Writing is a pleasure but also a torture

Writing is a pleasure but also a torture
Writing is a pleasure but also a torture
The privilege of the writer is to take us where he wants and where we would not have gone without him. And like the reader with research tools, he goes from adventure to adventure to be able to solicit the folds and creases of the text in order to extract meaning from it and savor his share of the pleasure it offers him.
Our writers are here to open up to us, the readers, some reading avenues and even tools, a foretaste of these pleasures bringing satisfaction and even satiety, being their accomplices.

What was your first text, short story or novel, that you published, that you submitted to the reader?

Like any academic, working on the works of others, I wanted very early on to add literary creation to critical discourse. I wrote my first novel in Morocco, in 1980. Passionate about the Nouveau Roman, I had just met Alain Robbe-Grillet, but, while retaining certain avant-garde processes to derealize the story, I wanted to give it a certain poetic and emotional depth. Thus was born “De sable et de sang”… When I sent it to Robbe-Grillet, he took a while to answer me, to finally tell me, yes, it’s interesting, there’s real writing… but it’s a bit dark and then, the nouveau roman is over. He was probably right! I published the text in L’Harmattan. Given its formal complexity, it met with little response, even if today a little over a thousand copies have been sold according to the publisher. I have always considered this first novel a failure. I returned to my academic work and it was only in 2017 that the creative impulse took hold of me again. Since then, I have published 7 novels, the next one will be released next year to close the cycle by rewriting the first one in another form…

So who are the authors who have influenced your way of looking at facts and writing about them?

First, two authors, Robbe-Grillet and Kateb Yacine. My discovery of “Nedjma” was a real culture shock, and my study of this novel constituted my first critical essay. Then, I read a lot of Faulkner who inspired me with the technique of the narrative point of view, Kundera was also a revelation in terms of the functionalization of reality. I read and reread Marguerite Duras, because of her very particular writing and the way she practices internal discourse. I followed a little the minimalist novelists of the éditions de Minuit, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Christian Oster, Tanguy Viel. I had my “trash novel” period with Virginie Despentes, Catherine Cusset…. Japanese novelists also attracted me, Mishima, Murakami and especially Kawabata (“Snow Country”, “Sleeping Beauties”)… These are the first names that come to mind but there are many others that I have encountered during my career, like Victor Segalen or Henri Michaux… What interests me when I read a novel is the narrative technique, the rest, I quickly tend to forget…

In order to write, should one have to follow some kind of ritual, submit to constraints? Is it the same for all your novels?

There is a mythology of writing, maintained by authors and certain celebrity media… This is what comes across in your question. In fact, there is no particular writing protocol, simply a working method, specific to each person, the first step of which is to find a subject when it does not come naturally. Then, the second question consists of choosing the mode of enunciation, which pronoun to use for the narration (“I” or “he”?) What verb tense (imperfect/simple past or present/compound past)? What focus? What type of narrator? Then comes the choice of characters and the setting of the action, then the editing of the story, that is to say its formatting. How to construct a device from two elements to be articulated, the functional element (the action sequences) and the temporal element (literal time/referential time)… All these steps can be put in place gradually, while the writing has already begun. An essential element: writing the first page…

The novelist is a man like any other, there is no “ceremony” of writing. He can write in the morning, or at night, coming back from the beach, or between two visits to the supermarket… Is there a triggering phenomenon? Without a doubt. We find
rarely a subject sitting in his office. Breaks in daily life, meetings, travels, are often favorable elements for the development of a fiction. Readings also. On the other hand, once the project is established, each moment of daily life comes to feed the work in progress where insignificant events can find their place. We are in a “writing state”. Nothing matters then except the progress of the project which demands an ever greater availability.

Writing is the double pleasure of telling and telling oneself a story, and it is also the pleasure of writing, which is inexplicable, said Françoise Sagan in an interview given to the Magazine littéraire in June 1969…

Writing is a pleasure but also a torture. The pleasure of telling? Certainly. The narrative form: “Once upon a time…”, is as old as language. Even today, the enunciative mode of the story articulates the third person with the imperfect for the background and the simple past for the foreground: “It was raining when he entered…” And this mode of enunciation implies the use of the past subjunctive and the imperfect conditional! However, most of these tenses are now unused… Who, these days, uses the simple past or the imperfect subjunctive in a conversation? However, many novelists fit easily into this archaic form that they feel is insurmountable.

This is probably the first of all the “inexplicable” pleasure that Sagan speaks of, that of a ready-to-use form in which one would simply have to let oneself be carried away. In my novels, I never use this enunciative form. I prefer the first person and the present/past tense as in the first lines of Albert Camus’s “The Stranger”: “Today, mother died”…

Then, the pleasure of telling a story? Certainly. But that is not enough. How many people have told me: with what I have experienced, I could write novels… I said it above, choosing a subject is only the first step in writing a novel. Unfortunately, it is the story told that most often retains readers as well as media critics who generally pay very little attention to the writing devices that are nevertheless essential. It is true, however, that the construction of a fiction can bring pleasure to the writer, especially when he draws on his personal, even intimate, experience to fuel his imagination, his fantasies or his impulses. But this pleasure must be twofold, the pleasure of the story told and the pleasure of the construction of this story.

Writing is also torture. Writing a novel takes over you for months… First there is the effort of research for the construction of the narrative object, then there is the labor of writing, the putting into sentences which imposed on Flaubert the test of the “shouting”… The search for a rhythm specific to the story told… Finally, there is the final phase of rereading, of correction, which always leaves you unsatisfied and which must nevertheless one day be completed…

For Proust, the written life is more intense than the lived life. What do you think?

I leave it to Proust to decide. I think that to write, one must have lived a lot. There are doubtless exceptions, young people with a very developed imagination who compensate for what they have not yet lived by what they imagine. This was doubtless the case with Proust. Rimbaud began by writing. He then moved on to action and never wanted to return to creation, or even to remember it.

In writing a novel, we put a lot of ourselves. A fiction is only worth its plausibility if we stick to the realistic novel. And this plausibility where to find it if not in the experiences that we ourselves have lived or of which we have become aware. This is why the novelist constructs masks. Between the lived experience and its fictionalization, there is a whole work of camouflage, displacement, projection, which psychoanalysis can account for.

It is therefore true that novelistic creation lies beyond the simple transcription of reality. There is always a cathartic function of writing. We can construct a fictional universe to compensate for a lack, heal a wound… The novel can thus appear as a life more intense than the life lived! But as soon as you leave your office and your paper beings, reality takes over again.

The critic and writer Milan Kundera says that the novel is the place of ambiguity, the place where things are never definitively settled, the place of Manichean absence. Could this apply to your novels?

Absolutely. I have great admiration for Kundera’s work. Like him, I do not believe in simple truths. Nor in definitive solutions. Do we need to constantly remind ourselves of the complexity of the world in which we live, as well as the immense part of the unknown that is the lot of the human condition? Any binary opposition is ideological. Any truth is transitory.

In most of my novels, the outcome remains problematic. Even if some sometimes take the form of a detective story, they are false detective stories… There is no investigator, or they refuse to solve the enigma (“Brocéliande Atao”). It is always up to the reader to unravel the plot (“L’Ile des pluies”). No one knows what will happen to the narrators of “Granville Falls”, nor to the heroine of “La Morsure” who is unaware of the drama that has unfolded in her absence. Even the future of the lovers in “L’Héritière de Keroulaz” remains hypothetical. In my next novel, “Ici et ailleurs” the ambiguity is at its height… and the place sought, that of the adhesion between the being and its territory, remains unfindable…
The novel poses the elements of a problem, it does not resolve it.

Interview by Abdelkrim Mouhoub

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