Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Letter to D: A Love Story by André Gorz, translated by Julie Rose


In this short book (a surprise bestseller in France in 2006) the social philosopher André Gorz declares his love for his wife Dorine, while also outlining his own intellectual trajectory, from his critique of capitalist society to his work in political ecology. It was love at first sight when Gorz and Dorine met in Paris in 1947: he an Austrian Jew, she an English rose. They married in 1949 and she encouraged him while he laboured for six years writing a long manuscript that not even his friend Jean-Paul Sartre could get published. “Your life is writing,” said Dorine, encouragingly. “So, write.”

In Letter to D. Gorz wants to extract the “poison” from his previous depiction of Dorine in his first published work, The Traitor (1957), where she is “mutilated, totally misrepresented, humiliated”. That book was supposed to affirm the transformative power of love, but actually represented love as a weakness. Gorz portrayed Dorine as needing him more than he needed her, whereas the reverse was true. To set the record straight, the fragile, clingy girl of The Traitor is replaced here by an intelligent, vivacious woman on whom he is totally dependent: “You opened up the richness of life for me and I loved life through you.”

Now that they are both in their eighties, Gorz feels that he hasn’t properly lived his life, having developed only one side of himself – his intellect – whereas Dorine has “blossomed and grown in every dimension”. In 1973 she was diagnosed with a degenerative disease and Gorz applauds her principled refusal of aggressive “medical technoscience”, preferring yoga and alternative medicine. “Only one thing was essential to me: to be with you,” he writes, and he has no desire to be present at her funeral. The book’s conclusion – knowing that a year later Gorz and Dorine committed suicide together – is guaranteed to bring a lump to the throat.

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