Writing as Sharp as a Knife
"It's not courage that makes me talk about things that people don't talk about. It's a desire to search an area that hasn't been explored."
Meet Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux in this interview about writing out of her own life and working-class background. Read more …
Annie Ernaux began writing around the age of 20 while working as an au pair in England and suffering from bulimia. Coming from a family of workers and peasants, she wanted to write to defend her social class. And in the years following, she had the desire to write. She was educated to become a teacher of French literature and started to write for real when her father passed.
A necessary drive for Ernaux when beginning to write was to speak for her family and social class “as if my destiny could redound on my family.”
“When you write, writing is political. It’s according to the type of books that you write, the way you look at the world, and also your linguistic choices. The words you choose and the syntax you choose”, Ernaux says.
Annie Ernaux started writing “violently.” “Anger is the sign that you’re powerless, and even in my writing, I had that feeling,” she says.
After Ernaux published her first book, Cleaned Out, she wrote about her father, her grandparents, and “my race,” as she puts it when talking about her social class. “And that’s when I started reflecting on the position of the person who writes. Where am I in the text? I chose to deal with facts, with reality. Hence this writing style, which I wrongly described as “flat” because it’s not really flat, but it is factual. “Factual” means that there’s no restraint in the feelings. I’m not trying to make it beautiful; I’m trying to make it right. I use historical data… I can’t imagine a text”, Annie Ernaux concludes.
“It’s not courage that makes me talk about things that people don’t talk about. It’s not courage; it’s a desire to search an area that hasn’t been explored. Since I have experienced it, so it exists. It’s human. So it’s not shameful. Since it happened to me, it’s necessary to talk about it. It’s not a fault to write about something, but it is a fault not to write.”
Annie Ernaux (born 1940) was born Annie Duchesne to a working-class family in Lillebonne, France. Ernaux is known for her lightly fictionalized memoirs, which are 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 body of 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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