17 January 2012

Belinda Cannone

Until this morning, when I read a review in this month's Magazine littéraire of novelist and essayist Belinda Cannone's La Chair du temps (literally 'The Flesh of Time'), I wasn't aware of her existence. Last March she arrived at her house in the country to find that two trunks, containing many years of her diaries, notebooks, photos and correspondence, had been stolen. Her shock was immense, and she wrote frantically to try to fill the void, to right the wrong, and this book is an attempt to render the intimate 'extimate'. Obviously, I had to find out more about Barbara Cannone.

Cannone – a university lecturer in Comparative Literature at Caen – wrote and published her thesis about writers and music in France in the second half of the 18th century, and music is a preoccupation in her work.

So too is desire. The novel Lent Delta (1998) – literally 'Slow Delta' – is an exploration of the desire to live seen through the eyes of a woman on her final day of 104 years of life; and the novel L'Homme qui jeûne (2006)  – literally 'The Fasting Man' – is the negative image of desire. L’Écriture du désir (2001) – literally 'The Writing of Desire' – is an essay which examines desire in general and its relationship to literary practice.

Last year she published Le Baiser peut-être – literally 'The Kiss Perhaps' –which was the first of a series of books to be written by different people on universal subjects. For Cannone, the kiss represents the most beautiful gesture of desire, a fusion, when self joins other, and there is a brief talk for Mollat on YouTube in which she also extends the word: when she writes, she leans toward the reader in desire, in a kind of kiss, and hopes that the reader will make a similar gesture toward her. The fascinating eight-minute interview, in French – and in which, for instance, she covers the prostitute (who doesn't kiss because she can sell her body but not her desire), Diderot (Cannone's 'dance master'), and Dante (Paulo and Francesca) – is here.

Last year I noted that Laurent Mauvignier – a startling and original French writer – has been barely translated into English. Consulting the Library of Congress and the British Library websites, the indication is that no work of Cannone's has been translated into English. Perhaps, once again, this is a case of a writer's work just being too French for an English readership, in spite of the universal themes.

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