Category: France

Oliver Harris, President of EBSN, Professor of American Literature, Keele University, interviewed by David Garyan


Oliver Harris (left) with Eric Andersen at the 2017 EBSN Conference, Paris France

Interlitq’s Featured Interview:

Oliver Harris, President of EBSN, Professor of American Literature, Keele University

interviewed by David Garyan

 

DG: Running an organization like the European Beat Studies Network is a challenging yet rewarding task. Fortunately you have a great team to make it all happen. At the same time, you’re all busy individuals with careers and other responsibilities. How do each of your professional activities inform what everyone does for EBSN and vice versa?

OH: Like all the best ideas, we didn’t initially think it through, let alone worry what might happen if the endeavor succeeded, or worked too well …. At times, it has felt like we’ve set ourselves up for limitless commitments. Ultimately, it’s hard to manage expectations, including your own … and so, it was shortly after the 2009 NL@50 events that I helped co-organize in Paris (which succeeded in the most beautiful way) that Polina MacKay suggested we create the EBSN; it sounded like such an obvious idea—so self-evidently necessary—and because nobody had thought of it before, we had to be the ones. In the decade since then, I think everyone involved has had to balance out their level of commitment. We never wanted it to feel like an obligation—something which was getting in the way. The whole point was that we wanted this. Yet there were times when I was putting in at least a day a week—a full day every week—and that wasn’t sustainable, at least not with a busy day job and family commitments, along with the need to sleep every so often. Having said that, the major pinch points are the conferences, which are the heart and soul of the EBSN; they require a ton of work for those directly involved. In that sense, going to Murcia last year was for me a holiday, but I knew from experience just how much effort it had taken, just how hard the organisers had worked to make it feel effortless—to make it enjoyable as well as invaluable.

DG: Since its foundation in 2010, EBSN has organized ten annual conferences, with the most recent, the eleventh—in Murcia, Spain—in September 2022. It would be interesting to hear a little about the organizational process. In other words, how are locations chosen, who reviews papers/topics, and who are the key figures ensuring that things run smoothly on the ground?

OH: The process was a little haphazard to begin with; however, nothing on such a scale happens without planning! Each event has been unique and even though we realized the process and guidelines needed to be clear—along with the frameworks for conferences that we post on our website—the template is deliberately very open. The one thing we’ve insisted upon is that we don’t do standard academic events, where you just have a series of panels with 20-minute papers that people mainly read out-loud, starting at 9 am, typically hosted in massive chain hotels. We have had conferences in such venues—the Hotel Chellah in Tangier—but this was a very special location and had a fabulous atmosphere. We’ve also held conferences in a community arts centre in Manchester, with cabaret-style layout of tables, along with candles and incense. So, in a way, our conferences give new organisers permission to think outside the academic box, just as I hope we’ve also inspired individuals, especially young academics, to sneak out of the Procrustean bed of academia and, well, enjoy their work. And it definitely helps that we’re a multi-national organization. We benefit from not just having so many creative and smart people involved, but people from different language-communities and cultures. I think that might also account for why the atmosphere is not competitive but cooperative. In this way, it adds up to a complex organism—and to keep it healthy we’ve needed intelligent oversight, along with dedicated people at the top. I won’t single any one out, as it’s been a genuine team effort with everyone playing to their strengths and doing it because we want to, not because it goes with The Day Job.

DG: From your perspective, what was the highlight of this year’s conference?

OH: If may speak selfishly, it was a pleasure visiting a lovely city in Spain and being in the company of interesting people. I really needed that; in this sense, the timing and atmosphere were perfect for me. And it was all so nicely organized by Estíblaliz and her colleagues. If I had to pick out one highlight, it would be on the last night when we’d been at a bar having readings and performances. I walked out with Eric Andersen (who has been there from the start of the EBSN—kind of the soundtrack to the organization) when Gerry Nicosia was leaving the bar at the same time. Gerry had been one of the keynotes in Murcia—full of passion and insight as always—but it was late and he wanted to leave. And I was ready to go too. The three of us stood in the street and none of us could stop talking. I have a lovely photograph (below) of Eric and Gerry, each gesticulating and trying to get a word in. Hilarious.


Gerry Nicosia (right) with Eric Andersen

DG: Let’s shift to your own work and talk about Burroughs. You’ve done extensive research on him, including major editorial projects on his letters and journals. Many have said that writers are really two people—the actual person and the myth. As someone who has studied Burroughs closely and read a great deal of his personal writing, to what extent (aside from accidentally shooting his wife) did the excesses contained within his work correspond to the reality of his life?

OH: That’s such a great question! I’m reminded of a telephone interview from the late 1980s when Burroughs was asked how he saw the relationship between his public image, his body of work, and himself, the actual man—and Burroughs replied: “There is no actual man ….” Another way of putting it is that he was acutely aware that identity is fictional, that we make up who we are, that there is no single stable self inside of us—that’s on the one hand. On the other hand, he knew that we have no idea why we behave the way we do—that we seem to have been given a script to play. And yet, as you know, I’m not a biographer, so for me the answers aren’t in the man but in the work, which I prefer. I recall vividly when I first met him out in Lawrence, Kansas, and wondering at the strangeness of it, that I was drawn to someone so utterly different, incomprehensibly different to myself. I projected a lot onto him, and I knew it wasn’t really based on any insights into what made him who he was. That’s why I feel more comfortable interpreting his work, I think. And over the years, I find myself enjoying it more and more. That might sound surprising—it surprises me. It reminds me of Michael De-la-Noy, the biographer of Denton Welch, who would ask each time we met, “Are you still working on Burroughs?” That was 30 years ago! But yes, I am still working on Burroughs. In part because he’s just so endlessly interesting, an inexhaustible cabinet of curiosities to explore, and it has introduced me to so many remarkable people, some of whom I have collaborated with creatively. And in part, it’s because I’ve accepted a certain obligation. When James Grauerholz gave me my first break, nearly 40 years ago now, I knew I wanted to repay that trust. And also because I came to a decision a long time ago that I didn’t really care for “literary studies,” or for the life of an intellectual. It’s just not me. In this sense, it seemed to simplify everything—to stick with Burroughs and occasionally, very occasionally, cheat on him. Actually, the piece of my own scholarship I rate as the best is not on Burroughs but something I researched on Hemingway—his incomparable short story “The Killers.” There are other things like that I’ll write along the way, but I have no regrets about being the bride of Burroughs ….

DG: Let’s talk about the Beats in general. Though the movement originated in the US, many of its most prominent members were very much inspired by European traditions—Ginsberg’s fondness for Blake, for example, or the fact that Burrough’s famous “cut-up” technique can probably be traced back to early 20th century avant-garde movements in Europe. In this age of increasing nationalism, the preference for isolationism (at best), and downright hostility to anything foreign (at worst), why is the Beat aesthetic especially important, and do you think it’s possible, perhaps, we’ll see the resurgence of some movement akin to what the world experienced in the ‘50s and ‘60s?

OH: That’s such an interesting possibility, and of course it goes to the heart of the EBSN—its internationalism. In academic terms, it’s already happened: there’s plenty of work done from European, global, transnational perspectives. The internet has of course facilitated that, albeit mainly on Anglophone terms. More broadly, it’s pretty obvious that the planet is at a tipping point, that a cataclysm is unfolding, and that the only real question is whether we go through the darkness to emerge renewed—whether we transcend the humanity that has got us into this mess—or not. Central to the Beat movement were writers committed to worldviews along these lines, knowing that an end was looming and offering wildly different takes on the future: Burroughs’ apocalypticism is not at all the same as Ginsberg’s, or McClure’s, or Snyder’s, or Anne Waldman’s, and so on.

DG: Apart from Burroughs, who are some Beat writers you particularly enjoy, and who is one writer outside that tradition you would call a big influence?

OH: The one writer I’d single out is Diane di Prima. I especially love her Revolutionary Letters. Her voice is so direct, so tough, so tender, so alive. But as I said, I really don’t read very widely. My time is entirely taken up with Burroughs and my children, my cat, my partner, and the EBSN (not necessarily in that order).

DG: Let’s briefly return to the organization. In true Beat fashion, membership is inclusive, open to all. Members come from all walks of life and may freely choose how much of their time to contribute to the project. Are there any members you’d like to recognize for their involvement/contribution to not only EBSN, but Beat culture in general.

OH: I’ll add that membership is free. That’s something which has seemed fundamental to me. Even a small fee can be off-putting. There were times recently for me when an annual membership fee for something was really hard to justify, so I don’t want money to exclude anyone. As before, I’d rather not name names: I’ve been fortunate to work with such lovely people, and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.

DG: You’ve now concluded the conference in Murcia. What are your projects for the future? Are you reading anything interesting at the moment?

OH: Reading? Mmm. Having just said that I don’t read widely, I realise I must do without realizing it, as I’ve enjoyed several good books this year. I’d single out three: Music For Erotomaniacs by my good friend Keith Seward, and Brainspotting by Andrew Lees, and The Master, by TH White, which is actually teenage fiction, a book I wanted to re-read for pure nostalgia. As for projects, I’m now in the swing of planning the cut-up conference for Paris in September 2023. This is a version of the events cancelled due to Covid in 2020. I doubt I’ll organize another big conference after this one, so I want it to be beautiful. Being held in Paris, how could it not be? And there’ll be such a crowd of interesting people. So the cut-ups@23 conference is going to keep me busy, and I’m also aiming to finish a new book by the spring to launch at the conference. Alongside that I have other Burroughs projects on the go—a big co-edited critical book, a consultancy on a forthcoming Burroughs film adaptation—I’m not very good at saying “no” to anything, and of course, I know what a privilege it is to be in this position.

 

About Oliver Harris

Oliver Harris is Professor of American Literature at Keele University, and the editor of The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1945–1959 (1993), Junky: The Definitive Text of “Junk” (2003), The Yage Letters Redux (2006), Everything Lost: The Latin American Notebook of William S. Burroughs (2008), and Queer: Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition (2010), and The Soft Machine: The Restored Text (2014), Nova Express: The Restored Text (2014), and The Ticket That Exploded: The Restored Text (2014). See here for a review of the Cut-Up Trilogy. In 2019, he introduced a new edition of Blade Runner, followed by new editions of four cut-up works: Minutes to Go Redux, The Exterminator Redux, BATTLE INSTRUCTIONS and Dead Fingers Talk: The Restored Text (all 2020).

In addition to the book William Burroughs and the Secret of Fascination (2003) and the collection Naked Lunch @ 50 (2009), co-edited with Ian MacFadyen, he has published numerous articles on Burroughs, as well as essays on film noir, Hemingway, the epistolary, the exquisite corpse game, and the Beat Generation more broadly. He has been a regular contributor to the Burroughs website Reality Studio and his most recent journal articles include “Minute Particulars of the Counter-Culture: Time, Life, and the Photo-poetics of Allen Ginsberg” in Comparative American Studies (2012) and “Burroughs’ Cut-Ups Lost and Found in Translation” in L’Esprit Créateur (2018)

Oliver has co-organized as well as contributed to numerous conferences, including the 2009 NL@50 events in Paris and New York, and has contributed to several documentary films, including The Beat Hotel (2012) and Paul Bowles: the Cage Door is Always Open (2013).

 

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: Cole Swensen, Poet, Translator, Professor, interviewed by David Garyan


Cole Swensen

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

Cole Swensen, Poet, Translator, and Professor

interviewed by David Garyan

 

Cole Swensen’s poems to appear soon in Interlitq’s California Poets Feature

 

DG: Let’s approach your work in the most sensible way—the process of translation. Borges’s idea of the translation becoming an original, or Ken Liu’s idea—very much connected to George Steiner—that all acts are miracles of translation both come to mind. You’ve done a great deal in bringing French writers into English. How has this informed your own creative vision?

CS: First, I’m struck by your thought that the most sensible way to enter a writer’s work is through the work that she does with others—Thank you! I like that very much—and in part because it begins us with the notion of fluidity—of one person’s work flowing into another’s, eroding the notion of writing as individual, and emphasizing that writing is always to some degree a communal project. Thinking more specifically, translating others’ poetry has given me access to forms and tones that I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise. It was through translating that I began to see, many years ago, the possibility of the book rather than the individual poem as the basic poetic unit. And I know that I’ve also picked up rhythms from French that are different from Egnlish rhythms; the French approach to the prose poem is a bit different as well, perhaps more matter-of-fact, and I think I’ve absorbed that as well.

DG: How do you choose what to translate? Do the writers’ personalities draw you to their words, or is it the unique way in which they use language?

CS: I’m drawn to translation as a conversation, a conversation around poetics. All the people I’ve translated were living at the time—and most still are—and in all cases, I’ve talked the translation over with them in detail, which always leads beyond the specific work to its larger contexts and to the principles of thought, creativity, imagination, etc. that direct the work. Those conversations are extremely rewarding, and they inform the way I read other works—in both English and French—as well. I think of translation as a form of reading, the most intense and engaged form possible. I almost always meet the work before the writer, and it’s when I find myself wanting to write the line I’m reading—it’s not a feeling of “Ah, I wish I’d written that!” but rather of “I would love to write that!” I think it’s not sufficiently emphasized that translation is not just decoding and recoding; it’s also, and above all, writing.

DG: How much liberty should a translator be allowed—in other words, if you see the opportunity to improve something, do you follow that path, or is it better to remain ever-faithful to the original?

CS: What constitutes an improvement is extremely subjective. What I might consider an improvement, the writer might consider ghastly. But beyond that, translation for me has nothing to do with judging the text, of thinking whether it’s “good” or whether it could be “better”; it’s about engaging with it, and the deepest engagement is not necessarily the one that sticks to it the most literally, but the one that most deeply grasps its specific terms and aims and recreates them as much as possible. I’m committed to presenting the work as the writer would have written it had he, she, or they been writing originally in English.

DG: You travel often to Europe. What would you say are the most notable differences between how poetry is appreciated and promoted in North America, compared to France, or Germany, for example?

CS: I can’t say for Germany—in fact, I can really only say for France—and it seems to me that it’s oddly similar. And I say oddly, because there are so many cultural differences between France and the US, but poetry is, in a sense, its own culture separate from the one it’s surrounded by (like all airports, taken together, form their own country). This is perhaps particularly true of France and the US because there has been such a long history of poetic friendship and exchange. There have been several books, a couple quite recently, that detail these exchanges. Especially during the 20th and 21st centuries, the two poetries have importantly informed each other. In the late 20th century, there was Emmanuel Hocquard’s important project “Bureau sur l’Atlantique,” which engaged with experimental poetics from the Objectivists through the Language Poets, paralleled by Juiliette Valery’s series of publications, Format Américain, and later, beginning in the 2000’s, a bi-national group, Double Change, has been fundamental in a series of readings, conferences, and publications that bring North American work to French attention. In the other direction, Rosmarie & Keith Waldrop’s Burning Deck Press published many French poets over its 60 years, and other presses have also focused on contemporary French work.

But often influences are less obvious. A good example might be the important influence that France and French poetry had on Ashbery. If we then think, in turn, of how important Ashbery’s influence has been on American poetry from the late 20th century on—so many American poets who wouldn’t think of themselves as influenced by anything French have been through Ashbery—and through many others of his generation and those immediately following. And earlier, think how many of the modernists spent serious time in France and with French work. The same is true regarding the influence of some American writers on French poets—so there’s a lot of entwined shaping that many poets are not necessarily aware of. As for the contemporary moment, in both countries, poetry is equally marginalized and largely published by small presses devoted to the form for the love of it.

DG: Over the years, you’ve emphasized the importance walking has had on your creativity. In the philosophical tradition, Nietzsche was perhaps the most fervent adherent to physical movement, at least in relation to creativity: “Sit as little as possible; do not believe any idea that was not born in the open air and of free movement—in which the muscles do not also revel.” And yet, the poet must eventually sit down to write. What were some particularly memorable walks for you, and did they lead to the best poems you wrote?

CS: That quotation, particularly the “in which the muscles do not also revel” is so key—that thinking and writing must also have a kinetic aspect. Though I don’t think it has to be as thorough as, say, walking. You cannot write without the hand’s being active—whether you’re writing by hand or on a keyboard—the hand or hands are dancing, and I’ve always been struck by how many writers enjoy not only letting their imaginations go, but also enjoy the physical act of writing. I began a fairly recent book, On Walking On, with the question of why, for as long as such things have been recorded, so many writers are also inveterate walkers, and it’s interesting to me that the ensuing book didn’t end up persuing the question; it instead wallowed in the experiences of such writers as presented through their writing. Clearly, so many writers have thrived on the complete fusion of the two activities—perhaps it’s because the mind works so differently when the body is active.

DG: European towns—for the most part—are built very differently from cities in the US. Even in big urban areas, everything seems to be in closer proximity, meant to be explored on foot, while North American metropoles are vast, spread out, and this especially in the West. Coming from California, having lived on the East Coast, and experienced Europe, do you feel that any given setting changes your writing, or do you find that the length of your sentences, for example, stays mostly constant?

CS: I like that idea! That a more extensive space might extend the line, but I don’t find that to be true. That said, I do think setting affects my work. Because of Covid, I spent most of 2020 and 2021 in California, just north of San Francisco. And whether there’s any connection or not, I don’t know, but my writing changed completely—much more subject based and based on immediate surroundings. I’m currently on a sabbatical in France, and that focus on the immediate has continued.

DG: In the introduction to your most recent book, Art in Time, you talk about the need to engage “the landscape genre in a fluid way,” in a way that “puts the landscape back into motion,” in order to find alternatives to some of the presumptions and practices of landscape art common to Euro-centric contexts.” Indeed, you’ve also said elsewhere that landscapes are never silent, though they often appear that way to us. What’s the best way to reorient the perception of our own surroundings? Can poetry help us do this, and, if so, what are some of your favorite poems in this respect?

CS: Yes I do think that poetry can reorient our perceptions and perspective, and often does so through the “startle.” Which is not an epiphany—that supposed sudden quasi-spiritual realization that is often closer to emotional manipulation—I’m thinking instead of those startling moments triggered by unusual uses of language; they’re often just about shifting perspective, suddenly de-habituating the scene. Shklovsky used the term “ostranenie”—defamiliarization, and though it’s a heavily-theorized term that been around for a long time, I think it’s a valuable concept and an even more valuable device that allows language to operate constructively on our modes of perception.

Regarding landscape, I’m interested in recognizing a continuity, an inclusivity, that involves everything in sight including the viewer because I think it changes structures of responsibility. Clearly, we as a species, need to take a dramatically different kind of responsibility, which I don’t think we can do as long as we see ourselves as separate from nature and perpetuate distinctions such observer/observed.

DG: With David St. John, you edited a fascinating anthology of poetry, American Hybrid, with the aim of closing the gap between traditional and experimental poetry. Thirteen years after its publication, do you feel that the margin has been closed, or has it perhaps widened unexpectedly?

CS: What interested me at that point, and still does, is a shift from a perception of American poetry as on a linear continuum from the traditional to the experimental—of course that linearity wasn’t “true,” but it was often talked of in that way. It seemed to me that from the 1990s on, there has been an profusion of different tendencies that increasingly cannot be mapped in relation to each other. It’s an exploded field, expanding outward in all directions, full of tendencies that resist comparison—and I think that that’s an extremely promising mode of development; may it continue.

DG: Would you say that those working in the “experimental” genre have perhaps—and in this case, rather unfairly—born a burden that isn’t necessarily only theirs to bear? In other words, many formalists and lyricists, for example, are also trying to do new things with language—tackling taboo subjects, for example, or pushing the boundaries of metaphor, all the while remaining dedicated to their artistic fields; these experiments, however, are sadly not considered “experiments,” but rather interpreted as the “creative impulse,” which, in my view, cheapens the effort of crossing new aesthetic frontiers. Can we really say, hence, there’s an actual difference between creative uses of language and linguistic experimentation?

CS: I’m going to start with the end of the question—yes, I think there is a difference, but I think that the differing cultural values assigned to various practices are inaccurate and unproductive. All language uses have their value—and that value is always determined by the reader/hearer; it’s not inherent in the language use itself. I happen to be very interested in unprecedented uses of language, in broken language and its relationship to the limits of the sayable, and, ultimately, I’m probably more interested in the unsayable than the sayable, and certainly in the volatile boundary between them because I think that’s where the potential for the “startle” mentioned above lies, where our capacity to use language to expand what we can think and feel is based. But many people would not agree and would, instead, find that same potential elsewhere—in tackling taboo subjects, for instance. And I don’t mean to dissolve into a mush of relativism, but to discourage an endless tendency that we all seem to have to judge—to assign definitive value—which is actually simply lazy; we do it just so that we can say “Good, that’s settled. I don’t have to think about it anymore.” Which is an error; we do have to keep on thinking about it, whatever it is; we can never allow anything to settle, or, rather, nothing ever does settle, and if we view it as such, we’re fooling ourselves. This is related to the view of landscape as always fluid that you mentioned above. That reality of the concrete world follows through to every aspect of living.

DG: You teach writing and literature at Brown’s reputable Literary Arts program. There have been rabbit-hole debates about the benefits of teaching writing. Without getting into that, what are things writing programs can do and what are their limitations? In addition, it would be interesting to hear how teaching informs your own creative process.

CS: Writing programs, above all, can give people two or three years to focus almost exclusively on writing and among a variety of resources—courses, libraries, other writers. MFAs allow them to completely immerse themselves in aesthetic questions and their relations to politics, culture, and society. And that, for most people, is a transformative process. No matter what they do afterward, they’ll do it with a different perspective. Regarding limitations—they are based on presumptions. If people think a writing program will, for instance, make them better writers, they’ll likely be disappointed, but if instead, they simply presume that it’s going to change them, and remain open about the directions such change might take, they’ll probably get more out of it. It’s hard for me to say how teaching informs my own writing practice as I have no basis for comparison—I’ve been teaching since I was 20 years old, so it’s inseparable from my writing.

 

About Cole Swensen

Cole Swensen is the author of 19 books of poetry, most recently Art in Time (Nightboat Books, 2021) and a book of faux-logical nano-essays, And And And (Free Poetry Press, 2022). A former Guggenheim Fellow, she has received the Iowa Poetry Prize, the SF State Poetry Center Book Award, the National Poetry Series, and the PEN USA Award in Literary Translation and has been a finalist for the National Book Award. Co-editor of the Norton anthology American Hybrid and founding editor of La Presse, she also translates literature and art criticism from French. A native of the SF Bay Area, she divides her time between there, France, and Providence RI, where she teaches at Brown University.

Antoine de Lévis Mirepoix: entrevista en vídeo por Yamila Musa

Antoine de Lévis Mirepoix, escritor franco-argentino, entrevistado por Yamila Musa para la revista Interlitq.

Cámara y Edición: Matías Musa

23/09/2022

 

Biografia – Antoine de Lévis Mirepoix

 

Yamila Musa

BIOGRAFÍA 

Yamila Musa nació en Villa María, ciudad de la provincia de Córdoba. Con sólo tres años, comenzó su formación en Declamación y Arte Escénico. Esto la llevó a proyectarse en la comunicación integral, por lo cual concretó sus estudios de Licenciada en Comunicación en la Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. Al finalizar su carrera universitaria se trasladó a la Capital Federal en búsqueda de nuevas oportunidades. Realizó diversos trabajos relacionados al sector de la cultura, entre ellos como Directora de Producción de la Película “La Invención de Borges” del Director francés Nicolás Azalbert. Actualmente es Periodista & editora de la revista The International Literary Quarterly,  y colaboradora de la Fundación Cineteca Vida.

Antoine de Lévis Mirepoix Interviewed by David Garyan


Antoine de Lévis Mirepoix

An Interview with Antoine de Lévis Mirepoix

With David Garyan

 

DG: What inspired you to become a writer?

ADLM: I think that no one becomes a writer. One simply is a writer or is not. Writing is my essence. The necessity to write appeared naturally, but it was directly linked to my passion for reading. As far as I remember, I wanted to be a writer. All the other boys had other dreams: explorer, pilot, architect, film maker, astronomer, ethnologist, and so on. I started writing at the age of fourteen. Short stories mainly. Poetry. Thoughts. Phrases. Feelings. What I was observing around and inside me. Description of nature and beings. Relations between them. Stories I was told.

DG: You have a strong connection to France and Argentina. How does this influence your writing?

ADLM: I have a very strong connection to France on my father’s side, as my most distant French ancestor lived in the 12th century. And with Argentina because of my mother’s family—they immigrated there in 1784 and 1810. Regarding the influence of this double connection to my writing I will define it this way: On one hand, I feel close to the imaginary world of Echeverría (La Cautiva), Ricardo Guïraldes (Don Segundo Sombra), Adolfo Bioy Casares (La Invención de Morel), Ernesto Sábato, Julio Cortázar, but also to the reality shown and created by other authors from Latin America as Gabriel García Marquez, Juan Rulfo, Huidobro, Isabel Allende, Francisco Coloane, Luis Sepúlveda, Alejo Carpentier, José Lezama Lima (Paradiso) … On the other hand, I am close to the sensibilities of many French novelists as Le Clézio (Désert), Joseph Kessel, Albert Camus, Maurice Genevoix, Jean Giono, Julien Gracq, Jean de La Varende, Amin Maalouf, Roger Nimier, Raymond Queneau, Jean Raspail, Jean Rostand, Nicolas Vanier, Gilbert Sinoué, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Jules Supervielle, François Cheng, Gustave Flaubert, Victor Hugo, Balzac, Rabelais, etc … they are too many! And I left aside all poets! May I add that Italian, English, Japanese literature seduces me too. The crossroads of culture are mainly about one thing: the multiplicity of reality.

DG: It would be interesting to hear about your past career—how has it shaped the writing you’ve done?

ADLM: My past “career” was varied. I happened to be teacher, diplomat, in charge of international relations in the French National Space Center and in a pharmaceutical company, located in many different countries. All that gave me the opportunity to deal with a wide range of situations and experiences. They provided an interesting amount of material that I’ve been drawing from over the years. The different jobs I have done have expanded my vision and perception of the world.

DG: Much of your writing contains deeply personal themes. How do you transfer that into literature?

ADLM: Personal themes are present in my literature even when the story itself is totally invented, which means that they are part of my moral composition, part of my convictions, part of my style. In writing or speech, I cannot express anything I don’t believe. I think that sincerity is one of the most important ethical obligations for an author. You can be wrong, you can be right, but you cannot lie in literature. To agree or disagree is our human liberty. It is part of our diversity which I consider marvelous. A writer must make himself vulnerable to his audience. It’s one’s responsibility. Because writing is a serious affair. On the contrary, presenting objective facts is reporting not writing. Marguerite Yourcenar once said to Matthieu Galey that none of the characters created by a novelist are similar to him, but all of them belong to his own essence.

DG: You’ve written novels and also poetry. For you, in terms of creative approach, how are they similar and how are they different?

ADLM: Creative approaches to poetry are based on emotions. The poet transfers his emotional state to the reader, establishing within him an intimate and deep connection through the meaning of words, and through the musicality of those words. The link between poet an reader is personal and unique. A novel is a story. It can be poetically written, or contain poetical descriptions, etc … but it his always a story with a beginning and end. Some novels are “open” with no formal end, but that doesn’t mean the novelist isn’t a story teller. To immerse one’s self in the creative process of poetry or novel writing, one has to consider the individuality of the artist. That’s why similarities can exist across the board, but also differences, depending on the author personality.

DG: In terms of theme, how has your writing changed over the years?

ADLM: Regarding the evolution of my themes throughout the years, I should say they are in accordance with my own emotional state—living in the moment. In a way they are an expression of my internal and external composition. I believe the kernel of writing doesn’t lie in the theme. A theme is a vehicle, not the heart of the message one wants to deliver. So the evolution of a writer’s message follows his own evolution. It gets deeper, more accurate, more generous, or on the contrary it repeats itself on and on, loosing strength, perhaps falling into commercial territory, or ultimate superficiality. My literary themes (and perhaps the themes of all writers) are not that original. For me personally, they are not that different from the interests I have, and most of the things I’m interested in have changed very little through time: destiny, life and death, encounters, humanity and the universe, music, philosophy, nature, horses, beauty, truth, love.

DG: Do you write more now, or were you more prolific in the past?

ADLM: I write whenever I have a moment. I started to write seriously—my first novel—at fifty six, because I never could dedicate before enough space time to my work. Although naturally sporadic, my writing never stopped. Sentences, literary ideas, plans of novels, human characters, poetry, descriptions, feelings into words, etc … all this constantly crosses my mind. Nevertheless I suffer from what I call “empty” literary periods. I do not consider myself as a prolific writer. Being sporadic is part of my style, linked with intensity. My novels are short, 80 to 200 pages, and my short stories can be half a page. I hope to dedicate now a third part of the day to literature creativity.

DG: How has the pandemic affected your writing?

ADLM: The pandemic has affected my writing, first because covid has stopped my work almost a year, secondly because it generated a crisis of credibility. Lies everywhere all the time. But on top of everything, the pandemic has changed my perception of humanity—the planet and it’s future. Still, at this point, I would like to avoid the issue of how this historical moment might have and will change my work.

DG: Who’s one French writer you couldn’t live without, and one Argentine writer?

ADLM: Very difficult question! I’ll choose Antoine de Saint Exupéry … but I must add Victor Hugo. Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. And I must add my Colombian favorite, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

DG: What’s one book or poem you wish you had written?

ADLM: I would love to have written Alessandro Barrico’s novel Ocean Sea. Hemingway’s Across the River and into the Trees, Victor Hugo’s poem “Les Djinns,” and all Baudelaire’s poems. I must admit that I am jealous of J.M.G Le Clézio as a writer and as a man who lived a life in accordance with his intimate essence.

Un extrait: L’échappée du désert, par Antoine de Lévis Mirepoix

L’échappée du désert

Ils abandonnèrent lEuphrate avant laube, avant le jour. S’élevèrent vers un premier cordon de dunes, laissant derrière eux les dernières sibât*. La piste, davantage devinée quaperçue, filait plein sud.

Jamil les guidait. Il parlait un peu français et le comprenait bien. Dans les années vingt, au début du mandat de la France, sous les ordres du général Henri Gouraud nommé par Clémenceau, il avait été jeune méhariste dans les troupes françaises. Corpulent, moustache fournie poivre et sel, les yeux rieurs, il était content. Content de voyager, content de parler français. Connaissait-il vraiment la piste ?

Les traces multiples sentrecroisaient, sarrondissaient à droite ou à gauche du fil principal, légèrement plus creusé. Le sol devenait plus foncé, le sable faisait place à une surface durcie, parfois lisse, parfois craquelée. Une file de points sombres au loin sur la droite : rochers ? Jamil pointa du doigt :

« Les restes de la ville forte de el-Kôm. »

La chaleur se faisait sentir. Certains passagers somnolaient. Gaï restait attentif, en alerte, observait le chauffeur et lhorizon.

Une chaîne de collines, « djebel el-Bisri » nomma Jamil.

              

*Cabanes en bois de réglisse, quatre piliers, traverses du toit couvertes dune natte, deux demi-parois de tissu dans un angle.

 

__________________________

 

Insensiblement le rythme du paysage, de leur progression, de la vibration de lair, de la respiration du guide et du chauffeur changeait. Un flottement. Des failles et leurs ombres de chaque côté. Des ravines les obligèrent à ralentir, à presque s’arrêter par moments. Les deux hommes se regardèrent. Un doute s’immisça dans leur pensée.

Gaï se tendit. Il perçut l’hésitation, linquiétude. Était-on toujours sur la bonne piste ? Avaient-ils vu des traces suspectes ? Les deux hommes se regardèrent encore. Gaï voyait cette fois des empreintes de larges pneus crénelés, profondément marqués à gauche de la piste. Il se tourna vers Jamil en montrant du doigt les lignes parallèles. Lequel haussa les épaules avec une moue de « je ne sais pas ». Depuis combien de temps navait-il pas traversé le désert ?

Surgit alors le caravansérail, immense et brun sombre, ruines posées dans une large cuvette, carcasse abandonnée, imputrescible, que survolaient des nuées de corbeaux criards. Voilà plus de mille ans que ce khan omeyyade était brûlé par le soleil, et que les briques des murailles, des deux portes principales, des tours, des ar- cades de la grande cour, du premier étage en partie écroulé, cuisaient dans ce four sous une lumière de feu. Combien de caravanes, combien dhommes, de femmes, denfants, danimaux, de denrées et de marchandises avaient foulé cette immense cour intérieure, y avaient dormi à l’abri des tribus insoumises, nomades bédouins, druzes, kurdes.

Ils ne sattardèrent pas. Jamil quitta la piste principale bordée par le double sillage cranté, pour infléchir leur route vers lest. Ils voyaient au loin sur leur gauche le château de Kasr el-Heir al Sharqi et son puits d’eau amère puis une haute colonne, Al-Kuwayr, la frontière indiqua Jamil. Le sable était dur. Comme une roche lisse. La piste seffaça.

Des heures quils avaient quitté la Jazira. La chaleur était intense. Ce n’était plus de linquiétude mais de la peur que Gaï percevait

maintenant. Peur de s’être égarés. Peur de tourner en boucle. Peur de navoir pas assez de combustible.

Là, une tente. Longue, noire, elle semblait plaquée au sol, une source plus loin, et la ligne verte qui suivait le ruisseau, s’élargissait, buissons et maigre pâturage. Trois chameaux, des chèvres, des moutons, des femmes et des enfants, un homme âgé. Les autres étaient partis travailler à Soukhné. Ils indiquèrent le chemin à Jamil, qui, soulagé, sourit de nouveau. Ils échangèrent des biscuits contre du fromage.

« Ce sont des bédouins Anaza, des sunnites comme moi. »

Le chauffeur était détendu. Pas de piste visible, aucune trace … quimporte, les indications suffisaient. La beauté des Anaza était surprenante. Le vieux, les femmes, même âgées, avaient un port, une allure, une dignité. Manger peu, marcher beaucoup, le
silence … comment imaginer le cours des pensées dans le désert, chez les hommes et les femmes du désert ? Le moindre fait était un événement, mais entre les faits ? L’espace nu ne désertifiait pas l’être humain, il lamplifiait comme l’océan ; loin d’être vides, déserts et océans sont infiniment renouvelés, infiniment mobiles, changeants … les nuages, la lumière et les ombres … la fonction du désert : lesprit partait, s’élançait, senvolait non … l’âme plutôt.

Dans cette splendeur de l’air brûlant qui tremblait, la souffrance était là, la mort les poumons incendiés, la torture de la soif, la glace de la nuit dans les os, livresse folle de s’arrêter, fermer les yeux, dormir … dormir ? Aborder un autre rivage, voler enfin.

Un cahot le secoua. Pas de piste visible, aucune trace … Cette femme Anaza longue et mince, droite, les yeux presque turquoise, surgie de la tente noire tapie sur le sable, — étalée, aplatie, scarabée immobile à l’affût — cette femme avait sans nul doute du sang tcherkesse. Son regard s’était planté dans ses yeux, Gaï n’oublierait pas.

Jamil se détendit.

La première oasis, As-Sukhna — Soukhné sur la carte survenait comme un soulagement, un relâchement du corps, une mollesse des membres, le vert, les arbres, leau. Ici croisement des pistes reliant Alep à Bagdad, Hama à Mossoul, Damas à l’Euphrate. Pâturages, cultures dorge. Des ouvriers et des machines : la fu- ture route Damas Deir-Es-Zôr en chantier.

Ces pistes : des milliers, des millions de pas danimaux et dhumains avaient façonné ces lignes, ces diagonales du désert. Des armées, des batailles avaient aussi chargé les lieux de l’énergie des combats et du sang, énergie que le sol a bue et le vent purifiée.

Le soleil avait basculé vers le soir quand se profilèrent les constructions de la vaste oasis. Apparue au détour dune grande dune, elle s’étalait sur lhorizon entier. Gaï était stupéfait, subjugué, hypnotisé. Palmyre ! La légendaire, la somptueuse Palmyre, les fastes de la reine Zénobie. Il avait lu, imaginé. Là, il voyait. Songeait à ces caravanes qui enfin arrivaient. Arriver : à la fois essentiel et éphémère, vital et illusoire.

Arrivait-on jamais quelque part ?

___________________________

 

Antoine de Lévis Mirepoix, de mère argentine et de père français, est né en 1942 aux Etats Unis, a vécu une partie de son enfance en Argentine puis en France, principalement à Paris.

A l’adolescence il a été élève de l’école des Roches, collège de Normandie, sous la direction d’André Charlier. Après maths sup et maths spé, études de sciences économiques puis de lettres à lla Sorbonne. Coopérant à l’Université du Nord à Antofagasta, Chili, il entre aux Affaires Etrangères pour occuper divers postes culturels et pédagogiques à Mexico, Barcelone, Beyrouth et Nairobi.

Puis il enseigne deux ans dans un CES de Moulins, Allier, France. Il entre ensuite au Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales à Toulouse dans le cadre du Satellite Spot, chargé à Spot Image du développement commercialpour l’Amérique, puis des relations avec les organisations internationales.

En 1991 il rejoint la Girection Générale des Laboratoires Pierre Fabre à Castres comme responsable des relations internationales du Président. Il réside à Buernos-Aires depuis 1997 où il ouvre un bureau de consultancepour guider des entreprises françaises désireuses de s’implanter au Brésil ou en Argentine. Bureau qu’il fermera début 2002.

Membre de l’Académie des Jeux Floraux de Toulouse depuis 2000, Antoine de Lévis Mirepoix partage son temps aujourd’hui entre la France et l’Argentine où il cultive sa passion pour les chevaux.

Il publie en 2008 son premier roman aux Editions du Rocher, « Le Passeur ». En 2011 « Le Crabe et l’Aube » est édité chez Atlantica qui décide de mettre fin à ses activités le jour même de la publication du récit. Trois autres romans non encore édités : « Quartetti e Sonata a Tre » et « Fortuit », “Contes Véridiques”, un sixième en voie d’achèvement et un septième en cours d’écriture. Antoine de Lévis Mirepoix a écrit égalementquelques récits courts sur les voyages, les chevaux, Venise, etc … et des poèmes.

Conférencier à ses heures autour de thèmes divers comme « les bibliothèques », « Gérard de Nerval », « l’Amérique du Sud », « Antoine de Saint Exupéry », il s’interroge sur le destin, le sens des mots et de la parole, la signification du voyage, la création artistique, la juste place de l’homme.