5 questions for Brigitte Haentjens about her novel Sombre est la nuit

5 questions for Brigitte Haentjens about her novel Sombre est la nuit

How did this story come about?

The writing process is always something long and slow for me. I’m not someone who creates quickly. The first page stayed with me for a very long time, almost two years, with this image: a fallen man on the beach. As if I quietly pulled the thread, the ball unwound.

I didn’t imagine writing specifically about that. Also, what came out through the writing was context. I was really fascinated by the thinking about the post-May 68 context in the intellectual and psychiatric circles I knew. I myself was surprised and interested to see how intimate decline could be linked to political decline.

What memories do you have of May 68?

It was an extraordinary time for me. I intended to take lessons in Vincennes. Although I was not a full-time student at Vincennes, I went there regularly. It was an incredible boil. At that time I was quite young and perhaps quite naive, I had a form of naivety. It is the center that gathered all the living forces of the French intelligentsia. We hung out with the greatest philosophers. It was also accessibility, you could talk to Pasolini. I can’t imagine that this is possible today, where everything is much more sectoral, fragmented and where the elites hide in their corner. Maybe it’s a little different in Quebec, because it’s more family, more relaxed. I don’t know those circles anymore in France, but I guess it’s not like that anymore.

You mention the decline of this movement and attribute it in part to the sexism of the movement. Where does this thinking come from?

In the extreme left movements I was able to attend, it was extremely phallocratic. As I said in the book, the women served the coffee. Then, thinking about it, I said to myself that a movement that excludes women cannot survive. I wasn’t even aware of it then. But today, looking back, that’s what I tell myself. Because a society that excludes half the people has no future.

In your novel from May 1968, there is not much left except psychiatric activists and people sinking into alcoholism. Is it a reflection of your disappointment?

It’s a novel, it’s a story, it’s not mine. I have no bitterness. I try to keep some ideals that I had and still have. From the point of view of the story being told, yes, there is still disappointment.

You say that many far-left activists ended up in asylums. Why is the psychiatric aspect so present in It’s a dark night?

I chose to play psychiatrists because it always interested me. It’s an environment I’ve worked with without being a part of. I am very interested in mental illness, madness, psyche. I find my calculation in the work I do.

I think what has happened is that the structures of extreme left movements have provided a kind of sanctuary for what is now called mental illness. When the movements broke out, it was as if some people’s troubles were decompensated […] without that security that was somehow provided by the extreme left cores, which were very rigid, but also familial. Maybe he protected trouble. It’s an environment that’s fascinating because at the time there was this whole movement to alienate madness. You cannot imagine how mental illnesses were treated at that time, just before May 1968.

This text is the result of an interview conducted by Catherine Morasse, cultural columnist on the program Les matins d’ici. Comments may have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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