"I distrust psychological explanations": the family literature of Valérie Mréjen and the coldness of the concise

Valérie Mréjen is a multifaceted creator, a portraitist of her own identity and family life, a teacher of autobiographical literature and an explorer of all the languages ​​available to articulate an idea. Among these many definitions and labels are mixed the words with which Valérie Mréjen herself refers to her work and also others that have been used in biographies and profiles to summarize her career. Third person It is the last book by the French author, which has just been published in Spanish by the Periférica publishing house along with the reissue of two other works: My grandfather Y Sour. It makes sense that this is the case, almost like a literary triptych, because Mréjen’s books function as television episodes of a series about his own life, which share the same protagonists and the same concise and inflexible style.

“The brevity of the sentences in my books, rather than having an intention, seeks a rhythm and a way of expressing myself that I discovered by writing, almost against my will. It is true that in life I am not particularly talkative, I tend to like the formulas that manage to summarize an idea. My ideal would be to be able to describe someone, or a situation, in three words. Which, of course, does not stop me from being fascinated by the opposite: writers who know how to write dense novels, in which you can stay for a long time, whole weeks, “argues Mréjen herself, referring to the coldness with which she executes her sentences. “I believe that my writing responds to a relationship with the world and with the unfinished: deep down I like sketches, drawings that still have to be mentally completed, canvases in which there are empty areas. But the challenge of the life of an artist is to evolve, to explore other forms, so my enthusiasm for brevity is not definitive “.

With this narrative sobriety, the author manages to print an invisible thread of tension in her texts, as if some pieces of the story had yet to be fitted and filling in the blanks was the task of the reader. His first short novel, My grandfather, published for the first time in Spanish in 2007, it could be compared, by the presentation of the linguistic details that unite a family, with the acclaimed Family lexicon, by the Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg; however, the total absence of feelings and description of the inner life of the characters makes the book closer to an instruction manual than a memoir. Mréjen jumps from one character to another in a schematic, almost mechanical way: “My mother had uncles, Uncle Fred and Aunt Simone, who owned a clothing store in Levallois. They sold suits, shirts, ties, socks, V-neck sweaters and silk scarves. Uncle Fred wore false teeth and Aunt Simone sprayed purple in her hair. They had a daughter, Michèle, whom we called Mimiche and who was married to a certain Serge. Mimiche and Serge they had adopted a girl because they couldn’t have children. The baby had a lot of problems. My father and mother met at a round table at a dating club. They immediately started dating. ”

Even when Mréjen talks about her grandfather, who did not seem to be a good man with any of the women in the family, the author avoids making moral judgments, in a narrative exercise of restraint that confronts us with our expectations of the book and forces us to question all those simple schemes that we are used to projecting onto others. The author also makes the reader forget that we are dealing with bits and pieces of her autobiography, insofar as she does not connect the facts with the development of the narrative self, which acts as a mere spectator. Proof of this is the presentation of the protagonist who gives the book its name on the first page: “My grandfather took his lovers home and made love with them by putting my mother in the same bed. She asked for a divorce. After doing as that he committed suicide with a kitchen knife, he kindly agreed. My grandmother remarried a gigolo and my grandfather married his secretary, thirty years his junior. He sent her on a wedding trip with my mother on vacation, for his business was holding him back in Paris and he couldn’t afford to take a break just like that. ”

In much the same way, stories are told in short novels Eau Sauvage –Also edited by Impedimenta– or Sour, although here what happens is a love relationship at least uneven: she is absolutely in love with Bruno, a bland and indifferent man who pays more attention to any trifle than to his partner. But even in this context, the cold and eloquent description, the sour, prevails over the poignant or the search for empathy. The reader feels that he is before the details of a crime scene, duly recorded in the police report, and not in front of a passionate and dramatic love story: he knows the characters by how they dress, where they work and what they do every day but In reality, he does not know much about what these people are like, he cannot mentally draw them or penetrate their inner life. The sensation that Mréjen pursues with his literature leaves us somewhere between environmental sadness and involuntary humor, leaving us with an essential uncertainty that prevents us from escaping from the scenes he is describing.

“I want to avoid psychology”, explained the author herself a few years ago in relation to her first work as a video artist, where she tried to explore the possibilities of audiovisual language. Inspired also by her memories, in these works she recorded everyday events, with details at the same time cruel or ironic. Two years before writing his first novel, published in 1999, Mréjen begins this series of short videos – the first entitled Bouvet– following the same narrative principle: rejects psychology as a valid approach to human behavior. Principle that continues to prevail today in all his work, also written. “In my videos I try to create scenes without any particular psychology, in which the characters repeat prefabricated formulas. Many times, what interests me the most is the rhythm: a neutral and rigid way to describe and create an image, an unrealistic situation but reminiscent of something that is real, of everyday situations. When we are upset, for example, it happens that an unexpected memory moves us and at the same time traps us in contradictory emotions that are impossible to analyze or decipher. So I distrust explanations psychological in the sense that they often create redundancy and only reduce shortcuts. ”

In his first short film, shot in 16mm and entitled Chamonix, nine characters tell a memory in front of the camera, constructing an idea that can be interpreted in many different ways depending on who is looking. “For me it is not very different to write a script or a book. The movie scenes that have marked me the most are usually the final monologues: Veronika in The mother and the whore or Anjelica Huston at the end of People from Dublin. They are attempts that I remember because they fill a great final void, a silence that has lasted too long, like a wave that as a spectator you expected. And that is achieved through writing “, relates the author about how the medium has varied but maintaining the same task. Among her heterogeneous and extensive artistic work in various formats – it is described by the Center Pompidou in Paris as one of the most influential current artists in Europe – also highlights the documentary Pork and Milk, in the that Mréjen moves to Israel to record in full in Hebrew the testimonies of Jews who, having been born into Orthodox families, distance themselves from religious fanaticism. Without making any kind of assessment about the stories of these people, the director tries to investigate carefully, again, the languages ​​that trace the relationships between parents, children and siblings in specific settings.

At a time of effervescence of autofiction and memoralistic literature, Mréjen’s writing challenges the usual conventions about the use of the first person: his gaze is not introspective, but always points outwards. Her way of examining memories is almost scientific and proceeds with the rigor of an entomologist, classifying experiences according to their observable properties. “It is true that telling the story of your life is not very attractive. There is something even ridiculous about it, egocentric, and naive too: believing that what you have been through is so exceptional that it deserves to be known by all other humans,” says Mréjen . “But what interests me is the way of telling it. It doesn’t matter if the authors have lived, observed, guessed or fantasized about the story they tell. Precision is what I seek and this is based on observation, that’s why it always there is a personal, lived aspect, something that has touched me from near or far “.

His latest book, Third person, is entirely dedicated to your child. But again, not as it is commonly used to talk about newborns in the family: the third person who reaches the family of two that Méjen has with his partner is described as a phenomenon embedded in their lives, as a change in perception of everything that surrounds it and even of the meanings of words. Again, there is no drama or miracle, but close observation of how motherhood and the growth of a child disrupt and alter an already complicated adult life. “With this book I did not try to convey a vision of concrete motherhood or fatherhood, but rather the fact that this vision is continually changing. As with our relationship with things, it also happens with children”, explains the French author, that if she has to give a purpose to the text it is rather the bond with her own mother: “She died when I was a teenager and, in a way, this book is a way of following in her footsteps years later, of naming This shared experience. Unlike her, I did not write down in a notebook the date of my son’s first word or the first tooth that fell out, but here I have summarized all these experiences, even through messy notes. and I think that connects us in some way. ”


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