Thursday, June 21, 2018

AUTHOR EDOUARD LOUIS USES HIS WEAPON AGAINST THE DOMINANT CLASS: he who controls the words control the narrative


For the French Author Édouard Louis, His Books Are His Weapon

“My books are often faulted by bourgeois critics for prejudices that are theirs not mine,” says Édouard Louis.CreditJulien Bourgeois for The New York Times
By Tobias Grey

Édouard Louis uses literature as a weapon. “I write to shame the dominant class,” said the 25-year-old French writer in a recent interview.
This confrontational approach began with the publication of his first autobiographical novel “The End of Eddy,” which was translated into multiple languages and came out in the United States last year. In it Mr. Louis recounted how he grew up having to conceal his homosexuality in a small town in northern France. He placed much of the blame for the narrow-minded attitudes of his family and friends on their insufficient education, which, he said, had been stymied by the desperate need to make enough money to put food on the table.
Of his impoverished mother, who works as a caregiver, Mr. Louis wrote: “She didn’t understand that her trajectory, what she would call her mistakes, fit in perfectly with a whole set of logical mechanisms that were practically laid down in advance and nonnegotiable.” As the first member of his family to attend university, Mr. Louis became drawn to writers like Toni Morrison, James Baldwin and his compatriot Didier Eribon.

“As someone from the proletariat these weren’t writers who made me feel unwelcome,” he said, sipping a Perrier in a crowded Parisian brasserie. “I don’t find this with many books. When I started to write I didn’t see the world of my childhood depicted anywhere.”



He also said that it had been important for Mr. Louis’s recovery to “re-appropriate his own story which he felt had been taken away from him by the police, by medical examiners and the penal system.” This idea that Mr. Louis’s story was taken away from him provides “History of Violence” with an original narrative viewpoint. Instead of recounting the events himself, Mr. Louis positions himself in the novel as an eavesdropper listening in behind a door on a conversation about the attack between his sister and her husband. It is Mr. Louis’s sister, Clara, who recounts her own version of what happened, with the author occasionally providing some parenthesis when he disagrees with what she is saying.

Writing “History of Violence,” an autobiographical novel, was important for Mr. Louis’s recovery from his attack.CreditJulien Bourgeois for The New York Times

“I’d had this idea for a long time of writing an autobiography as though it was written by someone else,” Mr. Louis said. The original version of the novel was criticized by some French reviewers for what they felt was a caricatural depiction of Mr. Louis’s sister, whose spoken words are often slangy. The translated version by Lorin Stein, who resigned from his position as editor of The Paris Review amid accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior, doesn’t quite capture this distinction. Though on the subject, Mr. Louis suggests that it is French critics who have a problem with his sister’s way of talking, not himself.
“My books are often faulted by bourgeois critics for prejudices that are theirs not mine,” he said. “When I write I don’t ask myself whether I’m being kind or cruel but whether what I’m putting down is true or false. I’m not a priest but someone who’s trying to reproduce the complexity of people’s characters.” Mr. Louis, who recently returned from a “stimulating” monthlong teaching stint at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, already has a new autobiographical novel out in France called “Qui a tué mon père” (“Who Killed My Father”). In it he names and shames French politicians for debasing his father, a former factory worker, and others like him, by forcing them to work menial jobs for little money when they are in no physical condition to do so.
Mr. Louis’s desire to write about different forms of social violence is not something that he sees, unlike some of his detractors, as being miserablist. Quite the opposite in fact. “I think that the more you talk and write about violence the more goodness you can create in the world,” he said.
tobias Grey is a writer and critic.
Follow Tobias Grey on Twitter: @YbotYerg.
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