Name: Véronique Bergen
Current publication: Latest novel published by ONLIT: Icône H. Hélène de Troie
Recommendations: Reading - the book "1938, nuits" from Hélène Cixous (Galilée); Listening - the album L’Homme à tête de chou and above all the song "Variations sur Marilou" by Serge Gainsbourg.
If you enjoyed this interview with Véronique Bergen, visit her Facebook page for more current updates on her work.
When did you start writing- and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about literature and writing that drew you to it?
As long as I remember, very early, since my childhood, I've lived in the world of literature, in the magic spells delivered by books. I started writing when I was 6 years old, inventing stories and rewriting some episodes of the fictions, comic strips and novels I read. I was and I am still a compulsive reader.
Literature and writing were not separate from drawing and singing, fields I jumped at because they are universes based on the imaginary. For a very long time, I destroyed my writings. Creation itself is vital for me. Not the conservation of my texts. But, strangely, I conserved some of my drawings.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I am guided by an intense necessity to put into words, into poems (or other fields of artistic creations) the sensations I feel, the destabilizing problems, the amazements, the distresses I meet. Books were/are my refuge, my food, my drug, my lovers.
During my adolescence, I was fascinated by Henri Michaux, Antonin Artaud, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Faulkner, Dostoïevski and bewitched by Jean Genet, Mishima, the Beat generation and many others. I was looking for artists who were experimenters of new forms of creations and of existence. I am attracted by poets, by writers who create to save their own skin. I had to save my own skin and to double the “real” life by the empire of the imaginary, of my own imaginary realm. Literature, art and writing allow me to free myself from the system. It is my world of freedom. Without writing, without fantasy, reality is completely unbearable for me. This isn't emulation: the pantheon of my favorite writers form a company of doubles, a brotherhood, a chosen family.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I don’t understand the question because I have no sense of a clear identity. The act of writing poetry, novels or essays gives me a nomadic and diffracted identity. What I live inside, what I feel feeds my creativity. I need to transmute questions and impulses into poetry, novels or essays. I try to shape forms from forces of chaos.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I never felt a link between creation and challenge. Only in the sense of a challenge to myself and to life. When I write novels, poetry, short stories and hybrid texts, I follow a principle of enjoyment and interior necessity. But, in the field of philosophy, I was impressed and tantalized by the conceptual power of the thinkers. That feeling provokes an inhibitory effect
How do you see the relationship between style, form, plot and storytelling – and how would you rate their importance for you, respectively?
All these ingredients must be blended together. They usually come naturally but even in this case, I have to find a plan of composition, an architecture and a music. Because each text generates its own elements (form of language, construction, plot, style …) and the link between them.
Writing is an affair of ear and orchestration. Its main fuel is called passion. You must welcome the voices and the images that visit you. Sometimes the book presents itself entirely. The whole scenario is in front of you. I have to carve out its possibilities.
Observation and research are often quoted as important elements of the writing process. Can you tell us a bit about your perspective on them?
It depends on the book I write. Many subjects work and have been travelling in my unconscious since my adolescence. In each book, I know that another book is hidden. I don’t really decide the subject’s choice: the subjects impose their presence, their obsession and evidence.
In my life (consequently in my writings) I am fuelled by intensity. I pick up sensations, emotions, I analyze the streams of contemporary events. The time of research is also exciting for me.
How do you see the relationship between conscious planning and tapping into the subconscious; between improvisation and composition? When dealing with the end of a story, for example, do you tend to minutely map it out or follow the logic of the narrative as it unfolds itself?
These complex relations between conscious planning and subconscious/unconscious levels are at the core of creations. There is no rule. Only a game, an adventure with the known and the unknown.
The first apparition of a book that is still a ghost comes from my unconscious. I don’t decide anything. It is like a love affair. Like an abduction. Literally, I am enchanted. But I can refuse the proposition my unconscious or the collective unconscious sends me. Dreams, ancient anguishes, scenes coming from childhood, aesthetics or sentimental thunderbolts or current events liberate images, scenes and affects that will irrigate the rising book. I go back and forth from spontaneity to composition, from improvisation to construction. I often map a narrative logic because I want to see the creature. I sometimes rearrange the architectural substance completely. But inside the chapters, I connect with my impulses, with a savage inspiration.
All dikes are broken. No reins. I enter in a sort of trance state, a state that I experiment each day in other fields than writing. I am completely swallowed by my fiction, by my characters, by the invention of a style appropriate to what I want to tell. Recently, I fell in love with one of my characters.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do writing and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My existence revolves around art, around writing and playing music, playing piano. When I dream, when I walk, when I travel, I continue to write, to be visited by ideas. I write usually at home, my cat lying nearly on my keyboard.
I am very concentrated when I create. No phone, no mail. A diving into my imaginary world. The will to share with the readers the strong physical sensations I feel and the conceptual discovers I meet. Words are the last magic creatures. Words are very physical and animalistic.
Can you talk about a breakthrough publication in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Maybe my novel Kaspar Hauser acts as a breakthrough publication. It gave me confidence, reinsurance and wings.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I think I live in a creative state of mind almost all the time. I have a vivid appetite for new aesthetic creations, for movies, books, music, exhibitions. They feed me. The process of writing comes from the body, from desire.
Despair and wrath against injustices, against social and psychological injuries, against the ecological devastation also catalyze my writing. Words are shouts, they are resistance, weapons, denunciation. They declare love to the readers or they declare war to the murderers.
Dictatorships fear the power of books and censor them. Consumer society kills literature differently, reducing its field to entertaining books, excluding new forms of thinking, ignoring the experimental forms of writing. Neoliberalism needs formatted citizens and formatted works of art.
Words can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for literature and poetry as a tool for healing?
Words save from nothing but they are a light in the dark, a weapon in the tempest. Words give power to people condemned to powerlessness. Words can raise revolutions. They don’t heal, they give life and energy.
I don’t fear the words that hurt me because they transform me. A book that unbalanced me is a gift. I have experienced words and literary works that hurt and heal, that put me in danger and give me ecstasy at the same time: they are a powerful “pharmakon”.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
All artists are thieves in the night. They steal the fire and bring another fire. The writers are robbers, sexy or not, honest or not. The question is too ample. Some appropriations are cultural crimes: they insult and kill the victims they copy. But their perfume is easily recognizable: it’s the fragrance of the fake.
The only radar to walk in this maze is given by the effects generated by the works: They separate the living and dancing books from the dead ones.
Literature works with sense impressions in a different way than the other arts. How do you use them in your writing? From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I open myself to my sensations, to my visions, to the unknown, to the inhabitual. I listen to the echoes between impressions, between periods in history. And, deep inside of me, I am inhabited by the world’s library. I inherit the literature from all periods and from all continents. I come after centuries of creations but I am the contemporary of Sophocle, of Shakespeare, of Proust and Kafka. I am at the same time passive, visited by emotions, perceptions, ideas and active, exploring new forms of language and storytelling.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
The two dimensions are linked. In my novels (about Helen of Troy, the dogs sacrificed by human beings during the wars and so on, Janis Joplin, Marilyn Monroe, Kaspar Hauser …), in my poetry books and in my essays (about Deleuze, Sartre, Visconti, Patti Smith, Hélène Cixous, Marie-Jo Lafontaine, Jean Genet, the Rroms …), you find multiple social and political layers but transmuted into an aesthetic composition.
You can read them as political and activist messages, as ecological theses or as propositions to think and live in a different way. Or simply as a literary or philosophical travel. Each reader chooses how he will receive a book.
What can literature or poetry express about life and death which other forms of art may not?
The experience of resurrection, of rebirthing in a special material called words, sentences, punctuation, syntax and semantics. Because the essence of the word is to give a new reality from the disappearance of reality it provokes. It is a language that integrates visions and sounds. As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari said, the writer pushes the body of the words to visible and audible landscapes.