Monday, March 20, 2017

Let them eat meat

Fruit cake and coffee with evaporated milk, in bed, while reading a Paris Review article about young novelist Édouard Louis and his writer's rage. A rage that saw him write his first novel at 19, and published at 21. In 2014. Not only published at 21 but because it's a best seller, he's been published out of poverty at 21.

The point about the poverty is an important one. Not only because it raises other issues for the young writer as he's then, almost, sucked into the world of "cocktail parties and dinners" that he had dreamed about when he first arrived in Paris - "but more and more I realize you can see the literary world as a school of submission. You always have to shake everyone’s hand, in what can be seen as a quiet celebration of the bourgeoisie" - but, also, because it was his and his family's own poverty that politicised him into writing what he has, and in the style that he does.

I'm reading about Louis as a small airplane buzzily trails an advertisement banner (which I don't bother to read) back and forth across the bright blue sky above the city bowl and as the woman next door gets -breath-less-ly- fucked against the wall that divides our two apartments.

In just over three years I've only heard sex next door once before. However, often, daily, her heels click-and-clack across the tiled floors as she prepares for work, for which she always promptly leaves by banging shut and locking the front door at precisely 7 am. Peace then again reigns. I can't help but wonder if she's wearing those high heels right now? I've only set my eyes on her once before, a man was trailing her into her flat; she briefly turned at the door and momentarily caught my eye; I have no recollection of how she looks. Nor of how the man looked that trailed her into her flat.

It’s a quite and calm Sunday morning. After the welcome string of cool, sometimes moody autumnal days this last week,  my guess is that everyone's rushed off to the beaches, both the icy but more pretentious ones on the Atlantic seaboard, also the warmer and much more down to earth ones on the Indian seaboard. That leaves everyone and everything in-between quiet and calm, as it should be: 31 degrees today, 36 tomorrow; while I dread these death throes of summer, what comforts me is that they are just that, summer's death throes.

Just how, exactly, did that traumatised child become the assured and beautiful young man who gazes so calmly from the author photo on the book jacket?, questions novelist Neil Bartlett writing about Édouard Louis in the Guardian last month. “Whom did he meet, once he had escaped to the city, and how? Who was it who helped him save and repossess his life – and who inspired him to write this well?” Those, too, are my burning questions.

I hunker even more deeply down into the Paris review piece despite feeling guilty about reading, which for some bizarre reason I associate with not working. That bizarre reason - despite the fact that I'm inspired, that my mind is whirring and clicking with the satisfaction of being exposed to new ideas, perspectives - is because reading has always been such an intense pleasure, also such a wonderful escape, that I feel guilty at the luxury thereof, that it seems impossible to associate with work, with studying.

Back to Louis, who makes a strong case for his having written a political novel, also for not being apolitical: "All authors are political, even if they don’t realize it. Being apolitical merely reinforces the status quo, supporting the powerful over the weak." 

He maintains that many writers "don’t want to know how to speak about politics because they’re from the bourgeoisie," and because "they’ve been protected from the rough edges of political change." On the other hand, the people he writes about are "ceaselessly marked by the consequences of political choices". 

"My mother would say, Under Mitterand, we always had meat on our plates. Even if I could show her that Mitterand wasn’t as generous to the poor as she thought, the point is that when the government reformed its policies—on welfare, for example—we felt it in our stomachs. Today I can complain about the government all I want, but political decisions won’t determine the amount of food on my plate tonight." 

Louis's writer's fire reminds me of Frantz Fanon's fire: Lewis Gordin in What Fanon Said (2015), writes that throughout his book, Black Skin, White Mask (1995), Fanon struggles to hold the fire at bay, the result of which "is an ongoing heat that occasionally bursts into flame".

Louis: "Politics isn’t a question of words, he says, it’s a question of meat [on your plate]. I try never to forget that."

How would I describe him after my relatively brief introduction today? Hungry, angry, brilliant & beautiful... and a writer that I'm going to keep my attention focus upon.