Ernault incorporates the experience of various stages of life into her writing, and her writing is an archaeological dig in personal memory, trying to find the truth about an era in memory. She writes candidly about experiences that most people might find difficult to articulate, and these seemingly deeply personal experiences contain historical, social, and gender elements and, as such, are collective experiences as well.
Writing personal history through memory
From “The Empty Cabinet” in 1974 to “Young Men” in 2022, Ernault’s oeuvre conveys a decidedly autobiographical quality. According to the works and life chronology sorted out in the “Lerner Manual”, we can find: Ernault’s first three works – “The Empty Cabinet” (1974), “What They Said or Nothing Is Empty” Things” (1977) and “The Frozen Woman” (1981), both of which were written about what actually happened to her, but all three had “novels” written on their covers. “The Empty Cabinet” is written in the first person, and the protagonist’s name is Denise Lesur. When the book was first published in 1974, Ernault participated in a TV show, and the host was about to ask a question about the protagonist Denise, but blurted out “you”—by then readers already thought Ernault wrote himself. The host asked Ernault: “Are you going to be a witness, or are you going to write a novel?” Ernault replied: “Both.” It’s called Anna, which is very close to her name Annie. “The Frozen Woman” still unfolds in the first person, but the “I” has no name, and readers may think that the “I” in the book is Ernault, but they are not sure. This book can be seen as her transition from fiction to self-narration. It wasn’t until “Location” (1983) that Ernault officially admitted that the “I” in the book was herself.
Ernault’s writing is largely based on recollection, and believes that in recollection there is truth about the past. She once used the word “engineering” to describe her work, saying that her writing is a “construction site” and “an archaeological excavation carried out in memory”. The most important thing that memories bring to Erno is feelings, her specific feelings at a certain moment in the past. “I need to wait for the feeling to come back, detached from everything, to feel naked, and then I look for words.” Memories and words interact, “The feeling of seeing the sun again can lead to words, and words can lead to feelings.” El “I’m pretty sure of what I’m feeling,” No said. She believes what she’s feeling is real and considers those feelings “the last real.” After capturing these feelings, the key is to find the most appropriate words and sentences to make those feelings visible. She admits her feelings, whether it’s the shame faced by someone of more literate bourgeois background, or her emotional and physical feelings in her emotional life, and she can write candidly.
French writer Anne Ernault.
Reality through transcription and rewriting
A concept Ernault often brings up is “transcription”. If this word is understood as a term of ancient philology, transcription is to re-transcribe a document written in a font that is difficult to read in a font that is easy to read. During the transcription process, the content of the document does not change. In Ernault’s context, “transcribe” means to describe the experience truthfully, try to restore the scene and feelings at that time, and not beautify the memory. Ernault considers the presentation of what she said to her father in “Position” to be “transcribed”. Ernault’s father worked as a worker before running a grocery coffee shop and had no higher education. After leaving home, becoming a teacher, and marrying her bourgeois husband, Ernault realized that her father’s words reflected the existence of a class. Ernault presents the father’s words in two ways, first as direct quotations with quotation marks, and second as words and expressions embedded in the narrative. She italicized the words from her father’s mouth. In Position, “transcribe” is dictation. In Ernault’s 3 “External Diaries” (“External Diaries”, “External Life” and “Look at the Lights, Beloved”), she felt compelled to “transcribe” the connection between Paris and Serge Scenes, gestures and words in the express train of . In her observation, “transcribe” is the attitude of writing and observing truthfully.
The attempt to truthfully write the discourse of the “popular class” and to record the daily life of ordinary people is related to Ernault’s political views. Ernault openly supports the French left and is a politically involved writer, but Ernault’s works are very different from pamphlets that directly write political opinions and slogans. She uses the way of describing social reality to express her desire to reduce social inequality. . Ernault was interviewed after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, and she was clearly aware that her winning was politically connected, and that she felt more responsibility after winning. On October 16, 2022, Ernault took part in a march by the French Left Alliance to denounce French authorities’ inaction on high prices and climate change. Ernault said that someone asked her in a playful tone: As someone who writes autobiographical works, if there is a memory already written, what can I do after that? In Ernault’s view, this is not a problem at all, there are no memories that have been used and cannot be used again. In both “The Empty Cabinet” and “The Incident,” she wrote about her experience with abortion. In “Pure Passion” and “Lost Yourself,” she wrote about her emotional experience with a Soviet diplomat in Paris in the late 1980s. In “One Woman” and “I Didn’t Walk Out of My Night,” she wrote about her mother’s Alzheimer’s. If writing memories is work, rewriting them is rework. “Lost Myself” and “I Didn’t Walk Out of My Night” are diaries that Ernault wrote at the same time as he experienced. After publishing his own accounts around the diary, he found that the diary at that time seemed to be another version. The diary is unprocessed and written without thinking about how to compose a narrative. Ernault felt that there was truth in these diaries, so he published the two sets of diaries. “I feel like I’ve been digging the same hole with words, but I’m writing in a different way,” Ernault said.
Ernault used another archaic term “palimpseste” to describe the repeated writing of a memory. “Rewriting” refers to manuscripts in which writing has been scraped off and rewritten on parchment that has already been written, and now we can see multiple layers of writing traces through technical means. Ernault’s writing is similar, but not identical. She wrote the same memory multiple times, but the subsequent writing did not obliterate the previous one, and multiple versions existed at the same time. Ernault believed that memory was also like a “palmary”. Memories also change over time. Going back to a place where you once lived can also trigger memories. In the process of recall, memory and reality are intertwined, and the memory is constantly being modified at the moment. The “palpable” effect of memory is most evident in “Young Man”. The young man with Ernault went to university in Rouen, and she took him to the seaside in Fécamp, cities where Ernault had lived and visited. Ernault saw himself in the young man.
Ernault writes from herself, and the authenticity she achieves in describing her personal experience makes her work universal. “I hardly feel like I’m a unique being, I’m not that special, I’m the sum of some experiences, I’m determined by social factors, historical factors, gender factors and language, I am (in the past and present) constantly with the world Dialogue.” Ernault believed that people’s experiences were interlinked, that their own histories were interwoven with the histories of others. “Those who are anonymous probably don’t think they have a part of my history on them, a part of my history on those faces and bodies that I won’t see again. And myself on the street, in the store crowd, Perhaps it also carried the lives of others.” In his diary on April 25, 1986, Ernault wrote: “What happened to me is not important. What matters is the structure and the wording of the book, for the author. It is the structure and the words that work.” Ernault thinks that what she considers is life and words. She feels that her writing is like architecture, and words are the raw materials for constructing the truth. “It’s about the intent to write, not the search for myself, or for what drives me to write. I’m immersed in reality, and that means losing myself.”
On October 16, 2022, Ernault took part in a march by the French Left Alliance to denounce French authorities’ inaction on high prices and climate change.
Ernault has published more than 20 works and is a popular writer in France.
Where is the line between fiction and reality in literature? When Ernault was studying modern literature at the University of Rouen, she walked past the places Flaubert had written about and felt that the scene before her automatically turned into words. Literature can be more real than reality. “No one in Rouen was more mad about literature than I was.” And the same effect was produced in Ernault’s readers, “It was the readers who made my book real, the readers who made my book real in their own lives. The book chooses its purpose. The reader makes my book his own, superimposing his own experience on the text, which may or may not be the same.” The constructed reality is universal. The title of her anthology published by Gallimard in 2011 also bears witness to this – ?crire la vie (?crire la vie), Ernault writes about life, not just her own.