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Lena Dunham on Joy Sorman and the Unspeakable Female Pain

By Joy Sorman
Translated by Lara Vergnaud

Joy Sorman’s ‘Life Sciences’ takes an overtly political premise – the inability or perhaps refusal of the medical establishment to take women’s physical struggles seriously – and turns it into a surreal and profound work of fiction. who asks: what pain can we endure, and what pain do we have to fight against, even if the fight hurts more than the disease itself? In her introduction to the novel (which is Sorman’s first in English), Catherine Lacey writes: “Women so often carry this illusion of being innately wrong, of needing to be numbed, controlled, caged or hidden – an illusion that crept into us in the Trojan horse of a thousand ancient stories. I highlighted this and the hundreds of passages that followed, imagined writing them on index cards and placing them above my desk.

Translated by Lara Vergnaud into a prose that is both deceptively simple and playfully archaic, the story of Sorman – among the first to approach the disease as a metaphor, as a birthright and as a feminist rebellion – follows Ninon Moise, a Parisian teenager whose “the family tree is a history of France and the pathology as shown by a myriad of extraordinary medical cases – a proliferating misfortune which, from 1518 to the 2010s, mutated with each birth, like a virus always faster than humans. ‘it poisons, faster than progress or science. As the youngest of this plagued maternal line, Ninon is almost interested in the academic in understanding the fate she knows is coming for her – a fate that does not will release her hold on her only if she can take hold of it.

Unlike her mother and grandmother, Ninon refuses to be patronized by a patriarchal medical establishment who told her family that their cobweb of ailments – which reads as the side effect warning on a bottle of antidepressants – not physical, but harbinger of insanity. She also asks the question that her ancestors retained: is procreation a selfish madness, a madness in itself? In a world where the pressures and pursuit (at all costs) of reproduction has become a billion dollar industry, this becomes a provocative subtheme. There wouldn’t have been Ninon to fear the onset of tingling or paranoia if her mother had simply closed her heart to the idea of ​​a child. But then, isn’t the reproduction of the disease just a form of eugenics disguised as worry?

Sorman clearly describes how the imagination can be twisted by misfires in the body. As a child, Ninon was not interested in fables or fairy tales, but rather in symptoms. At night, her mother, Esther, “unrolled the endless ribbon of genealogical fable:… cases of trance and madness, visual and auditory hallucinations, mental disorders and uterine attacks treated by trepanation and bleeding, bodies that escape, overflow, delirium ”. If those who are responsible for listening to you and taking care of you do not, there is a good chance that you will end up repeating to yourself over and over in your head all the little insults that nature has inflicted on you, forever. . Bitterness may not win you friends, but it comes spontaneously, a symptom in itself.

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