Lisa Robertson’s Baudelaire Fractal is a story about reading and childhood

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Lisa Robertson is a poet, essayist and translator. Born in Toronto, she lived in Vancouver for many years and now resides in France. She received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Emily Carr University of Art and Design and the CD Wright First Prize in Poetry from New York Foundation for Contemporary Arts.

The Baudelaire Fractal is Robertson’s first novel, in which the young poet Hazel Brown realizes that she wrote the works of Charles Baudelaire. She shuttles between London, Vancouver, Paris and the French countryside, moving fluidly between the early 1980s and today, from rented room to rented room, while considering these Baudelairian obsessions.

The Baudelaire Fractal is a finalist for the 2020 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction.

Robertson spoke to Radio-Canada books how she wrote her first novel.

Early childhood and freedom

“Hazel Brown, the protagonist, is relatively naive. She didn’t go to college. She didn’t come from a privileged background. She didn’t grow up around literary and cultured conversations. She explores and therefore discovers these things for the first time on his own terms.

“One of the peculiarities of this discovery was her freedom to make connections between different levels of culture and different types of cultural work. In her thought and reflection, she can go from poetry to fashion to cinema and I wanted to write about the young girl, not as an object of sexualized gaze, but as an intellectual being in her own right.

I wanted to write about the young girl, not as an object of sexualized gaze, but as an intellectual being in its own right.

“There is an open flow of her thought between cultural forms which are generally classified into different levels. She has the advantage of not having learned or been trained in this kind of categorization. It gives her a special ability, really, to meet the world on the terms of one’s own sensuality and one’s own intellectual desire. “

A novel about reading

“I myself had a version of the experience that the book tells. I was doing temporary teaching work while in residence at the University of East Anglia in the UK. I was going to donate a course on Baudelaire and prose, the poem and various relations of Baudelaire with other French writers.

“In the morning when I woke up to continue my preparation, I opened the book and had this completely weird experience that I had written what I was reading. Of course, I cognitively knew that it was. not, but it was a feeling of reading that stuck in my mind.

I opened the book and had this completely weird experience that I had written what I was reading.

“Later I found out that Baudelaire had this experience when he first read Edgar Allan Poe. When he was young he started reading Poe and immediately felt like he had written what he was reading.”

Navigate blockage, violence and difficult themes

“I wrote most of this novel in six months, which meant I had to seriously produce every day. Some days I was so frustrated and stuck that, frankly, I was crying. was feeling elated and was sending a couple of the thousand words I had written to a few friends.

“Talking about Hazel Brown’s inner life and its relationship to the feeling of intellectual blockade, part of his experience of sexual violence, was really difficult for me to face and find a way. I felt convinced of it. importance of representing this difficulty of a young woman to simply lead a city life, a sensual life, an intellectual life.

I felt convinced of the importance of representing this difficulty of a young woman to simply lead a city life, a sensual life, an intellectual life.

“I felt like I was an experienced writer, but not far off I had to admit that I was a radically inexperienced writer, and that this was a whole new ball of wax. I had to start from Ground. Zero and understand, no matter what. “

Art as a space of disorder and complexity

“Any girl is already almost unimaginably complex. What you have to travel the world as a young woman, just to get through a day, is enormous. It’s very messy.

“I wanted to create a space for this mess and complexity, a space where any reader could recognize their own mixtures and extremes, and find those necessary mixtures and fertilizers for their own life, learning and development.

I wanted to create a space for this mess and complexity, a space where any reader could recognize their own mixtures and extremes.

“It’s a story of giving oneself the space to experience the world in all its difficulty, its aesthetic richness, its stupidity and its political density.

“Art can give us that space. If there’s a message in this book, it’s art that gives the space for it – art meaning poetry, reading novels, film, all of those things.”

Lisa Robertson’s comments have been edited for length and clarity.


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