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  • Sophie Buchaillard

Play on words


The French call play-time la récréation (literally - to create again). Playing as a component part of learning. As a child, I knew I wanted to write. It would be too hard, my parents said. Adults forget how to play. Discouraged, I lost that ease of being writer. The writer must learn to play-write again and again.


For Cixous, the writing time requires that we adopt a child-like state. Children conjure up worlds with ease when they play, absentmindedly. Margaret Atwood came out as a writer to her school friends, in all simplicity. Virginia Woolf advises to try and fail and try again without the pressure of publishing. This writer’s playground has to be distinct from everyday reality. Atwood warns that “[t]he mere act of writing splits the self into two.” Cixous, a mother of three, explored this dissociation, concluding that when the creative process ends, the woman writer must return to her mundane tasks. Unable to leave her reality behind, she must demonstrate the kind of visceral dedication a mother experiences for a child “[b]etween the child (the text, that is) and the author, there is a relationship of absolute intensity (…)”. Paradoxically, only when I held my son was I able to understand this absolute dedication and ease of effacement a mother feels towards her child, a writer towards her text.

Between the writer and his or her family the question is always one of departing while remaining present, of being absent while in full presence, of escaping, of abandon. It is both utterly banal and the thing we don’t want to say. A writer has no children; I have no children when I write. When I write, I escape myself, I uproot myself, I am a virgin; I leave from within my own house and I don’t return.


This apparent contradiction is resolved by Virginia Woolf’s famous advice to female writers to get a room of their own; not so much a physical space (after all she wrote her first novel on a plank of wood, seating in the corner of a boiler room) but the conditions necessary for women to think in. A concentration space to lose track of time and our-self, a space where we experience fulfilment - as if transported to another country. What Csikszentmihalyi calls creative flow – where creation becomes its own reward.


For Duras, “[it] is a certain window, a certain table, habits of black ink, untraceable marks of black ink, a certain chair. For me it is a daily walk along the seafront, the slow humming noise of strangers’ conversations in coffee shops, birds filling the silence of an empty home. In that space, I lose hours of myself to the rearranging of words like so many colourful wooden blocks into kingdoms.


“The secret is that it isn’t the writer who decides whether or not his work is relevant. Instead it is the reader” Atwood confides. Our reward, as writer, is in the creative process itself. Blanchot agrees. Writing is not a quest for singularity. The writer is indeed a humble translator and the creative process an exercise in restoring sanity in an otherwise senseless world.

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©2020 by Sophie Buchaillard. Photos by Piotr Skoczylas.