“I often made love to force myself to write” (The young man)

Lthe new book by Annie Ernaux, The young manopens with these words: If I do not write to you, things are not finished, they have only been lived “As a prelude to the art of writing, lived experiences are immediately presented as the primary source, closed in putting them into words.

Once again, the writer takes a look at her own life by telling the story of a love story with a student younger than her. For the narrator it is not a question of living a new youth, but of perceiving a form of repetition, a return to past years. Thus, through this love story, a reflection on memory, writing and time is possible.

love in the past

It is through Annie Ernaux’s eyes that the age difference between the two lovers is perceived. Whether it’s a gray terry bathrobe, the song ” Don’t get overwhelmed by Nancy Holloway, a shared meal in a dilapidated student room, or even old photographs; the sounds, the decorations, the objects are reminiscent supports for the narrator who in turn revisits her student life in Rouen, the hospital where she stayed due to a hemorrhage caused by her clandestine abortion, or even the lovers that have happened in his life: He was the bearer of the memory of my first world (…) He it was the past to incorporatestar “.

For her, the gestures and words of youth are no longer internalized, and that is why the writer can distance himself sufficiently to translate them into words. We can now analyze the reflexes of the past, no longer taken by the flow of habits: ” Unlike when I was eighteen or twenty-five, when I was completely involved in what was happening to me, with no past or future, in Rouen, with A., I had the impression of reliving scenes and gestures that had already taken place, the game of my youth .

On the contrary, he stands out from other young people when he is with her. Both seem to fluctuate between the centuries, driven to contemplate the world of the other, to listen to their conception of time: ” May this long memory of the time before his birth be shortly the counterpart, the inverted image, of what would become his after my death, with the events, the political figures, whom I would never have known, this thought did not cross. my mind. However, by its very existence, it era my death.

The work thus presents itself as a reflection on time. The young person embodied by A., in fact, is pure present, he is caught up in the newness of life, in the discovery of the world. Conversely, the narrator deals with repetition: More and more it seemed to me that I could accumulate images, experiences, years, without hearing anything but the repetition itself.

A piece of sociology

Through her lover’s daily and precarious habits, Annie Ernaux observes her own social evolution. When she bends down to grab the cheapest products or compares the prices of the baguettes to the nearest cent to her, her lover looks at him from a distance and manages to put words on her. ” gestures and reflexes dictated by a continuous and inherited lack of money “:” The fact that I had noticed these signs – and perhaps, even more subtly, that I was indifferent to them – was proof that I was no longer in the same world as her. With my husband, in the past, I felt like a girl of the people, with him I was a bourgeois. The work on an intimate theme thus takes on a sociological dimension, characteristic of Annie Ernaux’s literature.

In this perpetual coming and going in which past and present merge, young people outrageous girl which was the narrator rejoins its mature form. The curious gaze of others that gave him some shame is now a matter of pride. Walking with her lover and realizing the frightened looks that are directed at her, the narrator poses herself as a precursor figure of her: ” Outside, it was impossible to forget that we were living this story under the gaze of society, which I took up as a challenge to change conventions. Freed from the burden of domination, she affirms herself as a woman who is free to love.

The two lovers learn from each other. Noting the gap between the person she was and the person she has become, the narrator observes her own social rise and the evolution of her critical gaze towards society: ” In more than one aspect – literature, theater, bourgeois costumes – I was its initiator, but what he made me live was also an initiatory experience.

The conditions of the possibility of writing

Writing is immediately presented as a way to complete events for the writer. By tilting emotions, sensations and memories to the side of language, he makes sure that time has done his job and that trauma and feelings are now something sayable. Annie Ernaux thus practices writing about herself where the interpretation of events mixes with the emotions felt in the past and with what these reminiscences provide in the present.

Like love, writing is presented as a source of desire and enjoyment. In this work, she is the link between the past and the present, the representation of this tension between two eras. Faced with books and films that represent different possible connections between a young man and a mature woman, the narrator is disappointed. Only his own pen can testify to his experience of him, and it is then that he feels the need to become his own character again.

The book also echoes other moments of autobiographical writing, outlets for the writer. Expressing in words the trauma in which he is represented The event appears several times and closes the story: Jundertook the story of this clandestine abortion around which I had been revolving for some time. The further I progressed in writing about this event that took place even before it was born, the more irresistibly I felt compelled to leave A. As if I wanted to unhook him and expel him as I had done from the embryo more than thirty years ago. I worked continuously on my story and, through a resolute strategy of distancing, on the pause. A few weeks awayiss, this has coIncidis with the end of the book. “. Once again, through a parallel between the lover and the embryo, a form of repetition comes to light. It is, through writing, to find a way to close a chapter by repeating and ordering the phases that make up life.

Annie Ernaux, The young manGallimard Editions, May 2022, 48 p., € 8 – Read an excerpt

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