Author as ambassador?
I still hold a Luxembourg passport, and will keep holding it for ever — even though my US papers are in the works, or will be as soon as I'm home — that's Brooklyn now — for long enough for the paperwork to go out & come back. Some time last year the Luxembourg Centre National de Littérature wrote and asked me to contribute a little essay (1.500 signs) to the Bücher-Livres (i.e. Books) supplement of the left daily Tageblatt. The subject was phrased thus (my translation from French):
The theme is: the author — an ambassador of Luxembourg in foreign parts? At what level do you see yourself as an ambassador of Luxembourg in your literary work?
Here, the little piece I wrote on the subject that day:
“The author — Ambassador of Luxembourg?”
The idea may be seductive — what author hasn’t dreamed of being the voice, the mouth-piece, of her country? Thoughts of Claudel, Saint Jean Perse, Octavio Paz, Daniel Rondeau… But I am fooling myself, nobody is offering an ambassadorship — the question is obviously meant metaphorically: should the writer, in her work, function as an “ambassador” of her country?
So, qua writer, let’s look at the word: derived from Anglo-French ambassateur, ultimately of Germanic origin, akin to Old High German ambaht, “service.” Thus the question returns as: “Can the author be ‘in the servcie of’ his country in his work?” And my answer has to be an unambiguous “no.” The author can only be in the service of the necessity that propels his language into poem or prose. The poet (for that is the author-position I am writing from) is not the ambassador of anything, country, government, people, person, self, ego. All those entities, fictional or real, are what the poet has to take aim at, has in her crosshairs, has to embarrass. The poet is the embarrassador of the given, the alreday constituted, the static that always demands reassurance in its solidity, its staticity, its raison d’être.
The necessity to embarass being in order to provoke existence, ek-sistence, a standing up & out (as against a comfortable lounging on ambassadorial divans) therefore requires an always moving, advancing, striding, dancing act of becoming. In this act the poet has to embrace the world, but not in the service of any given cause or nation-state, no matter how much the author likes or dislikes his country of origin.
The poet-author thus not as ambassador, but as embarrassador-embracador.