I’m Nobody When I Write
"Memory is my instrument and my element, my material."
Meet the French Nobel-prize winner Annie Ernaux. Read more …
“I’m nobody when I write. I search. When I write, I know I have a woman’s experience.”
Her books are fictionalized memories depicting a woman’s experiences and her working-class background has influenced her writing: “I have a class defector experience”, she says. “I have many other aspects that I don’t know, which also influence my writing. And that’s what is in my writing.”
Even though Annie Ernaux writes from her memory, “I’m very surprised when I open a book, to say, “did I write that?” I can’t say it was me because it’s the version of me that wrote four or five years ago.”
Ernaux keeps a personal diary: “It’s the diary that gives the feeling of the person’s persistence. I have many decades of diary behind me, and I can see an evolution. But at the same time, there’s a hardcore which must be the being, that thing that resists. And that appears in the diary.”
“You need to have a global vision. So, a book is also a fight against time. I have the vision of generations succeeding each other and falling into oblivion. Only prominent events remain characters. But I don’t even imagine myself having a life beyond my human life”, Ernaux states.
Writing in the past tense “translate the depth of time,” Ernaux says. “This mutation of mankind is a fact, in my opinion. Perhaps if Proust hadn’t, at some point, written about and explored that memory maybe it wouldn’t have happened. But now, it’s done. So that’s one role of literature.”
Addressing the times we live in, Annie Ernaux says: “One should always have three dimensions interiorized: the past and the memory of the past, the enjoyment of the present and the hope of the future. Now, we’re tragically amputated of two dimensions. We’re actually in “presentism”; the word even exists in French. Presentism. We only transmit present.”
Annie Ernaux (born 1940) was born Annie Duchesne to a working-class family in Lillebonne, France. Ernaux is known for her lightly fictionalized memoirs written in spare, detached prose. Her work examines her memories, sometimes revisiting and reconstructing events in later works. Themes include her illegal abortion, her troubled marriage, her mother’s decline from Alzheimer’s, her love affairs during middle age, and her experience with cancer. Ernaux received the 2022 Nobel Prize for Literature for a work described as personal yet universal in depicting a woman living in the 20th and 21st centuries. ‘A Girl’s Story (2020), ‘A Woman’s Story (2003), ‘A Man’s Place (1992), and ‘Simple Passion’ (2003) are among Ernaux’s most acclaimed works.
Matthias Dressler-Bredsdorff interviewed Annie Ernaux in May 2023 in Copenhagen.
Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard
Edit: Malte Bruun Fals
Produced by Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2023.
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2023. Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet, C.L. Davids Fond og Samling, and Fritz Hansen.
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