7399a805c028d4d660ab47fdd50576e4Aged 30 I am helping my students create a literary magazine in the vocational school where I teach. To illustrate the first edition they take over the photocopier in the school office and reinvent the “negative hands”. Writing is all about stating our presence.

I am 2 years old. Mummy is reading me stories. Writing doesn’t exist, there is only her smile, her voice. Writing is a visual means supporting the word. Our alphabetical culture is a demonstration of this – and it is haunted by a melancholy aria.

At the age Jesus died, I rewrite the same chapter ten times: when it’s perfect I won’t have crossed anything out. I want my sentences to sound like Claude Simon’s. My novel would be published 18 years later. Writing is going where we have to go. It’s a long journey, one where reaching perfection is never certain.

Aged 14 I am writing poems. My soul resounds in Paul Verlaine’s. With my finger I touch my secret life, that of the prisoner. Writing is existential.

Aged 58 I publish an essay about writing from experience. It’s the result of a seven year exchange with a psychoanalyst and teacher of the sciences of education. Japanese literature, surrealism and OULIPO (a workshop for potential literature) have all demonstrated that it is possible for several hands to collaboratively create a piece of writing. And that is exciting.

Aged 18 I am writing short stories in bistrots in Poitiers. Paris is going to be a feast for me too. Writing is being someone else (Hemingway, for example).

I am 45 years old. They say my son writes “like a pig”. We take up Latin calligraphy. Nowadays I only ever write with Rotring pens. Writing is a sort of graphic zazen.

Smartphones, tablets, blogs. Aged 60 I notice that writing has been brought into the globalised world. McLuhan didn’t predict everything. But can the “dark truth of writing” as outlined by Roland Barthes (its relationship with power) be questioned if it is democratised – and to what extent?

Aged 24 I am translating the story of a CIA agent in South America. He deserts, they “add sound” to his typewriter and murder his first editor. Writing is finding an alternative way to fight.

Aged 98 I am being stubborn. Writing is a high-level women’s sport that can be practiced at any age.

Aged 36 I am running a writing workshop at a new Parisian centre called Aleph. In Phoenician this word denotes a bull and consequently the first letter of the alphabet is the shape of a bull’s head. The Greeks laid alpha on its side and our capital A turned it round. Writing is a visual art transporting you through time and space.

Aged 64 and for me writing is endlessly removing, layer after layer. “It’s not what you see that is art, art is the gap” (Marcel Duchamp). It’s the ritual unearthing of experiences, followed by dogged displacement and sometimes transmission. It’s happy white magic.

I am 38 years old. In a few weeks two of us wrote the volume Littérature française [French Literature], commissioned to the publisher by an African minister of education. In the time of writing he attempted a coup and got himself killed. The book’s success earned us a fair amount of money. Writing requires impossible, inevitable compromises.

I am 40 years old. The American branch of a French publisher puts a Macintosh in front of me. I used to write in pen, pencil, felt-tip or calligraphy pen in notebooks. I then moved on to mechanical, electric and ball typewriters, a green British monster from Amstrad and finally to Macs, to the MacAir, replacing its 13 inch screen with a Thunderbolt which I place in front of the window. Writing forces you to make an indefinite number of moves.

Aged 48 I shut myself away in my parent’s house for a week, reread three volumes of a Bordas dictionary and produce 26 tautogrammatic short stories. The constraint makes things easier: it removes censorship.

Aged 50 I publish my first novel. Annie Ernaux writes to tell me everything she liked in it. I am happy, I think I am a writer. A year and 487 copies sold later and the publisher finds my writing too “harsh” or “shibui” (in Japanese) and suggests I should write trashy books. In writing, said Borges, the best is writing.

Aged 21 I write pamphlets and organise a (Maoist) “establishment magazine”. Yet I question myself: what if, as Henry Miller stated, writing is all about finding a place to let your imagination run wild? Writing is rising up against everything, including against the revolution.

Alain ANDRÉ

 

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