Should a writer seek consent from those he or she relates?

The French literary re-entry would not be worthy of itself without some good old controversy. Emmanuel Carrère’s former spouse, Hélène Devynck, reproached him for this, in a right of reply published by Vanity Fair on September 29, for having “used” it in his most recent book, Yoga (P.O.L), when they were bound by a contract prohibiting the writer from directing it (her name only appears there once). The author of Limonov and of The adversary would violate, according to her, the pact of truth made with her readers. “This account, presented as autobiographical, is false, arranged to serve the image of the author and totally foreign to what my family and I went through with him. “

Emmanuel Carrère replied in Release a few days later, before his story was excluded Tuesday from the second selection of Goncourt. In a more “pipole” register, the French press recently made its choux gras du livre Time saved (Éditions de l’Observatoire) by Raphaël Enthoven, a typically Germanopratin key novel in which the philosopher summons, under a pseudonym and in an unflattering light, his father, the publisher Jean-Paul Enthoven, and his ex-wife Justine Lévy ( daughter of Bernard-Henri), who was herself inspired by their breakup in 2004 in Nothing serious.

But should an author seek consent from those whose existence he transforms into literary matter? “No, an author should not have to ask permission to write anything, about anyone, to anyone”, replies the writer and autofiction specialist Mélikah Abdelmoumen, who recalls that this kind of dialogues by books and letters interposed does not date from yesterday. Example worthy of an episode of Heart has its reasons : in 1859, George Sand publishes Her and him, a not only obliging portrait of his relationship with Alfred de Musset, to which the poet’s brother, Paul, reacted by publishing Him and her. Louise Colet, a mistress of Musset, will also offer her own version of the man in Him.

“I am sensitive to what this woman is going through”, specifies Mélikah about Hélène Devynck, “but in my head, it is clear that it is just his own truth that Carrère tells, and that he can even to be blind to himself. I don’t take what he writes at face value. So I believe in the freedom of the writer, but as Spiderman’s uncle would say, with great power comes great responsibility. If there is a thunderstorm after publishing your novel and you take it all in your face, you have to come to terms with it. “

Loot (responsibly)

“In literature, there is always a question of treason”, says the author and lecturer at the University of Sherbrooke Karine Rosso, paraphrasing Marie-Célie Agnant, for whom “by wanting to betray no one, you end up betraying yourself. oneself ”.

“The writer is by definition a looter. I hear the rumor of the world, in order to digest reality, I need to write about it. Obviously I cannot ask permission from everyone I meet on the bus and from whom I borrow sentences “, adds the one who nevertheless confides that she submitted her novel before publication. My enemy Nelly (Hammock) to his mother and his boyfriend, for ethical reasons, although warning them that the reality there had been largely tampered with.

It is because the author-reader pact that underlies autofiction, a combination of elements pertaining to reality and others pertaining to fiction, is bound to have something ambiguous about it. In Female dog (Héliotrope), the account of the assaults she suffered, Marie-Pier Lafontaine even goes so far as to point out to her reader that the only perfectly invented fragment contained in her book is the one that most closely reflects its truth.

Karine Rosso also underlines that autofiction has historically been a tool allowing women, homosexuals, victims of sexual assault and victims of history to reclaim their own story – the father of autoficiton, Serge Doubrosvky, was a Jew who had to flee occupied France. “The transgressive potential of autofiction is interesting if, and only if, it makes it possible to overturn power relations that exist in reality,” she says, without commenting specifically on the Carrère case.

If, and only if, the author of an autofiction engages in a process of more than self-congratulation. “I often tell my students that in autofiction, we are not in the logic of selfie. When we take a selfie, we will choose, out of the twelve photos, the most beautiful. Self-fiction is like choosing the ugliest. And that too is part of my ethic not to spare myself, especially if I do not spare others. “

The freedom to reply

So this is of course not the first time that a writer’s ex has replied to him by way of a letter. Nicolas Ritoux, a former lover of Nelly Arcan, published in 2006 in Urbania a text aimed at restoring his reputation, scratched by Crazy woman. “But generally, literature has been more marked by these men who play pygmalion with women: Georges Bataille with Sylvia, Scott Fitzgerald with Zelda, Ted Hughes with Sylvia Plath, lists Karine Rosso. These men use their partner and transform them, often at the cost of their own creative part. “

While the editor and essayist Valérie Lefebvre-Faucher certainly sees the contract submitted to Emmanuel Carrère by Hélène Devynck as an attempt at censorship, her right of reply published in Vanity Fair could be considered as an extension of Yoga.

“When we do autofiction, it’s not true that we conceive of the work as a closed object,” thinks the one who signed last year Minutes (Ecosociety). “We try to make life go beyond work, we play with it, we want people to ask questions. And one should expect that people more or less involved might want to respond. Freedom of expression doesn’t mean that you can expect no response, not to cause scandal. It is because there is a possibility of response and scandal that we are free. “

But whether they are laughable or legitimate, the lines never succeed in completely relieving someone of the character in which they have been cemented by a book, observes Valérie Lefebvre-Faucher. “When Nelly Arcan’s ex responds to him, he seeks to speak out his truth, to free himself from the character she made of him, but that ends up strengthening the character. Same thing for Vanessa Springora[whodenouncedGabrielMatzneffin[quidénonçaitGabrielMatzneffdans[whodenouncedGabrielMatzneffin[quidénonçaitGabrielMatzneffdansThe consent]: even while writing about her attacker, she finds herself continuing her novel, giving a certain strength to her own fiction. “


A previous version of this text, which incorrectly identified the novel by Karine Rosso, has been modified.

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