By Anne Garréta
Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan
Winner of the 2018 Albertine Prize
Finalist for the 2018 Lamba Literary Award
Finalist for the 2018 French American Foundation Translation Prize
An intimate, sensuous exploration of memory and desire, delving into loves and lusts past, by award-winning Oulipo member Anne Garréta.
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Not One Day begins with a maxim: “Not one day without a woman.” What follows is an intimate, erotic, and sometimes bitter recounting of loves and lovers past, breathtakingly written, exploring the interplay between memory, fantasy, and desire.
“For life is too short to submit to reading poorly written books and sleeping with women one does not love.”
Anne Garréta, author of the groundbreaking novel Sphinx (Deep Vellum, 2015), is a member of the renowned Oulipo literary group. Not One Day won the Prix Médicis in 2002, recognizing Garréta as an author “whose fame does not yet match their talent.”
Winner of Prix Médicis 2002
Winner of the 2018 Albertine Prize
Finalist for the 2018 Lamba Literary Award
Finalist for the 2018 French American Foundation Translation Prize
One of Literary Hub's "30 Books We're Looking Forward To" in 2017
Recommended in CLMP’s 2020 "Reading List for Pride Month & Beyond"
Selected by Words Without Borders as one of "8 Queer Books in Translation to Read for Pride Month 2020"
Recommended in Flavorwire’s “22 Essential Women Writers to Read in Translation”
"In Not One Day, originally published in 2002 in French, Garréta permits us to inhabit her body through memory, embracing the messiness of desire, not cisheteronormativity." —Cheyenne Heckerman, Anomaly
“Winner of the Prix Medicis, this intense collection of Garreta’s memories of past loves—written under strict Oulipian constraints—is at times at once tender, bitter, and intimate.” —Literary Hub
“Like a skilled performance artist, Garréta … simultaneously inhabits bodies and spaces.” —Youmna Chlala, BOMB Magazine
"Not One Day is a novel both fluid and complex, crowded and lonely, and rooted in an uncomfortable position." —Eva Domeneghini
“A master of thought and language, an astounding authority and elegance.” —Anne Serre, Marie Claire
“Garréta more or less perfected the post-modern confessional, doing so with a self-awareness that many authors fail to accomplish… Not One Day is a casual revelation; a delight.” —Sean Redmond, fields Magazine
“Deep Vellum has brought out one of the best books I’ve read this year, one whose compact nature contains more room inside than might be guessed from its modest exterior. Happily, Anne Garréta’s ambition is to create books that are not the products of an assembly line.” —Jeff Bursey, The Winnipeg Review
“Garréta’s work revolves around dismantling any reflexes we might have, as writers and readers. She roots her intellectualized reflections on desire into the concrete experience of desire, showing how we are simultaneously living and narrating ourselves at the time, and what kind of fictions underpin this constant dynamic.” —A.K. Afferez, Ploughshares
“What is so extraordinary about Garréta’s take on the confessional is the way her formidable intellect braids eros and philosophy together: the women are (di)splayed in alphabetically-ordered vignettes written—and translated—with breathtaking precision and bite. The lovers, for the most part, slip intentionally out of focus, but the desire (or in some cases, the lack thereof) that drives each encounter is always drawn with the clearest of lines. It is ultimately this desire, and the act of remembering, itself, that seem to be the true protagonists of this indispensable, bracing parade. From B*, with her “sensual proclivity for analysis,” to D*, a “typically desirable woman, you saw her in and through the eyes of others,” and H*, “a siren fastened to her chosen rock,” the accumulation pushes us toward the conclusion that the discovery of the other is always also, or perhaps only, a discovery of oneself.” —Heather Cleary, Book Marks
What to do about one’s inclinations?
You could write something different, differently than you usually do. Once again, but with a new twist, rid yourself of your self. Shed the forms that witness this disentangling, try to differ even more from what you believe yourself to be. Since you can’t seem to conceive of writing except in long and carefully considered constructions, isn’t it time to go against the grain?
The next novel you’re envisioning, the calculations you’re mulling over, will take you years of research, composition, writing. You pity your few readers and always take care not to exceed their patience and good will. In the meantime, you would like to offer them what you suspect they desire: a distraction, the illusion of an unveiling of what they imagine to be a subject. For they charitably assume you to be—a common failing up until perhaps a bit further into the future—a real me.
Since you don’t have the heart to tell them (and besides, they would refuse to believe this terrifying bit of news, since we haven’t yet managed to sleep off the dead drunkenness of our little self) that no subject ever expresses itself in any narration, you have resolved to feign, (or at least to borrow), the incline one now thinks of as natural, and to force yourself into the genre of writing formerly called “intimate.” Recount our lives is all we seem to do these days, through the angle thought for more than a century to give it meaning, to be the universal key. In short, the skeleton key of subjectivity: desire.
And you could say, like—and against—Rousseau, he himself who inaugurated or completed our corruption: “We must have spectacles in the metropolises of the post-modern era, and confessions for idolatrous people. I have seen the mores of my times, and I have published these letters. Would I had lived in an age when I should have thrown them into the fire!”
The irony delights you before you have even written a line. You will play at a very old game that has become the hobbyhorse of a modernity balking at radical disenchantment: confession, or how to scrape the bottoms of mirrors.
On a September day in 1835, on a path near Lake Albano, Stendhal or Henry Beyle or Henry Brulard—which of the three? Who knows…perhaps all three at once—draws in the sand the initials of the women he has loved: V, An, Ad, M, Mi, Al, Aine, Apg, Mde, C, G, Aur, and finally Mme Azur. The first name of this last one escapes him. The list of an unlucky Don Juan: “In reality, I had only six of the women I have loved.”
H.B. here offers you the outline of a project, melancholic, tinged with cruel irony, and rather well suited to your convalescence: the stammering alphabet of desire.
If you aim to thwart your habits and your inclinations, you might as well go about it systematically. Here is the discipline you have resolved (one cannot more radically differ nor dissemble from oneself any more than you set about doing here). It amounts to a maxim: Not one day without a woman.
Which simply means that you will allocate five hours (the time it takes a moderately well-trained subject to compose a standard academic essay) each day, for a month, at your computer, to recount the memory you have of one woman or other whom you have desired or who has desired you. The narrative will be just that: the unwinding of memory in the strict framework of a determined moment.
You will write as one goes to the office; you will be the functionary of your desire’s memory, thirty-five hours a week. Neither more nor less than five hours per initial.
You will take them in the order in which they come back to mind. You will then put them down in the impersonal order of the alphabet. To hell with chronology.
You forbid yourself from using your usual tools: no pen, nothing but the keyboard. No draft, no notebook to gather bits and pieces, no considered and composed architecture, no other rule than these, purely material and logistical, that you assign to the act.
No other principle than to write from memory. Not things as they happened, nor reconstructed as they could have been, nor as you would have wished them to be, but how they appear to you at the precise moment you recall them.
At your chopping block, you will purely decimate your memories. And what does it matter if at the end of your five hours of recollection, nothing will have been consummated? Is it about knowing whether we had the women that we desired? Writing at the whim of memory twists and turns on uncertainty, like desire itself, never assured of its end or its object.
No erasure, no edits, no crossing out. Sentences as they come, without plotting them. And cut off as soon as they are left hanging. Syntax in keeping with composition.
Perhaps you will finally manage, within the feeble measure of your means, to emulate your contemporaries, recounting their lives, pissing out copy of lived experience—and believing it.
It would have been better had you kept a journal. But you do not possess the talent of your contemporaries. From day to day, you would have had nothing to report: nothing ever comes to you except in remembering. You do not grasp the instant except in distant memory, once oblivion has given to things, to beings, to events, the density that in broad daylight, evanescent, they never have. Your days are made of vapor, of imperceptible condensation. The world (and you with it) is a phantom that only time, the night of time, renders visible and in the same moment erases. In full daylight, they don’t bear even a shadow. A photographic plate’s sensitivity, slowly revealing itself. It seems to you to be lacking a fixative: exposed to the light of the screen, of the page, and held too long under our gaze, memory dissolves without remission, leaving behind only the image of an image, a snapshot taken at the moment of recollection. From copy to copy of remembrance, it fades, moves. Soon nothing remains but the caricature—and only the details that the gaze, concentrating, has magnified.
You will focus and dissipate yourself in the same moment, in thought. You will give yourself over, at set hours, to a purely discursive mental libertinism, you who for an eternity have renounced libertinism, and have adopted a simplicity of mores that your contemporaries would find hard to believe. And that you would certainly never have been able to imagine when you believed that you were a contemporary of yourself.
You will dissipate yourself in thought, in order to distract yourself from the desires that you might still feel, that you always risk feeling even though you have learned to thwart their most trivial ploys.
Let’s say it’s a beautiful summer night, that after three months spent lounging on your sofa waiting for the large fracture in your right leg to heal, which left you with two metal plates, thirteen screws, and the leisure to analyze the subtle nuances of physical pain accompanied by the taste of morphine-grenadine, to marvel over the luck that you had, all things considered, to get off so lightly after that absurd accident. For when you developed the memory, you finally saw that it could have cost you your life or your body, dividing it at the mercy of a relatively serious paralysis, that after these three months and a new lease on life, on movement, it’s a truly beautiful summer night, a night when the body, free at last from too much pain, rediscovers helter-skelter all of its appetites: for dancing, for other bodies, for women. It would suffice to go sit on the terrace of a café, watching the passersby. Desire would surely come hurtling down its slope, natural and abrupt, and before even realizing it you would probably have accrued additional memories.
Desire and pain resemble each other in this regard—you learned that from your accident. It’s surprise that renders them uncontrollable. You wake up brutally from their absence and they carry off everything. To keep them in check demands cold-bloodedness, staunchness, and attention.
To dissipate, evade, or sidetrack your desires, such is the purpose of this little experiment you are attempting and which you hope will suffice to drive you up until the moment when you board the plane that will carry you across the Atlantic to the other coast of desire. Or to put it another way, you who were frivolous for a long time, something the stories you intend to unwind each day of this month of July 2000 will fully illustrate; you who were long frivolous, and whose natural, and certainly human, inclination (exacerbated by all the typically French overestimation of fickleness which confounds grace and flippancy, pleasures of flesh and those of vanity) is far from being leveled. You have been playing with the decision for a while now to no longer be the slave of disorderly desires.
For life is too short to submit to reading poorly written books and sleeping with women one does not love.
Memory of a body: inscribed in a given space, anchored in a given light.
Seated, legs stretched before you, in one of those armchairs wrapped by Balthus in the ruffled canvas covers that haunt his paintings, in the orb of light of one of the rusted iron floor lamps designed by the same Balthus, a bottle of cognac propped against your stomach. To your right, the glass top table overloaded with papers, books, two computers. To your left, the dinner table (a plank set on two massive trestles borrowed from an artist’s studio), not yet cleared. Behind you, a ledge in the lime washed wall serving as a shelf for even more books. Before you, the diagonal of a staircase ascending to the mezzanine and your bed. Now and then you open the bottle of cognac to refill your glass and you reflect.
A little while ago, you parted ways with your guests. Who were they? You remember only *** (who was your lover, and present at all your dinner parties) and B*, who had come to give a talk in this Roman villa where you spend your nights reading, strolling through the gardens, playing pool alone in the deserted bar.
No memory of the dinner itself. Probably your typical Roman foods, which you’ve never tired of. Fragrant prosciutto that melts in your mouth, mozzarella di buffala, figs, tomatoes, fresh dates, scamorza affumicata, pasta con panna. Finished off, whatever the exact menu might have been, with cognac; you always had a good bottle within easy reach of your desk.
Afterwards, the group went trooping out into the gardens and strolled down the wide path, gravel crunching underfoot. At the fountain of Hermes, B* had taken her leave. You had felt a pang of regret, a physical torment, with no possible solution in such large company. You had proffered a further invitation to breakfast in the morning (this would pass for a simple mark of the hospitality owed to the villa’s official visitors) promising her pancakes (in your fridge was a jerry can of maple syrup brought back from your last trip to NY). Perhaps she had not yet tired of your conversation, kept up since the end of her talk. She went off into the shadow of the loggia to one of the rooms where the Academy houses its guests, speakers, and returning former fellows.
You had walked her up to her door and then come back through the alley of orange trees to your house, isolated in the middle of the gardens. Crossing the main courtyard you threw a glance at the wing of the villa, counting the windows of the upper floor to check whether those of B’s room were still lit. She had complained of habitual insomnia.
Leaving the gravel path, you slipped back to your house between the worn face of a term and the hedge surrounding your square of the garden.
In the middle of your Balthus painting, you were now contemplating that other, interior painting of your confusion, your turmoil. For it seemed that since her talk, an unanticipated attraction had been growing between you and B*. Certainly, you had identified, in the course of the ensuing conversation, intellectual affinities, common trajectories, readings. Nothing is more seductive to you in a woman—you have known this for a while, but it surprises and arouses you just as much each time—than a certain sharp form of intelligence, a manner of bringing that intelligence into play, freely moving in the discussion, a self-oblivion in the pursuit of the pleasure of thinking, of understanding. She was inviting you into games of language, and you threw yourself in headfirst.
But what did you perceive of her that attracted you and stirred you so? The contrast of her body, frail, thin, shivering, and a super sharp mental intensity. Something limpid in her voice that sprung forth, clear and vivid, from her body. A sensual proclivity to analysis.
What did you have in mind? Pursue the game you had scarcely had time to begin. Carrying the bottle of cognac with you, cross back through the gardens, climb the staircase leading up to the vertigo-inducing gangway hanging above the void that leads to rooms 16 through 24. Knock on B*’s door, identify yourself, proffer the divine bottle and propose a nightcap. Were you afraid she would refuse? It wasn’t a matter of pride for you. The difficulty of your imagination lies elsewhere. For if your offer was accepted, what then? How to proceed from there? You surmised the arrangement of the room’s furniture, you tried to deduce the gestures and signs through which B* would invite you or not to stay, to leave, to ascend the diagonal of stairs leading to the mezzanine. The signs appear in your imagination with an aching ambiguity, even though you know that in reality they are so rarely ambiguous, that their intended meaning is even sometimes devastatingly obvious. But if the temptation is not at all shared, then the threat of seeing the allure of this complicity dissolve, along with this harmonic of meaning that will have made you desire her in the first place… Was the attraction you had felt at her room reciprocal? The allure had probably been. Did this precise allure carry the same consequences for her that it tends to wreak in your being? She was without a doubt a woman who liked to seduce, who had lovers, who couldn’t possibly be prude or intolerant of the array of desires. But would she have a taste for your own? And if, as a rule or making an exception for once, she did indulge them, what were you getting into? Wasn’t your life complicated enough already? Just how far did you want to push polygamy? Your lover in NY, a mistress in Paris, another in this palace. And their suspicions and jealousy were giving you headaches and burdening your conscience… Did you really need a fourth? Pssh, this could remain just a delicious and perfectly brief adventure. One night, simple and uncomplicated. You came back to it, you sketched it out, this virtual night with B*, and it seemed to you her body would offer the same delight as her words, that the lovemaking would have the same sensual vigor, the same inventive vitality. Vertigo seized you as you imagined it, you let time run out conjuring this vertigo. Then it struck you that you were only imagining, were only letting yourself delve so deep into your imagination, in order to defer for as long as possible the moment when that deference would end up ceding the victory to your scruples or to your incertitude, without either a fight or an explicit surrender. Hoping to precipitate a decision, you got up from your armchair and walked, the bottle of cognac in your hand, back and forth, from one wall to the other, from the horizon of books to the slant of the staircase and back. You were imagining too much. Soon, by dint of imagination and meditation, it would be too late to act, to try.
But did you want to try?
You went out into the garden, avoiding the main walk, taking the dirt paths, the darkest paths, the paths most suffocated with thick shadow and silence. When taken at night, one can sometimes feel on one’s face a sort of impalpable veil: spider webs spun from hedge to hedge during the night and carried off in passing, webs that stick to the skin, impossible to get rid of because they are so faint, so imperceptible. Invisible obstacles of devilish and audacious strength, of artfulness and perseverance, and yet so fragile against the tactlessness of a passing body, prey to desire, or a wandering body, prey to incertitude.
Anne F. Garréta is the first member of the Oulipo to be born after the founding of the collective. A normalien (graduate of France’s prestigious École normale supérieure) and lecturer at the University of Rennes II since 1995, Anne F. Garréta was co-opted into the Oulipo in April 2000. She also teaches at Duke University as a Research Professor of Literature and Romance Studies. Her first novel, Sphinx, hailed by critics, tells a love story between two people without giving any indication of grammatical gender for the narrator or the narrator’s love interest, A***. She won France’s prestigious Prix Médicis in 2002, awarded each year to an author whose “fame does not yet match their talent” (she is the second Oulipian to win the award–Georges Perec won in 1978), for her book, Not One Day.
Emma Ramadan is a literary translator of poetry and prose from France, the Middle East, and North Africa. She is the recipient of a Fulbright, an NEA Translation Fellowship, a PEN/Heim grant, and the 2018 Albertine Prize. Her translations for Deep Vellum include Anne Garréta’s Sphinx and Not One Day, Fouad Laroui's The Curious Case of Dassoukine's Trousers, and Brice Matthieussent's Revenge of the Translator. She is based in Providence, RI, where she co-owns Riffraff bookstore and bar.