5 March 2013

Camille Laurens: Philippe (1995)

Camille Laurens's Philippe is an example of autofiction, occasioned by the loss of her child Philippe. It is divided into four sections: 'Souffrir' ('Suffering'), 'Comprendre' ('Understanding'), 'Vivre' ('Living'), and 'Écrire' ('Writing').

'Souffrir' – The Philippe in the book was born in 'D[ijon]' where Laurens was born, not in Morocco (where he was conceived and where Laurens lived for 12 years), on 7 Febrary 1994 at 13:10, and died 7 February 1994 at 15:20: in two hours ten minutes the child became defunct, the mother defunct, the family defunct. DCD (décédé, or deceased). The ex-mother sees his reflection every time she looks in the mirror.

Pain, emptiness.

Comprendre – Recap. The second section begins with the narrator flying from Marrakesh to Paris, and from there to her mother's: she is wary of the Moroccan health system. Her waters break three weeks before expected, there are fetal heart rate abnormalities, Philippe is delivered with some difficulty, and dies.

Vivre – Early March, they return to Morocco. Life goes on, after a fashion. For some, this is an extreme kind of stillbirth, burial an excessively romantic luxury. Others establish a hierarchy of misfortune, and a real child, one who's lived some years and died, well then the memories crush you...

But this woman has memories too, of those prenatal ultrasound tests, he'd been on television! So many memories of future life. Then with others it can be like 'It's like failing the bac', or 'Not everyone succeeds in giving life', and others too just evade the death you're part of. Some behave as if nothing has happened, as if Philippe never happened. Paradoxically, of course, making him never happen makes him die again. Moroccans make it simpler, like talking of an afterlife, or just being banal, not knowing what to say but saying it by that very fact: those things can help.

Écrire – Doctors and writers are in a similar profession, reading signs, only one reads bodies the other the world, but it's still deciphering and interpreting. The writer's advantage is time.

Then the narrator thinks: but why should mathematics take priority from the start in medical studies, when medicine is a human science? Why not give importance to a text by Proust, a psychological test? Medicine is first and foremost a science of the Other. When will Emmanuel Lévinas be taught in first year med school?

Writing is strength, the narrator writes to see. She cries out because he didn't cry out, she writes so that the cry he didn't cry on being born will be heard. And why didn't he cry once in the light, the being who had lived so strongly in her darkness? Her final sentence implores the readers to shed tears, that they may draw Philippe from the void.

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