Philippe Delerm is a writer, author of collections of prose poems among which The first sip of beer and other tiny pleasures (1997) which was and remains a huge success. This positive minimalist publishes a new book: Life in relief published by Le Seuil.
franceinfo: Let it be said, the past is not a lost world! This is what I learned from reading Life in relief. As you put it so well: “I’m out of my time, I’m out of my time“. I have the impression that it is a philosophy of life, a quest.
Philippe Delerm: Yes. It is a feeling that I have had for five or six years that accompanies the passage to an age which begins to be consequent, I have just turned 70 years old. With a paradox, the fact of feeling a little less well in his body, a little stiff and then, on the other hand, inside, the feeling of feeling things to a certain extent and in particular of having the impression of living a little more than one age at the same time.
You tell when you were a student that contemplative side that you had, even voyeur! You say that this voyeurism also allowed you to be the man you have become.
It’s true that overall, I’m a bit of a slacker who has corrected himself a bit throughout life because I had the chance to do a job as a teacher that I really liked. But on the other hand, I have a very contemplative, spectator temperament and when you really get older, then it becomes very easy to be a spectator because you are no longer in the eye. We are not really out of the game but we are no longer in the seduction, we are very privileged to be able to look at things and also try to let return all that we could be at the same time as what one is.
You pay homage to those you love, with whom you also live. Lots of glances towards your grandparents, this atmosphere on the farm.
Yes. It’s a bit funny thing because all my family roots are in Tarn-et-Garonne, my four grandparents were peasants. And in the farm of my paternal grandparents, there were always discussions and the men always spoke of “distiller”. I heard that expression. It is this law which allowed the peasants to distill about twenty bottles of brandy and which had been repealed, making the peasants furious. And this word “distiller” came back to me when I wrote Life in relief because I have always been fascinated by eaux-de-vie, by this power of alcohol to contain the fruit and to be transparent.
This is my writing motto. It is to make brandy, to do something that is fruity with transparency at the same time.Philippe Delerm
So I risked this formula: “I am a distiller of the time given to me.”
You also look back on your journey, over the ten years during which you sent your manuscripts. You say that it was long and that it was ultimately quite violent.
My literary career has been a long time to take shape and then, all of a sudden, after the success that has arrived, I don’t know if this is it, but there is something in me that makes me wonder always to be a writer, and even, I can come to think that I dream of being a writer.
I have the impression that you have also discovered yourself through these pages.
Yes. So I discovered myself literally and I also opened the door in a slightly different way than usual where I offer more things to share but which can also be for everyone. There, of course, there are things that I hope can be shared but there is also the relationship with my most intimate because by approaching like that to what really makes my relationship essential to life , I can’t talk about it without really talking about the relationship I have with the people I love.
I realized that it was part of my way of being, of being able to dream about things that I already had.Philippe Delerm
For you, “The tiny things are the real adventure. They contain us and invent us, they increase us and bring us together but their words are far away under sleep, under silence“.
It took me a long time to get into little things like that. It really started with a first idea for a text, that of writing about the feeling you have when you have sneakers that get wet on a summer day. And there, I said to myself: “Hey, chances are no one else has written about this already, which is still good“. This is what I always said to the students in my classes:”If you want to seduce someone, to meet someone, say something very special rather than something everyone else has already said.”
You say you’ve always liked boredom, “et that we sometimes regret not to wait any longer, we are as weightless in the idea of our life, we approach and we detach at the same time. The hour no longer exists, mingled with all the uncertain hours.“
I lived my childhood, I was born in 50, at a time when we stayed at the table, where we were often bored but whatever, I was elsewhere and I still am in fact. I like to daydream in a little bit indefinite way and I feel that it constitutes me too.
You talk about death. It is not something that you have often brought up and you say: “I can’t call it rto keep death in the face, I am not made to look death in the face, simply to tame it, to write.“
It is true that for me, to write is to tame death. In Life in relief I also evoke my parents. The very special relationship I had with my mother for whom I was not sad enough when she died, compared to all that she was to me. And then I realized that if I wasn’t sad enough, it was because she was still alive. That too is part of Life in relief, to have the dead with you.
At the end you say: “I don’t feel like I was a child, a teenager, a middle-aged man, then an old man. I am a child, teenager, middle-aged and old man all at the same time. It’s probably a little silly, but that changes everything.“
Yes, silly and happy after all. Yes, I think it’s kind of me!
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