Monthly Archives: September 2019

This was what I wanted to experience, what I was in quest of at least. Unsure of myself in the scheme of things arranged at great cost by a race of clever children, I went to the hills to inquire of Nature why I am ill at ease among my fellows. I wanted to settle the point whether it is my existence that is alien to the human scheme, or the actual social order that has drifted away from the eternal harmony, and become something abnormal and exceptional in the development of the world. Now at last I believe I am sure of myself. There are single moments that put to flight doubt, mistrust, prejudice; moments in which one recognizes the real by an imperative and unshakable conviction.

– Senancour, Obermann (tr. Barnes)

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Without art or plot

It will be seen that these letters were penned by a man of feeling, not by a man of action. They are full of interest for the initiated, though they possess very little for outsiders. Many will discover with pleasure what one of themselves has experienced: many indeed have had the same experience themselves, but here is one who has described it, or at least has made the attempt. But he must be judged by the whole of his life, not by his earliest years; by all his letters, not by some casual passage too free or too romantic in expression.

Letters like these, without art or plot, will meet with little favour outside the scattered and secret brotherhood of which nature had made their writer a member. Those who belong to it are mostly unknown individuals, and the kind of private monument which one of them leaves behind can only reach the others through a public channel, at the risk of boring a great many serious, learned, and worthy people. The editor’s duty is simply to state at the outset that it contains neither wit nor science, that it is not a *work*, and that possibly it will be said that it is not a rational book.

We have many writings in which the whole race is described in a few lines, and yet if these long letters were to make a single man approximately known they would be both fresh and useful. It will take a great deal for them to attain this limited object; but if they do not contain all one might expect, they do at any rate contain something; and that is enough to justify their publication.

These letters are not a novel. There is in them no dramatic movement, no deliberate working-up of events, no climax, nothing of what is called the interest of a work – the gradual development, the incidents, and the stimulus to curiosity, which are the magic of many good books and the tricks of the trade in bad ones.

There are descriptions in them, such as help to a better understanding of natural objects, and throw light, possibly too much neglected, on the relation of man to what he calls the inaminate world.

There are passions in them; but they are those of a man who was destined to reap their results without actually experiencing them; to try everything, but only to have a single aim.

– Senancour, Obermann (tr. Barnes)

Duras was consumed with herself, true enough, but almost as if under a spell. Certain people experience their own lives very strongly … ‘People who say they don’t like their own books, if such people exist, do so because they haven’t learned to resist the attraction to humiliation,’ she wrote in one of her journals. ‘I love my books. They interest me’ … Receiving the full impact of her work has little to do with education, erudition. You either relate to it or you don’t … The moments of truth in her work are elemental and felt, not synthetic or abstruse … she was at risk sometimes of self-caricature. But every writer aspires to have some margin of original power, a patterning and order that comes to them as a gift bestowed, and is sent to no one else.

– Lines from an article on Marguerite Duras by Rachel Kushner