“Mars”: the cry of Fritz Zorn, more terrifying than ever

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“Mars”, by Fritz Zorn, translated from German (Switzerland) by Olivier Le Lay, preface by Philippe Lançon, Gallimard, “From around the world”, 320 p., €22.

Some books look like aerolites coming from who knows where and remain permanently planted in our landscape like so many blocks of abyss. Marchby the Swiss Fritz Zorn, the only work of an author who died in 1976, at the age of 32, in his city of Zurich, of a “malignant lymphoma”, is part of. One cannot read Zorn without uneasiness, the one one feels when a sociological or psychological essay spreads unacknowledged aspects of our own self.

It is now magnificently retranslated by Olivier Le Lay, less than half a century after its publication in France, while other classics have been waiting much longer for their necessary updating. Not that the first version in French (Gallimard, 1979), by the writer, Germanist and translator Gilberte Lambrichs (1922-2013), left something to be desired. But the latter was affected by the climate from which March emerged: the “all psychoanalytical”, the liberation of morals, the post-May 68 period, a certain anti-Christian Nietzscheism (although the name of Nietzsche is never mentioned there, contrary to those of Sartre, Camus, Freud or Wilhelm Reich). While there was much talk of revolution at that time, Zorn defined himself as a “passive revolutionary”. He still dreamed of blowing up Credit Suisse or killing his mother by throwing her down the stairs of his cellar.

It is easy to avoid the deep disturbance that arouses in any reader this story of life in the form of a cry, which its author himself qualifies as vomiting, this ardent complaint of a man describing the ” cancer “ which gnaws at it like an individual and collective pathology; a man who respects himself “murdered” by the training inflicted on him by his parents. Confining this narrative to its temporal and national context, Switzerland in the 1970s, amounts to neutralizing its unbearable and sublime violence. “My distress is also part of the universal distress, Zorn protests. My life is not reduced to the cries uttered by an individual from the Zurich bourgeoisie, to whom his education was fatal; it merges with the howl populated by a thousand voices of the whole universe where the sun has not risen. »

The literary beauty of the text

This new translation also seeks to accentuate the literary beauty of the text. “Beneath the color that I had liked infinitely for a long time, it came out of me and announced sadness” becomes for example: “And, adorning themselves with the color which for quite a long time already pleased me beyond all measure, these words welled up from my lips and announced sadness”. Because March is not just an attempt to give meaning or nonsense to the fragments of a failed existence and a sexuality suffocated by a deadly conformism. Its starting point is a shortcut close to fiction: the hypothesis that a “sickness of the soul” can be enough to bring about the degeneration of a body.

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