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May 16, 2012 / Lee Skallerup Bessette

All About Me: Identity in Laferrière

First, some good news. I will be presenting on Dany Laferrière and my idea for a digital project related to him work at the 2013 MLA in Boston. The first is a roundtable that I put together, Building Bridges Within Digital Humanities, will be focused specifically on how DH can be used to enrich our understanding of translations and translating. The other panel, Accessing Race in the Digital Humanities, will deal with the performative aspect of Laferrière’s work, relating it back to jazz, and how DH can bring back these elements.

I’ve also finally tuned in the manuscript for the collection of Laferrière essays, including the interview I did with him over email. I’ll save the final set of ten questions for the book, but I want to focus here on the answer to my last question, about blogging and digital media:

I want to ask you what you think about new, digital mediums that writers have access to, like blogs and other forms of social media. Do you think that this is an opportunity for readers to really get to know the writers behind the opinions, as you have put it? Or, conversely, is it still important to be published in traditional ways, on paper (another sentiment you have expressed)?

First, a little background. I thought of asking this question because of the perfomative aspects of his writing and his general persona. He is and is not his narrator, Vieux Os. He is an is not the person we see on TV. I liken him to a trickster, and I think that it isn’t an accident that Legba appears frequently in his writing as an image. The Internet is continually evolving, changing, mutating, much like his own revisions, adaptations, and mutations of Laferrière’s own corpus. In particular, he has worked in other media (film, TV, radio, print journalism), so I thought that perhaps there was an opportunity or interest in these new medias. But, alas, I was mistaken.

Les blogues ne m’intéressent pas.  Je ne vois pas l’importance d’écrire à des gens en particulier. Quand j’écris c’est pour des gens dont j’ignore l’identité.  Le lecteur se rend en librairie quand cela  lui chante.  Et il lira mon livre s’il veut.  Il n’est pas obligé de m’écrire non plus.  La littérature  circule librement.  Les blogues, c’est un univers plus étroit.  Plus étouffant, je dirais.  Je trouve  le livre, dans sa version de papier, plus libre et plus moderne.

Blogs hold no interest for me. I don’t see the relevance of writing for a particular audience. When I write, I remain ignorant of my audience’s identity. The reader will go to the bookstore when they are drawn there. And they will read my book if they want to. And they are under no obligation to write to me, either. Literature circulates freely. Blogging is a narrower universe. More stifling, I’d say. I find books, printed on paper, are freer and more modern.

I am fascinated with this answer. I’m not sure, yet, what this says about his attitudes towards writing or his identity as a writer and artist, but I think it’s really a lot to unpack. But it certainly, for me, brings up a lot of questions about my online identity, who I write for, and if blogging really is “freer” or if it’s as Laferrière puts it, more stifling.

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4 Comments

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  1. Greg Graham / May 16 2012 1:23 pm

    Lee,

    It’s interesting that Laferrière says he doesn’t see the relevance of writing for a particular audience – that he remains ignorant of his audience’s identity. Is such a thing even possible? Writing by its very nature is a rhetorical act, as is speech for that matter.

    I certainly understand the idea of trying to suppress consciousness of audience, and I agree that blogging — unlike creating a work of art — can have a very narrow conversational quality, but a write saying that he remains ignorant of his audience’s identity seems fanciful

    • Lee Skallerup Bessette / May 16 2012 1:35 pm

      I agree, which is one of the more problematic elements of his comment. But he has long asserted that he writes what he wants to write, when he wants to write, and if people want to a) publish and b) read him, well then great. Its part of his identity as an author who shuns labels, largely. And it is reflected in his practice of rewriting his work; he doesn’t care about the reader’s expectation that a book is supposed to be/expected to be a largely static artifact.

      I have also always suspected that this willful ignorance of an audience (even though he is clearly and keenly aware of how to market himself in order to find an audience – the title for his first book and the subject matter therein was no accident and showed a laser-like understanding of Quebec culture at that time) was a reaction to growing up under a repressive dictatorial regime. Even the name that he uses on his book, Dany Laferrière, isn’t he real name (he’s named after his father, who was exiled by Papa Doc, so his name was changed to protect him). His grandmother is the one who called him Vieux Os and also told him never to reveal his real name to anyone, lest they own his soul forever after. To write and create without consequence was never an option and your audience was always one person and one person alone (in Dany’s case): Baby Doc. Dany’s best friend, also a writer, was executed because of what he wrote. So I think, in part, not worrying (or caring) about who his audience is an act of rebellion against the worrying he and his generation of writers and artists had to do or suffer the consequences.

      It is also the ultimate act of freedom, thumbing your nose at the audience. He now lives and writes in a place where he doesn’t have to worry about dying for what you write and what you say. Worrying about if your reader(s) or critics (whom he also has no patience for) like your book does, in fact, seem trivial in comparison, so why worry about it?

  2. Greg Graham / May 16 2012 1:52 pm

    Yeah, you’re probably right that he is thumbing his nose at his audience as an act of freedom, but the funny thing is that thumbing your nose at someone clearly indicates you are viscerally aware of them.

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  1. Orality, Performance, and Laferriere « Chasing Laferrière – An Academic Odyssey

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