Denied by blood loss, she clings to a washbasin in extraterrestrial pain

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When I’m 23, one of my good friends moves to Texas. As we skimp, we make fun of it, becoming more and more loose as the corset gets tightened further about the restrictive abortion laws.

We joke because it hurts – especially of course on my girlfriend. “So better get AIDS” (than an unwanted pregnancy). Although we do not mean it, it says something about how much women suffer under laws that are against them.

The skin and the semen heat

In the first scene of »The Incident«, Annie Ernaux’s for short but abundantly hard-hitting memoirs from 2000 (now published in Danish in Niels Lyngsø’s translation), the narrator (Ernaux herself) waits to get an answer to the HIV test she has been given, stone safe on that it is positive.

She reflects on the blurred “scene” that has brought her here, with a man she only half-heartedly agreed to see again, like a dance of death. Not able to connect the movements, the skin and the heat of the semen with anything other than sex.

When she finds out that the test is negative, she bursts into laughter and thinks that she has been rescued once again.

It dawns on her that this moment has felt the same way as when she was waiting for the doctor’s verdict in 1963.

In Rouen, 49 years before I connect Skype to Texas, the then 23-year-old college student Annie Ernaux notes one day in her notebook: “I’m pregnant. It’s a nightmare. “

Abortion is forbidden, and she is alone in her search for a quack, or a so-called “angel maker”, who for a staggeringly high amount will stick knitting needles up in her abdomen, while she, stunned and debilitated by blood loss, clings to a washbasin in an extraterrestrial pain.

Young Ernaux does not think that it is something she can die from. But she thinks a lot about keeping it from her parents and from the rest of the community she herself wanders around in as a kind of social quack.

Obtained by sex

The conscious Ernaux has a sense that there is a connection between the social class she is rounded off and that which transcends her now. She is the first with a higher education, the first to be released to stand at the factory or behind a counter.

Now she has been overtaken by sex, and what grows inside her is, in a sense, her social defeat.

Most of all, she needs to remove herself from both pregnancy and abortion. She does this, the young literature and sociology student, first and foremost using language. Ernaux, who is 60 when she looks back on the ‘incident’, writes:

When I thought about my condition, I did not use any of the terms that describe it, neither ‘I am expecting a child’ nor ‘pregnant’ and certainly not ‘pregnancy’, grossesse, which sounded like ‘grotesque’. Those expressions implied the acceptance of a future that would not take place. It was not worth the effort to find words for something that I had decided to make disappear. In the notebook I wrote ‘it’ and ‘that there’ and only once ‘pregnant’. “

What is grotesque is that Ernaux only really got its Danish breakthrough earlier this year, when »Årene« was published.

It is simply not okay that we have been so slow. Not even as the half-Frenchman I myself am, I got to know her before the fine publisher Etcetera, which publishes recent French literature in Danish, published her in 2018.

She writes so balanced tastefully that I feel like smearing the words on a piece of freshly baked baguette and eating them, and in France she has long been considered la crème de la crème in the autobiographical genre that so many French people are otherwise great at. .

Annie Ernaux’s international breakthrough came with the book »Årene«, which was published in Danish at the beginning of 2021, which is considered to be a major work in her writing. Fold

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Photo: Gads Forlag.

Can feel the knitting needles

Here, the “Incident” is a proof of truth about gender, class and body, a sober and unsentimental investigation of the realities of “this unforgettable incident” – so much so that I writhe in pain because I can almost feel the knitting needles myself.

Ernaux is now (in 2000) able to revisit each image with clarity and disregard the collective narrative and the inevitably simplified slogans of the 1970s, because abortion is no longer burdened by prohibition.

Had she only known what she knows today: How important and current this book would be 21 years later. . Right here in Europe. In Poland.

Why deal with this pain and horror as a reader? Because it’s ours. All women. And it gives us an inalienable right to read about it. As Ernaux writes:

“Having experienced something, whatever it is, gives one an inalienable right to write about it. There is no truth that is subordinate. And if I do not examine my relationship to this experience thoroughly, I end up contributing to the concealment of women’s reality and accepting. ”

The incident
Author: Annie Ernaux. Translator: Niels Lyngsø. Pages: 112. Publisher: Gad. Award: 150 kroner

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