“In memory of memory”, by Maria Stepanova: memories of Russia

In memory of memory

by Maria Stepanova

Translated from Russian by Anne Coldefy-Faucard

“La Cosmopolite”, Stock, 622 p., €26

Everything contributes to immersing oneself in the incredible sum that is In memory of memory : the depth of Maria Stepanova’s thought, the beauty of her language, admirably translated by Anne Coldefy-Faucard… Its title, like a tribute to what remains of past lives in our own lives, is in itself a subtle invitation to penetrate the family and cultural universe of the Russian poetess, exiled in Berlin since the beginning of theKremlin offensive in Ukraine.

Point, here, of “celebrities” but “doctors, many doctors and engineers, architects (…)accountants and librarians” from the intelligentsiaThere is no family tree either to guide the reader, but a consent to flow into the words of Maria Stepanova, precise and chiseled, in her demanding texts and of a mad freedom. Sometimes story, sometimes essay, sometimes document, his subject, which also borrows from poetry, comes and goes in the strata of time, existences, territories. From this discontinuity, these clashes and these trial and error emerges the work of a life, around which the author turned for more than thirty years.

“The fact that all these people, living or dead, could not have been seen, that life had not given them the slightest chance to remain, to be remembered, to be exposed to the light, the fact that their banality had made them inaccessible to simple human interest, seemed to me an injustice”, she writes. From there, she goes through private diaries, reads letters, scrutinizes family photographs and travels with her ancestors through a century and a half of our European history, made up of itineraries, collective dramas and ordinary destinies.

Many authors summoned throughout the story

The author also summons a number of authors throughout her story, exploring their relationship to memory, from Marcel Proust to Roland Barthes, from Tzvetan Todorov to Marianne Hirsch, from Susan Sontag to Ossip Mandelstam… And gradually constructs a hermeneutics memory, the mental reconstruction of forgotten facts, unspoken words, personalities “hidden in the shadowy part of history” : “The territory of memory is populated by projections, imagination, deformations – specters of our today, turned backwards”, she writes, warning against the temptation to devote a secular cult to the reconstructed past. Released in 2017 in Russia, In memory of memory remains in this respect glaringly topical, in view of the enterprise of reappropriation and falsification of the memory of Vladimir Poutine : “Russia, where the whirlwind of violence has continued tirelessly, forming a kind of traumatic enfilade that society goes through from misfortune to misfortune, from wars to revolutions, famines, mass murders, new wars and new repressions, has become , before others, the territory of diverted memory. »

Conversely, for the author knowing that she was a demiurge through the reconstruction of dotted memories, it was necessary to combat the feeling of imposture: “Terrifying to be the narrator, in other words the instance that selects and filters, the one that knows what part of the global volume of the not-yet-told must come to light, and what part is destined to remain in outer darkness or interior. » And from her polymorphic text like memories, rises this paradox and this mystery, which she finally makes her own: “The most interesting part of a personal story is what you don’t know about it. »

“In memory of memory”, by Maria Stepanova: memories of Russia