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  • Serge Doubrovsky ou l'écriture d'une survie
  • Armine Kotin Mortimer
Patrick Saveau , Serge Doubrovsky ou l'écriture d'une survie. Dijon: Éditions universitaires de Dijon, 2011. Collection Écritures. 95 pp.

One morning in November 1943, when Serge Doubrovsky was fifteen, a French policeman out of uniform stopped his bicycle at the front gate of the Doubrovsky home in Le Vésinet and rang the bell. He said he was due to arrest them later that morning and that they should get out immediately. The family fled by the back door and spent the rest of the time until the Liberation hiding in the home of the sister of Serge's mother's brother's wife, on the other side of Paris. To this honest policeman the family owes it survival, in the most literal sense. That the event occurs and recurs in every one of Doubrovsky's autofictions sanctions the perspective Patrick Saveau has taken in this study and indeed helps to justify its thesis: that everything Doubrovsky has written is grounded in his experience of the Occupation.

In Saveau's grasp of the Doubrovsky opus, the fact of saving his Jewish skin by hiding out is merely one of the repeating connections to the Occupation, scarcely highlighted. Rather, what Saveau has done is to identify and analyze every real experience of the Occupation and Doubrovsky's written transformations of it, whether metaphorical or [End Page 273] descriptive. The evidence accumulates through the chapters of this slim book; it becomes overwhelmingly persuasive.

Saveau groups the instances he examines in chapters concerning how Doubrovsky recounts his life, his love affairs, his conception of masculinity, and daily life. Preceding these chapters is an intelligent review of theories of memory and obsessive or compulsive repetition (le ressassement, which particularly characterizes Doubrovsky). Starting with the principle that le ressassement is a symptom of a traumatism kept alive by its repetition, Saveau links Doubrovsky's personal experience of the Occupation and the Holocaust to the form his writing takes. Among the love scenes of the several novels, including scenes that do not take place during the Occupation, Saveau finds repeated instances of the obsessive memory of Doubrovsky's traumatism. While it is possible to live one's love life in the manner of a repeated traumatism, a surprising connection to the Occupation comes out in the analysis of the notions of masculinity, including the obsessive theme of impotence in L'Après-vivre and Laissé pour conte: Serge's impotence is compared to the suffering of the Jews, and if this is shocking, it may nevertheless convince readers familiar with the excruciating way Doubrovsky writes about his character's impotence.

Saveau's last group of events anchored in the "années noires" consists of day-to-day matters not subject to ressassement, and this includes Doubrovksy's brilliant explication of the "récit de Théramène" in Fils. This chapter lacks the consistency of the others, however, and seems to accommodate whatever hasn't been mentioned before. And yet there are moments where Saveau repeats himself.

This reading places a distinct emphasis on La Dispersion (1969), which can be understood as the book that founded the (auto)fictional writing of the Occupation. Particularly stressed are the violence and aggressiveness of its language and the connection between "dispersion" and "deportation."

Saveau's book enjoys the prestige of a preface by the object of his study. Who can argue with the author when the honoree proclaims himself satisfied to be so well understood? The power of Doubrovsky's voice in sanctioning Saveau's topic is all the greater because Doubrovsky has chosen to write his preface in the form of a personal letter, using the intimate "tu" and praising the work from beginning to end. Saveau does not hesitate to put himself into play as well, and the [End Page 274] repeated presence of his personal opinions and experiences as a reader (and close acquaintance) of Doubrovsky grounds the study in authenticity. This book stems from his doctoral dissertation supervised by the writer himself, and besides the preface, Saveau foregrounds his relation to Doubrovsky by quoting letters Doubrovsky wrote him as well as...


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pp. 273-275
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