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Above Ground, by Nancy Huston

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Faced with the coronavirus and the containment it causes, Gallimard publishes one or two " Crisis leaflets "signed by the great feathers of the House such as Erik Orsenna, Sylvain Tesson, Cynthia Fleury, Régis Debray or Danièle Sallenave, in order to reflect on the questions raised by the epidemic and to keep the link with the reader. 35 titles have been published to date. UP' has chosen to offer you each day an extract from a selected text and author.


The temptation is great to put one's own thinking at half-mast by saying that it is no longer worth anything in relation to what is happening in the world. And such an attitude is more than dangerous. »
Jean Morisset wrote that to me yesterday, my old Quebec friend, an octogenarian poet-geographer, and it saved me a bit, because it describes exactly what I'm doing right now: I'm putting my thinking at half-mast. Bern is the capital of the country I'm in.
Like many grandparents who were initially thrilled at the idea of helping out when schools and daycare centres closed, I was forbidden to be present with my granddaughter as a frail old person. First shock. So on Sunday, March 15, following the advice not to say the orders of my President, I went to vote and then, following the advice not to say the orders of my daughter, grabbing my computer and suitcase, I took refuge at the home of the Painter, my Swiss companion. And when I arrived in his house (my second home for seven years already), second shock: suddenly, in me, the writing became silent.

That finishing my current novel may no longer seem like an urgent task in the context of the pandemic and containment - nothing could be more normal. But... the voices! those voices that are constantly playing in my head, scaffolding discussions, sketches, operas, arguments, delusions and state theses... where have they been? Radio silence. For fifteen days, all I did was write e-mails, devour information about the virus and its management in the world, talk on the phone or via Skype with my relatives. With no social life apart, our daily life, for the Painter and myself, was almost painfully similar to what it normally is. That the violent gap between the state of the world and this pleasant daily life creates in me an uneasiness, a discomfort, even a vertigo, still passes... but why this scriptural paralysis? And suddenly, thanks to Jean's letter, I understood it: it's that, without wanting to, without foreseeing it, by putting my thoughts "in Berne", that is to say by changing countries, by putting myself off the map, I had ejected myself from writing.

Nancy Huston, "Crisis leaflets" No. 34, Gallimard, 6 April 2020, 10 a.m.

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