Sylvie Gouttebaron, Writer, Director of the Maison des Ecrivains de Paris (Paris Writers House) & Rodica Draghincescu







Sylvie Gouttebaron is an atypical writer. Her books lie somewhere between poetry and theatre, between prose and free verse. Acrobatics of a body suspended between desire, fear and mystery. Vivid, voracious texts, her books would not put anyone to sleep.

A skilful pen that questions, disturbs, awakes, charms.

Born in Paris in 1962, after her studies in literature and a thesis on Joë Bousquet, Sylvie Gouttebaron did several internships in publishing. She then directed the first novel festival in Chambéry for eight years before taking over 2005 from Alain Lance as the director of the Maison des Écrivains.


RD: – The word « literature » comes from the Latin « literatura, » which, in turn, comes from the word « littera » (letter).

Jean d’Ormesson in his book « Une autre histoire de la littérature française » (« another history of French literature, ») defines literature as « All written or oral works that include a aesthetic dimension. »

Ms. Gouttebaron, what does literature represent for you?





SG: – « Literature » is a word that I have made a profession of. It is the prism through which I see the world. So I am not always sure of understanding it well. In many situations, especially psychological ones, I get my bearings through the books I’ve read.


Literature no doubt began with poetry, at least for me. I isolate myself from it sometimes, and I go to the garden. It is a relationship with the world based on a certain way of looking for harmony, for beauty perhaps. But not only that, it’s the source of a knowledge that you never stop seeking. So you never stop. I consider, no doubt wrongly, philosophy as a form of literature. I like the relationship with language in its complexity and especially in its inventiveness. A « philosophical grammar » gives me as much joy as a purely literary text that shields me from what I know. I want to lose myself more often than usual.





RD: – In one of your most beautiful poems, you probe the time of absences, through an adventure that is nostalgic and therefore minimalist:



I saw an old man in front of a café

he was looking at the menu with his hands behind his back

slightly bent little back

like the silhouette of someone I might love

but without being capable of anything

confusing silhouettes remaking life

when deceased

continue long enough to repudiate absence

I really like

to play

I filter reality with words

it is not Paul in his life

I might be him.


(excerpt from the poem « Je reprends bien, je reprends » (I’m recovering nicely, I’m recovering).


Here, the words mimic a futile but profound reality. These are words that mirror and mimic reality, shunning rhymes.

Sylvie Gouttebaron, across your writings, the metaphorical dimension is concealed behind a countercurrent meditation.  Words lead to a kind of luminous obscurity, to a paradox. Traces of a body that writes and that shouts its words, head down. Sounds in the feeling of blood. That tumultuous blood of a body that loves and dares adventure. Do your writings have their roots in an emotional experience?





SG: – I don’t know if, as you say, the metaphorical dimension is concealed behind a countercurrent meditation.  It seems to me on the contrary that metaphor, (the use of image, the use that  I make of it that almost saturates the text), is first in what I try to write, and leads perhaps to a meditative reverie. But I don’t have the feeling that this is voluntary. I work the images, I collect them, actually. They are a process. I absolutely need them. Sometimes, they intersect with reality, or what I perceive of it, the real image is superimposed on the image of paper. I believe that I subscribe perfectly to the vision suggested by Laurent Jenny in her very beautiful book: La vie esthétique, Stases et flux (Aesthetic life, stases and flows), published by Verdier.





RD: – Is writing, for you, the encounter of a past or some future?


SG: – The encounter the past or the future through writing?


RD: – Yes…


SG: – Neither, I believe. I don’t know what time I’m talking about.


RD: – Are your words timeless?





SG: – I think instead in terms of space, in the plural moreover, of spaces. Syntactic spaces, spaces between the individuals too, where the game is played. Where the relationship is played out. It is often a matter of relations, I think, with me. And I’m thinking there of a very beautiful text by Buber, I and Thou, or else that line by Celan, Ich bin du, wenn ich ich bin (I am you, when I am I). That phrase remains obscure to me, but it speaks to me. His luminous and paradoxical obscurity does not bother me, quite the contrary, it pushes me to go forward.





RD: – Like the prophecies of the one who, being timeless and absent, will never again say the truth in the name of catharsis (the purging of passions), to exorcise his own fears, in your works, feelings link with the events that created them. And vice versa. You write for you, but that « you » is populated with many « theys »… A poetics of turbid and troubling ego games. Is that intentional?





SG: – I don’t think I’m trying to trouble anyone.


RD: – Then disturb, because it’s the same thing. Trouble, in the figurative sense, as in disrupting the meaning, the reason and the faculties of the soul! The soul of the person who reads you.





SG: – Troubling no doubt a compulsory order, yes, definitely, and more and more. To say the truth, I have no intention but to express at close as possible to the edge of my sensation, or to its softness. And sometimes both at the same time, which is not simple to convey.





RD: – Your writings are inhabited…


SG: – There are a lot of people in the poems I make, which are complete stories, but without any objective narrative thread. Language tends to do to me what I want, and to make sentiment less smooth. At least I hope so. I think I don’t like the obvious, without, however, seeking hermetism. Far from it.


RD: – Since when have you been writing? Why? For whom?





SG: – I didn’t intend to become a writer. I don’t think I am one. I just have a need to say, to translate for myself, to better understand what happens. I can’t limit myself to what has been experienced. I need to light it, or brighten it, as you prefer. It goes through that gesture, for me, it’s that gesture, I would draw if I knew how. To see better.




RD: – Would you have a little story to share with your readers, a special story, an event, a particular moment which triggered in you, in the course of your life, the desire to become a writer?


SG: – It came in childhood, because I had extraordinary friends, I had an extraordinary childhood, with a thousand questions and many dreams, we played and we dreamed. And we read, a lot. I was lucky to be free, and to have my freedom respected. It is no doubt the freedom that remains and gives the beautiful energy we need to live.



Translation: Howard Scott (Montréal)











Journalist : Rodica Draghincescu

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