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MurderMurder

Danielle Collobert

Translated by Nathanaël

2013 • 104 pp. • $18.00
ISBN: 978-1-933959-17-7
© Éditions Gallimard, 1964. Translation © Nathanaël, 2013.
Cover photograph: Robert Capa, Bombed building, Spanish Civil War 1937 © International Center of Photography. Used with permission of Magnum Photos.
Book design & typesetting by Mark Addison Smith

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“One does not die alone, one is killed, by routine, by impossibility, following their inspiration. If all this time, I have spoken of murder, sometimes half camouflaged, it’s because of that, that way of killing.”

Murder is Danielle Collobert’s first novel. Originally published in 1964 by Éditions Gallimard while Collobert was living as a political exile in Italy, this prose work was written against the backdrop of the Algerian War. Uncompromising in its exposure of the calculated cruelty of the quotidian, Murder‘s accusations have photographic precision, inculpating instants of habitual violence.


1960: Danielle Collobert was 20 years old, working in an art gallery, when she began writing the sharply contoured prose fictions–mini-récits, or little accounts or “tellings” that appear in Murder.

1961: The Algerian War. Collobert entered the underground network of the National Liberation Front (Algeria), emerging a year later and completing this book. As her dear friend Uccio Esposito Torigianni says, she speaks essentials: of writing and of death. This compelling book, Meurtre (Murder), supported by Raymond Queneau, was published in 1964 by Gallimard.

2013: Finally, Murder, the luminous translation of Collobert’s seminal Meurtre by the perfect translator, Nathanaël, author of many books including Absence Where As (Claude Cahun and the Unopened Book) and accomplished translator of Gail Scott, Hilda Hilst, Édward Glissant and others.
— Norma Cole

Danielle Collobert was one of the strongest, yet also one of the most subtle—and the most marginalized—poetic voices to emerge from post-WW2 France. Born in 1940, she passed her earliest years in a resistant atmosphere—various members of her family were active, particularly her father, who belonged to the Armée secrète, and she carried that vigilant and exigent imperative with her throughout her life. Always acutely attentive to the lived experience of others, to their pain, in this early work, she explores the world of one who is ‘marked,’ yet she does so through an ‘I’ that makes this experience, and so many others, suddenly intimate, even intrusive. The ‘I’ becomes a ‘we’ that cannot be refused, and yet the sense of isolation—the possibility, which is the inevitability, of isolation—is what actually enables the text and creates its possibilities, which are myriad—and all magnificently rendered through Nathanaël’s translation, which multiplies these possibilities and emphasizes the refusal of isolation that Collobert’s text ultimately enacts. It’s a political statement that works through the most internal channels, and that demands entrance into the reader’s most constitutive zones.
— Cole Swensen

A tracking of the confluences in melancholic nature, the signification in Collobert’s important writing attends to joining the many outside solitary rooms. A man digs in sand encircling himself to stand, another swings a door open and is one day struck back by greater force; others chisel away at a mountain, unwittingly becoming arrested statues of selves in formation this way (elsewhere: “I know there exists a certain continuity between this stone and the entire face of the girl”). Nathanaël’s admirable translation brings forth what I listen for when I read: “the cry out on the plain,” “half-light,” “the memory of a beautiful exhaustion.”
— Douglas A. Martin

Excerpt from review in L’humanité:
Danielle Collobert respects the most rigorous directions. She radicalizes the minimalism (of language, gesture, ideology) which could have been Beckett’s at the close of the surge of the propaganda, and the certainties, which characterize the middle of this century. She extends the tactical neutrality of the Nouveau Roman. But this is no retreat: it is a matter, for her, of preserving the engagement of the writer from the bloody perversions of our ideals. The writer is not situated outside of History’s contradictions. By the virtual power of words, she is situated both on the side of the executioners and the victims.
— Dominique Grandmont, L’Humanité

Excerpt

I have an internal sea, not so big, but it fills all of me. It isn’t calm water, dormant, as they say. Depending on the days, the hours, it swells, it rattles me. It follows the rhythm of the tides, mine. The waves rise and roll in my head. It rushes at my sea walls. It strikes my rocks with all its force, it surges in my caverns, the most recessed grottos, it breaks against my cliffs. Masses of foam grip the reefs. Into the hollow of the waves do my entangled organs descend.

It could drown me, break me, but on the contrary, its existence makes me live, with difficulty, it’s true, because it is a weight in me, but an indispensable weight, alive.

I hear its voice, its murmur; a great internal confusion.

I think of the other one, I remember. I place myself on him, and the sea suddenly overflows, carries me from one side to the other of its body, a gentle slide like a summer sea, but a distant sea this time, with another rhythm, so gentle. I go from one edge to the other, and he thinks he is on the sea. We are stretched out on the sand where the last wave calms itself weakly and covers us with its coolness to the edge of our lips. Around us, rocking in the evening, a large bay, very calm, with islands, barely emerging, like sandbanks, covered in seaweed, shrubs of thorny grasses; smells. In the low parts, marshes stagnate. From there, sometimes, headed for the open, above our heads, the flight of heavy birds, and in the sun, when it grazes the surface of the water, in the rays, golden, thousands of insects rise, above the rushes. Along the same line as his brow, small black boats pass, carrying, as they glide across the bay, their triangular sails, the color of burnt earth. Sometimes too, a tranquil and slow song reaches us from a moored boat. An infinite repose. To remain there, on the sand until the end, in the calm, the wateriness, security.

But this external sea, this great ocean gradually withdraws, far, very far from me, and I’m in the pit again.

Here is another of her inventions, she never leaves me alone. When I leave her, when I am sometimes able to do so, I go and I walk some more. She attaches herself around me, through a piece of seaweed, she wraps me up. No one can see her, but I know her, I know that she is there and that she doesn’t let me go. Thus am I incapable of forgetting her existence, even at moments when it is my greatest desire. She is invincible. When I sink in somewhere, she doesn’t help me, she lets me slide, she doesn’t manifest herself. She would like me to forget her so that I am sucked further in, to see how far I can fall. She makes some concessions, and I drown. I’m at the bottom of the well, lost. And yet I just need gradually to get used to my hole, to take a small pleasure there, for her then to become unleashed. She pulls on the knot in which she has me caught, she lifts me with jolts. I remain suspended mid-air, with this rope cutting my body, penetrating my flesh, tearing into me. I make desperate efforts to free myself. I thrash about with all my strength, but I can do nothing in this absurd position, lifted mid-body, suspended in the air at the end of the rope. I must let myself be hoisted little by little, without reticence, without refusal. I rise, I find my footing in her once more. Like a ship, she beats my flanks as before. I am reunited with her torment, her worry, her presence in me. And then I know that I need her, indissolubly.

© Litmus Press. All rights reserved.

More on this Author

Danielle Collobert killed herself on July 23, 1978 in a hotel room on the rue Dauphine in Paris. Among her personal belongings, a black file containing a large green school notebook, a little scratch pad bought in Peru, loose sheets and also a spiral bound notebook bought in New York: all of it, arranged chronologically, constitutes this journal that a brief good-bye note entrusted to the exclusive care of a friend. The text we publish here was established with no editorial cuts and respects insofar as is possible the writing and spacing in the manuscript. We publish it because it is the journal of a writer who notes, in July of 1978, “twenty years of writing” as one would announce a verdict, now and forever settled. Those twenty years of friendship linking me to her do not leave me in the best condition to speak about this. I would rather have restricted myself to the simple revision, ridiculous and trivial, of punctuation and spelling. But at least some context needs to be provided. I met her in a cafe on the boulevard Saint-Germain in March or April 1958, at which time she was not yet eighteen. We immediately spoke of the essentials: writing, death. These two things – or is it one single thing – seemed to occupy her exclusively and with such rigor that one felt from the outset she would proceed in this single and unique direction, that no one could divert her or deceive her as to its end. At most, out of love for her, one could hope, idiotically of course, that sooner or later she would lose track, that her resolve would weaken. At that time, she had just left her studies, was writing very short poems, strangely haiku-like. Of course she was reading a great deal, but beyond everything she had discovered her own utter nakedness: that owned by nights of relentless attention to the other, or reflected in mirrors of all-night cafes where you can look, listen or simply wait, attending the blank page, from which the lassitude of daybreak will rescue you, overwhelm you. When she spoke of her Breton childhood, of her family, it sounded both clear and distant: news from another planet or a dead star but communicating the smells and sounds from a real landscape (the one in the texts of Meurtre1). This setting constructed of unnamed spots was profoundly placed, located. Her parents belonged to the Communist Party, one of her aunts was in the Resistance and had been deported. And we were in the middle of police surveillance of Algerians and other dark-skinned people. There was no mistaking whose side you would take. At first, she worked at some little jobs, research, babysitting, then later found a position in a gallery that exhibited painting, in the rue Hautefeuille, where, surrounded by white walls and geometric works (the style featured there) she began slowly to compose the texts that would become Meurtre. One change of scene: her stay in Tunisia during the spring of 1960. In April of the following year, she published a collection of first poems, titled Chant de guerres. This chapbook published at her expense by P.J. Oswald consists of twenty short poems, and is, to my knowledge, quite unavailable, since Danielle had, a few years later, retrieved the whole run, more or less, and destroyed it, just like that. For several months she had belonged to a group supporting the F.L.N.2 From time to time, she disappeared in order to carry out missions she never spoke to me about. What I do know is that for over a year, absorbed in her clandestine daily life, she stopped writing but came out of this period apparently unchanged, as though nothing real could reach her apart from writing. The Algerian experience wound up of necessity with a sort of enforced stay in Italy (between May and August 1962 she was in Rome, then in Venice) that would permit her to reconnect with her writing and complete the composition of Meurtre. First she offered the manuscript to Minuit, who refused it. Then, represented enthusiastically by Raymond Queneau at Gallimard, Meurtre was finally accepted and came out in April 1964. Meanwhile she had joined the staff of “Révolution Africaine,” an Algerian magazine begun after the war but which would disappear, I believe, soon after Ben Bella. The years between ’64 and ’67 are somewhat fuzzy in my memory. I have the impression that our lives were static, as if in suspension: the Algerian war was over, her first book was out. You’re published, you write, and then what? That her writing could receive praise – her book had received some very positive response – was, according to her, only the result of some misunderstanding. When she presented her second manuscript, Parler seul (which became Dire I) to Gallimard, it was rejected. The following year, she composed a new text, Film, originally conceived as a screenplay, whose stripped-down narrative, no doubt an outcome of writing the visual, represents a major step in her formal evolution. It was also then that her desire to travel asserted itself, little by little becoming a kind of aggravated impulse to wander, an almost perpetual motion in which contradictory motives fused: the need to escape, the attraction of distant, “exotic” countries as bearers of nameless signs guaranteeing silence, solitude; and simultaneously a sort of proof by geographic exhaustion that she would not be content anywhere, that places were but names, and that, wherever she went, she would “not [be] going towards anything”(cf. p. 60). This, however, did not stop her from being, at times, very present in the world: in May ’68 she joined the Writers’ Union, and a few months later she turned up in Czekhoslovakia as Soviet tanks rolled across the country. Finally in 1970 she could undertake her first major voyage: Indonesia, Bali, Borneo, etc. During this period she wrote Dire II, took notes for other projects, collaborated on a radio play, Bataille (broadcast in Germany in 1971), and participated in translating an Italian novel. Meanwhile she had met Jean-Pierre Faye3, who would spare no effort seeing her work into print. Dire I-II appeared in 1972 from Collection Change (Seghers-Laffont). The following year she rewrote Film into a radio play, Polyphonie, broadcast by France Culture. And she traveled. Between ’74 and ’75 she visited, in turn, Italy, South America, Mexico, the United States, Greece. She also worked on a new book and collaborated on another radio play, Discours (broadcast in Germany in 1976). And then she traveled. Again to the United States, to Crete, Formentera, Italy, Egypt. Il donc4 appeared in October 1976 from Change. Her trips abroad proliferated, continuous: Egypt again, Africa, New York, and Crete. When she returned from the island I caught up with her again in Paris, at the end of March or beginning of April 1978. She had just completed a short text, Survie5, wanted to see it published as quickly as possible and wanted it translated into Italian and English. A strange and uncharacteristic sense of urgency. I translated it into Italian. Survie came out at the end of April, a chapbook in an edition of 60 copies, from Orange Export Ltd.6 One night she came to say good-bye to me, she was leaving the next day for New York. I left Paris at the end of the month. By mid-July she was back in Paris. She chose to die on her birthday: she had been born in Rostrenen (Cotes-du-Nord) 24 July 1940.7

—Uccio Esposito-Torrigiani

1 One of the untitled texts from Meurtre, translated by N.C., appears in Série d’écriture 4 (Providence RI, 1990).

2 Front de libération nationale [National Liberation Front, Algeria].

3 Director of “Collection Change” series, published by Seghers/Laffont.

4 It Then, N.C.’s translation, was published by O Books, Oakland, 1989.

5 “Survival,” N.C.’s translation, appears in Tyuonyi (Santa Fe, NM 1991).

6 Orange Export Ltd., an important independent small press, active from 1969 to 1986, edited by writer Emmanuel Hocquard and painter Raquel.

7 Note that Uccio Esposito-Torrigiani begins this Postface with the words, “Danielle Collobert killed herself on July 23, 1978…” and concludes by stating “She chose to die on her birthday,” July 24.

Danielle Collobert

Danielle Collobert

Born in Rostrenen in 1940, Danielle Collobert left Bretagne for Paris at the age of eighteen where she worked in an art gallery and self-published her first poems in a book entitled Chants des guerres (1961). Both of Collobert's parents, and her aunt, who survived deportation to Ravensbrück, were members of the Résistance during World War II. Herself a supporter of Algerian independence, Collobert joined the FLN (the Algerian National Liberation Front), precipitating her exile in Italy, during which time she completed work on Meurtre, first published in 1964 by Éditions Gallimard with the unwavering support of Raymond Queneau. She worked for Révolution africaine, a short-lived journal created at the end of the Algerian war. Collobert's extensive travels, to Czechoslovakia, Indonesia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico, Spain, Greece, Egypt, etc., did not prevent her from becoming a member of the group formed around Jean-Pierre Faye and the journal, Change. Her other works include Dire I et II (1972), a radio play the following year, Polyphonie, aired by France Culture, Il donc (1976) and Survie (1978). Upon her return from a trip to New York, Danielle Collobert took her own life in a hotel in Paris on her thirty-eighth birthday. Her complete works, in two volumes, edited by Françoise Morvan, augmented by several unpublished texts, were published by P.O.L. in 2005. Collobert's works available in English include MURDER (Litmus Press, 2013), NOTEBOOKS, 1956-1978 (Litmus Press, 2003) and IT THEN (O Books, 1989).

More from Danielle Collobert

Nathanaël

Nathanaël

Nathanaël is the author of a score of books written in English or French, including Sisyphus, Outdone. Theatres of the Catastrophal, Carnet de somme, We Press Ourselves Plainly, and L’injure. Je Nathanaël exists in self-translation, as does the essay of correspondence, Absence Where As (Claude Cahun and the Unopened Book), first published in French as L’absence au lieu. Nathanaël’s translations include works by Édouard Glissant, Catherine Mavrikakis and Hilda Hilst, the latter in collaboration with Rachel Gontijo Araújo. Recognized by a PEN Translation Fund fellowship, Nathanaël's translation of Hervé Guibert's The Mausoleum of Lovers will be published by Nightboat Books in 2014. She lives in Chicago.