Les Mots M’etranglent


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By Virginie Jolie

ISBN: 978-1-84991-354-6
Published: 2010
Pages: 77
Key Themes: French poetry, mental health, emotions, depression


Les Mots m’étranglent, which translates Words Strangle Me is a book of poetry whose main themes – if such a thing can be said to exist in poetry – are conjugal violence and eating disorders. The title is lifted from a poem by Georges Bataille, and as T.S. Eliot quipped, “immature poets imitate. Mature poets steal”.

The mentally ill who go untreated are frequently unable to defend themselves and suffer abuse from unscrupulous or manipulative partners who feed on their weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and frequent sense of worthlessness. Typical of manic depressives is the “pathological generosity” that can lead them to literally surrender their lives to those in need. No logic there. And, in spite of laws enacted to protect women, it is particularly difficult for a person suffering from mental and emotional disorders to seek help and get it. Even when doing well, it’s hell having the additional stigma of being a battered woman. It adds to the shame of the underlying disorder. And it never goes away.

Co-morbidity studies also show that incidences of eating disorders are higher among the mentally ill, particularly manic-depressives, and they tend to impair recovery among those afflicted. Doctors don’t really know more than patients, simply because the problem isn’t studied: no money for mental illness, even though it is considered an organic problem; better to have cancer, a radical statement but unfortunate conclusion based on facts and figures.
But then, perhaps those words, words, words, instead of strangling, can provide an adequate outlet to the pent up emotions that have caused these problems in the first place. Sublimation indeed.

About the Author

Virginie Jolie (pseudonym) is French and American, with some Swiss German origins, but more interested in her Cherokee ancestors at the moment. She teaches on-line post-graduate studies in English and American literature and Political Science in Paris, after ten years at the Sorbonne and various hell-holes in the Paris suburbs. When she goes to the office, she’s happy to know she has 6,000 students who actually want to work and she is helping them get a stable job. She is still writing a doctorate in Renaissance Studies, on some obscure topic related to feminism and rhetoric which will probably turn out to be 8,000 pages long and which no one will ever understand. Her publisher inspired her to start her own translating/ interpreting business, specializing in more lucrative fields, which might help pay the rent. She considers herself partially recovered from years of a debilitating disease. A relationship with an American photographer 25-years her senior, who visually chronicles her moods and follies, has brought her a long sought-for stability.

Oh, yes, mental illness: well, her entire family is afflicted by mental disorders, as one brother committed suicide at age 19 by jumping off the highest skyscraper in Paris, and the other, a highly skilled software engineer, wants to go wandering in the woods with a GPS worrying over what quantity of Xanax to take to get out of bed and face the outside world. Her father, for over 40 years a distinguished academic, Professor Emeritus at the Sorbonne, is now lost to Alzheimer’s, and that, believe me, is bad. And her mother, well, she’s Southern and notorious for her psychotic breaks – throwing away furniture she believes is bugged.

Maybe it “shouldn’t happen”, but, to paraphrase a Shakespearean critic, perhaps the only true madness is to believe that the world is sane.

Book Extract

Mâle attitude

Un coup, puis un autre
Un poing, un deuxième,
Ou une gifle,
Je sens l’os
Impuissante je supplie
Mais la haine
Est trop forte.
Un coup, puis un autre ,
Asséné sans répit,
Sans passion
A genoux je supplie,
Les larmes plutôt que les cris
Sont une arme
Que je sais
Impuissante je supplie
Mais c’est un coup
Puis un autre
Que je sens
Sur le sang
Et ce visage
Sans présage
Est la faute
Qu’il retient
Sous ses coups.


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