Per Olov Enquist, Le livre des paraboles (bilingual post! And not just about PO!)


J’ai attendu avec impatience la publication d’une traduction du dernier livre de Per Olov Enquist. Il est sorti en suite en mars 2013. Pour la traduction française il a fallu attendre à l’automne 2014. J’avais même envoyé un mail à Actes Sud, la maison française qui publie PO, mais il était resté sans réponse… Mais là, ironiquement, ça m’a mis plusieurs mois à trouver le temps de le lire… Pourquoi? Peur d’être déçue? Je n’ai pas aimé le design de la page couverture? Allez donc savoir…

Enfin, là, je l’ai lu! Et quel livre! Avec le rythme haletant habituel de PO, une profusion de points d’exclamation! Et on en redemande! PO écrira-t-il encore, passé 80 ans?

Ce court livre se décline en neuf chapitres, neuf “paraboles”, où PO raconte (ou ne raconte pas, par quoi je veux dire qu’il fait plutôt des allusions obscurs aux faits, plutôt que de raconter de façon claire et non-équivoque) des parties de son histoire personnelle… des souvenirs d’enfance et d’adolescence. Il se pose beaucoup de questions sur ces origines, sur le sens de la vie, sur le sens de l’amour…

En fait, il nous dit avoir écrit un roman d’amour avec ce livre, après ne pas avoir pu le faire plus tôt, car que savait-il de l’amour et que pouvait-il en dire? Il y aussi la question de la loyauté aux êtres disparus, comme cette voisine d’un été, avec qui il fait la première expérience de l’amour physique (lors qu’il avait 15 ans et elle, 51; on remarqua la permutation) et qui lui demande de ne jamais en parler à personne. Peut-il en parler maintenant qu’elle est morte? S’agirait-il alors d’une trahison?

D’après son Cahier de travail il ne l’a rencontrée que trois fois.

La première fois, un dimanche après-midi en juillet 1949, c’est là qu’il emploie la désignation énigmatique “la femme sur le plancher sans noeuds”. La deuxième fois, le 22 août 1958 à Södertälje. La troisième fois, c’est en novembre 1977.

Apparemment, il avait promis de ne jamais en parler, à personne.

Mais tant d’années se sont écoulées, maintenant. Alors quelle importance.

PO nous dit aussi ressentir une plus grande liberté d’exprimer ce qu’il veut, comment il le veut, par le fait même d’être maintenant près de la rive du fleuve… c’est à dire près de la mort, près de la fin, et qu’on lui pardonnera bien de se sentir libre de dire ce qu’il veut.  L’expérience de l’approche de la mort le poursuit:

Soudain, en octobre 2011, hémorragie sévère.

Il regarde le plafond de l’ambulance, était-ce sérieux cette fois? Ce sont les boyaux des Enquist qui frappent finalement, à l’âge de soixante-dix-sept ans. Quelle ironie, lui qui fut tant de fois sur la voie. Deux opérations du coeur. L’estomac, ce trou que ces idiots de soignants ne retrouvaient pas. Jusqu’à maintenant! en octobre 2011!

Et tout ce qu’il n’avait pas eu le temps de faire! Comme l’Elof!

Il se remet de se problème de santé et la vie continue… Mais que faire de cette vie? Peut-il faire autre chose qu’écrire? Dans quelle mesure doit-il continuer à écrire, à offrir un témoignage? (Voir la vidéo sur YouTube)  Et en relation avec ce thème de l’écrivain et la mort, j’ai repensé à ce volume de Margaret Atwood, Negotiating with the Dead, que je n’avais pas vraiment aimé au moment de sa publication, mais qui tout d’un coup me semblait plus pertinent. Atwood says:

The title of this chapter is “Negotiating with the Dead,” and its hypothesis is that not just some, but all writing of the narrative kind, and perhaps all writing, is motivated, deep down, by a fear of and a fascination with mortality – by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead.

You may find the subject a little peculiar. It is a little peculiar. Writing itself is a little peculiar.

So maybe PO is also fascinated with mortality, his own mortality, after being so close several times to crossing to the other side. He has said somewhere else that recovering from alcoholism has led him to consider the rest of his life as a sort of bonus (my interpretation, not his own words). Maybe also a bonus where he still has some responsibility to give something back.

In the preface to Negotiating with the Dead, Atwood explores this in more detail:

These are the three questions most often posed to writers, both by readers and by themselves: Who are you writing for? Why do you do it? Where does it come from?

While I was writing these pages, I began compiling a list of answers to one of these questions – the question about motive. Some of these answers may appear to you to be more serious than others, but they are all real, and there is nothing to prevent a writer from being propelled by several of them at once, or indeed by all. They are taken from the words of writers themselves – retrieved from such dubious sources as newspaper interviews and autobiographies, but also recorded live from conversations in the backs of bookstores before the dreaded group signing, or between bites in cut-rate hamburger joints and tapas bars and other such writerly haunts, or in the obscure corners of receptions given to honor other, more prominent writers; but also from the words of fictional writers – all written of course by writers – though these are sometimes disguised in works of fiction as painters or composers or other artistic folk. Here then is the list:

To record the world as it is. To set down the past before it is all forgotten. To excavate the past because it has been forgotten. To satisfy my desire for revenge. Because I knew I had to keep writing or else I would die. Because to write is to take risks, and it is only by taking risks that we know we are alive. To produce order out of chaos. To delight and instruct (not often found after the early twentieth century, or not in that form). To please myself. To express myself. To express myself beautifully. To create a perfect work of art.  To reward the virtuous and punish the guilty; or – the Marquis de Sade defense, used by ironists – vice versa. To hold a mirror up to Nature. To hold a mirror up to the reader. To paint a portrait of society and its ills. To express the unexpressed life of the masses. To name the hitherto unnamed. To defend the human spirit, and human integrity and honor. To thumb my nose at Death. To make money so my children could have shoes. To make money so I could sneer at those who formerly sneered at me. To show the bastards. Because to create is human. Because to create is Godlike. Because I hated the idea of having a job. To say a new word. To  make a new thing. To create a national consciousness, or a national conscience. To justify my failures in school. To justify my own view of myself and my life, because I couldn’t be “a writer” unless I actually did some writing. To make myself appear more interesting than I actually was. To attract the love of a beautiful woman. To attract the love of any woman at all. To attract the love of a beautiful man. To rectify the imperfections of my miserable childhood. To thwart my parents. To spin a fascinating tale. To amuse and please the reader. To amuse and please myself. To pass the time, even though it would have passed anyway. Graphomania. Compulsive logorrhea. Because I was driven to it by some force outside my control. Because I was possessed. Because an angel dictated it to me. Because I fell into the embrace of the Muse. Because I got pregnant by the Muse and needed to give birth to a book (an interesting piece of cross-dressing, indulged in by male writers of the seventeenth century). Because I had books instead of children (several twentieth-century women). To serve Art. To serve the Collective Unconscious. To serve History. To justify the ways of God toward man. To act out antisocial behavior for which I would have been punished in real life. To master a craft so I could generate texts (a recent entry). To subvert the establishment. To demonstrate that whatever is, is right. To experiment with new forms of perception. To create a recreational boudoir so the reader could go into it and have fun (translated from a Czech newspaper). Because the story took hold of me and wouldn’t let go (the Ancient Mariner defense). To search for understanding of the reader and myself. To cope with my depression. For my children. To make a name that would survive death. To defend a minority group or oppressed class. To speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. To expose appalling wrongs or atrocities. To record the times throught which I have lived. To bear witness to horrifying events that I have survived. To speak for the dead. To celebrate life in all its complexity. To praise the universe. To allow for the possibility of hope and redemption. To give back something of what has been given to me.

Oomph… That was one long paragraph of sentence fragments.

P.O. Enquist ends his book with an ironic incident: While he attends the funeral of the woman who took his virginity, he gets a parking ticket! A parking ticket! Near the chapel!

While this book makes sense on its own, it probably makes even more sense after reading the previous memoir where PO talks a lot about his father (l’Elof!) and what saved him in the end (writing!).

Alors que PO semble particulièrement affectionner les points d’exclamations, moi c’est les points de suspension et les parenthèses (au cas où vous n’auriez jamais remarqué), quoiqu’il m’arrive souvent de réécrire une phrase pour éliminer les parenthèses (des fois, il y en a vraiment trop que je me perds moi-même dans la hiérarchie des propositions).


Enquist, Per Olov. Le livre des paraboles. Actes Sud, 2014.

Enquist, Per Olov. Une autre vie. Actes Sud, 2010.

Atwood, Margaret. Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2002.

Other things:


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