In “Floating bodies”, Jane Sautière writes the shadows of the past

In “Floating bodies”, Jane Sautière writes the shadows of the past

A schoolgirl in Phnom Penh just before the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia in 1975, Jane Sautière questions the oblivion that envelops this period of her life. Between self-writing, memory and shadows, his book takes care of ghosts.

Floaters are a common optical and physiological phenomenon, especially in the elderly. Inside the eye, fragments of the vitreous envelope move, casting small shadows on the retina. When the eye seeks to observe these spots, they escape – elusive precisely because they are inside the very eye that perceives them.

From this experience, Jane Sautière draws the title of her book and above all a metaphor. This short work is a text on the shadows of memory. You could say it’s a book about memory, but perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s a book about forgetting. An attempt to write oblivion, to write shadows.

It is truer than all the truths, what there is in these very shadowy backgrounds, in these rather unpronounceable zones…

Jane Sautiere

The gaps in memories

This oblivion is the one in which his adolescence in Phnom Penh bathed, just before the hallucinating tragedy of the Khmer Rouge years. Jane Sautière finds surprising gaps in her memories of this period. And now the writing seeks to invoke ghosts, to make room for them. Ghosts that are often people, and sometimes also objects. classmates; a great love gone; packets of cigarettes.

Alongside the shadows of oblivion, there are the shadows of secrecy. It is in the secret services, precisely, that his father works. Of what he does, of what he knows, it is impossible to know everything. A hole.

And then there is still the denial. His mother lost two children from a first marriage. But when the Cambodian maid leaves the house because they tell her that her child is dead, she doesn’t show the slightest sign of pity.

Ghosts fascinate me. Something that despite death continues to attract our attention…

Jane Sautiere

The voices of the disappeared

Moreover, Jane Sautière only learned about the story of this half-sister and this half-brother, who died before she was born. But they become floating bodies in her, ghosts, whose insistent voices she says she heard before she was told they had existed. An obviously terrible, but also precious experience, which the text evokes with delicacy, without either psychiatrizing it or making it outrageously mediumistic. A form of tact with regard to memories and ghosts, as if wanting to grasp them too much risked dissipating them.

Thus oblivion, secrecy and denial are cousins, in a first family and intimate book, which seems for a long time to dodge the great collective tragedy to come. But who in his last section does indeed dive into it, between fragments of personal memories just before the Khmer Rouge takeover and work on historical memory. Again, a form of tact. An art of writing ghosts while taking care of them.

Francesco Biamonte/mh

Jane Sautière, “Floating bodies”, ed. vertical

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