3 December 2017

Bernard-Marie Koltès: Une part de ma vie : entretiens (1983-1989) (1999)

Une part de ma vie is a fascinating, if often intangible, insight into the playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès's work, being a collection of interviews taken from just before the publication of his first work (his only novel La Fuite à cheval, in 1983) until the date of his death from AIDS in 1989.

Koltès often appears to side-step questions, denying what might appear to be obvious, such as the alienation, the lack of hope, the deracination. Nothing to do with his homosexuality, though, as he says he can't use that as a prop. Well, no, as all these interpretations of his work deal with universals.

At one point in an early interview he makes an interesting point about his interest in the theatre in particular: he likes the constraints, how you can't describe a character directly as in a novel, never speak about the situation, because you have to make it exist. It's what's behind the words being said that is of importance: you can't, for instance, have a character say 'Je suis triste' ('I'm sad'), he has to say something like 'Je vais faire un tour' ('I'm going for a walk'). Yes, but the way it is said is surely vital?

Koltès says that he goes to the cinema a great deal, but to the theatre very little, as, for example, he doesn't like the people who go to the theatre, and I can understand that very well. His literary influences are 'Anglo-Saxon' and 'Latin American', and mentions Melville, London, Conrad and Vargas Llosa, although he dodges the inevitable probe that these are writers of exile, elsewhere, travel, by saying that they have an extraordinary sense of metaphor. A similar avoidance of being pinned down to particular themes in his work comes when he doesn't deny that his work deals with deracination, but simply states that no story doesn't take this into account.

But travel is very important to him, and he finds it impossible to write in Paris, his ideas always come when travelling, and he wrote Combat de nègre et de chiens in a small Guatemalan village. The way people speak languages which are not their native tongues is also important to him.

Later, he says that he's never written anything that's intended to be serious, which surely must be an odd kind of joke, itself not to be taken seriously?

Translation though (one of my own pet hates) is certainly to be taken seriously, and he says that he'd like to see his plays performed in London, but suspects that translation is a problem. Certainly he came to see Germany (a nation among his greatest readership) as mis-translating his work in the broadest sense: he saw the theatrical interpretation of one of his plays as appalling.

Interestingly, when asked about his depiction of marginals, Koltès replies that the whole world consists of marginals. In Quai Ouest he took New York and Barbès (in Paris) as his models, places where eighty per cent of the population were (and probably still are) immigrants: ordinary people are marginals – the real crazies, the real weirdos – are the bourgeoisie in the provinces.

Clearly, Koltès was a truly original talent cut down in his prime.

My other Bernard-Marie Koltès posts:
Bernard-Marie Koltès: Quai ouest
Bernard-Marie Koltès: Sallinger

Bernard-Marie Koltès: La Fuite à cheval très loin dans la ville
Bernard-Marie Koltès: La Nuit juste avant les forêts
Bernard-Marie Koltès: Dans la solitude des champs de coton | In the Solitude of Cotton Fields

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