Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Agnes Desarthe

“From where do you write?”

What’s your angle?

Loyalty is varied. The deepest and truest loyalty is to be discovered.

And discovered through genuine writing. And the first step is to answer: “From where do you write?”

Agnes Desarthe tried to exorcise her childhood state of mind in “How I learned to read“.

Agnes wanted to know, 40 years later, how she would have behaved if her parents insisted on her staying in an all girl primary school. For an unknown reason, Agnes was quickly transferred to a school predominantly of male kids.

First, in context.

The parents of Agnes are Jewish. Her father was born in Libya and studied in Algeria to become a physician, and lived in France. Her mother is from Germany.

The father is comfortable living amid an extended family and surrounded by noisy kids. He always lamented that the Arabic words had no adequate french counterpart, like the recurring word Leil (Night) in Arabic songs that offers varied connotation that the French language lacks.

The mother’s family members have been drastically reduced and her mother world is of silence and untold secrets.

Agnes was reluctant to read assigned books at schools on the ground that they are meant to impress on her the notion of France “territory, Land, culture…”. Her father brought her detective US and English novels that were translated into French, and Agnes read the “Serie Noire” (Black series)

Agnes tried to summarize he childhood state of mind in a boys school as follows:

1. Learning to read meant to learn about boys

2. Knowing guys is to become a prey

3. Being a prey in school courtyard is to be prey in occupied France (by the German Nazi troops in WWII)

4. Being a girl is like being a Jew

5. Being pursued by guys is like feeling tracked down by Naziz…

Agnes didn’t feel at home reading books until she stumbled on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Shosha” “Yentl”

Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote about the Jewish life in the Polish ghettos, talking about dibbouks, golems, Lilith, gehenne, arranged marriage, girls dressing like boys in order to pursue their education in Yeshiva… and his books were first written in Yiddish, translated into English and translated from English into French, and it is in the last translation that Agnes read the books.

“From where do you write?”

From genders differences? Class differences?

Archaic slow life-style or tasting and grabbing newer opportunities offered by modern life-styles?

“From where do you write?”

The origin of your mother, father, grand parents?

From the living in your hometown or experiencing the life in a foreign land?

From relating to the rituals, customs and traditions or seeking to understand the structure of modern developed societies in which you “exiled” yourself?

From translating the social life-style in your homeland or acquiring the knowledge of the rights and responsibilities in political systems that extended wide human rights and freedom of expressions?

There are billion of people who never left their hometown.

Do you think such a person will ever feel the urge to write anything? What can he says? Regurgitating in the description of the daily rituals and customs of the town where many are more placed to know and comprehend the traditions?

How such a person can enrich the language and create new emotions and perception?

Even people living in developed nations and enjoying many opportunities to exit the “comfort” of their hometown, do you think that they will ever feel the urge to write, even if they have access to TV and internet connections?

The authors who managed to enrich any language are those who traveled abroad and interacted with different customs and cultures.

They are the multilingual authors who suffered in translating their culture and emotions into a host and adoptive language.

Can we substitute two painful identities with a third more painful? Are painful identities more real, viable and enduring than comfortable identities that shortcut reflection and obstruct any zeal to search for the truth, of your right of doing your due diligence in discovering yourself?

A terror replace another terror, though never kicking it out of our system, more likely amplifying the former terror. This fear that renders people mute.

There is this amorphous mass, a mixture of dichotomies (such as learning to read and refusing to read, practicing the rituals of your heritage and opposing the viability of these rituals for an harmonious development of mankind, the need to preserve innocence and countering with actions that keep you ignorant…)

Time alone is not enough to let the oil float atop this volume of stagnant water.

There is this occasional urge to agitate the content, sort of feeling apprehensive that, if our world vision has settled, we are doomed to a slow death and apathy.

If I can settle on an answer to “from where do I write”, does this automatically translate to being able to answer “from where do I read?”

The void is this state after a treatment we went through (psychoanalysis, dis-intoxication, weight loss…). You feel that you are not the same, but you didn’t change that much. You feel that the symptoms have been displaced and you have no ideas what are the newer symptoms to discover.

Is reading a job? Is writing a job that should be mentioned in CV? Can I circumvent this deception of not being able to claim talent in any job?

Reading is a sort of the solvent in the process of untangling this confused mass of memory and emotions.

Reading is an infraction: Allowing another brain to challenge and enter your brain. This assimilation of reading to a predator is not easy to confront.

If your writing is not transmitting the emotions and feelings of your own culture, more likely than not the reader will not appreciate the genuine nature of your books.

And it is very hard to be write in an adoptive language and pulling up this feat of reaching a wide audience.

Writing is being in a permanent state of Nostalgia: pondering on open wounds, responding to queries such as “How my life unfolded, why am I living, what opportunities did I miss, did I change and how?”

Writing gives us the illusion of reaching closure on particular issues, and this process of research turns out to leave a wide exit in the circles that we intended to entirely close and get relief.

Woo to the authors who feel they got closure: He might as well stop writing.

Am I writing to enjoy reading?

And “How I learned to read” by Agnes Desarthe

The initial process of a toddler to crying, weeping, throwing tantrum and shouting monosyllables… is meant to attract attention in order to relay a disenchantment, a complaint, a doleance, a grievance….

As the toddler learns a few words, the set of crying becomes a boring method to the kid and the people around: no one is paying attention or responses are no longer that fast and empathizing…

Mother tells me that when I was about 5 year-old, I used to cry my heart out, hiding under the bed, as I heard my parents and grown ups deciding to go to a movie, and I being excluded.  Occasionally, they had to cancel their projects. Mother tells me that my crying was not of the wet kind.

Once, in an open-air movie “theater” in Africa, I saw an airplane flying in the film, and I wanted the airplane. I kept pointing my finger toward the airplane, and never desisted till they dragged me out of the theater.

It is a fluke of the living that I survived in Africa: There was no inoculation and vaccination of any diseases at the time, and didn’t catch any until I lived in Lebanon. Mother tells me that she carried me to visit a relative of father in Sikasso (Mali), and the physician met her at the door and summoned her to take me back home: The daughter of the relative had just suffered polio

Have you ever heard a kid saying: “I am happy, satisfied, contended…?”

Most probably you heard the kid shouting: “I am hungry, thirsty, angry…”  The kid learned to talk in order to express his grievances and doleances.

The range of grievances in quality and a quantity increases with mastering the language.

All those invented new jargons by gang youth are symptoms of their inability to articulate their new grievances and sorrows to a community that does not share their life-styles

We learn to speak so that we can transmit our grievances in the language that a community understand, otherwise, our expressions turn physically violent due to our impotency to express ourselves “civilly”.

And writing is the best means of expressing our list of doleances, as we feel a lack of quick verbal intelligence for effective communication of our miseries, or inability to associate with people and feel comfortable in gathering…

Writing becomes a means to enjoy reading, and reading more seriously and assiduously: How else can we communicate intelligently our emotions and grievances through words?

I am certain that I would enjoy fuller the previous books that I read.

It is by the writing process that I started to comprehend the emotional reality, and appreciate the emotional world in the books.

Writing was my best means to bypass the world of rational thinking and discovering the wide set of emotional intelligence.

In my case, I read a lot since I was 12 and for 4 decades, until I began to write anything outside school homework.

I guess that I was too dumb socially, shy and inarticulate to feel comfortable discussing anything in gatherings.

And I was inarticulate for lack of exercising articulation due to tacit feeling of not having reasonable cause for valid complaints: I felt neutral and had no inclination to get engaged in any activity or project…

I must have been shoving under the rug of my consciousness all the unsuspected emotional discrepancies and grievances.

The perception by others of being arrogant in my silence and mutism, as if I knew more than the assembly and refused to share what I knew or felt, isolate me even further from being invited…

Actually, my mutism reflected my ignorance of what was going on in relationships among the group, and I could not participate in the conversation…

Where to start with the zillion of questions that are needed in order to untangle the web of relationships and interrelationship, and to begin the fitting process of engaging and appreciating the concerns of people around me?

It’s a daunting task if you lack conscious emotional intelligence and are unable to believe that all the expressed emotions are real and genuine…

Writing got me engaged in becoming an accomplice and a collaborator to authors I like.

I agree with the saying: “If you are interested in a topic, write about it…” It doesn’t lend to saying that what you wrote is correct: good or bad, at least you reached a position on the topic. 

Most probably, since you were interested in a topic, you must have read about it, and the more you write, the more you read on the topic. It is a refreshing feeling to feel that you nailed down one of the zillion of mysteries…

I realized that before writing I barely seriously asked “Why” of anything and tried to resolve it.

As for the “How”, your best bet is to “doing it”. The more bruises and injuries you suffer “doing it”, the more you appreciate the value of the “How”

Note: May I suggest to have a notebook and a pen handy when you read a book? You will realize that you are communicating much better with the book and yourself as you take notes of what impresses your emotions and imagination… And the environment of reading acquires a festive feeling and joy. And if you got the habit of writing, you’ll write a couple of articles just by reading and perusing a few book strewn around you…




January 2023

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