A writer since The Officers’ Ward, Marc Dugain has written an autobiographical book titled La Volonté (The Will), in which he builds his own story on the figure of a heroic father. After his mother’s grandfather was “broken” during the Great War, he portrays a father from a poor Breton family of sailors, struck down by poliomyelitis but saved by medical progress, who managed to stay on his feet despite his infirmity and to climb the social ladder thanks to an iron will. A feminist before his time, he promoted the emancipation of his wife and put himself at the service of his country. He pursued a career as a nuclear physicist while working in intelligence.
Growing up in the shadow of this father is not easy. He is an exceptional figure who cannot be tamed. There is no complicity or dialogue with his children: this father is only interested in their school grades, which have to match his ideals. The children grow up with a grandmother who watches over them before sinking into melancholy.
In adolescence, the effects of jouissance of the implacable superego are unleashed. When the eldest son leaves home, the younger one drifts into protest and drugs; he is expelled from public school and destroys himself under the gaze of his powerless father. “While his son, in the fumes of drugs, neglects to answer a question that he asks him, he grabs the water bottle on the table and hits him. He falls in the violence of the movement. The teenager is stunned. Words can no longer help them.”
He runs away, but soon returns after a bad encounter. “He has no dreams left. His only chance, at this precise moment of his short existence, is to manage to laugh at himself, at this character without great qualities, exhausted by his imaginary rebellion, who never went through with anything, not even his running away, which was to be the apotheosis of his protest.”
He was sent to Paris to live with his godmother, who was his father’s friend and who had helped him “to get over his crippled and poor temper”. He discovered a loving family, full of tolerance and humour, which awakened his interest in literature, painting and cinema. Instead of fighting his rebellion, they allowed him to structure it. This intellectual intimacy reconnects him with his desire.
At the beginning of the school year, he asked to see the headmaster of the public high school, explained the failure of his schooling and asked for a second chance. “The public school that had saved his father saved him in turn.” Their relationship calms down, and this amazing (épatant) father talks to him like a friend. To go above and beyond, “as if he had suddenly decided to avenge his father’s legs”, he started to run. He takes part in competitions which his father watches in amazement, suddenly understanding how much his disability had marked their relationship.
When his father breaks his leg, he takes advantage of this time of immobility to talk to him. They remake the world with jubilation. He then discovers the serenity of a father who believes he has accomplished his mission by transmitting universal values: “transmission is the only worthwhile posterity”.
Cancer is his last fight. In order to advance science, the father makes himself a guinea pig for all experimental treatments. The son’s lucidity puts a limit to this infernal will which is the symptom of his father, when he convinces the intern on duty to “shorten this will to avoid martyrdom”.
References from the author:
 Dugain. M., The Officers’ Ward, Translated by Howard Curtis, Phoenix House, 2000.
 Dugain. M., La Volonté, Paris, NRF Gallimard, 2021. (Untranslated in English)
 Ibid., p. 258. (Our Translation)
 Ibid., p. 263. (Our Translation)
 Ibid., p. 264. (Our Translation)
 Ibid., p. 266. (Our Translation)
 Ibid., p. 267. (Our Translation)
 Ibid., p. 272. (Our Translation)
 Ibid., p. 278. (Our Translation)
Translation: Ana-Marija Kroker
Proofreading: Caroline Heanue
Picture : © Marie Van Roey