I read The possession a few days ago while also slowly moving from episode to episode of Wednesday. How these women build themselves man. The possession was gutting. Familiar. Amusing. Funny. Relieving. I’ll never again wonder whether writing our way out of things that hold us back is a possibility. Because it is. Ernaux shows us how.
In The Possession, a woman succumbs to jealousy that takes over her entire being. The sweet memory of what she was like before the jealousy kicked becomes blurrier and blurrier with every passing page. But not for us. We don’t know what she was like before the jealousy but knowing her in jealousy is to also know her without it. She gives us carefully embroidered details of her inner life, almost as if she’s suffering deliberately in order to arrive at a cuttingly sharp and accurate way to define and get over jealousy.
“In the self-erasure that is the state of jealousy, which transforms every difference into a lack, it was not only my body, my face, that were devalued but also my occupation—my entire being.”The possession, Annie Ernaux
She leaves a man out of boredom and is surprised to find that as soon as he finds somebody else to love, her boredom evaporates and becomes hard, stony jealousy. She’s both a spectator and a participant when she writes about how the envy began, why it stayed. She’s reporting it.
She is still in touch with him, they have the occasional lunch and long phone calls where she tries to get him to talk more and more about this other woman. Here she is an undercover investigative journalist because envy can’t grow without new information.
“Nothing he said was insignificant. In “I worked at the Sorbonne” I heard “They worked together at the Sorbonne.” All of his sentences were subject to an incessant de-coding, to interpretations whose unverifiability made them agonizing. The ones to which I paid no attention at first would return at night to ravage me with meanings that were suddenly hopelessly clear. The functions of exchange and communication that are generally ascribed to language had receded into the background, replaced by a singular function capable of signifying only one of two things: his love for me or for the other woman”The possession, Annie Ernaux
She arrives at a hard earned clarity towards the end, shamed by how easily within reach yet how far it all was –
“The only thing that was true, and I never said it to him, was “I want to fuck you and make you forget the other woman.”The possession, Annie Ernaux
—- eventually she lands on the one truth that envy has no answer to. It’s that look of small innocence and utter madness that dogs have after chasing two-wheeler riders like maniacs. Once the rider stops and looks over at the dog (also now stopping furiously) – its tail rigidly flying in air – the dog looks back, makes a soft noise and goes away. They even have the grace to not respond your childish protests about why they made you stop. Their tails will tell you: life goes on, move on boss.
“The thought occurred to me sometimes, in a flash, that if he were suddenly to say “I’m leaving her and coming back to you,” after a minute of absolute happiness—of almost unbearable elation—I would feel an exhaustion, a mental depletion comparable to that of the body after orgasm, and I would wonder why I had wanted this thing”The possession, Annie Ernaux