05. 30. 2011. 10:16

A third birth

Andreï Makine, Russian by birth but writing in French, was one of the participants at the Budapest Book Festival in April 2011. In a talk organized at the festival, Makine told his audience about his new book, Alternaissance, published under the pseudonym of Gabriel Osmonde.

The whole world is musical, Makine said, just think of the music of the spheres. But in the world of today where people no longer sing in the fields and feel the rhythm of work, we have lost our sense of rhythm. Therefore many of us are depressed and do not find their place in the world. If we think about the fact that a human life lasts a mere twenty to twenty-five thousand days, we will understand why after the biological and the social birth a third birth is needed: alternaissance, that makes it possible for people not to live their life like a zombie who can be substituted by anyone else. We sleep, we work, we consume – it is in the interest of the system that we should live like that, unthinking, and this existence is served by language. But the language of literature can help liberate us from this totalitarian language.

You don’t tell much about yourself; you let your characters speak for you.

Indeed! Today, in the age of the internet, anything can be written. I have read all kinds of things about myself, about frustrations and neuroses that have never existed and false statements. But I never ask for correction, because this is not important. Flaubert said that a writer should never talk about himself. It is his books that constitute the life of the writer, and that’s the essence.

So your characters do speak for you?

They are me! I am much more my characters than this tired man who is sitting in front of you. All that I am inside is condensed in my characters – my dreams, my ideas.

When talking about Alternaissance, you said that the writer must create a language that liberates us from totalitarian language.

Alternaissance, don’t forget this title, because although it is not very well known at the moment, it will be an important novel and will gradually become known. It is about what happens if we start to refuse to be complete idiots, if we’ve had enough of this great machine we are living in. People watch soccer, they work, they make kids, they eat... and then everything starts all over. It is society that has made people such idiots. This way of life suits everyone. And why? Because such people do not revolt. They don’t bother. They accept everything. Their salary is reduced – they accept it. Thus society produces its own slaves. In communism people were given a small flat with a bit of salary so that they won’t make problems, and the same thing happens in Western societies. Brains are filled with emptiness, while we feel that they are full, because there is a bit of soccer, a bit of salary, a bit of food in them. But that’s it and no more. The biological and social creature exists for perhaps a mere twenty thousand days, and then he dies. Just like a small fly. If a human being wants to revolts and says ’no, I am something else as well’, in that case they decide for alternaissance.

And what is the role of the writer’s language in that process?

To explain to people how they can arrive at this alternaissance. This book is not a philosophical treatise. It is based on experiences that I have lived through. I have met all kinds of people in my life. In my novel, I describe how I met criminals in an American prison who did not kill but tried to kill. A friend of mine who organized lectures for these criminals worked out the idea of alternaissance, of three births. The face of people changed as they listened to him, because my friend found the way to them. Because he found the words that even these people could understand.
The starting point of Gabriel Osmonde’s third novel, L’Œuvre de l’amour is the experience of a photographer who makes erotic movies. In the US tens of thousands of pornographic films are made every day. While we are sitting here, talking politely and having a good time, in these very minutes films are being shot in which women suffer and are treated like animals. This novel is based on the experiences of such a woman. Thousands and thousands of women sell themselves in this way. How can we tear them away from this, with what words can we stop the evil machinery of society?

With the language of poetry?

Not only the language of poetry, but with the language of alternaissance. We must make people understand that their life is more than working, eating, having a family, then dying. And if there is no more to it, then it is not worth anything at all, because every life would be interchangeable – some are poor, others are rich, but it would essentially boil down to the same thing, because they would have no real being. Alternaissance is real being. That is what the four novels of Gabriel Osmonde talk about.

Do you think the fact that you come from a different country and thus see things differently contributed to the birth of the idea of alternaissance?

I come from a different country, but as a young soldier I took part in the war in Angola, I saw death from very close, I spent several months in Afganistan. I have also been in a state of coma, when one is virtually dead yet sees things. Then I experienced the return – this is a very strange experience, military doctors explained a lot about it to me; they saw me being born again, but with a different identity. I also write about this in Alternaissance.

In 2004 you received the Lanterna Magica Prize for Best Adaptable Novel for The Woman Who Waited.

Yes, and currently there is a film being made in the US of Dream of My Russian Summers [original title: Le Testament français]. This is quite curious, because I would have thought that the French would make a film out of it. Yet I am very glad because the person who bought the rights was a billionaire who fell in love with the documentary of a not very well-known young director. He called the director and said, I give you as much money as you want, I love what you do, just find an idea. And the director said, I already have an idea: Makine.

At the talk you mentioned journalists who sniff out everything and who have lately found out that Gabriel Osmonde was in fact Andreï Makine. Now that readers know who Osmonde is, will you need a new name, one that is unknown to the public?

Osmonde will not cease, I will continue to write under his name.

But will there be another pseudonym?

I have already thought about it. But you know, Osmonde is not very well known yet, he can continue to live on and rely on his own powers: His name will be learnt outside France.

Anna Marczisovszky

Tags: Andrei Makine