Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It is with their own flesh that they feed their books

In her essay 'How Do Salamanders Die?' in HEAT 9, New Series, the French-Australian writer Catherine Rey contends that 'writers work on themselves, on their own souls, it is with their own flesh that they feed their books.' And, a little later: 'all novels are autobiographies and all autobiographies are novels.'

But we must 'never forget that something dangerous lurks behind the finest texts'; Michel Leiris's preface to L'Age d'homme, she writes, has helped her to 'live and write'. She quotes:

What goes on in the field of literature...is it not bereft of value if it remains 'aesthetic', anodyne, free of sanctions, if there is nothing in the act of writing a work which would be the equivalent... of what is for the torero the bull's steely horn, which alone -- by virtue of the physical menace it harbours -- confers a human reality on his art and prevents it from becoming something other than the futile grace of a ballerina?

In the only two books that have been translated into English so far -- The Spruiker's Tale and Stepping Out -- there is cruelty, anger, rebellion. Catherine Rey's writing is energised by a voice so continuous, so charged, it is almost without breath:

Plenty of artists will palm off adulterated goods on you wrapped up in pretty packaging -- art is a means of buying yourself a conscience on the cheap, the charlatans who get rich on the world's misery know this. But writing doesn't deliver you from anything, writing is not a form of salvation, writing doesn't wash away your filth. What you write is you, so much so that the older you get, the less you hide. The more you have a duty to refuse to divert, in Pascal's sense of the term, for diversion creates distance whereas what's required is precisely the opposite: what you need to do is to get nearer to yourself. And not to be afraid of giving yourself to be read, for you have to know how to give. To reject clichés and to lay your cards on the table by revealing the inner things, indiscreet, shameless things, that we normally conceal. Otherwise literature's a dead loss. (Stepping Out, p. 179)

'I write because they haven't yet cut out my tongue,' concludes the narrator of Stepping Out. 'I write because I'm still not frightened.'

No comments:

Post a Comment