Poetry News

Kit Schluter Interviews Nathanaël About Danielle Collobert's Murder

By Harriet Staff


Kit Schluter, translator of Marcel Schwob's The Book of Monelle (as we elaborated upon here), spotlights today none other than Danielle Collobert, the French poet whose suicide in 1978 left us with some of the "most enigmatic and innovative bodies of work in contemporary French letters." Collobert's first novel, Murder, has just been published by Litmus Press, in a new translation from Nathanaël. As the press site notes: "Originally published in 1964 by Éditions Gallimard while Collobert was living as a political exile in Italy, this prose work was written against the backdrop of the Algerian War."

Schluter writes of it in detail: "Murder speaks a language profoundly its own, unlike anything else she was to write, and quite possibly unlike anything else you may have read. Reading this prose gives one the rare impression of being in the presence of a voice speaking from the honest and cutting edge of present urgencies: that is, this is not a voice responding to conventions or trends in literary necessity, but one singularly engaging the emergent necessities of life itself, in all its complexity and danger." Excitingly, Schluter has just interviewed Nathanaël at HTMLGiant. An excerpt:

KS: The language of Murder's passages is slippery, but in a productive kind of way. Although Collobert’s later work seems almost entirely irreverent of traditional genres and forms, the language of this early work, written around the age of twenty, seems to skirt the boundaries between the short story and the prose poem. Nobody is named, no locations are specified, no motives for actions are explained. And yet these prose pieces seem to function toward the development of short narratives that retain these traditional tools of the “short story,” however non-traditionally they might be getting used.

How would you address the issue of genre in this book? What are we dealing with here? Do you sense any influences informing the form of the pieces in Murder, or does this seem to be a mode of writing that Collobert can call entirely her own?

N: I would resist attempting to attribute a generic definition to Meurtre; I would not seek to inscribe it in a lineage, either. Which is not a rejection of eventual antecedents – often Collobert’s work is read against Beckett, for example. But a habitual reliance on lineage as a way of reading seems limiting to me, and a decidedly academic concern. Before even beginning to attempt to make this kind of attribution, one would need to recognize the distances the text has had to travel between French and English, and then acknowledge the divergences between generic constructs in those two (much more than two) literary cultures (though there is increasing adherence to English language delineations in French, which is indicative, perhaps, of a desire for change, but more cynically, of the global influence of specifically American industry, since this direction is distrustful of the generic fluidity for which French literature of the twentieth century came to be known), and take some note of the development of those movements over time, because, like anywhere else, they are not static, whatever limits are imposed to prevent alterations from loosening them from their categorical holds. Which is to say that the bolstering of the boundaries governing generic territories, such as they are defended, is in large part contextual. I would argue that it is no less accurate to categorise Meurtre as prose than it is to categorise Il donc as poetry; Meurtre has a strong poetics, as is Il donc continuing to grapple with the sentence. But one might suggest just as convincingly that all of her work has something of the film script (her language is at times much more succinct than passages in some of Antonioni’s film scripts, for example, which read like prose). I might offer these lines of Derrida’s as more eloquent provocation: “ ‘What / is…?’ laments the disappearance of the poem – / another catastrophe. By announcing that which is /just as it is, a question salutes the birth of prose.” (Tr. Peggy Kamuf)

KS: Collobert, in the final passage of the book, defines the book’s namesake, murder, as follows: “One does not die alone, one is killed, by routine, by impossibility, following their inspiration. If all this time, I have spoken of murder, sometimes half camouflaged, it’s because of that, that way of killing” (96). This, for me, is provocative and explosive language. And, I should say, that goes for the whole book: this isn’t a neutral work, but one that digs in its heels and takes a firm political stance. What political urges do you find central to Murder?

N: You have identified what is for me perhaps the most powerful passage from the work (these are the same lines I borrowed into the afore-mentioned epigraph). Out of this passage, I would signal the unlikely conjunction of routine and inspiration. There is here the suggestion of the sublimation of emotion into bureaucratisation. “That way of killing” is not distinct from the way of language, from a poetics or an aesthetic impulse; ‘inspiration’ is the incipit of murder – the very breath of it. This admission walls the text off from anything resembling hope. And yet it is also anything but nihilistic. It is snared by its own realisations – with emphasis on the real.

Please find the full conversation here.