The Paris Review

Reappearing Women: A Conversation Between Marie Darrieussecq and Kate Zambreno

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Liegende Mutter mit Kind II (Reclining Mother with Child II), 1906, oil on canvas, 32 1/2 in. × 49 1/10 in.

The novelist Marie Darrieussecq’s slim, enigmatic biography of the German Expressionist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, Being Here Is Everything, opens with the author’s visit to the house in which Paula lived with her husband, Otto. “She was here,” Darrieussecq writes. “On Earth and in her house.” It is a statement of fact that conjures Modersohn-Becker, who died in 1907 at age thirty-one, into being once more. That opening sentence sits in counterpoint to the book’s epigraph, from Rilke’s Duino Elegies: “Being here is wondrous.” Rilke’s claim arrives with easy certitude; Darrieussecq’s with authorial entreaty.

In Being Here, Darrieussecq has drawn a complete, if elliptical, portrait of Modersohn-Becker’s short life—her close friendship with the sculptor Clara Westhoff and with Rilke, her marriage to the painter Otto Modersohn, her lifelong insistence on the ability to paint and to have a corner of solitude in which to do it. “I try to see where her strength resides,” Darrieussecq thinks while looking at a photograph of Paula. “She is staring into space. Open and thoughtful. It is the photograph of a woman who paints, alone, whose paintings are not seen.”

In reconstituting Modersohn-Becker’s life, Darrieussecq also illuminates a broader problem for women artists. Later in the book, she visits the Museum Folkwang, in Essen, Germany,or

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Contributors
SENAA AHMAD’s fiction appears in Lightspeed, Uncanny Magazine, and Strange Horizons. She is a graduate of the Clarion Workshop. JESSE BALL is an author. His works have been published in many parts of the world and translated into seventeen languages.