Nobel Prize for Literature: Annie Ernaux has made the art of memory a political act of record and rebellion

Turning the odds for the bookmakers once again, the recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature is French memoirist Annie Ernaux, whose visceral exploration of the self and its potential implications for social and political life has long made she a champion of what French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted after his victory, “the collective and intimate memory” of France. However, Ernaux, 82, does not speak only for his nation. In recent years, with the availability of translations of her best-known works, she has been “discovered” with equal bliss in the English-speaking world, testimony to the universality of the female experience and the popularity of memoirs as gender. .

The memoirs Ernaux writes, however, are quite different from the sweet reminiscences of a fulfilled life. The Nobel citation praises Ernaux “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she discovers the roots, the remoteness and the collective constraints of personal memory”. Stripped of all poetry, her prose is stripped down and journalistic, scrubbed of emotional excess, examining from the perspective of hindsight the events that shaped her – her difficult youth in a Normandy town; the fire in his belly to be more; her relationships with her parents, her husband and her lovers; the acute feeling of ignominy and inadequacy induced by gender and class barriers, and the inevitable fight with age and ailments. Fairly early in his literary career, Ernaux had abandoned the seductive allure of fiction to choose the quicksand of truth. Fully aware of the infidelity of memory, Ernaux embraces the rigors of an ethnographer to deconstruct her past in works as profound as A Man’s Place (1983), A Woman’s Story (1987) or Shame (1996), finally abandoning the subjective “I” in his much-celebrated, shortlisted 2019 International Booker Prize, The Years, for the third-person collective of “she.” In the process, over a career spanning more than five decades, Ernaux would transform the art of memoir into a political act of recording and rebellion, which marries the curiosity of a sociologist with the diligence of An archeologist.

There’s a reason people’s real lives in a particular place during a particular time period are interesting to read. It allows the reader to go into the dark depths of messy lives and find relief. He offers healing and hope, but also an awareness of history and his place in his ranks. Ernaux’s triumph is in urging his readers to this moment of collective insight into the circumstances of their own experiences to know where they come from and what makes them who they are.

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