Today we stop at ‘The ocupation’, work of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, Annie Ernaux. A novel with autobiographical overtones published in 2002 and now taken up again in Spanish by Cabaret Voltaire. ANDwritten “as if I were going to die and there were no more judges”. An uninhibited and liberating chronicle of a process of jealousy. Of total jealousy. Ernaux neither cares nor cares about being, appearing or behaving like a hotheaded and cynical monster between the pages of this book. She doesn’t mind telling what stigmatizes her, she doesn’t mind moving on the body of the social scandal. She doesn’t mind being a bad daughter, a bad wife, a bad woman. Nobody can argue at this point that Ernaux is the absolute owner of verisimilitude.
“The most extraordinary thing about jealousy is that a city, the world, is populated with a being that is not known at all”
There are few writers capable of beginning as Annie Ernaux (Lillebonne, Normandy, 1940) begins her stories. And even less that they want to agree with the truth in the way that she does in this troubled and overflowing book that is The ocupation. A book whose pages, however, drink from the most absolute depth, spring from that crack in which we ourselves venture to feed a madness that will never lead us to achieve the freedom we desire, the emotional longevity that is necessary for us to understand life.
The ocupation is, as I said, a troubled and profound book in equal parts. Two speeds that run through the spine of those who read with that intensity with which an innocent walks his way to death.
The ocupation It has the power of truth in its purest form, without the need to literaturize it and, at the same time, offering a sample of the highest literature. No one can argue at this point that Ernaux is the absolute owner of verisimilitude, everything she names becomes a truth that reaches the entire world.
Many things dazzle in Ernaux’s writing; she is an unparalleled agitator, but, if there is something that corroborates this little diary of fury and vertigo, it is the naturalness with which she takes hold of her autobiography without falling into the arrogance of the self. Ernaux incurs in a titanic way against that pronoun, she fights against him because she wants her plurality, she wants him not to drown in her everlasting opacity.
Ernaux neither cares nor cares about being, looking, or behaving like a hot-headed, cynical monster between the pages of this book. He doesn’t mind telling what stigmatizes her, he doesn’t mind moving on the body of the social scandal. She doesn’t mind being a bad daughter, a bad wife, a bad woman. Virtue is a wound that she does not want to show off in her body or in her memory.
She does not seek the path to perfection in the totalitarian way that the great Saint Teresa of Jesus sought it. She does not respect God, because she does not feel respect from him. She is not afraid to air her sins, she knows she is imperfect and draws her imperfection with a loquacity that turns her narration into a sort of rare virtue that summons the viewer to want to achieve that fallibility. Ernaux takes us out of the shadows, out of the noxious neatness that those who do not have the capacity to break the rules, to go beyond the haughty lines of routine or to hold back nausea when the rotten breath of inertia corners his steps:
“In moments like this, I noticed that I was once again the primal savage that slept inside me. She glimpsed all the acts that she would have been capable of executing if it hadn’t been for the fact that society had thwarted my drives”.
To read Ernaux is to fall restlessly into the mouth of an oasis of reflections. It is to fall into the crack that refuses to ingest whatever portion of darkness is offered to it:
“In general, I admitted behaviors that once stigmatized or aroused my hilarity. “How can you do something like that!” it had become “I would be able to do it too”.
“The dignity or indignity of my behavior, of my desires, is something that I did not consider on that occasion, nor do I do it now when writing. Sometimes I think that believing in that absence is the surest way to reach the truth.
To read Ernaux is to accept that we are confronted with his non-exclusion from any truth, even if it is his own. She subjects the truth to uncontrollable agility. Ernaux’s lucidity so invigorating and so paralyzing at the same time. His words are always wound and scar. The life and death of each emotion fluttering over her hands and then her incontestable resurrection in the future of whoever accesses her literary universe are undoubtedly an inseparable part of this tiny and very powerful speech:
“I simply believed that, having overcome the era of studies and piecework, marriage and reproduction, having paid, in short, my tribute to society, I would finally consecrate myself to the essential, lost sight of from the adolescence”.
Ernaux has a unique viscerality, an irrepressible desire to mobilize each and every one of the narrative possibilities within his reach. And in The ocupation makes it clearer than ever. This colossal survival manuscript clearly evidences the author’s flight from everything that is expected of her as a civilized woman and as a storyteller:
“He told me I was very pretty and that I sucked wonderfully.”
It is dazzling how Ernaux always caresses the truth, he does it as if he were a wild animal that moments before falling into a trap felt capable of renouncing its nature:
“The image of his sex on the belly of the other woman arose less often than the daily life that he cautiously evoked in the singular and that I always heard in the plural. It wasn’t the erotic gestures that would bring him closer to her, but the loaf of bread he brought her at noon, the panties and underpants mixed up in the laundry basket, the news they watched together at night while they ate spaghetti bolognese, yes”.
That’s why The ocupation It is a necessary and involving book that tests our intelligence. Everything in it is far from the caution expected of a consecrated author like Ernaux.
The ocupation it is a piece of meat that boils as only meat knows how to do after a wound. The ocupation It is the rumor of many female scars in search of a new life.
Ernaux talks about her, yes, but in doing so he also talks about each of the women, past, present and those yet to come. In this book, Ernaux breaks apart the concentric circle that he wants to always be the future:
“I got tested for AIDS. It has become a custom similar to going to confession when I was a teenager, a kind of purification rite.”
And that’s what it means The ocupation, an extreme purification rite with hair shirts left bare. A purification rite without concealment. Without the connivance of any of the prayers that once in our lives we imagine could save us. A bare-bones resurrection, without external tears and without that portion of water capable of sealing our wounds when leaving the grave. An essential book in which the translation by Lydia Vázquez Jiménez is a prodigy of accuracy that must also be mentioned.
‘The ocupation’. Annie Ernaux. Cabaret Voltaire. 84 pages. Translation by Lydia Vázquez Jiménez.
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Annie Ernaux, Nobel Prize 2022: a woman devoured by jealousy