The triumph of the literary female self: the daughters of Annie Ernaux

Shortly after the ‘Second sex’ of Simone de Beauvoir In 1949, the Nobel laureate François Mauriac lamented: “Now we know everything about the author’s vagina and it is disgusting & rdquor ;. Beauvoir’s masterpiece, it is known, analyzed the condition of women in a society that, on the verge of entering the second half of the 20th century, continued to relegate them to the role of the ‘Other’, while men occupied the central place and power being the ‘One’. What caused Mauriac’s revulsion was the fact that the philosopher placed the woman’s body at the center of her meditations, analyzing and promoting from within her all possible derivatives of her. And it is that until now, a female body only had a reason to exist if it was perceived through the male gaze.

Three decades later, in the 1980s, a good reader from Beauvoir, a young Annie Ernaux, the same one that this Saturday will receive from the hands of the King of Sweden, the accrediting medal of the Nobel for Literature 2022 (the same distinction as Mauriac, what things are), she threw herself into writing her books using herself as the subject of fiction, often placing her own body and her passions as a literary object. Then the old sensibilities that had fueled Mauriac’s judgment kicked in again, and the author was seen by her male peers as a minor writer –Oh, that concise and direct prose, so little French, that is to say, so little flowery- and above all because of the obscenity of showing what up to now had not been shown, especially if that exhibition served as a personal inquiry and not as an object of male pleasure. That assessment of Ernaux’s was not transformed until well into the 21st century.

writing as revenge

It is not at all surprising that the acceptance speech that Ernaux pronounced this Wednesday will revolve around writing conceived as revenge. He has reasons. Several open fronts on which to practice revenge. Having had to earn respect among her university colleagues from the humble and illiterate social class to which she belongs and having paved the way for so many authors who are currently extracting oil from confessional literature, making good the old adage that the personal is political. “My Nobel is a sign of justice and hope for all female writers,” said the author.

These writers have intentionally built a self, with a multitude of ethical and aesthetic decisions. They are but they are not. And, in fact, it can’t just be them because then it wouldn’t be interesting.

Anna Pacheco

Anna Pacheco. writer and journalist

It is possibly very risky to say that Ernaux is the zero kilometer of this trend. At the beginning of the 20th century, and without moving from France, an author as respected today as colette, she also suffered rejection from the ‘intelligentsia’ for daring to fictionalize personal experiences -‘La vagabond’, ‘My apprenticeships’ or ‘The pure and the impure’- that had very little to do with the desired female stereotype of the time. Despite her notoriety, the access to the French Academy of the author of ‘Gigi’ was rejected time and time again.

Today the floodgates of female confessional writing, whether in the form of autobiography, diary or autofiction mode, have overflowed and the writers who practice it are legion. In France, Christine Angot Y Vanessa Springora, victims of abuse in their childhood and adolescence narrated that painful experience as a form of knowledge. The abuse, but in this case the one suffered by her mother, is also in the masterpiece of delphine de vigan in his ‘Nothing opposes the night’. The experiences of Deborah Leviyy Rachel Cusk , two great British writers, focus rather on marital miseries and in the case of the second, also on maternal ones, stripped of all sentimentality. And in the United States we must not forget great ladies like Vivian Gornik either Joan Didion.

many names

In Spain and Latin America, there are many followers of the path traced by Ernaux. he has done it Rosa Montero in ‘The ridiculous idea of ​​not seeing you again’ or in the recent ‘The danger of being sane’. She has done it, especially the Peruvian Gabriela Wiener who has turned his intimate life into the object of his very incendiary and interesting books, such as the recently reissued ‘Sexographies’ thanks to which, like Ernaux, he could say: “I write to avenge my race& rdquor ;. they have done it too Aixa of the Cross, with the celebrated ‘Change your idea’, which recounts his awakening in the face of “structural violence& rdquor; in which so many women have moved, without questioning it and also Almudena Sanchez recounting his depressive picture in ‘Fármaco’.

There are more examples. Anna Pacheco (31 years old), who in 2029 published ‘Listas, guapas, limpias’, a novel in which she did not accept the term autofiction, although she does recognize an air of generational times that has revalued veteran authors such as Vivian Gornik, Joan Didion or Annie Ernaux. “They are authors who have masterfully sophisticated and aestheticized the creation from a “me. It is an intentionally constructed self, with a multitude of ethical and aesthetic decisions. They are but they are not. And, in fact, it can’t just be them because then it wouldn’t be interesting.” Writing in the first person might seem easier but for the Barcelona writer it is not at all like that: “Sometimes you finish a book by Annie Ernaux and you think: “How can that be?! This could have been written by me when I was heartbroken! The thoughts seem to come out on their own! & rdquor ;. And I think that’s an achievement, in a way.” The danger, she maintains, is also there: “It is very easy to fail writing about your own life & rdquor ;.

I am interested in Ernaux’s reflections on feminism, working with memory, on the problems of writing with the material of memory and her incessant search for a way to do it.

Nona Fernandez. Writer and playwright

The search of the truth

If there is a narrator who has used the weapons of autofiction in all of her works, it is the Chilean Nona Fernandez (51 years old), who has just published ‘Space Invaders’, a new taste in his personal memories. Fernández did not read Ernaux until she was awarded the Formentor Prize in 2019, shortly after she declared herself an unconditional fan of the author: “I was interested in her reflections on feminism, work with memory, on the problems of writing with material from the memory and his relentless search for a way to do it. I remember that he was quoting Marx, from a quote that Perec had used in ‘Las cosas’. “The search for the means, for the form, is in itself part of the search for the truth & rdquor ;. She also spoke about the status of reality in writing, its quality as a philosopher’s stone for work, but always conditioned to the form of narration & rdquor ;. For the Chilean, the self-fiction work of the French Nobel Prize winner is “an excuse to talk about human, collective experiences, in which we can all see ourselves reflected & rdquor ;.

The writing of women’s self and the writing of the body go hand in hand expanding the canon, causing very healthy friction within it and questioning the forms of language.

Marta Sanz. writer

Another author who has traveled the path of autobiographical writing with hardly any masks is Martha Sanz (55 years). ‘Clavícula’, for example, is an intimate reflection on the body and pain. The writer herself believes that, although this type of writing has been practiced by both men and women, it is possibly in this second case where she has a more liberating character: “It turns out especially emancipating for women whose voices had been silenced. And this problem, cultural and political, ethical and aesthetic, makes the sphere of intimacy, of a certain intimacy closely related to the body, acquire a very close-up in literature. The writing of the women’s self and the writing of the body go hand in hand, expanding the canon, causing very healthy friction within it and questioning the forms of language& rdquor;.

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Nor does Sanz believe that gender-conscious writers should be relegated to the territory of the intimate self: “We can also write epic novels and, from our women’s perspective, play with the masks of fiction and imaginative learning & rdquor ;.

Luckily, the terrain to cover has no borders. The challenge met, however, is to have achieved recognition, a Nobel, for example, in that intimate writing for the same reasons for which it was rejected decades ago. Revenge accomplished.

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The triumph of the literary female self: the daughters of Annie Ernaux