Last Thoughts on Marc-Edouard NabeBy François Michel
Most of you must have never heard of him: that is a shame. A lot has been said about Marc-Edouard Nabe, and yet this writer remains a mystery. Though he is widely rejected by the publishers and the media – it is almost impossible to find his books in bookstores or in librarie – the man is still considered to be one of the most important living French writers by several prominent critics and a circle of fans who constantly support him. It is not my point to judge the man himself, since that would be completely useless. It is enough to say that he is a deliberate provocateur, who delightfully plays the role that the media has given him – that of the damned writer fighting against censorship. Nabe – a pseudonym coming from the French word “nabot”, that you can translate as “dwarfish” – knows perfectly well what he’s doing, and actually seems to enjoy complaining about how the TV shows and the publishers reject him.
Moreover, one can say that he had it coming. Because of his radical posture towards the Israeli-Palestinian war; he was accused of Anti-Semitism by several associations in France, and it is true that some of his political arguments are often useless, and sometimes even ridiculous and dangerous, as they can lead to confusion. There is no more to say on the man himself or about the controversy about him: it is far more interesting to read his books than to listen to him. Unfortunately, since Céline, Rebatet or Drieu la Rochelle – three great writers who supported the Vichy regime during World War II, and whose novelists’ reputations still suffer today from their creators’ collaboration – we know that it is hardly possible to strictly separate the author from his work. However, in the case of Nabe, it would be thoughtless to refuse to read him just because of his political opinions or his annoying statements.
It would be foolish, because some of his writing is truly remarkable. Since the beginning of his career as a writer in 1985, he has published quite a lot of books, essays (Au régal des vermines, 1985, L’âme de Billie Holiday, 1986, or L’âge du Christ, 1992), short stories (K.O., 1999), but also a diary (Journal intime, which was published in three parts), and novels as well (including his last two books, L’homme qui arrêta d’écrire, 2010, and L’enculé, 2011). He has produced various types of writing and techniques, but one writing style: Nabe is undoubtly an old-school writer, who pays more attention to the words than to the story itself. Indeed, he often uses the same ideas: the bitterness of the narrator, confronting a society where writers have become part of the system, and where a tendency to dwell on the dark sides of the human condition has replaced a truly subversive art, where pleasure is the most important feeling. But unlike most writers, Nabe turns his bitterness into anger and tries to transcend it. This can be achieved in many ways. It often comes through as a feeling of rejection, a pompous and sometimes even grotesque rejection. You can particularly experience this style in his essay Au régal des vermines, a violent and provocative manifesto, in which every part of society is described with an acid and almost surrealistic tone, by the use of series of adjectives.
However, it would be wrong to say that there is nothing but anger in Nabe’s works. The answer to anger lies within the words themselves, within the craft of the sentences, and within a Dionysiac approach of art, which is seen as a cure to a depressing world. In L’âme de Billie Holliday, a compiling of small poems, thoughts and scenes about the great “Lady Day,” Nabe tries to merge his writing in the jazz notes. The result is amazing – the reader is driven from music to literature and keeps both in mind when he finishes the book. In a very different approach, his last book, L’enculé (a very insulting word), is freely inspired by the recent tragicomedy about the rise and fall of Dominique Strauss-Khan, and gives the author the opportunity to make the dream of every journalist comes true: telling the story of what happens in the room of DSK in the Sofitel of New York, through the eyes of Strauss-Khan himself… Is that not what literature is all about, telling the truth when the truth is hidden, and trying to make an art form out of some insignificant events?
Generally speaking, Nabe’s vision of the world is highly inspired by Nietzsche, highly optimistic and focused on the art’s answer to life. His novel L’homme qui arrêta d’écrire (“The Man Who Stopped Writing”), is a fascinating view of modern Paris through the eyes of the narrator, an old writer who discovers with bitterness and irony the society where he is forced to live since he dropped his pen. It gives Nabe the pleasure to draw several hilarious portraits of some well-known figures of the “bonne société parisienne.” His themes, as you may notice, are very French-centered, but yet some aspects of his sharp criticism may seem familiar to anyone, especially when he writes about the emptiness of the relationship the modern man creates on the Internet, the blogs or the social networks.
Of course, no one knows if Nabe will truly be the heir of Céline, as it is predicted by his “fans.” But he’s undoubtedly a fascinating figure. Undeniably one of the “true” kinds of writers, the ones who believe that words matter more than empty ideas, and that literature is stronger than a sad reality. “Words are sacred,” Nabe once said, expressing how much he believed in literature seen as a path leading to a better understanding of the world. And considering the poor role that is given to art in our modern societies, it should be quite logical for any writer to reach this understanding through anger and cynism – but only if those feelings lead to rebellion, not to passivity.
François Michel has a Master's Degree in Contemporary French History and is pursuing his doctorate on French politics and socialism. After a few years in Paris at the Ecole nationale des Chartes, he's now studying Library and Information Science inLyon.
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