Archives de Catégorie: English

Why Everyday Life Is Subtly Brutal

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Classé dans Emancipation, English, Littérature, Parutions, Roman

« The End of Eddy » : events in February

Tuesday, 7th of February in London : Conversation with Tash Aw at the London review of books Bookshop.

Wednesday, 8th of February in Manchester : Conversation with Andrew McMillan at the Waterstones bookshop.

Thursday, 9th of February in Bristol : Public discussion at the Waterstones bookshop.

Informations and reservations are on the links attached to each event.

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The end of Eddy

Février 2017 :  Angleterre, Canada, Australie et Afrique du Sud ( Harvill Secker )

Mai 2017 : Etats-Unis ( Farrar, Straus and Giroux )

Traduction de Michael Lucey.

 

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Discussion at the American University of Paris

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Tuesday, 27th of September, at 18h30 I will talk about literature and narratives – traditional and newer – at the American University of Paris.

The event is open to all.

More informations here :

From tweets and Facebook updates to Snapchats and Instagram selfies, our generation is preoccupied with sharing, speaking out and showing off. When we update our social media timelines, or like and share updates of our friends and peers, we are creating narratives, telling stories or contributing to the storytelling efforts of others.

What are the implications of these acutely contemporary forms of narrative and the ways we use them? What are the relationships of these forms to more traditional storytelling forms such as the novel and the memoir? What are the literary, social and ethical ramifications of telling stories in the twenty-first century?

To discuss these questions, and others, AUP is delighted to be welcoming the critically acclaimed writer Édouard Louis to join a panel discussion. At the age of 23, Louis is fast becoming a respected member of the French intellectual community. His first novel, The End of Eddy (published in French in 2014 and to appear in English early in 2017) relates his experiences growing up in the north of France and explores gender, identity and class. His second novel, Histoire de la violence (2016), is equally inspired by personal experience and explores rape, violence and the latter’s role in society.

Louis will be joined by AUP professor Hannah Westley (Global Communications). Her current research considers the consequences of new media for the genre of autobiography and self-writing, with a particular interest in how online identities interact with traditional means of self-representation and how this affects the ways in which narrative and subjectivity are understood. Most recently, Professor Westley has been researching how the ‘selfie’ helps us think about narrative.

The event (which takes place in English) will be chaired by Russell Williams (Comparative Literature and English, AUP). His research focuses primarily on the contemporary French novel. He is also particularly interested in how we use social media and its relationship to more traditional literary forms.

This panel discussion is organised by the AUP department of Comparative Literature and English with the support of the Centre for Writers and Translators and the Global Communications department.

The event is open to all. Those looking to attend from outside the AUP community must register in advance by contacting rwilliams@aup.edu. Room C-104 is located in the AUP Combes building at 6, rue du Colonel Combes, 75007 Paris.

For further information, or to register, please contact Russell Williams at rwilliams@aup.edu.

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Lectures in Norway

Bergen : 

14th of September 

16h00 : Dialogue with the « Bergen student society », at Kvarteret, about Voldens Historie and Eddy Bellegueule.

19h00: Dialogue at the Literature house of Bergen, with Bjørn Ivar Fyksen, about Voldens Historie.

VOLDENS

Stavanger :

15th of September 

16h:30 : Lecture about Pierre Bourdieu ( Culture house of Stavanger )

16th of September 

13h00 : Dialogue about Voldens Historie ( Culture house of Stavanger )

 

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Oslo :

21st of September

19h00 :Conversation with Kjersti Skomsvold at the Literature house of Oslo. We will talk about her work and « Voldens Historie ».

23rd of September

18h00 : Lecture about Toni Morisson : « Its not my fault », at the Literature House of Oslo

After the lecture, there will be a film screening of the movie adaptation of Beloved from 1998.

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The State of the Political Novel

An interview with  for The Paris Review

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Who is Eddy Bellegueule, and why do you want to finish him off?

Eddy Bellegueule is the name my parents gave me when I was born. It sounds dramatic, but yes, I wanted to kill him—he wasn’t me, he was the name of a childhood I hated. The book shows how—before I revolted against my childhood, my social class, my family, and, finally, my name—it was my milieu that revolted against me. My father and my brothers wanted to finish off Eddy Bellegueule long before, at a time when I was still trying to save him.

Eddy grows up gay in a world where narrow norms of masculinity are strictly enforced.

The real subject of the book is how people like the ones in my village suffer from exclusion, domination, poverty. In the novel, a series of vignettes—scenes taken from real life—expose this, the constant lack of money for food, how my mother would steal wood from the neighbors in order to heat the house, and so on. And it’s clear these circumstances produce brutality through what Pierre Bourdieu called the principle of the conservation of violence. When you’re subjected to endless violence, in every situation, every moment of your life, you end up reproducing it against others, in other situations, by other means. One of the instruments of this daily violence is the cult of masculinity. I always hated typical masculine activities. I was incapable of them—the sight of me playing football was hilarious—and so from the beginning I was excluded. But the book describes how the boy doesn’t want to be different, how he struggles to be like everyone else.

You were ashamed?

My father used to say, You are the shame of the family. He would tell me the community mocked our family because I acted like a girl, that I was too flamboyant. So I did all I could to change. Wanting so desperately to fit in made me look at class from a different angle than I’d previously encountered in literature. Even from the greatest writers, I always had the impression that the loners in these kinds of books—the literature of the outsider—were already free. They were always so unique, so gifted, so different from the environment they were predestined to escape. When I read Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, or Thomas Bernhard, I was unsettled by the impression that these authors had always been so much freer than those around them, how the story of first part of their life always looked like a struggle against the circumstances into which they had accidentally been born. But I never dreamed of fleeing. My dream was that my parents would look me in the eyes.

I wanted to invert the way the story of the outsider is told. If you say that those who flee have always been different, then you’ll just keep waiting for those individuals to reveal themselves, to set themselves apart. But if you say, Eddy wasn’t born very different, and he certainly did not want to be different, then it’s a story about how this difference is produced—how so much of what we are is created by the words of others.

You write so unflinchingly about your family.

Some scenes were difficult to write. I kept thinking, This is too intimate, too personal. But then I would think, That’s precisely what I must write. The rest, no one cares about. When the first gay or feminist movements emerged, conservatives responded by saying that sexuality or the role of women in daily life weren’t proper subjects for political debate. We often dismiss as too intimate those things we prefer to not talk about. Literature must persist in moving this border, to speak of the things society has relegated to silence and privacy.

Mixed in with the details of the violence you suffered and how you discovered your sexuality, there are chapters with analytical titles like “The Norms of Masculinity”—here the book sounds almost like a sociological survey.

I really believe you can tap into the deepest emotions by way of knowledge. Think about Simone de Beauvoir and The Second Sex. She writes in her own voice and relates real stories from women’s lives, but she also brings in history, sociology, even biology. By setting the history of the suffering of women in that larger context, the book was able to effect change. When Eddy cries at school because he was bullied, he thinks his tears are the result of the single wicked act of those who call him a faggot. But to write Eddy was, for me, a means of seeing Eddy’s tears as the product of the entire history of homophobia, of masculine domination, and of social violence which had preceded them. When I wrote it down, I understood that even our tears are political. That’s why this book is both a novel and an analysis. I don’t see any difference.

In France you’re often referred to as a kind of spokesperson for the working class—but you’ve been criticized for painting an unflattering picture of that very same class.

I wrote the book to give a voice to these people, to fight for them and with them, because they seem to have disappeared from the public eye. In the novel I use two languages—the one I use now, which is more “literary,” and the one I grew up with, the language of the excluded classes, which is completely absent from the public arena. When you make a language disappear you make the people who speak it disappear. My family would vote for Marine Le Pen, saying, We do it because she’s the only one who talk about us, the little people.” That wasn’t true, but it reveals the sentiment of invisibility that strikes the dispossessed. But I also critique the values of that culture. I don’t need to show that working-class values are above reproach in order to write against the social violence that produces them. To me it’s a crucial distinction—we don’t have to love a culture to support the people who comprise it. For many years we’ve made the mistake of confusing love with politics, as if supporting something politically meant loving everything associated with it, to the point of romanticizing poverty and misery to support the people who endure them. I’ll support prisoners who fight unjust conditions in jail, but that doesn’t mean I want to have dinner with them every day.

The full version of the interview is here

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« On violence and literature » : Lecture at UCL

I will give a lecture on violence and littérature at University College of London, the 1st of march at 6pm

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