In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • from Journal of a Writer in Pajamas*
  • Dany Laferrière (bio)
    Translated by Carrol F. Coates (bio)

68. The Great Writer

What a bizarre expression! Thegreatwriter. Does that mean that he is incapable of writing anything bad from now on? He clearly knows that it is impossible to write anything at all without anxiety forming a little lump in the breast. There is no Zen writer. You can pretend to be one. Our man forgets the reason that led him to desire so intensely to express what is gnawing away at him. To speak his ties to the world. People talk a lot about the relationship of the writer to the reader, but it happens that writing may also be a monologue. Writing can be a long-term process. A face-to-face that may last for years without your being forced to don a straitjacket. You do not write simply to impress someone else. Sometimes you do it to tone down the “passion of self” that blinds us. In order to reign in the problem, one sinks more deeply into oneself. But you do not get away from being with yourself. By dint of remaining aware of oneself, one becomes a gentleman or lady. Thegreatwriter or thegreatwomanofletters. What transpires when that happens? Nothing. You are asked to write prefaces for deluxe anthologies or exhibit catalogues. Lectures for a select audience in the salons of fashionable neighborhoods. All that is well-recompensed. That is why your publisher hopes to keep you in his stable. You become a guarantee of quality, which means that you are sometimes read. You are forced on adolescents going for their baccalauréat, who have other axes to grind or who are interested in writers relevant to their own generation. They read you out of the corner of their eyes and quote you when there are guests, which pleases their fathers, but they assiduously avoid you. Contemporary writers are afraid of you, since your writing still holds some sway with certain influential critics and a group of professors of literature who have become booksellers. The next generation is simply waiting for your death so they can breathe more easily. Everybody seems to recognize you. The moment the conversation turns to literature, you are quoted. Your name has finally penetrated the milieux where literature is no better known than nuclear physics. People bow low to you on the street, recognizing your title of great writer. And go on their way. Have they read you? They answer yes and even cite a title or two for you. You know better, since prefaces for the classics bring in more than your own books. And God knows that you’ve written enough of them. People have ceased recounting their lives to you, they are more interested in yours. In journalism, it is said that a reporter who becomes the story must resign. Can a writer resign? Leave his [End Page 33] job? As long as there is one lone reader who remembers you, you are on duty. This is true even if you haven’t written one book worthy of the name in over twenty years. You can do nothing better than to wait for the Nobel, which may never come. But you begin to think about it in spite of yourself, since the instant when that old woman you met in the street said that she thought you deserve the Nobel prize. She has never read you, which lends more credibility to her opinion. This is a sign from on high. In fact, your name has been wafted in the air for some time and people are beginning to breathe it in. People are talking a bit about you all around, even in political circles. This will eventually reach the ears of the Nobel jury. Some individuals are fiercely negative, these are the writers of your own generation. They wear themselves out taking your work apart, piece by piece. The public, which has already made its choice, sees them as envious. But they cease talking. No more opposition, no more rumors about you. Your name slips into anonymity, only to reappear one morning on the first page. A heart...


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pp. 33-35
Launched on MUSE
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