Writing – Dialogues
How are images born? How do the images which inhabit us work, a form of Real within us, and how does language take form? Facing these unfathomable questions, any form of writing is an exploratory hypothesis, an attempt at inscription or renunciation. These explorations are forms of confrontation with the world, ways of being in the world, forms of life, infinite.
“To write is to stand before language, facing words, physically,” writes Leslie Kaplan. In The Image, a short, vertiginous text without punctuation to be read out loud, Samuel Beckett shapes words into a dislocated spiral. With one sentence alone, his voice resonates: “it is done I have made the image.”
To attempt to discern, to understand what is at stake in acts of writing, literary or cinematographic, we propose three dialogues.
A filmmaker, Emmanuel Falguières, will engage in a dialogue with the writer Christiane Veschambre, the character of his film. Writing is the very substance of Nowhere Before, shot on film and hand-processed in a laboratory. The film is an attempted inscription that the author describes as “filming the act of writing”. It is also an essay on the birth of images, of a language, of a music, and an encounter with and of three women, three stories of inscription. How is one born to writing? An inquiry which takes them, she and he, to the sites of the narrative. What does one see there? Or rather, from what place is it speaking? And from what place is it filming? “Writing, positioning oneself at this exact spot of the living, is work,” says Christiane Veschambre about writing, to approach the “living of life” or in Dostoesvsky’s words “living life”, “a passage of Life that crosses the livable and the lived” for Deleuze, or “life in a pure state,” according to Nathalie Sarraute. These variations on the word “life” indicate that something shakes us, touches the Real perhaps and shoves, shoves us, into motion.
In the novel Istanbul à jamais, the main narrator, Simon, a filmmaker like the author himself, sometimes feels the desire to film, “to fix this scene which, he says to himself, will never take place again.” Another way of exploring writing is that of Samuel Aubin, carried by a vivid desire to tell stories, those he lives, hears, watches and imagines, carried by the impulse to fictionalise the Real, a way of inhabiting the world. For Istanbul à jamais where he embodies the relation he had with this city in which he lived, he will propose a tale that recounts the progress of writing, the “little cinema of a novel” and we will witness the story taking form. With Eva Chanet, his publisher at Actes Sud, we enter a second movement of writing. The occasion for us to tackle the issue of what this craft can be, the way one enters into a relationship with a text, the sensibility and engagement necessary to receive the language of an author. What is this singular link that is built book after book between writers and their publishers? What does a language open within us?
The third dialogue will bring together the filmmaker Alexandre Barry and the writer Arnaud Rykner, who share the experience of both having been assistants to Claude Régy. For the stage director, “the task is working so that the text shows itself” and “to speak like a language never before heard”. In the film Trakl Sébastopol Alexandre Barry exposes us to the troubling experience of approaching an extremely difficult text by the poet Georg Trakl, brought to us through the body of the actor, perfused and almost animated by the text. A reverse movement is evoked by Arnaud Rykner in Dans la neige: writing “is what a body does to language” – a quote from Henri Meschonnic on the subject of poetry. In this novel, the character withdraws from writing. In this renunciation and his silence, we can perhaps hear what the world does to language. For both of them, it is important “not to know” and to hope that from their respective writing, something will be revealed, not an epiphany, but an accident, a jolt, a superimposition.
As an opening, we will watch The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Joseph L. Manckiewicz, a film to which Christiane Veschambre dedicates a chapter in Basse Langue. Mrs. Muir is looking for a house to live in. She meets a ghost and with him the story of a life to embody, in a language foreign to her. Then in the rare film Nathalie Sarraute, conversations avec Claude Régy, on the subject of a passage in Childhood, she wonders about the way to translate that moment of “life in a pure state”: “those moments are difficult to show”. “Show”, she said...
With Emmanuel Falguières and Christiane Veschambre, Samuel Aubin and Eva Chanet, Alexandre Barry and Arnaud Rykner.
The texts by Christiane Veschambre are published by Isabelle Sauvage and Cheyne ; Arnaud Rykner’s novels by Éditions du Rouergue. L’Image by Beckett by Éditions de minuit.
Excerpt from “Filmer l’écrire. À propos de Nulle Part avant”
Christiane Veschambre leans towards me. She tells me that if, one day, I want to make a film based on her collection of poetry Robert & Joséphine, she would be very happy. I nod and smile, but deep down I know well. These poems have found their most sincere expression on paper. There is nothing for me to transform, nothing to add to this text which is made to be read by each individual in the silence of their reading. I will not make a film. And in this way, I begin making a film.
Six years later, in a small, darkened room, I work on the last stage of production of Nowhere Before. I concentrate on cutting out pages from the book Robert & Joséphine. I try to cut straight, like at school. I lay the verse of a poem quite flat on the large animation table. The machine makes too much noise, even when it is stopped. Perched a good meter above the table, like some curious heron, the 16mm camera leans over the little piece of paper. . . .
For my film to exist, I started out from there: writing on the screen the poems of Christiane Veschambre, respecting the written word, its lettering, the visual rhythm of the lines and verses, the typography of the characters. Once that has been decided, I can go off and make my film, knowing that I am anchored, whatever drifting may be caused by the work on the film.
In order to make the film, I started by going to see Christiane to talk at length about her work. I came to her place in Paris and questioned her at a table with a digital camera as witness, two hours at a time. Again and again, over three winters. Making a film that started out with a text became making a film on a body that writes, became making a film on the body of writing. I listened to Christiane, I read Christiane, I almost forgot about cinema. . . .
Christiane’s writing is a dig, an excavation of ancient land, and I asked her to take us, me and my camera, to the end of her lands. To do that, she has the right to speak, words which are invented as our discussions unfold. I ask her to return to the site of her writing without her writing, to return as a stranger, inviting me so that I may write my film.
La Revue Documentaires no. 31, Films, textes, textures, 2021, p. 17.
Writing has a problem: language.
In 1969, after having made two films, Marguerite Duras said to Jacques Rivette: “I can’t read novels any more. Because of the sentences.”
With the words of the tribe, writing must make something appear, arise, be heard, exist, and cast it across the speaking living, while music, painting, dance cast it without words.
Something arrives that has no words, that the sentences push back to nothingness, which makes me alone, which tests me, and it is Writing. Writing alone. Only Writing.
The child gifted in language that I was precociously — speaking, reading, writing —, the bright child, had no grasp of the obscure presence of a woman without an alphabet, of an earth container which both infused her. It happened not by the mouth, not by the hand, nor by the brain, but by the mass; the light and bright child was impregnated with, no, infused, that’s truly the word, with an imponderable dark mass, whose ignored life laid within her, sediment upon sediment, its primary layers in silence.
The woman without an alphabet, sometimes as night falls, started out on a crossroad, on a hollow path, she could be found wandering, she would be brought back to her earth house, she was read the letter she had received. She wandered about with a letter in her hand.
I’m not the one who read her the letter but I had to write those she asked me to trace, long after she had ceased living in the earth house, and the literate child had been forced to welcome Writing, a wild child, cut off from the tribe, come from below language.
She wrote for her a book in language. A book where she could rule alone, like the obscure woman in her silence.
Writing only exists within language, but within lone-language. That has to be sought alone, walking along the hedge of acquired language (down below, or by climbing over it, scraping oneself), chased from the park that surrounds the castle of literature, made dumb by solitude — that of a woman with neither alphabet nor reason crossing the already darkened moor.
Écrire / Un caractère, Isabelle Sauvage editions, Coat Malguen, 2018, p. 44.
I could call it The Little Cinema of a Novel. It would be a kind of ephemeral film, it would happen only once. At the beginning, there was the idea of putting together Istanbul à jamais, a novel written on returning from four years in Turkey, with shots taken haphazardly during a scout. I also found on a hard drive a few images taken on the fly, sometimes with a telephone, in the simple desire to capture the spirit of a place, of a moment. But how could these images and the book create a dialogue, how could I put them in relation without the one becoming the illustration of the other?
I opened my notebooks, written in Istanbul between 2014 and 2018, and I found other images, sketched with words in my daily life, in a café, in the vapur, where I lived, everywhere, seizing the instant by writing, fixing it. With the idea, scarcely formulated, of drawing one day from these notes the material to write a book. I didn’t know what story it would tell. There were those crazy years when Turkey edged each day a bit closer to civil war, the attacks, the friends on trial, sometimes imprisoned. “Our eye finds in the world its reason for being, and our spirit brightens by measuring itself to it”, writes Philippe Jaccottet in L’encre serait de l’ombre. It was necessary to bring back to existence what had been lived, seen, felt, and force a passage using language, work with the materiality of words to restitute the materiality of the world. Perhaps that’s what relating is, not necessarily constructing a story, but giving elements of sensations, segments of what has been lived, with which the reader progresses, traces a line, reconstitutes a possible narrative.
Hence this proposal today, a screen divided in two, on one hand fragments captured with my camera, on the other a few pages from my notebooks and the reading that I will do. A diptych where two registers of image dialogue, where the hypothesis of a novel appears, then its genesis and its writing, to the mailing of a few manuscripts to publishing houses. One day, later, a publisher phoned me. “Are you ready to work on your text?” Another story was beginning.
Receiving a text, feeling it, reading at the instant a few pages which seem from the outset to stand out. A few pages where the appropriate tone is evident and the writing raises standards; whose subject material – or what I imagine during these first pages to be its subject material – seems a necessity.
Samuel Aubin’s novel arrived under another title in March 2019. It was called: Istanbul demeure (Istanbul remains).
I heard that title as a promise: Istanbul remains.
Only a few pages and the manuscript had already slipped into my bag, the guarantee of a near future read, a complete read in the face of daily imperatives.
Later I began. I had to read, note, listen to the text as it unfolded, had to and tried to hear the unthought, what was sketched out without yet appearing. Hours of reading, often aloud, slowly I reread passages, took notes, pages of notes. Such is my work as a publisher.
Then if the conviction becomes total, comes the moment for the telephone call, the moment to tell the one who is waiting that their manuscript is interesting, tell them why. Tell them also sometimes that a part of the narrative could perhaps change, go a little further, surely. Listen to the reaction, hope, guess their trust.
The link between author and publisher becomes apparent as of this telephone conversation, then a first meeting is set and the story can begin.
Hours of exchange, of modified versions, working on minute details: trust insinuates itself. The link is woven, is tied book after book, and tightens. For a first book released by the publisher should be the first of a long series, that is what is felt at the first reading of the text, and also what is hoped for.
Publisher and writer – a shared progression. A singular complicity.
The writing of my films takes its time. It’s being written within me, it’s moving about ceaselessly. It is an unclear order because I write without writing. Writing is a movement without a goal that carries me, step by step, day after night, towards the unknown. It breathes from the depths of strata that build on and subtract from one another. No stability, no signpost. It can only construct, to remain alive, by destroying itself. Within me agitate dreams of images which gather around places, faces, intuitions, lights in the night. Topsy turvy visions slide by in slow motion in an opaque liquid and indicate to me a narrow path towards which my instinct rushes. A primitive and silent alphabet. Captured by my internal eye, these subaquatic visions open within me a desire to encounter, to sublimate a being or a work that has lifted me beyond myself. What I try to film is a pile of obsessions. Marvellous psychoses: how to approach a face as close as possible and make its mystery perceptible without having to unveil it? How to move beyond the surface of the Real, crack it open and reach a secret life which unveils itself while retaining its secrecy? So that this secret may become the very subject of a film? A fundamental contradiction permeates nonetheless this obscure progress of writing. For an extreme conscience and hyper-lucidity mix with this absence of knowledge. Perhaps they join up in a zone of the mind where knowledge and ignorance fuse.
Nathalie Sarraute, conversations with Claude Régy, a film by Claude Régy, discovered in 1995. Its approach: a face, a language connected to its centre of gravity, questions asked by a voice whose off-camera face is superimposed without appearing on the face that fills the image. I become aware today, twenty-five years later, that in Trakl Sébastapol I filmed such a listening face. Unknowingly, I set off in search of it.
It is the invisible, the missing image that you hunt down. What do we know then about what we write? By persisting in my blind search, I can only hope that the place where it writes, where it films, can reach the place from which it sees, it dreams, it listens. Listening, it is from this state that writing, whatever form it takes, can emerge. But listening to what?…
Why write? Perhaps it’s just a bad habit: tracing words, spinning air.
Yet, writing for me is perhaps just a slightly desperate attempt to totally shut up, to silence the language within me, and to bring forth something other than words – be it by the use of words. In which attempt painting and film seem to me the unreachable horizons of literature and theatre.
Perhaps it was by reading Maeterlinck that I understood the extent to which the language we are condemned to use, when we want to “communicate”, makes this act impossible to achieve:
“And in the domain we are considering, those very people who know how to speak the most profoundly are those who sense the best that words never express the real and special relations that exist between two beings. . . . as soon as we really have something to say to each other, we are obliged to be silent . . . .” (The Treasure of the Humble, “Silence”, 1896)
Condemned to language by the nature of their practice, writers are thus also condemned to silence by the weakness of that same language (as sophisticated as it may be), incapable of capturing the profusion and the brutality of the Real. For what can we “speak” about without speaking alongside the Real, or, worse, without covering it with the parasitical noise of language? Hofmannsthal also said it:
“For it is something that possesses no name and besides which cannot receive one, that which announces itself to me in those instants, filling like a vase any appearance of my daily surroundings with an overflowing flood of exalted life.”
There lies the fundamental paradox of a “something that possesses no name” and “which cannot receive one”, but that a writer attempts to bring forth in spite of words. The paradox of an expression designed to keep a silent space within itself, so that it can attempt to lodge the world in it.
We should then put together end to end the sentence by Derrida and that of Wittgenstein to which it responded:
“What we cannot speak about, we must silence.”
“What we cannot say, we must write.”
Or even better perhaps: film it. Lacking the knowledge to do that, I continue to write, hoping to be able, one day, really to be silent.