Annie Earnaux’s memoir is a strange memory-object to contend with. It recounts the years of her life between birth and now in a broad and structural way that is deeply familiar. This familiarity comes from the years in question being those lived by baby boomers, probably the most culturally over-represented epoch of civilisation for a few centuries (dear social historians, please write to correct me).
They used to refer to my generation as “echo-boomers”, and now refer to us (and much younger people) as millennials. That old naming convention tells us a little bit more though — that the 90s and early 00s was seen as the fullest ascent of boomers, and we were meant to be as privileged as they were. Of course this isn’t quite how it has ended up as being read, although there are similarities.
As such my reading of this memoir was one of deep familiarity. It is the story of the majority cultural force of post-1945. It’s the reason why you still hear songs from the 50s at Christmas time.
My copy hung around with me a while, even in the rain.
You can see the creaking of French empire in the first half, with Algiers, and how this rustles under a safe and mostly undisturbed life like ice sheets rubbing.
There’s the invention of the teenager, masturbation, want in a repressed society that is slowly stripped away. Later, like a wave that follows the initial break Ernaux finds herself able to re-evaluate her teenage years as one of intellectual liberty that can be used as tools to open up herself. This is the 70s. As with all of us, we are surprised we are getting old.
And all of it is deeply familiar. It echoes the sounds of my childhood, the stories that were around at the time, of similar childhoods. They’d created a new image of it you see. You can only break the dam once it was supposed.
The Years, told through various medium of looking at the self, often through describing pictures, through watching the self move on film for the first time — enchanted — brings a kind of softness to all of that can only be seen as nostalgia. But with it the language searches for detachment, it distances and makes the writer and her peers. There is a search for a kind of personal objectivity — as if this memory object could be shared amongst everyone as canon.
I also like updating my /writing page on my website with these things. Remember all your favourite unparseable passages from my literary career with this handy box-set.
“as it veers toward loss and the long past
that lodge with us, you press toward love,”
This was shared by Tom Snarsky today. For My Husband by Ellen Bryant Voigt:
What’s your favourite poem that uses repetition heavily? Answers on a tweet to Sammy.
Hiromi Suzuki had poetry in Perverse — a way to have someone send you poetry on a Monday, if you can’t wait until Friday.
This week’s song is East Harlem by Beirut
Another rose wilts in East Harlem
And uptown downtown a thousand miles between us
She’s waiting for the night to fall
Let it fall, I’ll never make it in time
I bit my tongue singing this on the way to see someone. There was enough blood for me to wonder if there was a main artery in the tongue.
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own. It was written by @CJEggett who has been having oddly domestic daydreams recently. The daydreams remain mad; they’re just quaintly set, paced for a long life. I haven’t said for a while, but you know if you wanted to say something to me (like that you loved that poem, that there is a typo in my name, I asked you to hold something for me while I did something else and it’s been years now), you can always reply to these emails. I answer everyone.