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Pennac embodies his Journal d’un corps

June 26, 2014 6 comments

Le Journal d’un corps by Daniel Pennac. 

Pennac_afficheRegular readers of this blog know that I love theatre. There’s something special about seeing flesh and blood actors a few feet away from you, impersonating characters and telling a story night after night for an audience. Perhaps it resonates with childhood memories of listening to stories before bedtime or the pleasure comes from the knowledge that these actors are playing for us, the people sitting there and not for a camera. In a way it’s more personal. When my professional schedule leads me to Paris and there is time, I always look for a theatre play to watch. Last week was Mass Appeal and this week, it was Le Journal d’un corps by Daniel Pennac, with Daniel Pennac. If you’d looked inside my head when I found out about this on my usual theatre website, you would have seen my brain doing cartwheels in there. That’s how happy I was. I had loved the book Le Journal d’un corps and I’ve written about it here. I’ve been a Pennac fan for a long time now, loving the Malaussène series (see Guy’s review here) and his memoir about teaching, Comme un roman. It’s in this very book that Pennac lists the 10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader which are also advertised on my blog. Bref, he and I have a long story of one-sided admiration, my side of course. So, I felt like a teenager going to see her favourite rock star playing unplugged.

Pennac_wikiMy brain was doing cartwheels again, after the show. That was amazing, he was amazing. The concept of seeing an author reading his book is appealing to a bookworm, per se. The concept of seeing a writer impersonating his words is mind-blowing. When you read a book and the writer is a real author, you hear their literary voice. There’s no way to know if this voice is their natural voice or if it’s ventriloquism. For Pennac, his physical voice matches his literary voice. His voice is a little nasal, conveying the irony, the wit of his words. He’s a gourmet of words and he lets them roll around his tongue, reaching his taste buds and gives them back flavoured with good humour and passion. His lower jaw gives a special texture to his voice and a unique rhythm to his sentences. His eyes are a bid hidden by Harry Potter glasses but his mischievous look escapes their metallic frame, revealing his rebellious side. Everything in Pennac’s body speaks of childhood, play and of his healthy appetite for life and language. This is what I felt when I read Le Journal d’un corps. This is what I saw on stage, and I was sitting in the third row, quite close and with a clear view. How often do we have the opportunity to see a writer on stage, ten meters away, living his text on stage. Not reading it, playing it, turning the writer into an actor, giving life to his own words. Not often. He has the ease of excellent actors and teachers. I would have loved to sit in his class and hear him read masterpieces aloud.

Apart from the performance, the play reminded me how good the book is. It’s funny, accurate in its rendition of the human condition, universal and particular at the same time. If you’re French and you have the opportunity, go to the Théâtre du Rond Point and watch Pennac on stage. For foreigners, there’s always the book, sadly not translated into English. Yet.

PS : Post publication of this billet, I asked Folio whether Le Journal d’un corps will be translated into English. Good news for UK readers, MacLehose Press will publish it. Publication date still unknown, though.

Until the end, we are our body’s child. A puzzled child.

April 7, 2014 15 comments

Le Journal d’un corps by Daniel Pennac. (The Journal of a Body)

I wrote that billet in French back in October 2013 and said that if anyone needed a translation, they should just ask for it in the comment section. Well, Sophie left a message asking for one, so here it is. A billet in French was a first, self-translating it is another first. For the original French, click here. So enjoy!

Emma

_______

I was reading this book and I was thinking I won’t be able to write about this book in English, I don’t have the words. Then I thought that since most of the regular readers of this blog can read in French, I’d write in French for a change. I’m a bit intimidated, I must say. I’ve never written any billet in my native language. And the human brain is a strange thing, it compartmentalizes our experiences, learns, makes inventories and settles patterns. My brain is used to writing billets in English. This activity has been in English from the start and for my brain, switching from one language to the other is a bit against nature. But it’s not to ramble about my brain or my body that I cross that path today, it’s for Daniel Pennac.

Life is a grand theatre and we make out little performance every day, walking out on stage in the morning, as soon as someone lays eyes on us. The look of others makes our inner actor stepping in because as soon as we’re no longer alone, the other expects something from our presence, a certain behaviour, a feedback or simply reassurance. Writers like to show us what’s behind the curtain of that theatre and unveil the thoughts and feelings of the characters. With his Journal of a Body, Daniel Pennac chose to shed some light backstage. Our body. An unusual project, I have to admit.

When he turns twelve, a boy decides to control his body that betrayed him, giving away his fear. A paralyzing fear took his body and his sphincters abdicated, a real disaster in his pants. This child is the son of a Great War soldier, weakened and eventually led to death by the consequences of the toxic gas inhaled on the front. The father fades away, betrayed by his body. A little while after his death and this intestinal debacle, the son takes himself in hand. We are in 1936 and until his death, he will write the journal of his body, his life companion. The book is constructed as a diary and no significant event is written in it unless it has a bodily impact or unless it can be described through an alteration of his body. We guess what is happening in his life because some furtive words here and there unravel his great moments. After all, these events affect his body. The death of his nanny, Violette. His first lover. The first time he sees Mona, his future wife, love at first sight. And now, he’s a father:

To become a father is to become one-armed. I’ve only had one arm since a month; the other holds Bruno. One-armed from one day to the other, you get used to it.

The Journal of a Body is a funny book that talks about what cannot be said, what cannot be written. There is no deep analysis of feelings here, just the sensations of a body. Some are familiar to me like yawning, feeling fear squeezing your guts, dizziness, water on your skin in the shower, the dazzling attack of a tooth ache. Some are foreign to me since I’m a woman; I know nothing about the pleasure of a good shave in the morning. Some of the sensations reveal his feelings, show what’s happening on stage, where our man interacts with his public, his colleagues, his employees, his family.

I love Pennac; his ten inalienable rights of the reader are in a visible pad on my blog and the Malaussène series is a wonderful memory of reading. I love his humour, his warmth, his joie de vivre. His style is gourmand and gourmet, blunt but never vulgar. (“Love punctuation by Mona: give me that comma to turn it into an exclamation mark”) He intertwines poetry and mundaneness with a happiness that smells like childhood, cheeks reddened by games and the absence of ulterior motives. (“Our voice is the music that the wind makes when it goes through our body –well, when it doesn’t go out through our backside”) He never takes himself seriously. (You can scratch yourself to ecstasy but tickle yourself as long as you want, you’ll never make yourself laugh) His strength is that he doesn’t only describe his body as the recipient of stolen pleasures; he goes through everything, the good and the bad. This visible lightness, this sensorial badinage doesn’t prevent Pennac from serious thinking about the place of our body in society.

We spend our time comparing our bodies. But after childhood, only in a furtive, shameful manner. At fifteen, on the beach, I compared the biceps and abs of the boys of my age. At eighteen, I compared the bulge in their bathing suit. At thirty, forty, men compare their hair. (Poor bald ones!) At fifty, they look at pot bellies (Don’t have one), at sixty, they check teeth (don’t lose them). And now, in the assemblies of old crocodiles that are our supervisory bodies, they check backs, steps, the way you wipe your mouth, you get up or you put your coat on. Old age, actually, just old age. John looks older than me, don’t you think?

It’s so true, we do it without thinking. This story is both universal and unique. I’ve described the universal moments. But this man has also a relationship with his body that tells about his generation. We feel him a bit stiff, this father whose children never see him in pyjamas. At some point, he says he’d like to read the journal of a woman’s body to have a glimpse at this intimacy and understand, among other things, what it is to have breasts. Intriguing for a man, I assume. He describes his little miseries, his illnesses and his curiosity for a body that we only pay attention to when it violently or repeatedly reminds us of its presence. He makes experiments with his body like yawning in a meeting to see if it generates a yawning wave among the audience. This novel is brilliant, tender and sad at the same time. We discover a traditional, deadpan and generous man. A successful man, a faithful husband, a somewhat distant father, an affectionate grand-father. A man who sees his body as a roommate, in for life.

I really like this text and unfortunately, it’s not been translated into English for the moment. It was published in 2012, it may be available in English later. It’s probably a good book to buy for someone who’d like to work on his/her French. It’s a journal, composed of tiny moments; it allows a disjointed reading

Well, the billet comes to an end and to be honest, writing in French isn’t easy. The English language kept on coming to my mind; it’s become my language to write about literature. My brain switches to English when I want to express my thoughts about a book. I had to delete Anglicism (you don’t say “compartimentaliser” in French, but “compartimenter”) or false friends (you don’t say “caractère” for “character” but “personnage”) and I had to translate a few adjectives that came in English first. Bizarre, je sais.

Nous sommes jusqu’au bout l’enfant de notre corps. Un enfant déconcerté.

October 4, 2013 36 comments

Le Journal d’un corps, de Daniel Pennac. 2012

Pennac_corpsJe lisais ce livre et je me disais « Jamais je n’arriverai pas à écrire sur ce roman en anglais, je n’ai pas les mots. » Puis je me suis dit que puisque tous les lecteurs fidèles de ce blog lisent le français, j’allais écrire en français pour une fois. Je suis un peu intimidée, à vrai dire. Je n’ai jamais écrit de billet dans ma langue natale. Et le cerveau humain est une chose étrange, il compartimente nos expériences, apprend, stocke et définit des habitudes. Mon cerveau a l’habitude d’écrire des billets en anglais. Cette activité est en anglais depuis le début et pour lui, c’est un peu aller contre nature que de changer de langue tout à coup. Mais ce n’est pas pour parler de mon cerveau ou de mon corps que je saute ce pas aujourd’hui, c’est pour Daniel Pennac.

La vie est un grand théâtre et nous faisons notre petite performance tous les jours, entrant en scène dès le matin, dès que quelqu’un pose les yeux sur nous. Le regard de l’autre fait sortir l’acteur en nous car dès que nous ne sommes plus seuls, l’autre attend quelque chose de nous, un comportement, un retour, une réassurance. Les écrivains aiment à montrer ce qui se cache derrière le rideau de ce théâtre et nous dévoilent les pensées et les sentiments des personnages. Avec son Journal d’un corps, Daniel Pennac a choisi de s’intéresser aux coulisses. Notre corps. Le projet est original, il faut le reconnaître.

Un garçon décide à l’âge de douze ans de maîtriser son corps qui l’a trahi en dévoilant sa peur. Une trouille paralysante l’a envahi et ses sphincters ont abdiqué, une vraie Bérézina dans le pantalon. Cet enfant est le fils d’un combattant de la guerre 14-18 affaibli et finalement emporté par les conséquences des gaz toxiques respirés au front. Le père s’étiole, trahi par son corps. Quelques temps après sa mort et cette déroute intestinale, le fils se prend en main. Nous sommes en 1936 et jusqu’à sa mort, il tiendra le journal intime de ce corps, ce compagnon de route. Le livre est conçu comme un journal intime et aucun événement significatif n’y est consigné s’il n’a pas un impact corporel ou s’il ne peut être décrit via une altération du corps. Nous devinons ce qui se passe dans sa vie car quelques mots furtifs ici et là en dévoilent les grands moments. Après tout, ces grands événements marquants le prennent au corps. La mort de sa nounou, Violette. Sa première amante. La rencontre avec Mona, sa femme, le coup de foudre. Et le voici papa :

Devenir père, c’est devenir manchot. Depuis un mois, je n’ai plus qu’un bras, l’autre porte Bruno. Manchot du jour au lendemain, on s’y fait.

Le Journal d’un corps est un livre drôle qui nous parle de ce qui ne se dit pas, de ce qui ne s’écrit pas. Il n’y a pas d’analyse profonde des sentiments ici, rien que les sensations d’un corps. Certaines me sont familières, comme bailler, sentir la peur vous prendre aux tripes, le vertige, l’eau sur le corps lors de la toilette, la fulgurance d’un mal de dents. Certaines me sont étrangères car je suis une femme ; je ne connais pas le plaisir de se raser le matin. Certaines sensations trahissent les émotions, montrent ce qui se passe sur scène, là où notre homme interagit avec son public, ses collègues, ses employés, sa famille.

J’adore Pennac, ses dix droits inaliénables du lecteur sont dans un cartouche en bonne vue sur mon blog et la série Malaussène est un excellent souvenir de lecture. J’aime son humour, sa chaleur, sa joie de vivre. Il a le verbe gourmand et gourmet à la fois, direct mais jamais vulgaire. (Ponctuation amoureuse de Mona : Confiez-moi cette virgule que j’en fasse un point d’exclamation.) Il marie poésie et trivialité avec un bonheur qui sent l’enfance, les joues rougies par le jeu et l’absence d’arrière-pensée. (Notre voix est la musique que fait le vent en traversant notre corps. (Enfin, quand il ne ressort pas par le bas).) Il ne se prend jamais au sérieux. (Nous pouvons nous gratter jusqu’à la jouissance mais chatouille-toi tant que tu veux, tu ne te feras jamais rire.). Sa force est qu’il ne se contente pas de décrire son corps comme le réceptacle de plaisirs volés, tout y passe, le bon et le moins bon. Cette apparente légèreté, ce badinage sensoriel n’empêche pas Pennac de réfléchir un peu sur la place du corps dans notre vie sociale.

Nous passons notre vie à comparer nos corps. Mais une fois sortis de l’enfance, de façon furtive, presque honteuse. A quinze ans, sur la plage, j’évaluais les biceps et les abdominaux des garçons de mon âge. A dix-huit ou vingt ans, ce renflement sous le maillot de bain. A trente, à quarante, ce sont leurs cheveux que les hommes comparent (malheur aux chauves). A cinquante ans, le ventre (ne pas en prendre), à soixante, les dents (ne pas en perdre) Et maintenant, dans ces assemblées de vieux crocodiles que sont nos autorités de tutelle, le dos, les pas, la façon d’essuyer sa bouche, de se lever, d’enfiler son manteau, l’âge, en somme, tout simplement, l’âge. Untel fait beaucoup plus vieux que moi, ne trouvez-vous pas ?

C’est tellement vrai, on le fait sans même s’en rendre compte. Cette histoire est à la fois universelle et unique. J’ai évoqué précédemment les moments universels. Mais cet homme a également une relation à son corps qui est celle d’un homme de sa génération. On le sent un peu guindé, ce père que ses enfants ne voient jamais en pyjama. A un moment il dit qu’il aimerait lire le journal d’un corps de femme pour entrer dans cette intimité et comprendre –entre autres—ce que c’est que d’avoir des seins. Intriguant pour un homme, je suppose. Il décrit ses petites misères, ses maladies, sa curiosité pour ce corps à qui on ne prête vraiment attention que quand il se manifeste violemment ou avec insistance. Il fait des expériences sur le corps comme bailler en réunion pour voir si son bâillement crée une cascade de bâillements chez les autres participants. Ce roman est jouissif, tendre et triste à la fois. On devine un homme traditionnel, pince sans-rire et généreux. Un homme qui a réussi sa carrière, un mari fidèle, un père un peu distant, un grand-père affectueux. Un homme qui cohabite avec son corps.

J’ai beaucoup aimé ce texte et malheureusement, il n’est pas traduit en anglais pour l’instant. Il est sorti en 2012, il le sera peut-être plus tard. C’est certainement un bon livre à acheter pour quelqu’un qui souhaite ré-apprivoiser son français. C’est un journal, composé de petits moments ; il permet une lecture décousue, hachée.

Voilà, ce billet s’achève et pour tout dire, écrire en français n’est pas simple. L’anglais n’a pas cessé de vouloir s’imposer au français, tellement c’est devenu ma langue d’écriture dès que cela touche à la littérature. Mon esprit change de langue dès que j’envisage de restituer mes impressions sur un livre. J’ai dû effacer quelques anglicismes (et non, on ne dit pas compartimentaliser en français !) ou des faux amis (on ne dit pas caractère, mais personnage) et traduire en français quelques adjectifs qui me sont venus d’abord en anglais. Weird, I know.

Bonne lecture à tous.

PS : If anyone needs a translation, please, just ask in the comment section.

The 10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader

June 9, 2010 1 comment

 These rights have been described by Daniel Pennac, in his book “Comme un roman” (literally “Like a novel” translated by “The Rights of the Reader”). This book is about reading and here are the 10 inalienable rights of the reader :

1) The right to not read,

2) The right to skip pages

3) The right to not finish a book,

4)  The right to reread,

5) The right to read anything,

6) The right to “Bovary-ism,” a textually-transmitted disease

7) The right to read anywhere,

8  The right to sample and steal (“grappiller”),

9) The right to read out-loud,

10)  The right to be silent.

What it means to me :

  1. Reading is neither a daily obligation or something one must do to be a good or accomplished person.
  2. I admit I skipped some pages of description of the Napoleonian battles in War and Peace and some pages in Naked Lunch. And I’m not ashmed of it.
  3. Reading Naked Lunch reminded me Daniel Pennac had written about the 10 inalienable rights of the reader, among those the right to give up reading a book.
  4. This puzzles my husband. “How many times have you read this book?”.
  5. Yes I both like Philip Roth and Anne Perry. I don’t expect the same thing from them, that’s all.
  6. By this right, Daniel Pennac means the right to read thrillers or romance, books that talk to our senses more than they talk to our brain.
  7. I always have a book in my handbag.
  8. Daniel Pennac means the right to pick up a book on a shelf, read one passage or two, and take another one.
  9. This is something adults don’t do very often, except to read to children. Maybe we should reinvent reading evenings like in 19th century novels.
  10. You’re not obliged to talk about what you read.
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