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US News Hélène Giannecchini: looking death in the face

20:25  19 may  2020
20:25  19 may  2020 Source:   nouvelobs.com

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  Hélène Giannecchini : regarder la mort en face © Copyright 2020, L'Obs

Seeing with your own eyes is the etymological meaning of the word "autopsy". It is also the title of the magnificent book by Hélène Giannecchini who, in 2014, already signed a very beautiful biography of the photographer Alix Cléo Roubaud, who died at 31 years of age by a pulmonary embolism.

Halfway between the intimate narrative and the essay, this text, which rises to the height of the "Journal of mourning" by Roland Barthes or the writings of Susan Sontag, collettes with each sentence with death, without cartoons an ounce of morbidity. This is due to the extreme delicacy of the writing, dignified and never shameless, but also to the intelligence of the subject, erudite as much as sensitive.

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Taming the idea of ​​death itself

If death has become an obsession for the narrator, it's because it surrounds her. Around her, the loved ones, even adored, disappear.

"In order for your death to be thinkable, so that I can incorporate myself into it, I must write it down in a story that goes beyond you, that of art and science,"

notes.

To "incorporate" death, to tame its very idea, you have to give it substance, look it in the face. Then begins a manic and meticulous collection of images and texts which help to make visible what has escaped from the gaze and the tangible world.

The narrator scours the flayed exhibitions, delves into the planks of the 16th century by the first anatomist André Vésale, attends the dissection of a horse at the veterinary school, summons the words of Jacques Roubaud, but also the photographs of Sally Mann or the myth of Artemisia who ingested the ashes of her husband Mausole to become "her living and animated sepulcher".

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Fruitful dialogue

It also recalls those not so ancient times when people frequented death instead of dodging and euphemizing it:

"The bourgeois of the Enlightenment collected anatomical preparations, the morgue attracted crowds; it was one of the most visited Parisian monuments of the 19th century. We came alone or with others, even with our children. "

And she quotes Léon Gozlan:

"

We go there to see the drowned, as elsewhere we go to see the new fashion, the orange trees in bloom, the chestnut trees which rust in the autumn wind, the spring and the winter. "

In this maze of references that overlap like disparate illustrations from" Atlas Mnemosyne "composed by art historian Aby Warburg, the narrator is guided by a mysterious woman in green, the common thread of her strolling on the border between the world of the living and the dead. It is in the space of books and writing that a fruitful dialogue is established with the dead, who, after their disappearance, still have so much to offer us.

See with your own eyes,

by Hélène Giannecchini, Seuil, 224 p., 19 euros.

Appeared in "L’OBS" on March 19, 2020.

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