Interview with Céline Delbecq by Céline Aulit
Céline Aulit — Your new play “A cheval sur le dos des oiseaux” (Riding on the backs of birds) addresses the question of parenthood and disability very delicately. Carine does not quite remember how Logan ended up in her life. What is certain is “that with him she received the whole world”. How did you come up with the idea of dealing with this delicate subject?
Céline Delbecq — It was the issue of the relegation of precarious people to disabled careers that initially interested me. I came across a study by Alice Romainville (Observatory of Inequalities in Belgium) which told us that most of the students enrolled in the specialized schools were from a precarious environment. It alerted me. I wanted to delve into the complexity of this issue. I imagined one of these children becoming an adult.
Her relationship with Logan quickly took hold. Perhaps to question the possible outcome of the cycle of poverty. I didn’t make her aware, but Carine’s projections on Logan capture everything she is going to have to fight against. From where they are, it is almost crazy to imagine Logan could become a doctor. And yet, she insists on it : “He should have a chance like everyone else.” It is to prevent her own story from being replayed that she finds the strength to fight. She knows in her body that when one is relegated to special education, one does not become a doctor. For herself, she would not fight, because she has integrated the discourse of society (she actually thinks she is a good-for-nothing), but in this eight and a half months old child, she sees other possibilities… No doubt also that, as she is in a fusional relationship with her son, she sees in her son’s future a way out of her own situation.
It might be strange, but at no point did I tell myself that I was writing a story of a woman with a disability. Sure, Carine is “stupid”, by the numbers (by an IQ test), but she has her own intelligence, she adapts, finds solutions. Basically, what I think is that the IQ tests are stupid, unsuitable to certain realities, to Carine…
C.A. — Carine comes from a precarious environment and in her head, she is ten years old. When she gives birth, she is afraid that her child will be taken away because everyone has told her that she could not take care of him. And indeed, it is on the edge. The lady in the centre often comes to visit this unlikely little couple. She worries and tries to give Carine some advice to bring her role of a mother into the picture. But Carine “does what she believes is best”. “He’s my little one, after all, I’m the one who knows.” These passages are striking because they reveal the tightrope walking exercise – that parenting always is – which is exacerbated in this context of precariousness. This begs the question of what she can pass on to her child despite not meeting certain standards.
C.D. — I don’t know if she is really ten years old in her head, but that is the feeling we get when we start to listen to her. Ten years, we will learn, is the age at which she was placed in a group home, the age at which she was separated from her parents. For me, this sense of childhood we detect is related with this separation. It is an unconscious way for her of remaining loyal, of not completely severing the bond with her parents.
Indeed, the difference between Carine and any other mother is that she is constantly “under surveillance”, since the story she lived through put her under guardianship. She is no longer the subject of her own story. The mistakes all parents can (and do) make do not have the same weight when she makes them. There is always the threat of having her child taken away from her.
What can Carine pass on to her child in this particular situation? It is not easy to answer. I would say no more and no less than what love produces on a being, which has both terrible and necessary effects. She is like all mothers : sometimes monstrous, sometimes indispensable. I have my own idea about her ability or inability to rise her son on her own, but I prefer to let each reader/viewer judge for themselves. One thing, however, is certain and indisputable : she loves this child.
C.A. — More than once in your play you use the expression “making a family”. What would that mean in this context of fusional relationship? “Being a mom, is something”, says Carine. Could we say that this new status offers a gap with the child that lies dormant in her?
C.D. — To her, “making a family” necessarily resonates with her own story and the fact that half of her siblings (she is the eldest of eight children) grew up in a group home. She already “made family” with three brothers and sisters with whom she was placed. I think that what “makes family” for her is what “makes shelter”. Eventually, Logan, too, makes her shelter. She says that since he was born, she drinks less, she is able to get up, thinks less of her misfortunes, has no longer dark thoughts. Caring for a child gives her (at last) a responsibility. She takes her place as a subject. The motherhood gives her a role, even a certain power, she who has always been the crushed one. So yes, this responsibility offers a gap with the child that lies dormant in her. From now on, there is an other…
Photography: ©Wolfgang hasselmann via Unsplash
“Hence the emphasis placed by the Leforts in their book “Birth of the Other” (originally published in French as “Naissance de l’Autre”, Seuil, 1980). Perhaps it would be better to say “birth to the Other, since the Other is always already there. But what they wanted to indicate in the title is that one can be born not from one’s mother, but from the Other as always already there, at least for the human being.”
Laurent E., “About some problems of surface in psychosis and in autism”, Quarto, n°2, 1981.
 Céline Delbecq is a Belgian playwright, director and actress. In March 2009, she founded La Compagnie de la Bête Noire for which she writes and directs plays in a Western social context. In The Wind Blows On Erzebeth, she stages a woman who gives in to madness due to the absence, the absence of a father, the absence of the man she loves, the absence of words. Crazy, presented at the Rideau de Bruxelles in October 2019, tackles, while tying them together, the question of feminicides and madness. Her latest play, Riding on the back of the birds, scheduled until the May 15th at the Rideau de Bruxelles opens the reflexion on filiation and transmission in a family labelled as psychologically and socially precarious.