Patrick Chamoiseau: “The role of the artist is always to be on the side of beauty”


Last fall, Martinican author Patrick Chamoiseau published a book meant to be a tribute to his mother—La matière de l’absence [The Matter of Absence; see previous post Patrick Chamoiseau has written a luminous book in memory of his mother]. La Vie éco reports on his recent book launch at the French Institute [l’Institut français] on the occasion of the 23rd edition of SIEL (Salon International de l’Édition et du Livre), where the novelist and poet shared “an expanded view on the existing and the unthinkable.” Here is an excerpt of the interview:

In the framework of SIEL, you will present on La matière de l’absence, a book in which you explore the grief of your mother’s death sixteen years ago. When does one mourn a mother?

In traditional societies, mourning is a very special moment, a sort of threshold that must be crossed. Which means that we have symbolic systems that help us through this period. The difficulty of the contemporary world is that we have this phenomenon of individuation. His ethics, his balance, his architecture of principle and his values are built in a certain way. One constructs, in a certain way, one’s ethics, one’s equilibrium, one’s architecture of principles and values. One is detached from the community symbolic system, and one must build, alone, one’s own person. There is obviously a freedom, but in this new freedom, there remain the difficult moments that one has to manage in one’s own way. It may be that the individual is still permeated by the symbolic community values and, therefore, can fall back on this device, which will help him through those moments. Or it may be that he or she does not have these elements, which is my case, which is a more or less secularized mind.

This does not mean that I am not superstitious or sensitive to the irrational. But the question of mourning is a personal test for me, not a community issue. From that point, mourning is a self-initiation and it is impossible to determine its duration precisely. It is something very variable. This can be immediate, deferred or may just never happen. It took me sixteen years, in a way. After the shock of the announcement, I spent ten to fifteen years without thinking, until the literary approach and the artistic and aesthetic exploration of myself resurrected this feeling. In any case, this informs us about the contemporary problem of knowing where the symbolic foundation is found and how to organize secular rituals in groups of individuals.

Do you think that globalization has given rise to a sort of crisis of spirituality?

What is certain is that the human mind is not a purely rational structure. There is a great deal of unconsciousness and irrationality. It would be a mistake to think that one could help or accompany an individual or treat the human condition solely on a rational basis. There is always a symbolic level that is in the order of mystery and one must take into account this entire reality. I think that contemporary aesthetics is very much related to the idea of the unthinkable. [. . .]

For full article (in French), see

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