NOW, NOW, LOUISON
Translated by Cole Swensen
September 2018 Book of the Month at Tate Modern Bookshop
‘Louise Bourgeois talks, talks to herself, reviewing the scraps of her long life in all their disorder. This is the portrait, from memory, of a woman who devoted her life to her art, a life that was also the life of the century.’
– Jean Frémon
Progressing by image and word associations, Frémon evokes Bourgeois's history and inner life, bringing a sense of fascinating and moving proximity to the internationally renowned artist... The art world’s grande dame and its shameless old lady, who spun personal history into works of profound strangeness, speaks out with her characteristic insolence and wit, and comes to vibrant life again through the words of a most discrete, masterful writer. From her childhood in France to her exile and life in America, to her death; her relationships to her family and her young assistant, her views on landmark male artists, the genesis of her own work... through the moods, barbs, resentments, reservations and back, at full speed – this is a phosphorescent account of Bourgeois’s life, as could only be captured by the imagination of one artist regarding another.
An ideal short text to introduce readers to one of the greatest artists of our time and reveal her to those who know her work already.
‘A truly wonderful book… The spider woman, the intellectual, the rebel, the sly enchantress, and the good girl sing together in this exuberant, lithe text beautifully translated by Cole Swensen. There is something uncanny at play in this small book, something I don’t fully grasp, but I suspect that elusive, haunted excess may be exactly why I love it.’ – Siri Hustvedt
‘Now, Now Louison draws the reader in with all of the monstrous elegance of a spider, capturing us in the fine web of the creative process, and revealing, with biting wit and lyrical style, the ego, and sacrifices it takes to make monumental work.’ – Preti Taneja, Desmond Elliott Prize 2018 laureate for We that are young
‘Jean Frémon is a wholly singular artist, a writer who lives in the radiant zone where poetry, philosophy and storytelling meet.’ – Paul Auster
‘Metamorphosing like Arachne, Bourgeois’s imagined voice recounts how she wove the detritus of her memory (…) into an art of resistence (…) Now, Now, Louison (a reference to her childhood nickname) is a sensitive portrait of a woman whose struggle for self-definition came to drive her artistic practice.’ – Financial Times
‘Riffing off the journals the artist kept throughout her life, Frémon, who knew Bourgeois, gives her story a new outing - sampling her speech, as it were, before streaming it through a surround-sound amplifier - in this perfectly pitched medley of fact and fiction.’
– Times Literary Supplement
‘His story is both a vivid portrait and an engrossing dialectic with art – its purpose and process, the minutiae of its eternity, the grittiness of its daily practice and existence. Now, Now, Louison is deeply, troublingly private and thrillingly theoretical, (…) It is a compulsive, daringly perceptive, sometimes astringent exploration of the role, power and symbolism of maternity, fertility, sublimation and reality, ecstasy and happiness, silence and the overcrowding bustle of belonging; of hysteria and emotionality, of how to give material substance to presence, to nothingness and the void. (…) Reading Now, Now, Louison is not a straightforward literary exercise – unless one is willing to listen rather than pull the strings of both narrative and life into neat patterns, perfect phrases or frames of polaroid images. It feels, in fact, like a casual visit, extraordinary and natural at the same time, to Bourgeois’ New York studio/home at 347 W 20th Street. Frémon conveys the chaos and order, the fierce tenderness, the pathology and the rare humanity of Louise Bourgeois, with pathos and even love.’
'With impressive versatility, Cole Swensen negotiates the multiplicity of voices, while also maintaining the distinctive spoken quality Frémon achieves in his text. Despite the many tonal shifts, we always know we are rooted in the errant, challenging, deeply compelling inner monologue of Louise Bourgeois. But, arguably Swensen’s greatest accomplishments in Now, Now, Louison stem from her complex engagement with the relationship between fidelity and translation.'
'Perhaps life, this life, any life, is best preserved in its many bits, just as it was lived'
‘Women Finding a Voice’, 30 minutes in to the programme Michèle Roberts is on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking, 12 September 2018
‘Jean Frémon brings Louise Bourgeois close up into a fascinating and moving proximity.’
‘The life of Louise Bourgeois is rendered in ellipsis, quick brush strokes, and a mix of associations of ideas and of sensations waltzing with chronology. A highly original, sensitive text.’
Read more reviews here.