Tag Archives: Pascal Quignard

Les Notes Parisiennes

Et bon, mes chers lecteurs, enfin j’ai visite Paris. Pardonnez-moi l’absence des articles, mais il n’y a pas de langue francaise a mon telephone.

Those of you who have been reading the blog for a while will know that this was a very long-lasting dream that has finally come true. According to the French themselves, I speak their language very well, although this was the first time I really had to converse with native speakers. I managed to keep my writing skills up, while living in the UK, but I was quite fearful for the spoken language. Thankfully, there is nothing to fear about any longer.

I’ve only had two days, so I somehow chose to visit the Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, the Pere Lachese cemetery, and the Louvre. Maybe I should have made a different choice, but the positive impressions abound anyway. In addition to visiting these great sites, I ate at various lovely places where there was always good food and good service, both at good value. The majority thought I was English, if I had to “switch” the language to better express myself. I took buses and metro, I climbed 300 stairs up the Sacre Coeur to see the unforgettable Parisian panorama in broad daylight. Naturally, I chose to use the ascenseur (elevator) to visit la Tour Eiffel, for otherwise I’d overdo climbing for the day. I was still rewarded with spectacular views of Paris by night and a short illumination.

The French were generally very helpful – perhaps because they sensed the chance to practise their English. As soon as I arrived and was trying to figure out where to go, a map in my hand, a lovely French lady came up and offered me help. I always do this kind of thing in Moscow, so it looks like this was the instance of “the good you do comes back to you“.

And then there were two funny situations, both at the Eiffel Tower. First, I saw two security guards studying a small bottle of champagne they confiscated from someone. The conversation went thus:

I: “Are you going to give it back, if they ask?”
Guard: “Me? This is going to cost!” – and he made a gesture with his fingers, hinting at the money they’d have to pay to get the bottle back.

Obviously, this was a joke.

A better one followed during my own security check before going for the elevator. Our conversation:

Guard: Knives? Pistols?
I: Of course, not!
Guard: A bomb?
I: Well, I haven’t thought about it.

At one of the bistros where I stopped we had a pleasant conversation with a gentleman from Biarritz. Eventually, we arrived to a conclusion that Biarritz was even more expensive than Nice because of its exclusivity. In return, I explained the meaning of the word “issue”, and how it can be used in English language.

Prior to going to Paris I read Villa “Amalia” by Pascal Quignard. It was a Russian translation, a moving story of a woman-artist. I remember trying to read Dance, Dance, Dance by Mourakami in English years ago, and I couldn’t even wade through it because it felt like I was “reading” a film by some Asian director, Wong Kar-wai or something. As much as I love Kar-wai’s films, “reading” it in another author’s novel was too much. I didn’t get past a few opening chapters.

With Villa “Amalia” there was also a feeling that it was a very cinematographic novel, I could easily see it being adapted to the screen, and the little parts, into which the bigger chapters are broken, may in fact be separate scenes in a feature. Thanks to this, the novel is every bit a French film at its best: rich yet succinct, and always with a good “afterthought”, as in “aftertaste”. Isabelle Huppert could certainly play Anna Hidden. I guess this plainly shows me as a huge French cinema fan.

In the story, as well, “Hidden” is a pseudonym. The protagonist is half-Jewish, she took the pseudo after a suggestion from her lover, but her father has spent a lifetime escaping various things, family included. Anna herself “hides” from relationships and, at some point, from people, while retaining her privacy. And as she is not widely known by face, she remains “hidden”. Apart from everything else in the novel, this is a beautiful play on words from another language, to portray a character.

And on the way back from Paris I was again reading Les Champs Magnetiques by A. Breton and Ph. Soupault.

Donc, a bientot!

Quotes On the Front Page: Arbus On Picture, Quignard On Joy

For me the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture. And more complicated. – Diane Arbus.

Человеку дарована лишь одна радость – ощущение жизни, когда она достигает своего апогея. И другой жизни у нас нет. – Паскаль Киньяр.

Pascal Quignard Visits Russian State Library

Sadly the news come in a bit late, so I will not be able to attend this public lecture – but the French author Pascal Quignard is visiting Moscow and will give a talk today at the Russian State Library.

The talk, hosted by a journalist Konstantin Milchin, will see Quignard read from his new and yet untranslated book Les Désarçonnés, speak on the immanently linked Death, Love, and Music, and explain the possibility of creating music with words.

Announced by Theory&Practice.


A Short Post on Jean Cocteau and Cinema

There must be some curse that doesn’t let me see La Belle et la Bête by Jean Cocteau. Every time it’s on TV I either forget or cannot find time to watch it. Naturally, when I received an email update from Cornerhouse telling me that on Sunday this classic was being screened, I jumped up and down with joy.

I was going to Cornerhouse relishing the thought of sinking into a chair in a dark hall and watching one of Cocteau’s masterpieces. At the counter there was a small queue, which I joined. As I approached the counter, I suddenly noticed a big A4 sheet of paper telling me that all tickets for Cocteau’s film had been sold out.

‘What, completely?’ I asked the guy behind the counter, still refusing to believe that I was missing this film yet again.

‘Yes, completely’, he nodded, ‘we’re sorry’.

Don’t think I blame Cornerhouse, or those people who bought tickets before me. I don’t even blame myself, as it never occurred to me that there might be a lot of people like myself. So, I’m trying to be philosophical and say: never mind.

Sunday was fully rectified on Monday morning, when I woke up to the long-awaited news of Dame Helen Mirren and Martin Scorsese each winning an Oscar. I didn’t watch this year’s ceremony. On the one hand, as I have to get up early in the morning, I wouldn’t be able to stay awake at work. On the other hand, I didn’t watch any of this year’s nominated films, but that has to do with personal reasons, rather than an overall change in my attitude to cinema. In addition, last year I was almost compelled to watch the Oscars, as I interviewed Mark Rothemund and Gavin Hood, who were both nominated in the Best Foreign Film category. As we know, Hood’s Tsotsi has scooped the award, and I had one of the biggest balls in my entire life.

Back to Cocteau, I’ve seen Orphee. Cocteau brilliantly reworks the ancient myth, not only through cinematography and imagery of the film, but also through the narrative proper. In particular, in this revocation of the myth, Orphee cannot look at Euridice even after he’d safely transported her from the world of the dead, otherwise she will disappear again.

What I find most interesting is the scene in Cocteau’s film, when Death (Maria Casares) sacrifices herself for Orphee (Jean Marait), so he could return on Earth and continue to please people with his art. As I haven’t yet read Les Ombres Errantes by Pascal Quignard, I cannot say whether in his text the following quotation is somehow related to this scene, or not. Evidently, though, that Cocteau’s scene symbolises the immortality of Art, and Quignard says in his novel:

Les artistes sont des meurtriers de la mort (The artists are the murderers of death).
And as everyone would agree, the myth of Orphee plainly states that ars longa, vita brevis. As do the works of Jean Cocteau.

And to conclude this little post, a brilliant quotation from Jean Cocteau which he dropped in the interview, describing a postal stamp with his portrait of Marianne, France’s national symbol. He explained that Marianne was in fact a secretary’s wife, for which reason he didn’t want to create anything pompous. His Marianne indeed looks like a secretary’s wife, complete with a perm. And he said:

I think this stamp is too conventional, but perhaps it is better this way. When one is licked by so many, it doesn’t pay to be too singular, lest one is licked in disgust.

(The image is taken from the site covering the works of many artists, including, apart from Jean Cocteau, Lee Miller, Albert Camus, Andy Warhol, etc. Pay a visit and discover the amazing work by some of the greatest artists of the past).

Exercises in Loneliness – III

Generally, I love sleepless nights. I love the time when I can read or write, without being disturbed. There is only one exception – I prefer when I am actually enjoying either writing or reading. At the moment, I’m about to embark on a very lengthy text on the topic of martyrdom in Sikhism. And although I already know and understand how the text should be written, I find it daunting to write because – God knows! – I’d prefer to write about something else. More inspiring. More creative.

To stay up in the night has never been difficult for me. I don’t even know how I came to develop such ability. When I was a student, however, my mates at the Uni used to ask me (quite seriously!), what to do in order to stay awake. The question would normally rise during the exam session. I could never give any sound advice, and from what I know, they never actually stayed up.

Writing daunting texts is also nothing new. Back in 2000, I was in my third year and had been writing an essay on Soviet literature between 1925 and 1935. Or, I’d better say, I’d been trying to write such essay. I knew the topic very well, but, strangely, the knowledge had put me off writing the text. The final day of submission was 15 May. 14 May was my mother’s birthday, and we had guests. They left at about 9pm, and I went to the computer. Ten hours later I had written 30 pages – exactly what was required. I took it to the tutor. A week later she told me that she absolutely loved my work and couldn’t find words to express her regret that we hadn’t discuss my essay in our seminar. Well… Perhaps, I’ll rework it for an article one day. :))

The text I need to write now is exactly a half of those 30 pages. The topic – martyrdom – borders on history, philosophy and religion, and I’m looking at the whole of the 17th c. Of course, Asia is not Europe, but the 17th c. is not something totally inconceivable. I think it’s because of him. He is Pascal Quignard. Ever since I read ‘Terrace a Rome’ I wanted to find and read as many of his works, as possible. I couldn’t start reading, but I actually found the Russian translation of ‘Tous les Matins du Monde’ (All the World’s Mornings/Все утра мира) and a couple of extracts from his essay ‘Le Sexe et L’Effroi’ (Sex and Terror/ Секс и страх). And it’s because I’d rather read these works that I find it difficult to write about those Sikh martyrs.

In my life as a reader I went through a series of very intense ‘love affairs’ with different authors. Those whose works I most hungrily devoured were Gorky, Chekhov, Bulgakov, de Sade, Henry Miller, Maugham, Sueskind, Marquez, Llosa, and Vonnegut. Oh, yes, also Wilde, Prevert, and most Russian poets. I’ve got to stop here, otherwise martyrdom will be completely forgotten.

Anyway, I know what I’m going to add to my birthday/Christmas/New Year list. It’s the works of Pascal Quignard. In English, French or Russian, it doesn’t matter.

And an extract from one of his interviews. You can read the article in full here.

Wandering Shadows or the insecurity of thinking
I certainly was not planning to embark on anything so long, I wanted to write books that did not exceed the capacity of my head, if I can put it that way, that I could skim through panoptically. But something like a wave began to get bigger and bigger and to engulf me, as though it was saying to me “Don’t be so cautious with your own life.”
Les Ombres Errantes is the book that has the greatest biographical content. It is important to me that a thought is totally involved in the life you are leading. In this book, I make clear my determination to create a hermitage within the modern world where I praise insecurity of thinking, while the societies in which we live advocate the opposite. The same thing happened at the end of the Roman Empire: in order to counter the return of religious monotheism and imperial pacification, many hermitages were created. The values that are now coming back are all the ones I detest. The return of faith terrifies me and I am filled with despair to see my own friends becoming believers and doctrinarians. We are living in 1571. This St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre atmosphere had to be described. The Wars of Religion are beginning again. Woman is being deified. Death adored. Democracy more violent and inegalitarian than in Pericles’ day. Technology, the object of all worship, and the all-pervasive cult of youth is worse than primitive – it is untamed, psychotic.
Interview conducted by Catherine Argand

A Day in the Life with the Blue Lyre

Yes, there was a post under such title already on this blog, but, since I took part in the History Matters campaign and my entry has been uploaded to their page, I thought I would post it here, too. You can read as many other entries, as you wish, by clicking here. I’ve got to say, some comments are totally amazing, especially those written by children.

You will notice that my ‘one day in history’ is anything, but down-to-earth. There’s no mention of how I brushed my teeth, ‘dragged the comb across my head’, and, since it was my day-off, I spent it at home. I noted what I had for tea, however. The major part of the entry is dedicated to my recalling of what I did in terms of reading, thinking and writing. I shall explain, why I did so. As you know, I am an historian, and for years I’ve been researching into intellectual history, or history of ideas (very broadly speaking). This field borders on both philosophy and art, which is one of the reasons why it fascinates me so much. Consequently, I jotted down, as briefly and clearly as possible, what I thought and felt on October 17th, 2006. What you’re reading, therefore, is a writer’s alienating themselves from their ideas and occupations and looking at these through an historian’s specs.

So, this is a retrospective view of one single day, 17th October 2006.

When I was an adolescent and tried to write a diary, I hated it. But recently I began to write a blog, and I am actually enjoying it. However, I don’t write about commonsensical things there. For this reason I’ll only briefly mention such unimportant details, as my getting up at 10am (because the 17th was my day-off, and the night before I stayed up late); having breakfast; checking my email; having lunch later on; then boiling chicken breasts and eating one of them for tea; and eventually going to bed. I don’t boil chicken breasts every day, and I don’t get up at 10am every day, but the rest I am doing day-in, day-out.

I have always been attracted to history, even before I went to study it. History was always linked to philosophy and art, and was about people, what and how they think and feel, and why. The arts, especially literature, have been my main interest and preoccupation since I was 6, so I ended up as a specialist in intellectual history. Back in 1997, in Moscow, and wanting to be a writer, I went to read History to gain the knowledge of life (in the broadest sense) and to generate my understanding of it, so I would have something to write about. Gradually I began to discover and sometimes to face the memories of my own past. Thinking about it, this is exactly what historians do – they collect information from elsewhere, whilst waiting for the archives to be opened. I don’t know exactly what has opened my archives, but perhaps I just forgot about it now?

This is what I thought on October 17. What did I feel? I felt love. Around that date I was in love with ‘Terrace in Rome’ by Pascal Quignard. The book was short enough to be swallowed in a couple of hours, but sometimes it is short or simple pieces that mesmerise you and touch your very core. Having finished it, I spent the next two days in a state close to cathartic. Even now I am not completely over it. For me as an artist, it is essential that I am in love, as love, whether shared or unrequited, is the source of inspiration. There is nothing particularly original about this view. Likewise, love doesn’t have to be associated with any particular person; the object of love can be a late writer or a book. Love in this case is a mixture of empathy, fantasy and passion, neither of which needs to be directly expressed or fulfilled. But it is essential that such object exists in my life, as something that attracts, challenges, inspires, and ultimately changes me. I don’t think, however, that love is a fleeting feeling; after all, I am faithful to my art.

In the afternoon I found an article about one classic Russian film, which I subsequently blogged. I’ve also posted an announcement on my blog (Notebooks) about this campaign. Later in the afternoon I received a totally unexpected email from a fellow artist. It mentioned his interview in The Wire; I found a couple of tracks on The Wire website and thought that ‘Lords of Fear’ was especially interesting.

In the evening I was again pondering on how to rewrite a cycle of poems that I composed in 2001. The cycle was called (and still is) ‘The Blue Lyre’, but its structure and form are to be totally changed. The main theme of the cycle is the formation of a poet, and in accordance with my plans, I wrote a rondeau. I never force myself to write, and I don’t quite believe in the ‘nulla dies sine linea’ adage. The world and the art, and my feelings for and thoughts about them, compel me, which is why I sometimes stay up in the night. But on October 17 I didn’t.

To see the corresponding entrances, so as to refresh your memory, you can go to the following links: the campaign and the article that I blogged, and the track that I listened to.

I’ll tell a tiny bit more about this cycle. Upon my word, I don’t know why I decided to call it ‘The Blue Lyre’. I think, generally, the explanation is pretty simple, and you can have a go at deciphering it. The rondeau I mentioned is a lovely Renaissance poetic form, and in the cycle it tells the story of the poet being warned against falling under the Lyre’s spell, for it makes everyone who follows it unhappy. But the poet eventually joins the Lyre’s retinue, whilst realising that he will be unhappy either with her or without her. The refrain of this rondeau is ‘I have always been told‘ (“Мне всегда говорили“), and this is what it reads like in Russian:

Мне всегда говорили: «Не слушай, когда,
Из небесных пределов спускаясь, звезда
Призывать в свою свиту тебя станет нежно, –
«Не желаю и знать!» – отвечай безмятежно».

«Коль примкнешь к ее свите волшебной, тогда
В бесконечной нужде проведешь ты года,
За одною настигнет другая беда,
Будешь плакать над долей своей безутешно», –
……………………………………….Мне всегда говорили.

Так ночей моих скудных прошла череда, –
И, за Синею Лирой уйдя навсегда,
Обещанье покоя отринув мятежно,
Понял я: буду с нею страдать неизбежно,
Без нее же счастливым не быть никогда, –
………………………………………Мне всегда говорили.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006

Still, a bientot!