Berlin, Bangkok, Barcelona… At the age of 37, writer Pierre Ducrozet is constantly exploring the world and examining its bodies, technologies and networks. In May, he took part in the Assises internationales du roman, organised in Lyon by Villa Gillet, on the theme of « Uncertain Times ».
Updated on 17/06/2020
You have been a professor, a bookseller, a literary columnist, a translator… What role does writing play among all these activities related to language ?
I like things to circulate. I was a professor of creative writing at the École nationale supérieure des arts visuels in La Cambre within the dedicated section created by Gilles Collard, which began offering a master's degree that year. I supported that initiative for three years. The idea was that an art school would also include writing, philosophy and the humanities. In my writing itself, I try to keep things varied. I wrote a book about Barcelona, I’ve written for children, I write newspaper columns... I’ve started writing scripts, I would like to write for the screen. I'd like to have that mobility. Writing touches people because it isn't an obligation. It's like a constellation.
What do you think of your first novels — Requiem pour Lola rouge (2010), La vie que on voulait (2013), and Eroica (2015)?
I feel the usual way about them, indulgent : I hope there has been progress, advancement. These days I should really reread my first novel, Requiem pour Lola rouge, which is coming out in a pocket editing at the same time as my latest, Le Grand Vertige, in August. I can see that themes that I developed later were already present there, such as the quest for intensity. In the first work the main character meets and follows Lola, a character who acts as an accelerator... In the second, four friends go in search of a fifth, who has obviously gone too far. And in Eroïca, Basquiat embodies a dreamlike, fantastical life. L’Invention des corps and Le Grand Vertige go hand in hand, as works about the contemporary world. The first focuses on bodies, networks and violence; the second on the relationship with the world and the climate challenge.
Both novels are also inspired by your travels, to Mexico and the United States for the former – in 2016, as part of a Stendhal residency –, and to Asia for the latter, in 2019-2020…
I was already familiar with Mexico and California, which I saw as two interesting geographical centres, offering two very different visions of the body. In California, I met transhumanists, and visited hackerspaces such as Noisebridge. In southern Mexico, I met journalists who had investigated the 43 missing students from Iguala in September 2014. I roamed around Mexico City with an urban planner. This mission was important for me to rework and redefine the settings.
To write Le Grand Vertige, I went to Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, Indonesia and Burma, the country at the centre of the book. In the novel, I tell the story of a key figure in ecology, Adam Thobias, who is asked by a new commission to send people to the four corners of the world for a major inquiry that touches on energy, travel and our relationship with life. We follow the path of these missionaries and gradually discover the hidden meaning of their actions. In short, the characters are trying to reinvent a way of being in the world, in motion, and of belonging to a whole – a theme that I think is playing out right now.
You also spoke in May at the Assises internationales du roman, organised around the theme of « Uncertain Times ». How does this theme reflect your work ?
As part of a round table, I wrote a letter to young people aged 13-14 – « I am writing to you from my country » – to talk about how fear can be turned into momentum, a crisis turned into challenge… I also spoke about Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now (1979), explaining why it was important to me. The immediate danger we face with the Coronavirus obscures much more important layers in the background. We are going through a much broader crisis.
Is your position as an artist being threatened again by the health crisis ?
When I’m walking around Asia and travelling like those other three billion tourists, I know I'm part of a disaster and I have to wonder. No one is pure; I’m not alone. Nevertheless, I think that there are ways to be aware of one’s place, to live more harmoniously with nature, and that there is a nomadic lifestyle which can be reinvented – without falling back on austerity and renunciation. I also know that, on the other hand, and to use the same words, the quest for perpetual movement is part of the doctrine of liberalism, which wants life to be as flexible and liquid as possible. And I am struck by the ease with which we mobilised to fight COVID-19, compared to our inability to mobilise around other issues. To what extent will our grand words and resolutions be followed by action? We are facing a historic opportunity to act.
In 2016, Pierre Ducrozet is a laureate of the Institut français Stendhal programme, allowing him to benefit from a writing scholarship to go to Mexico.
The Stendhal programme allows french authors or authors living in France to travel to a foreign country and work on a writing project related to that country.
In May 2020, Pierre Ducrozet took part in the Assises internationales du roman, organised by the Villa Gillet in a virtual format, on the theme of « Time of Uncertainty ».
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