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Thread: Nelly Arcan: "Putain"

  1. #1
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    Nelly Arcan: "Putain"

    Hello all,

    I made this thread because I think it's disrespectful to make a debate that could become contentious or bitter in an obituary thread. If either Cloudsurf or Rumples or anyone wants to contest my view, or simply debate how much escorting affected the outcome of this tragic ladies' life then bring it here.

    INTERVIEW:

    http://www.montrealmirror.com/ARCHIV...402/cover.html

    As the title hints, Putain (“Whore”), Nelly Arcan’s debut semi-autobiographical novel, is clearly not a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold tale. Unlike in the movies, the tale’s narrator is neither doomed to die a tragic, tear-jerky death, nor destined to be rescued by a wealthy prince—she’s too real for any of that. No, this hooker, who uses her dead sister’s name when on the job, is simply trapped in a living hell and is unable (or unwilling) to find a way out.

    Putain got a lot of attention when it was released last September, both here and in France, where Arcan has achieved a good deal of celebrity. Now 26, Arcan started writing as a way to deal with the emotional turmoil she was feeling as a result of working as a prostitute in Montreal through her early 20s. She showed the journal to her shrink in order for him to help her deal with her jumbled inner dialogue. At his suggestion, Arcan brought it to a publisher (Seuil), and Putain was born. Arcan will be speaking about autobiographical writing and presenting Roman Polanski’s paranoid classic Repulsion at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival this weekend.

    Sitting in a café on lower St-Denis one recent sunny afternoon, the mild-mannered author spoke about the commercialization of sex, why she considers her book to be puritanical, her nearly completed master’s thesis on madness and literature and the blurred lines between fiction and autobiography.

    Mirror: Putain has been compared to the work of filmmaker-author Catherine Breillat and author-editor Catherine Millet (who will also be at the Blue Metropolis), but you’ve admitted to only reading these contemporaries after your book came out.

    Nelly Arcan: It’s true, I only recently read their writing, since I’ve met them on TV shows. I read La vie sexuelle de Catherine M., which I loved, but I find that it is the opposite of my book. Our books are compared because they have sexuality as a theme, which is really such a vast theme, and a theme that used to be private but now is quite public. But in my book, sexuality is conflictual, it isn’t pleasurable. It’s the sexuality of a prostitute who is sick of sex, sick of repeating the same gesture. Whereas in Catherine Millet’s book, it’s the opposite—she always wants the sex, she invests in it, she can’t get enough. For me, it’s more about the writing. The moment that the theme overshadows the writing, it’s the wrong approach to literature. There’s nothing erotic or pornographic about my book. I’d even go so far as to call it puritanical. That’s the paradox of the book—there may be sexual words, but there is no pleasure. Because of the title, people jump to conclusions.

    M: Why did you go so far to avoid titillating the reader?

    NA: Because it wasn’t the point of the book. There are so many magazines and Web sites out there for that purpose, that’s not what I was after at all. There was a time when I felt truly disgusted by the idea that a man could ever get turned on by my book, I almost wanted to disgust the reader.

    M: Do people assume that you and the narrator are one and the same?

    NA: Yes, and it’s not the case. The experience that led me to write is real, but what I’ve written is not real. Once I started writing, I exaggerated, deformed and invented things. For instance, the parents in the book are not my parents, even though they share some characteristics. I don’t believe in pure autobiography, just as I don’t believe in pure fiction because there’s always a bit of the writer’s truth in it.

    M: How has being in the media spotlight affected your life?

    NA: It hasn’t always gone well. I don’t feel very comfortable in front of the camera. It’s too immediate, I don’t like being on TV—I find there’s too much of an inconsistency between who I am and what gets conveyed on TV. I find it hard to talk about my own experience over and over, so I got to a point where I only wanted to talk about the book. But I got to travel and go to Paris where I met a lot of interesting people and so, in general, it’s been great.
    Sex and the single Smurfette

    M: With her never-ending sentences, stream-of-consciousness rants and obsessive hatred for both mother and father, the narrator seems trapped in her inner world.

    NA: She’s searching for the origin of her discontent. She returns to her mother and realizes that she has been absorbed by her mother’s depression, her father’s rejection of her mother, she can’t get out of this vicous circle. She doesn’t have the strength to escape her parents’ legacy. So desire becomes problematic for her because she realizes that men want young women, that they want women who aren’t their own, and that women are not passive, but participate in this dynamic.

    M: The narrator refers to women either as whores/“Smurfettes” or larvae (like her mother). Is this misogyny just a reflection of her self-hatred?

    NA: Everything in the book is treated with the same disgust. Nothing escapes her hatred: desire, sexuality, women, men. She can’t see anything beautiful in life. She cannot accept how men and women relate to each other sexually, that her mother was living a kind of death because her husband stopped wanting her and so she became just like a larva, doing nothing. If I had held up femininity against the supposed power and virility of masculinity, then it would have been misogynist, but everything is destroyed. As for the term “Smurfette,” in the cartoon, she’s the only female in the village. She’s pretty and blonde, wears high heels and a little white dress. Every other Smurf has personality traits, but Smurfette is characterized only by the fact that she is feminine, her life goal is to be feminine. And that’s what you see held up as ideal in women’s magazines, to live only for your femininity.
    Pedophile’s paradise

    M: That’s another obsession of hers: being a slave to her appearance, her consciousness of being the ultimate victim of what feminist Naomi Wolf called “The Beauty Myth.”

    NA: It’s because she is in competition with the girls in the magazines. When she sees another woman, all she can think is, is she prettier than me? Is she better than me? I think that whether a woman feels this way or not about other women, it has to do with her relationship with her mother. Personally, I can’t buy fashion magazines. They show off extremely young girls, maybe because they scare men less than a fully developed woman. Like at the escort agency that I worked for, when clients called, they would always ask for an 18 year old, and I always thought that if they could ask for a 15-year-old, they would.

    M: Do you think the way magazines sell sex is a kind of prostitution?

    NA: Perhaps, because sex is suggested in imagery everywhere, with the goal of making money. But in the book, it’s taken to its extreme, meaning that the narrator lives to maintain her sexuality. But it’s not the same thing, because with models, sex is only suggested. For a prostitute, the sacrifice is much bigger because of the actual act, an undesired act, that’s excessive and has very grave consequences. I know women who were prostitutes who didn’t think about the consequences, but you can’t escape them. It affects your views about women, about men, about desire, in a big way.

    M: The theme of psychoanalysis that runs throughout is also central to your UQŔM master’s thesis in literature.

    NA: My thesis is on a text that was written by a psychotic at the beginning of the century, while coming in and out of hallucinatory states of paranoid delirium. I’m fascinated by the mental world, by the world of the imagination. I’ve always been reserved, in class or in a group of friends, I’ve always observed people from afar, so it’s from this vantage point that I write. The book is written from this internal imaginary world. Often, a book is descriptive and it’s up to the reader to interpret as they wish, but with my book, I offer an interpretation and it’s up to the reader to imagine the universe in which it takes place. :

    Arcan presents Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, April 6, 9pm, at the Cinéma du parc. She also speaks at the “This Writing of Lives” round-table discussion with Phyllis Lambert, April 7, 2pm in the Prince Arthur room of the Renaissance Hotel, info: www.blue-met-bleu.com

    Bonne chance,

    Merlot
    Last edited by Merlot; 09-25-2009 at 11:06 PM.

  2. #2
    Merlot....Stating an opinion based on life`s experiences is not a debate.
    I`ve know women who`ve attempted suicide long before they became escorts.
    The majority of escorts, like the majority of the general population, are not suicdal.
    Nelly Arcan`s book is a reflection of her thoughts and feelings and is not representative of most women in the "biz"

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by cloudsurf View Post
    Merlot....Stating an opinion based on life`s experiences is not a debate.
    I`ve know women who`ve attempted suicide long before they became escorts.
    The majority of escorts, like the majority of the general population, are not suicdal.
    Nelly Arcan`s book is a reflection of her thoughts and feelings and is not representative of most women in the "biz"
    Hello Cloudsurf,

    Right. I only expressed my first thoughts as the news of her death hit me. I never said her escorting caused her death, had a majority effect, or was even significant; and I certainly never said it represented "most women in the biz." But for someone to say that in a case where an escort writes a book that is so intense and severely negative about that lifestyle that "prostitution had nothing to do with her death" seems completely illogical.

    Yeah, I know the book is about a lot more than escorting. But escorting obviously had a negatively reinforcing impact on already developed and hardened feelings, and so it must have unavoidably had some effect. To totally dismiss the effect of a "career path" that can be and obviously was so intimately and psychologically wrenching to this lady makes no sense at all to me. And in my view if she had found a career path that wasn't so loathsome to her, one that she could take some pride in, or at least had not reinforced previous very negative feelings, it would have given her back just enough to possibly let her decide things differently.

    Now, obviously I am not saying any of what I said is a fact. It's just an opinion. But IMHO for anyone to say her escorting had "nothing to do with her death" is just completely mystifying in her case.

    Cheers,

    Merlot
    Last edited by Merlot; 09-26-2009 at 12:34 AM.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Merlot View Post
    To totally dismiss the effect of a "career path" that can be and obviously was so intimately and psychologically wrenching to this lady makes no sense at all to me. And in my view if she had found a career path that wasn't so loathsome to her, one that she could take some pride in, or at least had not reinforced previous very negative feelings, it would have given her back just enough to possibly let her decide things differently.

    Cheers,

    Merlot
    Then my friend there is the flip side.
    Some women who doubted themselves, gain self confidence during their escorting "career path' Empowered by the fact that men crave and worship them and spend lavishly for their company. Powerful men like judges, politicians , sport stars movie stars, treat them as equals or in some cases lick their shoes.
    I`v seen emotionaly "damaged" women who have chosen escorting because it is the fastest path to easy money or just because it suits their lifestyle....and quickly spiral down into a life of wild parties and drug abuse. Some of these same women managed to pick themselves up, go back to university, get a masters degree then a good 9 to 5 job, get married and raise a normal happy family....so gofigure.

    I`ve also seen others give up on escorting and try other careers....but not find satisfaction because nothing fills the dark void in their souls and they find their life meaningless simply because they can`t love themselves.
    Nelly Arcand is not the first lost soul that i`ve grieved for.

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