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February 14, 2012 / Lee Skallerup Bessette

How To Read Laferrière Without Getting Tired

The essays have been revised and resubmitted. The interview has been conducted. I am now in the process of writing the introduction and biography for the collection of essay. My catchy title for the intro is the title of this post. But I wonder, should it be read or should it be study?

Reading Laferrière is easy; his books are accessible, entertaining, thoughtful, and generally (to my mind) just a pleasure. And, let’s face it, unless you’re a completist like me, wondering if you’ve read the right or most recent version of his books (he’s re-written Tout bouge autour de moi and in the process of re-writing Chronique de la dérive douce, plus just released a new book). But if you are an academic, interesting in studying Laferrière, it’s exhausting. I can’t keep up, really.

Laferrière talks about one of the reasons why he gave up writing, that people (particularly academics) didn’t “read” him properly. Part of the reason why is because we (academics) need a finite subject on which to write about. For better or for worse, it’s easy to fit Laferrière’s “Haiti” books into a studies of literature of repression, nostalgia, Haitian history, postcolonial, or Caribbean literature in French while treating his “North American” books as immigrant literature, race relations, class studies, etc. And what do you do with/about his movies, his newspaper writing, his interviews, his children’s books, etc?

Can I even begin to write or talk about his in the “right way” in my introduction?

And then, his biography. How can you distill into 3-5 pages a life that has been written and recoded over 20 books, movies, and book-length interviews? And, understanding that Laferrière’s own attitude towards “the truth” in his own life writing, how much should I include or clarify? Do I point out that he fudges the dates and details in Le goût des jeunes filles to fit his “movie”; Papa Doc didn’t die on a Monday, as he does in the novel. Some of his more recent paperbacks include a timeline in the back, outlining the basic dates and events of his life, but how much do I fill in from the books themselves? Anyone who is reading a book of essays on Laferrière would already be familiar with his work and thus his life, no?

I still think that I called this blog the right thing, Chasing Laferrière. As long as he’s alive, he told me, he will be writing new works and rewriting his old ones. Which means I’ll always be chasing him. Now, I’m also inspired to start trying to chase down his old writings in Haiti, done before he fled to Montreal. I also want to go through his weekly columns from La Presse that he wrote during his break from writing novels. And now that I’m getting into digital humanities, I might still be chasing him for years.

At least it gives me something to do.

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