“Brief Lives” (Julia et Moi) d’Anita Brookner (1990), ou L’Invitation au dernier voyage
Drawing from Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Jean-Marie Schaeffer, Georges Didi-Huberman, and Julia Kristeva, this essay examines the way in which this novel, through the sudden irruption of the Real of death (in the Lacanian sense)—already contained by nature in the image, but duplicated here in a most theatrical, if not hallucinatory manner—, comes to thwart what is in fact a relatively common photographic apparatus in which the inaugural “memory-photograph” triggers off in the female narrator a hermeneutic quest—as well as its resolution—in an essentialist perspective aiming at presenting the self—that is to say, Julia, the subject matter of the photograph—in its essential truth. Indeed, if the inaugural photograph tells about death in the literal sense in that it comes with Julia’s obituary, it also “signifies” the narrator’s death by becoming, more than a mere starter or shifter for the initial narrative, an invitation—an injunction even—to the final journey. The narrative indeed ends with the prophetic “You might give it a try one of these days”, with which the deceased Julia seems to address the narrator from beyond death. As a result, the increasingly irresistible fascination that Fay seems to feel for this “mirror-photograph” in which she immerses herself to the point of drowning makes it possible to rethink the narrative no longer as an elegiac and truthful reminiscence (the newspaper obituary as the modern-day elegy), or even as an extended funeral oration, but rather as the symptom of a hidden, deep-rooted, and morbid melancholy which, for me, characterizes Anita Brookner’s entire œuvre.
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