Suffering Raised to Art


Suffering Raised to Art_ Mad in Pursuit By Violette Leduc Farrai, Straus & Giroux 351 pp $8 95 Reviewed by Eugenie Bolger Violette Leduc is a literary Rumpelstiltskin who spins shimmering...

...Suffering Raised to Art_ Mad in Pursuit By Violette Leduc Farrai, Straus & Giroux 351 pp $8 95 Reviewed by Eugenie Bolger Violette Leduc is a literary Rumpelstiltskin who spins shimmering prose from unpromising materials Alternately reviling and reveling in her ugliness, nursing impossible loves and longings, living irretrievably alone, she uses her magic to purchase human contact "To write," she says, "is to inform against others ' Yet for Mile Leduc, to write is to inform against herself She is blatant, remorselessly examining each crevice of her personality, digging out shame, venality, and every variety of sexual appetite Mad in Pwsint, continuing the confession she began in 1965 with La Batarde, is a further trip into the interior, another verbal counterpart to one of Van Gogh's last self-portraits Sometimes overwritten, and occasionally self-indulgent, it is, nevertheless, indisputably gold This volume spans the years 1945-49, when Mile Leduc was beginning her career as a writer Nearly 40, she had come late to literature, but several of her early pieces attracted the interest of Simone de Beauvoir, who arranged to have them published in Jean Paul Sartre's Les Temps Modernes With the encouragement and support of de Beauvoir, she went on to produce the novels L'Asphyxie and L'Af-famee Neither, by her account, received much critical attention Now, some 20 years and several books later, she is still relatively unknown on these shores, her reputation having been overshadowed by those of her compatriots, de Beauvoir, Sartre, and Genet In part, this neglect may reflect the political and social turbulence of our times, which leaves us deaf to the private voice crying out private griefs For Violette Leduc's sole purpose is to transmit the exact texture of her experience, and she does so with such force that the most famous, most revered of her acquaintances seem more alive as extensions of her emotion than as individuals in their own right Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir, Genet, Cocteau, Sarraute, among others, appear in brilliant vignettes, but the color and the light come from Leduc It is an ironic, unwitting vengeance on the part of a woman who, in fact, can never abase herself sufficiently before her friends, and whose only certainties concern her shortcomings This obsession with personal defects can erupt in bursts of wild, bitter humor Mile Leduc wntes of her nose "My big nose I wasn't forgetting it I would thrust its company on Simone de Beauvoir for 5 or 6 hours together I made myself up I saw it magnified I sat next to hei my nose disappeared " Even when engaged in the most pathetic, desperate enterprises, she still stands outside herself to mock She tells how, attempting to appear attractive to a schoolboy admirer, she visits a beauty parlor for what one guesses is almost the first time The results are disastrous She emerges "a thicket, a frizz, a bramble bush " Examining her own perversity, she turns it around as she might a pebble found on a beach "March 15, 1966—Cocteau is dead He had written me four notes Last year I ran as fast as my legs would carry me to sell them to a bookseller on the Left Bank I wasn't short of money, and tour short letters take up very little space in a closet Certain beings, dead oi alive, will always force you into ingratitude and cruelty " Conversely, she imbues inanimate objects with life and character, addressing a sponge or dishcloth as others would a household pet A trip to the market becomes a procession of colors, textures, and scents "seeing the hoar frost of heavy seas on the flank of a cod, choosing the freshest mackerel, caressing the skin of mushroom, smelling my fingers, because I love the earth I go into the butcher's I'd like a nice juicy piece of meat He slices a piece for me a promise of strength The steaks shimmer on white marble " The tone of the book, dark to begin with, gradually grows still darker The glints of humor and pleasure appear with less frequency The joy of friendship with de Beauvoir is muted by the limits placed on it "My life lies elsewhere," de Beauvoir writes in reply to a passionate letter Mile Leduc worships Genet, but the currency of affection is her humiliation In one terrible scene he comes to her apartment tor dinner The meal has been prepared with great care, the rooms scoured and polished for his visit Genet, however, is annoyed by her attentions He pulls the cloth off the table, spilling dishes, bottles, and food on the floor, and leaves the apartment She does the only thing she knows how to do She follows him to his hotel, gains admittance to his room, falls on her knees beside the bed where he lies, and covers him with kisses Indeed, she lives to suffer After she moves into a new top-floor apartment—its rooms bright, airy, flooded with sunlight and the noise of the street—it becomes a torment to her, she soon longs for the dark quiet of the basement tenement that had been her home Toward the end of the book, out of loneliness, or from the strain of her work, she begins to imagine herself pursued by an invisible organization As her mind is invaded by phantoms, her privacy is assaulted by an aggressive neighbor She is lavished with food and favors, interrupted at work, pushed, shoved, drawn into the lives of other people in the house Nevertheless, she remains outside this noisy, bourgeois scene even when she is most a part of it Violette Leduc's life is her pen and her notebook, her mission is to write, to pick the scabs of her grief, searching for the adjective or verb that will make it bleed again Mad in Put suit is a message sent in a bottle, candidly drawing the author's precise emotional location It is not so much an autobiography as an exercise in solipsism—painful, intense, and incredibly beautiful...

Vol. 54 • November 1971 • No. 23

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