Archives de Catégorie: English

Lectures in the US ( Fall 2017 )

These events are open to the public.

October 24, 2017 : Yale University ( 4pm, Yale Department of French. )

October 25, 2017 : The New School ( 6:30pm, Klein Conference Room. )

October 26, 2017 : Wellesley College ( 5:30pm, Wellesley College French house. )

October 27, 2017 : MIT ( 5:30pm, MIT Campus, 182 Memorial Drive. )

October 28, 2017 : Boston book festival ( 12:45, 53 Marlborough St.)

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Classé dans English, Rencontres

Louisiana Festival / Copenhague

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This summer, I will be in Copenhagen as part of the Louisiana Festival, with Zadie Smith, Colson Whithead, Laurie Anderson, Svetlana Alexievitch, Paul Auster, etc

I will give a talk about my novel History of violence – just released in danish – and about literature in general, the 26th of August, at 2:30pm. This talk will be in French, translated into Danish and English.

The 27th of August, I will be in conversation with Colson Whitehead at 2:30pm ( in English ).

More informations here.

 

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Classé dans English, Littérature, Rencontres, Roman

My Father’s Country

Article published in the New York Times ( long version )

New-York-Times-Logo

Last month, the face of Marine Le Pen appeared on my computer screen. The headline under the picture read, “Marine Le Pen in Round Two.” The leader of France’s far-right National Front had advanced to a runoff vote in the presidential election. I immediately thought of my father, several hundred miles away. I imagined him bursting with joy in front of the TV — the same joy he felt in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen, the previous leader of the National Front made it to the second round. I remembered my father shouting, “We’re going to win!” with tears in his eyes.

I grew up in Hallencourt, a tiny village in Northern France where, until the 1980s, nearly everyone worked for the same factory. By the time I was born, in the 1990s, after several waves of layoffs, most of the people around me were out of work and had to survive as best they could on welfare. My father left school at 14, as did his father before him. He worked for 10 years at the factory. He never got a chance to be laid off: One day at work, a storage container fell on him and crushed his back, leaving him bedridden, on morphine for the pain.

I knew the feeling of being hungry before I knew how to read. From the time I was 5 my father would order me to go knock on the door of one of my aunts, who lived down the street, and ask if she could spare some pasta or bread for our table. I was sent because he knew it was easier to pity a child than an adult. Every year the amount of his workers’ compensation decreased. I have four siblings, and in the end, my father couldn’t feed a family of seven. My mother didn’t work; my father said a woman’s place was in the home.

At 18, thanks to a series of lucky breaks and miracles, I became a student of philosophy in Paris, at a college considered one of the most prestigious in France. I was the first in my family to attend university. So far from the world where I’d grown up, living in a little studio on the Place de la République, I decided to write a novel about where I came from. I wanted to bear witness to the poverty and exclusion that were part of our everyday experience. I was struck and troubled by the fact that the life I knew all those years never appeared in books, in newspapers or on TV. Every time I heard someone talk about « France », in the media or even in the street, I knew they weren’t talking about the people I’d grown up with.

Two years later, I finished the book and sent it to a big Paris publisher. Less than two weeks later, he sent a reply: He couldn’t publish my manuscript because the poverty I wrote about hadn’t existed in more than a century; no one would believe the story I had to tell. I read that email several times, choked with rage and despair. The explanation was tragic but simple : the life I’d known, the life that my mother and father still lived while I was writing, was so completely absent from the public discourse that, in the end, those who didn’t live it believed that it didn’t exist.

In the 2000s, when I was growing up, every member of my family voted for Le Pen. My father went into the polling station with my older brothers to make sure they really were voting for the National Front. The mayor and his staff members didn’t say anything when they saw my father doing this. In our village, with its population of only a few hundred, everyone had attended the same school. Everyone saw everyone else at the bakery in the morning or in the cafe at night. No one wanted to pick a fight with my father.

A vote for the National Front was of course a vote tinged with racism and homophobia. My father looked forward to the time when we would “throw out the Arabs and the Jews.” He liked to say that homosexuals deserved the death penalty — looking sternly at me, who already in primary school was attracted to other boys on the playground.

And yet what these elections really meant for my father was a chance to fight his sense of invisibility. My father understood, long before I did, that in the minds of the bourgeoisie — people like the editor who would turn down my book a few years later — our existence didn’t count and wasn’t real.

The writer Pierre Bergounioux has observed that the difference between the powerful and the powerless is not just a matter of wealth or education – No, it is also that the powerful get to exist twice. First they exist as bodies: walking around, eating, making love. But they have another existence too, in the world of representations – in literature, in art, in the media. The powerless are allowed only the life of the body. Their lives don’t show up in books or in political discourse. My father voted against this injustice. Unlike the ruling class, he didn’t have the privilege of voting for a political program. Voting, for him, was a desperate attempt to exist in the eyes of others.

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He had felt abandoned by the political left ever since the 1980s, when it began adopting the language and thinking of the free market. Across Europe, as Didier Eribon pointed out in his book Returning to Reims, left-wing parties no longer spoke of social class, injustice and poverty — of suffering, pain and exhaustion. They talked about modernization, growth and harmony in diversity — of communication, social dialogue and calming tensions. My father understood that this technocratic vocabulary was meant to shut up workers and further the spread of neoliberalism. The left wasn’t fighting for the working class, against the laws of the marketplace; it was trying to manage the lives of the working class from within those laws. The unions had undergone the same transformation: My grandfather was a union man. My father was not.

When he was watching TV and a socialist or a union representative appeared on the screen, my father would call out, “Whatever — left, right, now, they’re all the same.” That “whatever” distilled all of his disappointment in those who, in his mind, should have been standing up for him but weren’t. By contrast, the National Front railed against poor working conditions and unemployment, blaming it all on immigration or the European Union. In the absence of any attempt by the left to discuss his suffering, my father took ahold of the false explanations offered by the far-right.

I don’t know for sure how he voted last month, in the first round of the presidential election, and I don’t know for sure how he will vote on Sunday, in the runoff. He and I almost never speak. Our lives have grown too far apart, and whenever we try to talk on the phone, we are reduced to silence by the pain of having become strangers to each other. Usually we hang up after a minute or two, embarrassed that neither of us can think of anything to say.

But even if I can’t ask him directly, I’m confident he is still voting for the National Front. In his village, Marine Le Pen came out way ahead in the first round of the election. In the European elections, three years ago, almost 55% of the village voted for the far right – and if all those who were eligible had cast their votes, the tally would probably have exceeded 70%.

Today, writers, journalists, and liberals bear the weight of responsibility for the future. Unless they offer a discourse and framework that allow the outcast to feel represented, then these outcasts will turn to whatever populist movement gives them the illusion of being counted. To persuade my family not to vote for Marine Le Pen, it’s not enough to show that she is racist and dangerous: Everyone knows that already. It’s not enough to fight against hate or against her. We have to fight for the powerless, for a language that gives a place to the most invisible people – people like my father.

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Classé dans English, Littérature, Politique

Conversation with Teju Cole

For the launch of « The End of Eddy » in the USA, I will have the great pleasure to talk with Teju Cole at Albertine in New-York, the 25th of April at 7pm.

The event is free and open to the public.

More informations here.

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Classé dans English, Littérature, Parutions, Politique, Roman

Lecture and discussion at University of North Carolina

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20/03/2017 · 14:06

‘For my family, a book was a kind of assault’

 

Afew months ago, I found myself in a taxi from the airport in Paris, having returned from Japan, where I had been to promote my first novel, The End of Eddy. We had driven a few kilometres when the driver, a tall man from Ivory Coast, asked me what I did. I can never bring myself to answer that I’m a writer; I’m too afraid of seeming arrogant or of giving the impression that I’m trying to hawk my books. Most of the time, I’ll say I’m a literature student, and that’s how I answered on this occasion. “Oh,” he said, “so that’s the kind of thing that interests you, books?” I said yes. He went on, “You know, myself, I don’t read books. But I can tell you one thing, I’ve noticed that in France, when they give out literary prizes, the Goncourt and all the others, they pretty much only give them to white people who write about white people. Have you noticed? Everything is for white people.”

I nodded in agreement. I learned a long time ago to keep my face expressionless, and I’m sure that the driver could not see the effect that his remark had produced in me. He had stated something so obvious, and yet something I had never been able to articulate quite so clearly: even without reading, even without any contact with books, this man understood that literature and its institutions, the system it was part of, didn’t only know nothing about lives like his, it actively excluded them. His words had taken me abruptly back in time 15 years, to my childhood.

I was born in a small village in the north of France, where up until the beginning of the 1980s a local factory employed almost all the inhabitants. By the time I was born, in the 1990s, after several waves of layoffs, many inhabitants were out of work and doing their best to survive on welfare. My father and mother quit school at the ages of 15 and 16, as had my grandparents before them and as would my younger brother and sister. My father worked at the factory for 10 years, until a weight fell on him and destroyed his back. My mother didn’t work; my father insisted a woman’s place was at home taking care of the children.

Literature was not something we paid any attention to – quite the opposite. On television we would see that literary prizes went mostly to books that did not speak of us, and in any case, just like the taxi driver, we were aware that, prize or no prize, books in general took no interest in our lives. My mother would say it over and over: us, the little folks, no one is interested in us. It was the feeling of being invisible in the eyes of other people that drove her to vote for Marine Le Pen, as did most of my family. My mother would say: she’s the only one who talks about us. The Front National got more than 50% of the vote in the village where I was born, and that vote was above all, beyond racism, beyond anything else, a desperate attempt to exist, to be noticed by others.

As for school itself, that experience had driven my parents out of the education system and denied them access to culture at the age when middle-class children were just beginning their studies. Culture, the education system, books had all given us a feeling of rejection: in return, we rejected them. If culture paid us no attention, we would have our revenge. We despised it. It should never be said that the working classes reject culture, but rather that culture rejects the working classes, who reject it in turn. It should never be said that the working classes are violent, but rather that the working classes suffer from violence on a daily basis, and because of that they reproduce this violence by, for example, voting for the Front National. The domination comes first; those in positions of dominance are always responsible.

I am more aware than some of the violence that literature can represent, because at a certain point in my life, I made use of that violence to hurt the people around me. Thanks to a series of accidents and failures, I made it into a lycée and then to university. I was the first person in my family to do this. During the week I would board at school or stay with friends, so I would only spend weekends with my parents. As soon as I walked into the house, I would sit on the sofa with a book, one that, most of the time, I would only be pretending to read. I wanted to let my family know that I wasn’t like them, that I no longer belonged to the same world as them, and I knew that a book would be the most violent instrument I could use to do that.

Zadie Smith

Today, all I feel is shame when I think back: shame in the face of my brutality and arrogance. But at the time I didn’t think, I was just trying to get away. I was too proud to have escaped from my family’s social circumstances; I was an obnoxious fool. In the evenings, our meals would nearly always end in arguments. I would be speaking and my mother would interrupt: stop talking like a damn book, you’ve got nothing to teach me. She would say this with a mixture of anger, sadness and disgust. I, on the other hand, would hear her remarks as compliments: finally I belonged to the world where people read books.

Rather than saving us, books were what kept us down. A book by Hemingway was much more violent, from our point of view, than a photo of Trump in his enormous gold-covered living room. The photo would have left us dreaming of gold and riches: my mother spent hours looking at pictures of huge houses on the glossy pages of magazines. The Hemingway, by contrast, gave us nothing to dream of: it would have left us feeling defeated.

Are books doomed to reproduce such social barriers? There is one counterexample among my memories. A little while after my trip to Japan, I was invited to give a talk in Oslo about an author I loved. I chose Toni Morrison. When I walked into the room I was struck by the large proportion of black women in the audience. I spoke with many of them after the event: some had read Morrison, others hadn’t – but all of them felt welcomed by her books. They knew that novels such as Jazz or Home were addressed to them – not to them only, but above all to them. Today, authors such as Zadie SmithTa‑Nehisi Coates and a few others work obstinately to invent a more welcoming and more inclusive literature. I don’t mean to suggest that Morrison publishing a book is sufficient to interrupt the reproduction of the social order or social inequality. But at least literature will have done its job; it remains for the politicians to do theirs.

My books are born out of an absence: I began writing because I could not find the world of my childhood anywhere in books. We had not had the good fortune to find our Morrison. This is the literary revolution that is necessary today. As long as a large proportion of books are addressed only to the privileged elite, as long as literature continues to assault people like my mother or the taxi driver, literature can die. I will watch its death with indifference.

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Classé dans English, Littérature, Politique, Roman, Théorie

The End of Eddy at Shakespeare&Co

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I will be discussing my book The End of Eddy at the wonderful bookshop Shakespeare and Company, Tuesday 21st of February, at 19:00.

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Je parlerai de la traduction anglaise de mon premier roman, En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule ( traduit par Michael Lucey ), à la magnifique librairie Shakespeare and Company, le mardi 21 février a 19h.

Adresse / The address is : 37 rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris. Everyone is welcome. L’entree est libre.

Voici la présentation donnée par le site de la librairie

Join us as we welcome back Edouard Louis to discuss his exhiliarting début The End of Eddy.

Édouard Louis grew up in Hallencourt, a village in northern France where many live below the poverty line. His bestselling debut novel about life there, The End of Eddy, has sparked debate on social inequality, sexuality and violence.

It is an extraordinary portrait of escaping from an unbearable childhood, inspired by the author’s own. Written with an openness and compassionate intelligence, ultimately, it asks, how can we create our own freedom?

 

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Classé dans English, Littérature, Parutions, Rencontres, Roman