Emmanuel Carrère: “Yoga” – The privilege of giving shape to his miserable life

Emmanuel Carrère and his novel “Yoga” (Photo: picture alliance / dpa / Pablo Gianinazzi, background: Verlag Matthes & Seitz Berlin)

In January 2015, Emmanuel Carrère went on a retreat in the province of France to gather material for a “cheerful little book” about the spiritual dimension and practice of yoga and to rein in his “despotic, shocking neurotic ego”.

“Vipassana courses are combat training of meditation. Ten days, ten hours in silence, cut off from everything: the right shit. Many on internet forums report that this hardcore experience has enriched and transformed them, others condemn it as cult-like appropriation. They describe the place as a concentration camp and the daily gathering as a brainwashing. North Korea, so to speak. “

After five days, a call brings the meditating writer abruptly back to social reality. Islamists have murdered twelve people in the editorial office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Among the victims is a friend, economist Bernard Maris. His partner asked Emmanuel Carrère to pay tribute at the funeral. A little later, the author loses control of his life.

If nothing else helps: electric shock

“Although I do not want to compare my situation with much worse tragedies, a deep depression – a so-called melancholy episode – is really a human borderline experience. It confirms the many letters from people who have been through something similar.”

Once one has found one’s place among the living again, one relativizes hell too quickly, according to Emmanuel Carrère. He does not want that.

“It is a privilege to be able to give shape to his chaotic, uneven and miserable life – and I am certainly one of those for whom there is something pathological about wavering between light and shadow – but basically I believe that we are all alike. Saying unflattering, even shameful things, helps not only oneself but also others. I claim that my authorship is useful. “

In his autofiction story, he reports unreservedly on the devastating diagnosis of a bipolar disorder and the use of “the very last resort”.

“A well-known side effect of electroshock therapy is memory loss. I clearly noticed the memory holes, and because it scared me, a friend advised me to train my memory as a muscle. And then at the age of 60, I suddenly developed a whole new approach to poetry and even began to memorize poems. ”

On the use of radical openness

In the garden of Sainte-Anne Psychiatric Hospital, Emmanuel Carrère recites poems by Ronsard, Guillaume Apollinaire and Yves Bonnefoy. He discovers Louise Labé, a 16th-century poet. Carrère’s radical openness, his sparkling intellectuality and his fluid style unfold a convincing effect. The novelist makes no secret of the fact that his propensity for self-analysis is due to a pronounced narcissism, but because he constantly transcends his own experience, he connects with the reader. To want to be there for others more, Carrère writes, is after all “the story of our lives”.

Learning the humility of refugees

When the author heard that an American historian had given up everything at home to teach underage refugees on the Greek island of Leros, he decided to support her engagement with writing workshops. With great warmth and without a trace of paternalism, Carrère portrays the boys who grew up in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria; they know better than their well-meaning patrons when the time is right to reveal something personal and suggest how jerky they feel. No one hugged Hassan the night before he fled. He only remembers these words from an aunt:

“Stop crying my boy, everything in life has to be said goodbye, always, and eventually you say goodbye to life itself, so there is no point in crying, do not cry.”

Emmanuel Carrère has become a marginal figure on Leros. His modest actions seem directly “ugly” to him. In the conversation he says:

Nietzsche said: Joy is deeper than sadness and perhaps even truer. I sympathize with van Gogh, who said: Sadness lasts forever. I think it’s the core of your being, and you have no influence on it. “

Although for Emmanuel Carrère, which he adds, half a glass is more likely to be half empty, he concludes his gripping direct book with a pleasing sight. The final scene seems too good to be true – but what should be false about the longing for intimacy and erotic happiness? And because the author never gets tired of explaining that for him, literature is the place where he does not lie, we certainly believe in the delicate, unexpected twist. That the deeply serious book “Yoga” evokes a big smile in the end is a masterfully calculated surprise.

Emmanuel Carrere: “Yoga”
Translated from the French by Claudia Hamm
Matthes and Seitz Berlin, Berlin.
328 pages, 25 euros.

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