édouard louis, where do I go from here?
by Ang Kia Yee
Édouard Louis. Ed-dwa Loo-ee. That’s what Google offered as the pronunciation of his name. (I hope it’s right; I hate getting names wrong.) What a beautiful name.
But me—with my story—in front of the computer, I felt ashamed of writing fiction. For the people of my childhood, of this lower working class that I describe, we had this very strong feeling of being invisible. My mother would always say No one talks about us. No one cares about us. We would open the newspapers, turn on the TV, listen to the radio, but we would never hear about our lives, our suffering, exclusion, and poverty. That’s a reason I started to write.
I’ve always wanted to write the truth. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction. Neither is necessarily true, or false. I want the truth. Unlike Édouard Louis, though, I wonder what sort of truth I might offer. I write from places of pain, and my pains, I feel, are personal. They are universal, but they are personal, small, nothing about representing a whole community of people. How to place the value of my work in a world which places value on everything? I am proud of my writing, possibly too proud. I don’t know how to understand the economics of literature.
The writer Pierre Bergounioux says that one of the biggest differences between powerful and powerless people is that powerful people exist twice over. They have the life of the body, when they eat, when they walk down the street, when they make love—and then they have another life in the world of representation. They see their life on TV, in The New York Times or Le Monde, or in literature. But everyone deserves this second life, you know?
Maybe I could offer something about my people. But who are my people? I don’t see myself as a categorized being. People do that to me, but that’s not how I see myself, not how I live. I identify as certain things, but for me they are fluid terms: Chinese, Singaporean, artist, writer. What do any of these things mean? I could be anything.
I am a very privileged person. I belong to the ethnic majority of my country, I am cis-gendered, I know two languages (both of which are some of the most commonly spoken ones in the world), I have never had to worry about money, I’ve been able to spend outside of necessary things. I am intelligent, I’ve had access to a rigourous, competitive education, I am physically able. I might be a woman, and I might not be white or heterosexual (I don’t identify as anything, I just love people), but I’ve been able to have most things. I got to taking a fricking year off to do internships, run around, find myself. I’ve been able to choose a degree I want to do.
Even though I face bouts of racism now – what a privilege it has been to only meet with racism at twenty years old. What a privilege it is to be in a community that will not assault, arrest and imprison me for being who I am. What a privilege it is to know my privilege. I have been mollycoddled.
I have gone off track. This was supposed to be reflections on the article about Édouard Louis and his book, The End of Eddy. I suppose it still is.
[I]s it possible to write a book that doesn’t reproduce the border between the powerful and the powerless, between the people who have access to literature and the people who don’t?
I love reading and writing, and I’ve always wanted to create work that transcends and brings people closer together. But what if the medium obscures the message? How do I tell truth that is accessible, vivid and powerful? This is probably made worse by my desire to produce challenging, experimental work, both in writing and performance. What do I do with this desire, this urge that propels me so definitely and forcefully? Is this the language with which I will speak?
I forget that a person can speak more than one language. There are many more I must learn, then. I will hustle on! And I think I must take back what I said about being normal, average, without anything important to tell. I have many stories bursting from my body. And I think some of them might offer something real to someone else. So I will write. As fearlessly as I can. There is much I want to say, and I find speaking verbally distressing and incomplete. I would rather write to or move with you.
If you have read/watched things I’ve written or made, thank you. I hope that when I next have something to offer, you’ll be willing to take a leap of faith on me again.
And dear Édouard Louis – thank you for your words.