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"My Mother Laughs": An Excerpt from Chantal Akerman's Memoir


The BOMB magazine website has an excerpt from My Mother Laughs, a memoir by the late Chantal Akerman translated by Corina Copp and published last month by The Song Cave. The memoir focuses on Akerman’s family – especially her mother’s struggle with a debilitating sickness – and her own battle with mental illness. In the passage below, Akerman discusses her conflicted love for her father:

Deep down I know I loved my father, though he told his sister one day in Canada that he felt his daughter was another gender, or different. I did not know he knew that. I thought I’d hid it well from him, but he’d caught on. It made him unhappy. Probably why he remained quiet about it with me, and I with him. A heavy silence, full of overtones as they say, but the overtones had come to become undertones and so I was another gender.

For that matter it was his fault too, if there was fault and even if there wasn’t. What a concept to want a boy in my place. Then this made me think it was his fault because it was also my mother’s fault and the entire world’s. I said to my uncle one day, if my mother hadn’t caressed me and pressed me against her all the time maybe things would have been different but maybe not and anyway it’s not important, not by much. And really now not at all. In the end anyway, let’s say enough is enough with all these caresses. In the end you never know when it’s too much or maybe you do but you say to yourself, it isn’t that bad, could be worse.

I didn’t think I was another gender or different, not at all, I was just a gender, a good gender to me and it was my gender. A slightly neglected gender but I liked it fine. I preferred that others not be neglected but found the neglected gender suited me better than the not-neglected genders. I found my neglected gender to have a certain style. A style I like. And also it’s become habit and I didn’t think any further about either my gender or my style, I was like this and nothing more.

Finally, maybe.

Image of Chantal Akerman via New York Review of Books.