This Is Not an Interview / Ceci n’est pas une interview: A Bilingual Interview with Danielle Mémoire

George Salis: About 25 years later, you’ve now had your English-translation debut with your 1994 novel Public Reading Followed by Discussion (translated from the French by K.E. Gormley). Have you given many public readings? What made you decide to explore the schema of this social situation in such a labyrinthine way?

Danielle Mémoire: Before I answer your question, since you mentioned K.E. Gormley, let me say that I found in her an absolutely outstanding translator (for her grasp of French, the breadth of her knowledge, her intelligence).

I’ve given a number of public readings in the past twelve years.

Prior to that, apart from an initial reading at the express request of my publisher when my first book came out, I didn’t accept any invitations—on, would you believe, theoretical grounds.

Nor did I attend any public readings by my cohorts.

My little book is far less concerned with this situation, especially in its social aspect, it’s . . . 

If you pay close attention, you’ll realize that if it were actually read aloud, it wouldn’t work.

My theme is that the written word can do what the spoken word (the voice, presence, person) cannot.

My theme is the written word.

GS: Your work often involves digressions and discursions. Ray Bradbury, in his novel Fahrenheit 451, inverted the famous Shakespearean phrase and wrote the following: “Digression is the soul of wit. Take the philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones.” Can you reflect on this?

DM: Reflection is asking a lot of me. What I can try to articulate is that a book, for me (a book I’m writing), is the product of a form to the extent that this form enables, constrains, and regulates digressions. Sometimes, one would prefer a few nice, dry bones.

GS: Among other metafictional tricks, your work often calls into question the notion of authorship. Do you believe that books become entities separate from their ‘authors’? Or is authorship in doubt because books are made from books are made from books are made from books?

DM: Yes.

And yes.

GS: What draws you to have characters discussing or debating the gender of another character or author? Do you believe there’s a real different between female writers and male writers?

DM: It seems to me the characters’ gender isn’t singled out for especial discussion. It’s as precarious and debatable as every other pair of opposites (young/old, master/servant, French/foreign, smart/stupid, dead/living . . . ) that went into cobbling together my little troupe.

GS: In Les Auteurs, La Nouvelle Esclarmonde, and elsewhere, characters ‘become’ authors or try to argue that they are, in fact, authors. If you could become any character, who would you choose?

DM: Oh, but I am one of my characters: the marquis.

GS: You’ve said in an interview something to the effect that your books are like an ‘author’s notes.’ What stops you from taking those notes into what one might call a ‘full’ novel. Is it a disdain for the chore of fiction or do you want to expose the skeleton of what a novel is before it is?

DM: In a real novel, you can’t digress as freely and unreservedly as you’re allowed to do in purported notes.

GS: If one of your books could be translated into all languages, which one would you choose?

DM: I don’t think any of my books deserves to be translated into numerous languages. I’m not even sure any of them really deserved to be written.

GS: Do you consider yourself an Oulipian writer? What do you think of the literary tradition in general? 

DM: What do I think of the literary tradition in general? That’s not the question to ask me if you want a response before the end of the century. 

I don’t consider myself an Oulipian writer; I don’t consider myself a non-Oulipian writer, either.

GS: What is a novel you love and thinks deserves more readers?

DM: Don Quixote.

GS: Do you believe in “salvation by storytelling,” which one of the characters in Public Reading Followed By Discussion claims is the main theme of One Thousand and One Nights?

DM: Salvation by storytelling isn’t the main theme of One Thousand and One Nights, it’s the overarching structure (the consequential motivation).

What about you, do you believe in it?

GS: Is this an interview? If so, am I the interviewer or are you?

DM: Who the interviewer is, I couldn’t say. Everything leads me to believe, however, that I’m the author of the article on Public Reading Followed by Discussion that appeared in The Collidescope under the byline of George Salis: either I’ve misread it, or it was the first, and will probably forever be the only one, in which there wasn’t a single misinterpretation.

Editor’s note: Huge thanks to K. E. Gormley for translating this interview from the French.

For early access to literary content like this and other awesome benefits, consider supporting The Collidescope on Patreon.

Danielle Mémoire is a French writer who was born in 1947. She is the author of more than a dozen novels notable for bending the rules of storytelling in unique and surprising ways. Public Reading Followed by Discussion is the first of her books to appear in English translation.







George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The DarkBlack DandyZizzle Literary MagazineHouse of ZoloThree Crows Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in IsacousticAtticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on FacebookGoodreadsInstagram, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.




K. E. Gormley is a translator and academic librarian living near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

George Salis: About 25 years later, you’ve now had your English-translation debut with your 1994 novel Public Reading Followed by Discussion (translated from the French by K.E. Gormley). Have you given many public readings? What made you decide to explore the schema of this social situation in such a labyrinthine way?

Danielle Mémoire: Avant de répondre à votre question, et puisque vous avez nommé K.E. Gormley, permettez-moi de dire que j’ai trouvé en elle une traductrice d’une qualité absolument hors pair (sa connaissance de la langue française, sa grande culture, son intelligence).

J’ai donné un certain nombre de lectures publiques dans les douze dernières années.

Avant cela, hors une première fois, à la sortie de mon premier livre, et à la demande expresse de mon éditeur, je n’acceptais aucune invitation, cela pour des raisons, figurez-vous, théoriques. Et je n’assistais pas d’avantage aux lectures publiques données par mes compères.

C’est bien moins à la situation, en particulier sous son aspect social, que s’intéresse mon petit livre, c’est…

Si vous y prenez garde, vous vous apercevrez que, effectivement lu à voix haute, il cesse de fonctionner.

Mon sujet, c’est ce que l’écriture peut, que l’oral (la voix, la présence, la personne) ne peut pas.

Mon sujet, c’est l’écriture.

GS: Your work often involves digressions and discursions. Ray Bradbury, in his novel Fahrenheit 451, inverted the famous Shakespearean phrase and wrote the following: “Digression is the soul of wit. Take the philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones.” Can you reflect on this?

DM: Réfléchir, c’est beaucoup me demander. Ce que je peux essayer de dire, c’est qu’un livre, pour moi (un livre que j’écris), est l’effet d’une forme telle qu’elle autorise, limite et règle les digressions. Quelquefois, on préférerait quelques bons os bien secs.

GS: Among other metafictional tricks, your work often calls into question the notion of authorship. Do you believe that books become entities separate from their ‘authors’? Or is authorship in doubt because books are made from books are made from books are made from books?

DM: Oui.

Et oui.

GS: What draws you to have characters discussing or debating the gender of another character or author? Do you believe there’s a real different between female writers and male writers?

DM: Il ne me semble pas que le genre des personnages soit spécialement discuté. Il est fragile et contestable de même qu’il en va pour chaque élément des couples de contraires (jeune/vieux, maître/serviteur, français/étranger, intelligent/imbécile, mort/vivant…) au moyen desquels bricoler les membres de ma petite troupe.

GS: In Les Auteurs, La Nouvelle Esclarmonde, and elsewhere, characters ‘become’ authors or try to argue that they are, in fact, authors. If you could become any character, who would you choose?

DM: Ah, mais je suis l’un de mes personnages : le marquis.

GS: You’ve said in an interview something to the effect that your books are like an ‘author’s notes.’ What stops you from taking those notes into what one might call a ‘full’ novel. Is it a disdain for the chore of fiction or do you want to expose the skeleton of what a novel is before it is?

DM: Vous ne pouvez pas digresser dans un vrai roman d’aussi bon cœur qu’il vous est permis de le faire dans de prétendues notes.

GS: If one of your books could be translated into all languages, which one would you choose?

DM: Je ne crois pas qu’aucun de mes livres mérite d’être traduit en beaucoup de langues. Je ne suis même pas sûre qu’il y en ait un seul qui ait vraiment mérité d’être écrit.

GS: Do you consider yourself an Oulipian writer? What do you think of the literary tradition in general?

DM: Ce que je pense de la tradition littéraire en général ? Vous ne pouvez pas me poser cette question si vous souhaitez pouvoir obtenir une réponse avant la fin du siècle.

Je ne me regarde pas comme un auteur oulipien ; je ne me regarde pas comme un auteur non-oulipien non plus.

GS: What is a novel you love and thinks deserves more readers?

DM: Don Quichotte.

GS: Do you believe in “salvation by storytelling,” which one of the characters in Public Reading Followed By Discussion claims is the main theme of One Thousand and One Nights?

DM: Le salut par le récit n’est pas le thème principal des Mille et une nuits, il en est la structure d’ensemble (la motivation conséquente).

Et vous, vous y croyez ?

GS: Is this an interview? If so, am I the interviewer or are you?

DM: Qui est l’interviewer, je ne sais pas. Tout, en revanche, me porte à croire que je suis l’auteur de l’article, paru dans The Collidescope, sur Public Reading Followed by Discussion, et signé du nom de George Salis : ou je l’ai mal lu, ou il est le premier, et probablement à jamais le seul, à ne comporter aucun contre-sens.

2 thoughts on “This Is Not an Interview / Ceci n’est pas une interview: A Bilingual Interview with Danielle Mémoire

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s