3 December 2015

Henry Bauchau: L'Infant bleu (2004)

From 1947 to 1951 Henry Bauchau (1913–2012) underwent psychoanalysis with Blanche Reverchon, the wife of the poet Pierre Jean Jouve, and was profoundly affected by the experience. Bauchau himself became a psychoanalyst and worked from 1975 in a day hospital in Paris, which inspired him to write the novel L'Enfant bleu.

The central characters in L'Enfant bleu are the psychoanalyst Véronique and her patient, the thirteen-year-old Orion. Véronique is married to Vasco, formerly a racing car driver but now striving to become a musician, and she takes on the irksome task of understanding the mentally disturbed Orion, who calls her a 'psycho-prof-un-peu-docteur'.

Orion suffers from what appears to be a form of autism: he has severe difficulties communicating on some of the most basic issues, to the point of being incapable of entering a shop on his own. He needs someone he can trust to aid him, and Véronique fulfils this role admirably, helped a great deal by her husband. She sees the important thing as developing Orion's obvious artistic skills by encouraging him to paint (and later to sculpt), as his art is his way of expressing his demons, of revealing his subconscious thoughts. His dictations to Véronique also fulfil this need.

Language is very important to Orion, although the way he uses it is counter-productive to his ability to communicate: he is incapable of saying 'je', or 'I', and instead says 'on', more specifically in the much-repeated example 'On ne sait pas', which is difficult to translate into English here: it can mean 'We don't know', but not here as that would be too explicit; or it can mean 'No one knows', or 'It isn't known', which I think is more to the point. Orion dodges the first person, the 'I', by retreating into the indirect, the passive, as if 'On ne sais pas' were an existential get-out clause.

Gradually, painfully, Véronique endeavours to understand Orion's problems, which her sessions with him bring out, particularly when Orion lapses into his violent nature, breaking windows in the hospital, biting people (including Véronique), kicking and breaking plates and doors in her own home when she lets him 'come in' more, express himself and his frustrations as she becomes closer to him.

And closer to her husband: both psychoanalyst and her husband become close to Orion, become concerned with his progress and his regressions. The central problem is that Orion distances himself from himself and from others by refusing to accept responsibility for his actions: a monster in Paris (although entirely in himself) haunts him, and he externalizes the monster (much as he externalises himself by calling himself 'on') when that monster bites people or damages property.

Things come to a head when Orion is forced due to his age to go to another center and only see Véronique occasionally. Now, after several years of therapy, he forms a relationship with the anorexic Brazilian girl Myla, whose father is seen as a shark, a businessman only interested in money, and any possible money Orion may earn from his art is peanuts to him, so he must sever the relationship between his daughter and her friend. Were they in love? As Véronique says, 'Amour est un mot, c'est un monde pour les normaux, dont Myla et lui sont exclus' ('Love is a word, it's a world for normal people, from which Myla and he are excluded.)'

But this is not a depressing book, it is full of hope and joy, which to a certain extent seemed to me to suggest some of the things the anti-psychiatrists of the latter half of the twentieth century, such as R. D. Laing and David Cooper, were stating, that madness is largely a function of the society in which we live, the apparently sane are often the full-blown crazies and vice versa.

I thought about that last night as I finished the novel and learned of the decision of the British government to attack Syria, to reproduce the same mistakes as have been brought to Iraq by Tony Blair and George Bush rushing into situations of which they had no understanding, tiny minds that destabilized the world, tiny minds like Cameron and his ilk continuing to destabilize the world more by giving the go-ahead to kill innocent people, behaving exactly like their enemy IS. As the mindless Hilary Benn compared the (undoubted) fascists of IS to the fascists in the Spanish Civil War and then Hitler, I lost track of all reality as Benn was equally mindlessly praised on social networks for ranting total bullshit about attacking a country whose politics he cannot possibly comprehend. Violence is self-perpetuating, it can never be prevented by more violence.

At least L'Enfant bleu is written by an intelligent, human person.

No comments: