc compared to the the other authors who wrote on this subject, it’s that she problematized the difference between the transfuge and her surroundings. She succeeds in illustrating the difference between the transfuge and her peers without reproducing the distance. In fact, she wasn’t born different, she became different. For her the politics of the difference is the politics of becoming. Contrary to James Baldwin, Violette Leduc writes, about herself, in La Folie en tete: “Vocation: none.” And then she became Violette Leduc. When we read this quote, “vocation: none” and we see that the same person who wrote this sentence wrote la batard, l’asphyxie, Therese et Isabelle, we can feel much more welcomed, because even those who were born “without vocation”, because they were born in a milieu where there were no vocations, we can still imagine a destiny out of the ordinary.
Violette Leduc tells that it’s first the writer Maurice Sachs who put the pen in her hand. And its then, in meeting Simone de Beauvoir that she found the ambition and energy to write her works.For some time, she lives with Maurice Sachs, this man who she « loves and is intimidated by ».Violette Leduc trusts him, she tells him about her violent childhood, this childhood as a “batard” which she had lived. And in hearing these memories, Maurice Sachs tells her, “Your unhappy childhood is starting to piss me off.” This afternoon, take your sack, your fountain pen, your notebook (…) and write’”
So Violette Leduc writes. “I was writing to obey Maurice.” He encourages her to keep going going. “My dear Violette, you only have to keep going,” he told me. Several years later, when she stops seeing Maurice Sachs, and attaches herself to Simone de Beauvoir, maintaining the same relationship to writing. This is another important point about Violette Leduc’s wailing and screaming. Because her cries and shouts inform us of the difficulty of becoming, particularly on the difficulty of becoming different.
Throughout her book La Folie en Tete and again at the end of La Batarde, Violette Leduc shows how it is in self identifying, in admiring Simone de Beauvoir, in loving that which was outside of her, that she wrote. She became different for Simone de Beauvoir.
She said: “I would look everywhere, in vain, for this work of writing if I hadn’t seen her after fifteen days””
She said: “I recount my life, to write became my life. (…) Must I continue to recount it? Mustn’t I? If I stop, I delete Simone de Beauvoir.”
In insisting on the importance of the others, of Simone de Beauvoir, of Maurice Sachs, she pushes past the point of destruction this image of the “innate writer.” She offers hope to those who have been destined to nothingness by society. What’s more, her cries themselves inform us of this construction: because if she cries, its because of the difficulty of constructing the difference. Its not the difficulty of being different. In placing emphasis on these sufferings, she puts emphasis on a process. Between these two models there is a difference, above all, in tempo, the chronology and chronological order of Violette Leduc is immensely more welcoming, and more open. I mean, in any case, that it welcomed me.
The fact that what she became came from the outside doesn’t mean that Violette Leduc isn’t autonomous. It doesn’t mean that she is condemned to spend her whole life in the shadow of Simone de Beauvoir, and that she renounces her singularity and originality. It is precisely through this process of identification and admiration that Violette Leduc earns her autonomy. Her liberty comes from admiration; with Violette Leduc, to admire isn’t to submit, rather a means of self liberation.
I’ve known many people who attest to the fact of not resembling someone and of not admiring someone , because they “remain different.”
A couple of years ago, when I was working in a bookshop to earn a little money, there were always some people who introduced themselves as authors and who would drop off manuscripts at the bookshop and ask us to pass them along to editors. Many would say that they never read books out of fear of admiring other writers and being influenced. I had never imagined, before this job, that there were thousands of people, everywhere, who were writing without ever having read for fear of being influenced and to lose that which they believed made them different. One only had to thumb through the manuscripts to see that they were nothing more than recitations of all the most ordinary urges and categories of thought of the social world.
When I was in middle school and I saw the boys I had grown up with in my village drop-out of school very young, and eliminating their chances of becoming something other than a factory worker like their fathers and grandfathers before them, this was almost always a struggle between their autonomy, on the one hand, and the educational system on the other. Of course, they disqualified themselves because they were disqualified, but their participation was essential to the social reproduction.
For both the writers and the boys from school, what they call their autonomy was the most perfect realization of heteronomy. They were falling in the trap, because they were condemned to be nothing other than that which Society had made of them, that which they called their “difference” was, in fact, exactly what society had placed inside them. Violette Leduc, however, through her admiration of Simone de Beauvoir, achieved the difference. “Staying different” becomes an oxymoron. She doesn’t have to find it, hidden somewhere inside of her, rather she must commit herself to creating it.
We can’t not see the irreducible opposition between Baldwin-Handke and Violette Leduc and their manners of presenting the becoming. Between these two models there is a difference, above all, in tempo, the chronology and chronological order of Violette Leduc is immensely more welcoming, and more open. I mean, in any case, that it welcomed me.