The truth lies under the yoga mat

For years, Emmanuel Carrier belonged to the group of authors whose books are subject to much speculation and sales promotion even before they are published. Carrère is regularly honored with literary prizes and for years was considered a contender for the Prix Goncourt, the award for best French-language novel of the year. When his novel “Yoga” (now German translation by Matthes & Seitz) was published two years ago, the French film widely discussed the extent to which the author has dealt with the separation from his wife, Helen Divink. The discussion revolved around legal and moral issues.

Devynck and Carrère agreed in their marriage contract that he would no longer be allowed to write about his ex-wife after the divorce. But that’s exactly what Carrier did in the first version. But Devynck was also unhappy with the published version. Writing in the online edition of French Vanity Fair, Carrier had embellished things to his advantage: “This story, presented as an autobiographical, is false, arranged to fit the author’s portrait and has nothing to do with what my family and I went through. «

Carrier insists that his writing is not fiction, but is intended to the utmost sincerity. Therefore, he rejects the term “novel” in his book.

On the other hand, Carrier insists that his writing is not fiction, but aims to the utmost sincerity. Therefore, he rejects the term “novel” in his book. Critics then questioned whether Yoga’s nomination for the Goncourt Prize was legal under these terms. The award is expressly reserved for fiction. As the narrator describes at the beginning of Chapter One, he is interested in writing a “report,” “a cheerful and subtle little book on yoga.” To do this, he travels to the resort of Vipassana for a ten-day drive from Paris, where he sits as firmly as possible on a zafu, a traditional meditation cushion, and feels his breath. Yoga, which he pretty much equates with meditation and wants to be distinguished from the modern, esoteric gymnastics prevalent among Western hippies and jazzies, has been doing it for 20 years at this point. He describes it as a form and technique to be learned, which should make it possible, if not to escape the eternal pain that life brings with it, at least to face it with greater confidence.

To this end, Carrier has developed a large number of definitions of what meditation should be and combines them in an essay way with his knowledge of traditional ideas from schools of thought in the Far East, Nietzsche’s ideas and ideas from the stories of Philip K. Dick or David. Cronenberg Films. His recollections of the episodes “Tim und Struppi” and his biography are also included in the descriptions. It is done in such an entertaining way and with some minimalism, that one is happy to participate, even if the question arises from time to time where he is supposed to actually perform the project.

This, Carrier says in the text, was also not clear to him for a long time; However, in keeping with his modus operandi, he agreed to follow through with the surprises of the writing process and was confident that the report would find the format that suits him. Indeed, it eventually manifests itself through a series of abuse and mischief as disasters invade the author’s nearby premises, changing the tone and direction of the text in the process.

While the first part of the book describes above all the successful side of life, despite all the internal contradictions, the apparent horror and madness follow in the second and third parts. The Islamist attack took place on the editorial office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing Carrier’s friend, economist and author Bernard Maris. Carrère leaves his yoga retreat to give a eulogy in Paris. And as if that wasn’t enough, he has to deal with his separation from his wife. This loss forms a blank space in the middle of the report, which the contract does not allow him to write about – explicitly and explicitly. In addition, the woman with whom he had a romantic relationship disappears from his life. The lover, which may have been one of the reasons for the breakup, is literally drawn to the other side of the world. After a complete collapse with a death wish, the narrator is sent to a psychiatric ward, where his condition deteriorates. The diagnosis is bipolar disorder. He is undergoing electroconvulsive therapy, which, even under general anesthesia, is the darkest journey of terror for him that can not be remembered or described in words. In the fourth and fifth parts of his report, he describes the arduous journey back to a ruined life in which yoga continues to play a role but has lost its significance.

Autowriting has gained a lot of interest in the book market with the life stories of Annie Erno, Edward Lewis or Karl of Knusgaard and new editions of Tove Detlevsen books. Honesty is an important criterion for successful literature. Whether the texts are compelling and attractive does not depend in the least on whether the author succeeded in gaining followers rather than appearing as a narcissist. On the other hand, Houellebecq maintains a rather laconic relationship with his autobiography, with which Carrier is often compared.

Writing, according to Carrère, continuous “sentence construction,” also means that in the struggle for expression one must decide over and over what can be said and what can be revealed – about oneself and others. Precisely when things get personal in ‘yoga’, the author lacks tact. When he writes about his family or his work with refugees, he repeatedly falls into the obscurity of selfishness. In light of the misery that surrounds him, he admits that he is ashamed of the problems of his luxury. Above all, this recognition reinforces the reader’s sympathy for the narcissistic author because of his traumatic experiences. It often seems that Carrier needs the suffering of others above all in order to show his suffering. Despite the largely compelling format and deeply personal insights into contemporary disease and horror, the book’s insistence on true experience and devotion is strangely bossy.

Emmanuel Carrier: Yoga. Translated from the French by Claudia Hamm. Matisse and Seitz, Berlin 2022, 341 pages, €25

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