Danielle Collobert | It Then

 

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Soirée Action Poétique: Jean-Claude Montel, Franck Vernaille, Danielle Collobert

 

 

I met Danielle Collobert in a cafe on the boulevard Saint-Germain in March or April 1958, at which time she was not yet eighteen. We immediately spoke of the essentials: writing, death. Theses two things—or is it one single thing—seemed to occupy her exclusively and with such rigor that one felt from the outset she would proceed in this single and unique direction, that no one could divert her or deceive her as to its end. At most, out of love for her, one could hope, idiotically of course, that sooner or later she would lose track, that her resolve would weaken. At that time, she had just left her studies, was writing very short poems, strangely haiku-like. Of course she was reading a great deal, but beyond everything she had discovered her own utter nakedness: that owned by nights of relentless attention to the other, or reflected in mirrors of all-night cafes where you can look, listen or simply wait, attending the blank page, from which the lassitude of daybreak will rescue you, overwhelm you.  When she spoke of her Breton childhood, of her family, it sounded both clear and distant: news from another planet or a dead star but communicating the smells and sounds from a real landscape (the one in the texts of Meurtre). This setting constructed of unnamed spots was profoundly placed, located. Her parents belonged to the Communist Party, one of her aunts was in the Resistance and had been deported. And we were in the middle of police surveillance of Algerians and other dark-skinned people. There was no mistaking whose side you would take. At first, she worked at some little jobs, research, baby-sitting, then later found a position in a gallery that exhibited painting, in the rue Hautefeuille, where, surrounded by white walls and geometric works (the style featured there) she began slowly to compose the texts that would become Meurtre. One change of scene: her stay in Tunisia during the spring of 1960. In April of the following year, she published a collection of first poems, titled Chant de guerres. This chapbook published at her expense by P.J. Oswald consists of twenty short poems, and is, to my knowledge, quite unavailable, since Danielle had, a few years later, retrieved the whole run, more or less, and destroyed it, just like that. For several months she had belonged to a group supporting the F.L.N. From time to time, she disappeared in order to carry out missions she never spoke to me about. What I do know is that for over a year, absorbed in her clandestine daily life, she stopped writing but came out of this period apparently unchanged, as though nothing real could reach her apart from writing. The Algerian experience wound up of necessity with a sort of enforced stay in Italy (between May and August 1962 she was in Rome, then in Venice) that would permit her to reconnect with her writing and complete the composition of Meurtre. First she offered the manuscript  to Minuit, who refused it. Then, represented enthusiastically by Raymond Queneau at Gallimard, Meurtre was finally accepted and came out in April 1964. Meanwhile she had joined the staff of “Révolution Africaine,” an Algerian magazine begun after the war but which would disappear, I believe, soon after Ben Bella. The years between ’64 and ’67 are somewhat fuzzy in my memory. I have the impression that our lives were static, as if in suspension: the Algerian war was over, her first book was out. You’re published, you write, and then what? That her writing could receive praise—her book had received some very positive response—was, according to her, only the result of some misunderstanding. When she presented her second manuscript, Parler seul (which became Dire I) to Gallimard, it was rejected. The following year, she composed a new text, Film, originally conceived as a screenplay, whose stripped-down narrative, no doubt an outcome of writing the visual, represents a major step in her formal evolution. It was also then that her desire to travel asserted itself, little by little becoming a kind of aggravated impulse to wander, an almost perpetual motion in which contradictory motives fused; the need to escape, the attraction of distant, “exotic” countries as bearers of nameless signs guaranteeing silence, solitude; and simultaneously a sort of proof by geographic exhaustion that she would not be content anywhere, that places were but names, and that, wherever she went, she would “not [be] going towards anything”. This, however, did not stop her from being, at times, very present in the world: in May ’68 she joined the Writers’ Union, and a few months later she turned up in Czechoslovakia as Soviet tanks rolled across the country. Finally in 1970 she could undertake her first major voyage: Indonesia, Bali, Borneo, etc. During this period she wrote Dire II, took notes for other projects, collaborated on a radio play, Bataille (broadcast in Germany in 1971), and participated in translating an Italian novel. Meanwhile she had met Jean-Pierre Faye, who would spare no effort seeing her work into print. Dire I-II appeared in 1972 from Collection Change (Seghers-Laffont). The following year she rewrote Film into a radio play, Polyphonie, broadcast by France Culture. And she traveled.  Between ’74 and ’75 she visited, in turn, Italy, South America, Mexico, the United States, Greece. She also worked on a new book and collaborated on another radio play, Discours (broadcast in Germany in 1976). And then she traveled. Again to the United States, to Crete, Formentera, Italy, Egypt. Il donc appeared in October 1976 from Change. Her trips abroad proliferated, continuous: Egypt again, Africa, New York, and Crete. When she returned from the island I caught up with her again in Paris, at the end of March or beginning of April 1978. She had just completed a short text,  Survie, wanted to see it published as quickly as possible and wanted it translated into Italian and English. A strange and uncharacteristic sense of urgency. I translated it into Italian. Survie came out at the end of April, a chapbook in an edition of 60 copies, from Orange Export Ltd. One night she came to say good-bye to me, she was leaving the next day for New York. I left Paris at the end of the month. By mid-July she was back in Paris. She chose to die on her birthday: she had been born in Rostrenen (Côtes-du-Nord) 24 July 1940.

Uccio Esposito-Torrigiani | FROM LITMUS PRESS 2003 
SEE ALSO: DANIELLE COLLOBERT |  NOTEBOOKS

 


 

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Danielle Collobert

 

 

IT THEN

 

 

It then — It — abandon of the impersonal — of the infini-
tive — at last resigned — to embody — with flesh in pain
— to embody like the thumbnail — It then

 

 

I

It — flows — it bangs itself — slammed into walls — it
picks itself up — stamps feet — it doesn’t go far — four
steps to the left — new wall — it extends its arms — leans
— leans hard — rubs it head — again — harder — fore-
head — there — the forehead — hurts — rubs harder —
becomes inflamed — not the forehead — from within —
cries

good start for the pain — head between arms — forehead
against wall — and rubbing — skin breaks open a little —
not enough — ooh the pain — there it is — feet kicking the
wall down low — go on — with the toes — striking hard —
trashing — nothing to be done — doesn’t subside — never
will subside — the rage — the pain — cries — hits with flat
hands — dull noise — a cry — here a cry — no gasp — a
little above a gasp — in shrillness — here it comes —
collects at the back of the throat — what’s going to come out
— still below the pain — not enough

 

 

sobs shaken — saliva at lips’ edge — bitter taste — slides a
little towards the corner — nose smashing — lips — the lips
twisted sideways — pulled back to the gums — moistening
the wall — eyes closed — stomach and chest flattened —
unsticks — comes back harder — sharp impact of shoulders
— unsticks — comes back again with elbows with knees —
bangs fists — fists’ backs — to the bone — starts over —
skin reddens — rips at last — it falls — doubled up —
dragging arms stretched along the wall — kept vertical by
ends of fingernails — it collapses — impact of back — head
rings on wooden floor — it pushes up onto its elbow
drags along the wall — reaches hung-up coat — hangs onto
— hoists itself — buries its head in the wool — grabs the
arms — holds the end of the sleeves tight — overlaps them
around neck — expecting softness — but no — squeezes
hard — chokes — coughs into tears — chokes — lets go —
hangs onto cloth — pulls hard to rip — rips with all its
strength — tears out pieces with its teeth — spits — chokes
— arms fall back down — sinks down — slips onto the
ground

 

 

a body there — practicing pain — as if it hadn’t had enough
of this suffering — at each moment — in floods — in vast
wave — trying pathetically to practice it

 

 

body striking — disfiguring its limbs with the too full pain
— which body sudden empty — which violence against —
about empty — pain congealed at last — wanting to reach
it to set it once and for all — to keep it there motionless —
or set it down in front of it — itself — to make it really
visible — in its infinitely numerous images — unceasingly

a body there — no — that body there — the one banging
its face against the wall — maybe — no

 

 

 

FROM
DANIELLE COLLOBERT | IT THEN
TRANSLATED BY NORMA COLE
O BOOKS 1989

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