The importance of elsewhere

There is no greater pleasure than to travel abroad and realize that all the French writers you believe to be important are but fleeting ripples on the surface of a lake. Not that you hold anything against French writers, not that you indulge in some kind of masochism. You just love the idea of an ever-expanding literary world, a limitless galaxy of stories waiting to be unfolded in the intimacy of your solitude.

There is this moment, you step inside a bookshop in a foreign country, and the universe seems to start afresh. New names, new titles, new stories. Specialits tend to lament the sluggishness of the translation market, but I’m so glad so little is being translated, it makes our voyage into languages a daunting task and a thrilling adventure. Literature has to be an effort, something one has to conquer over the immediacy, the easiness, the comfort of one’s mother tongue. I’ve been in Paris for two weeks now, and I can’t wait to feel a foreigner again. I don’t know why. I’m just utterly thrilled by this beautiful sequence of sensations : the black front of a bookshop in South Kensignton, the ring of a door bell as I step in, the avalanche of names I have never heard of as I snake my way through the stacks of books. This is as good as the creation of the world before sin – a state of joyful innocence that can only be compared with the undressing of a woman you love.

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On being Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s friends all agreed upon the fact that the author of « Othello » was a good fellow, describing him as good-natured, easy-going, gentle and strikingly unassuming. In short, someone with whom you could have a relaxed drink in a pub. « It is as though, says Harold Bloom, the creator of scores of major characters and hundreds of frequently vivid figures wasted no imaginative energy in inventing a persona for himself ». Writers tend to associate creativity with neurosis (much to the detriment of their close relatives), but there is an inverse ratio in Shakespeare’s case : the genius of Western Literature was in fact, quite simply, a charming man.

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Des femmes admirables (portraits acides)

If it wasn’t for literature, it would be impossible to chronicle with due precision the dark side of motherly love. It would be impossible to report on the violence of the weaker sex. We would live in the Disney world of Dworkin’s feminism, a world in which all women are blissfully endowed with the ability to fight for some universal good, as opposed to men, naturally inclined, so it appears, to invasion and plunder. Militants like to believe that the world is structured around the fight between prejudice and feminism. Well, things might be a little bit more complicated.

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La France aux Franglais

Having lost his battleships as a Navy officer just off Mers el-Kébir, my dad is absolutely appalled by my anglophilia. France has brought to the world the kick of libertinage and the spice of intellectual terrorism – Laclos and Boulez. The Brits have taught us how to keep our sentimentality at bay, how to position a ginger cat on a windowsill, and, last but not least, how to deal with the sheer absurdity of life with a sense of whimsiness rivalled only by the Jews. Make a choice if you can – I can’t.

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