From “The Review of Contemporary Fiction,” Summer 1988, Vol. 8.2
CECILE LINDSAY: The works of the first cycle of Le Jeu d’enfant adopt the form of popular genres such as the colonial novel, the detective story, or the mystery, while the second relay consists primarily of “science fictions.” Yet these fictions would scarcely meet the expectations of the typical reader of those kinds of novels. Why do you use these genres and why do you use them in this way?
CLAUDE OLLIER: In literature as in other related matters—musical, pictorial, theatrical—it is certain that “genres” are a given from our earliest childhood; that is, they are imposed as much by what is taught in school as by social practices of all sorts, domestic and daily. No literary elements are transmitted to us outside of genre; the notion of genre covers the whole field of our narrative possibilities, of our faculties of repetition and creation, of our reading opportunities—in both the poetic and the narrative domains. Here it is a question, of course, of an ideological categorization which is common to all societies and which constitutes (limiting ourselves here to narration) the basis of the child’s narrative conditioning. Any citizen who takes it into his head to make up a story must deal with a certain number of modalities and rules known to all, endorsed for ages, indexed, constitutive of a specific turn that his story will take, and which will cause the reader to say: this is an adventure story or a psychological drama or a detective novel or a pornographic novel, etc. In practice, the question is always a bit more complicated, in part because no genre exists in a pure state (any presumed genre is already a product of hybridization), and in part because any citizen, especially any writer, always tends to mix and combine genres, without even necessarily wanting to, without scheming to slip in some mischief. Moreover, the standard distinction between “popular” and “non-popular” genres, or between “great” literature and “popular” literature (a vague, very arguable, and superfluous distinction), often only serves to cloud the issue, so that it is not always easy to see clearly.
The purpose of this preamble is to affirm that any writer, whether he wants to or not, works on genres and from genres, proceeding at the outset by a sort of mimeticism. I don’t see how one could escape from genres, even if, oddly, one had the firm intention of doing so. And this preamble would also indicate that the stories I have invented, like anyone else’s, have naturally and without much prior reflection flowed into the mold of the different genres to which I was accustomed by my favorite readings, readings from childhood and adolescence that were subsequently reaffirmed. As for the melange or mixing of genres, it was done there also on this impulsion, by reason of the fact that, as I have said, in my view any genre is already a composite product. I obviously didn’t say to myself about my first book, for example: here I’ll combine the colonial adventure story with the novel of apprenticeship and the detective story. Rather, inventing my plot bit by bit, in a state of complete inexperience and a certain disarray, I was led almost in spite of myself, by the setting and the “givens” of the action, to utilize narrative forms from these different horizons. The needs of the plot demanded these clearly marked and recognizable elements of narration. And then, the process of writing misused them, unquestionably, from the beginning: it distorted them, diverted them, most likely exploited them in situations and directions in which the reader was not in the habit of encountering them, perhaps using them “against the grain.” Confronting these elements of narration with elements of genre that were sometimes quite far removed, the process of writing also inevitably gave them another sense, and these confrontations, these skiddings, these mistimings, these incongruities quite evidently disoriented the reader (although less than the critic), with the result that the latter, no longer ultimately finding the accustomed tonality or scale of each of these genres, felt in his own turn misused, mistreated, thrown off. The reader couldn’t find his bearings there, that much is certain. But if one writes, it’s precisely, in my view, in order to make things “move,” both the elements of the narrative and the readers of narratives. Writing is that which displaces, dislodges, dislocates, dismantles, and then realigns and recomposes differently. If my books can make this notion of genre move, they will have served some purpose. If they could make it fly to pieces, all the better.
And that’s what I would wish today. But at that time—thirty-five years ago!—I did not set out to maliciously “pervert,” as they say, the modes of narration that I loved and imitated: Jules Verne’s and Paul d’Ivoi’s stories of distant adventures, with their unforgettable illustrations; E. T. A. Hoffmann’s and Edgar Allan Poe’s terrifying plots; Kafka’s burlesque peregrinations; Gaston Leroux’s sophisticated mysteries. I thought I was paying them homage and celebrating the genres that they had nourished and enlarged. But there it was: beginning to write, I stumbled onto a reality that no one had ever told me of, onto the effects of an activity about which I knew nothing, and which our society represses even more effectively today than back then—writing, with the result that La Mise en scene was, finally, neither a novel of colonial adventures nor a novel of apprenticeship nor a detective novel. And with the result, too, that Le Jeu d’enfant is not a series of novels, even “new” ones, but something else, which I would have trouble specifying. For the “novelistic” (le romanesque) is absent from these books. It is as though it were banished from the beginning, from the first line. That was the reason why, recognizing early on what was happening in my work, I asked my publisher to suppress the word novel as a generic indicator on the cover of my fourth book, L’Echec de Nolan. This seemed to me to be more honest vis-a-vis the eventual reader who expects to find, under the label novel, what he customarily identifies, recognizes, and enjoys as the “novelistic” (a certain type of hero, a certain coloration of landscapes, a certain sense of the tragic, a concordance between man and space, a parallelism in the destinies of man and time, etc.), all of which, indeed, he no longer found there. This is also, I believe, the reason why, for the last quarter of a century, the critical establishment as a whole has rejected or derided these books, not so much because it deplores the absence of the novelistic in them (there’s no trouble finding the novelistic in massive doses everywhere else), but because it doesn’t know what to call them (but wouldn’t this have been its own task, among other things, to “name” or baptize them? If not, what purpose does criticism serve at bottom?). And indeed, it is disquieting, something for which no name is found. It’s more disquieting than a New Novel.
CL: Why does the science fiction genre predominate in the fictions of the second cycle of Le Jeu d’enfant? Do these fictions propose a “science of fiction”?
CO: If science fiction predominates in the last four books of Le Jeu d’enfant, even though combined, there too, with the novel of apprenticeship and with the idyllic, erotic, or detective novel, it is for several circumstantial reasons. I have often recounted how the initial idea for La Vie sur Epsilon came to me from the final scene of The Woman in the Moon by Fritz Lang. It was his last silent film, and a science fiction if ever there were one, whose superb sets caught the attention of space scientists thirty years later. In this scene, the hero watches as a spaceship takes off for Earth, commandeered by a traitor who thus abandons him alone on the Moon. The whole book derives from this image and from an episode of wandering in the south of Morocco, where I became bogged down, successively in an hour’s interval, in both snow and sand. But there are, of course, more fundamental reasons for this use of science fiction modes from La Vie sur Epsilon on.
First, according to a certain logic in the development of my fabulations, it was almost inevitable that the protagonist of the first four books, after the navigation on Earth around the Atlantic Ocean, would take off in the direction of other planets, by the effect of an amplification of the givens, or more precisely, an amplified resumption. For the idea came to me to write a sort of “double” of the first series of books, to take up again the major lines, transposing them onto another plane. The situation of the protagonist in Epsilon is similar to that of Lassalle in La Mise en scene, but is more serious, more dangerous, even terrifying.
Next, the characteristics proper to science fiction allowed me to shed a new light on the problems posed in my first books and which turn about the questions of the identity of the subject and of his unity; of the unity of space and its fragmentations; of the discontinuity of temporal series. These are all major questions which have not ceased to concern me since my earliest readings, and the stories and fables that I have invented reveal their permanence, as they attempt to stage or rather restage the situations in which I became sensitive to these questions, in my youth. The forms of science fiction, with their typical ruptures and catastrophes, allowed me to better put in place (and in writing) the elements of this postulate: the heterogeneity of space goes hand in hand with that of the subject, and both testify against the principle of the continuity of temporal perceptions. The fundamental discontinuity revealed by my experiences in this domain was thus indissociably linked at a certain point with that of all language and all narration. This led me with the last volume, Fuzzy Sets, to a complete requestioning of the “book” itself, and to propose the fundamental heterogeneity not only of every book but of all writing. At the end of Fuzzy Sets—an exploded story of fluctuating sets, as its English title indicates—the hero is returned against his will to his point of departure, to the country and city of his birth, both unrecognizable, their names never mentioned throughout the eight books. Now he is no more than the last representative of a strange civilization, that of the book and of traditional writing (the kind of writing known for seven or eight thousand years, not that of computers and their refrigerated memories), with its writers and their readers; and as such he has become a slightly disturbing specimen of humanity, one which serves no further purpose but which is apt to trouble minds. One which, consequently, it would be best to remove as quickly as possible to a safe place, out of the way: an asylum or a museum. Thus concludes that sort of Odyssey which is Le Jeu d’enfant: an Odyssey of the Atlantic and the Middle East, via the outer space of the planets; the Odyssey of the typical European after the end of the Second World War and the upheaval of his culture—a European “without qualities,” well-meaning, but who has trouble assuming the ethnocentric colonial heritage and who fails in his reconversion as a link with the universe of the “third world.”
That said, I do not think that my books propose a “science of fiction.” And given the present state of our knowledge, I do not think that fiction can any time soon become an object of science. But I may be wrong about this.
CL: Why not the war novel? I have always been struck by the absence of the Second World War and the Algerian War in your fictions.
CO: Your question really surprises me—the absence of the Algerian War? But Le Maintien de l’ordre is wholly a description, which I wanted to be as accurate as possible, of specific situations and mechanisms of this colonial war: mechanisms of revolt, of repression, and of terror that originated in Morocco in 1953 and which, by a kind of inevitability, proliferated in Algeria after 1954. It is the Algerian War, with all the colonial antagonism between North African French and Islamics, that is present in this book. As for the Second World War, it lies behind every page of the eight books: it is the background against which these books stand out, the European “un said” whose recent mark—recent yet already more or less suppressed, if not repressed, with its horrors and its shames—silently determines the whole historical, geographical, and economic space in which Le Jeu d’enfant unfolds. The stories in this cycle of fables are as they are only because the events of the Second World War occurred in Europe in such a way as to provoke an upheaval in our consciences, our certitudes, and our vision of the world—a vision of matters economical, political, and military as well as cultural, including the narrative. And this upheaval is so profound that Europe itself, in these stories, finds itself evacuated as the favored site for anchoring narratives: they can no longer be situated in this place of origin.
If we exempt the fleeting and marginal “return” to European soil in L’Echec de Nolan, as phantomlike, muffled, nocturnal, and haunted by bad memories and nightmares, then all the other books are situated outside of Europe and far from Europe, farther and farther. On the one hand, it became almost impossible to “think” lucidly about what had been that sort of self-destruction of Europe between 1930 and 1945; on the other hand, it is clear that what is important in the evolution of the world since then is no longer taking place there. The obstinate and persevering hero of Le Jeu d’enfant senses and knows it from the beginning; it is the terrible knowledge acquired in adolescence, an admitted, outmoded fact of which he will never speak; the Second World War destroyed all he had been taught, humanism included, along with his whole inherited childhood universe. He is trying bravely, ingenuously perhaps, to take everything back to zero, in the beginning of La Mise en scene just as the book’s author tries, by a sort of narrative tabula rasa, to take back to square one all the elements of narration: observation of a country, a civilization, a foreign language, an unknown story. And all the primordial questions are asked there in a single movement: what is seeing, hearing, interpreting, exploring, reflecting, remembering, dreaming, writing, speaking? His instruction begins again, his life is reeducated elsewhere, on an “exotic” soil, extra-muros, far from the ruins of his childhood and his native land, far from the other side of the walls of a Europe whose Second World War culminated in a sort of cultural suicide. This war was for him the equivalent of that inaugural catastrophe that the hero of so many science fiction tales has trouble remembering or measuring but that conditions the entirety of his new universe. For him, it is as though this catastrophe “upstream” could not be recounted. And he tries anew to see, to tell, to write, having come into contact with foreign languages unknown to him—languages which, by their difference from his own, will allow him to look upon his mother tongue differently and to use it anew.
Whence the importance for me of the discovery of another civilization, Islam, to the point that six or seven of my books are squarely situated there (Marrakch Medine attempts, among other things, to give the reasons for this shock and for its consequences for writing). If, therefore, I have not written any “war novels,” it is because all the “novels” of that particular war had already been written, mentally, in the years preceding my first book. But the colonial war was certainly there in the fifties, and Le Maintien de l’ordre bears its violent traces. It was, moreover, precisely because this book dealt with such a revolutionary situation—that of a revolutionary struggle in a colonized Muslim country, in a large North African city caught in the cross fire of terrorism and counterterrorism—that the New Novel on its way to becoming institutionalized rejected Le Maintien de l’ordre as not satisfying the criteria of non-engagement set down, somewhat hastily and unreflectively, by the spokesmen of this New Novel. For this book was, in its way, an “engaged” book, and the Editions de Minuit’s recent and highly debatable policy in the area of contemporary fiction aimed to ban this type of writing, publishing documents on the one side and, on the other, New Novels from which any social or political problematic had to be excluded. Le Maintien de l’ordre bore the cost of this ostracism. And because of it, in my opinion, the horizon of the New Novel found itself, soon after its “launching,” singularly limited in its perspectives and its future evolution.
CL: A strong current in American literary criticism and critical theory of recent years has been a call for a more “political” approach to both writing literature and writing about literature. Experimental fiction has often been critiqued for what is seen as its “hyperformalism.” Were this charge to be made about your writing, how would you respond?
CO: I would answer that this accusation, which is superficial and banal, rests upon a regrettable lack of reflection on the question of language and of its relation to the body; upon the question of form and of the evolution of forms; and, more generally, upon any question that is epistemological, philosophical, or aesthetic in nature. Or I would answer, more simply, that those who make this charge have probably not read the books of which they claim to speak. For to use the term experimental is to misconstrue completely the very nature and practice of the act of writing such as they are manifested in books like mine. My work has absolutely nothing to do with “experimentation.” In the exact, scientific sense of the term, experimentation consists of isolating certain elements and conducting upon them duly controlled experiments, systematic manipulations, skillful alterations. I have nothing against this kind of work, and some of its results can be interesting and instructive. But my kind of intervention in respect to language and narrative forms has nothing to do with that. You could even say that it is the opposite: indeed, genuine experimentation necessarily tries as much as possible to eliminate chance, while my whole practice consists in provoking, in narrative invention, the greatest possible degree of chance, soliciting at every moment the irruption of elements which are more or less diffuse, forgotten, or firmly buried within the unconscious. I can only write, can only feel the pleasure of writing, if I reconnect with past emotions. I have an absolute need in the beginning for a precise setting, a setting in which I have lived; I need it so that the sensations, perceptions, and emotions can flow. Even on an “imaginary” planet, my writing can function only if it is plugged into memories, dreams, and intuitions. The phantasmic scenes of Epsilon and Enigma are closely derived from lived scenes from the recent or distant past. This is what I call the anchorage of a fiction. Everything in my texts arrives there by way of this anchorage in a place, by way of the paths, the journeys, the adventures, the dramas linked to this place. This is the source of the elan which allows for the development of a story: this story is launched on emotional traces, that is, on the reviviscence of the body’s displacements in a space known and forgotten, and on linkings of synesthetic, kinesthetic sensations whose recall and inscription in adequate terms regroup all the other sensations—visual, auditory, tactile. And for me the auditory sensations are much more important than the visual ones; the sounds connected with a place evoke that place for me, years later, much better than images: the tape recording is by far superior to photography. The tracing of lines is linked up to this play of recall and resurgences; the words, sentences, paragraphs, and blanks between lines must be fused by the permanence of this elan.
Each day, I start out on an impulse of this sort, which may only last a few minutes or can sometimes stretch out into several hours, but when I no longer feel its action within me, I know there is no point in insisting because there is no longer any vital necessity to continue, and it is only for that that I write. This necessity must be inscribed in each word, between the words, palpably. Only then can the reader feel an emotion of the same nature and force. If a sentence fails to transmit the emotion, it’s no good, it must be rejected or transformed. This work of palpable re-creation thus takes place through work upon forms: of vocabulary, of syntax, of typical and coded narrative formulas. This implies a putting into form of assonances, of relations of sonority, of rhythms, of silences, of the tempo intended for each piece. Here it is principally a question of music, a music of the text which is composed a bit like a musical score; I listen to it, I play it to myself, play it again, modify it, listen again, until the “musical phrase” is perfect, untouchable. If this work upon forms is called “hyperformalism,” then Bach, Schubert, Cervantes, Debussy, Rabelais, Flaubert, Bartok, Henry James, Proust and many others are remarkable hyperformalists.
It could be added that the necessity of an evolution of forms is inscribed within the exhaustion resulting from the prolonged use of these forms. By dint of being endlessly repeated, such forms become cliches, forms emptied of emotion. It is in order to reactivate emotive reactions (which form the basis of all the others— argumentative, critical, ethical) and to produce new ones that writers, musicians, and painters periodically “disconnect” from an ambient academicism diffused and lauded by the media, and compose works which appear to be completely apart, completely marginal and unassimilable. But these works create, there, a new poetics, and I would willingly speak of poetics in relation to my books, which are not novels. Finally, this necessity of disconnection and upheaval always rejoins at a certain point a sort of irrepressible curiosity, submitted to a mysterious logic of plastic transformations, and linked to meaning, to the relation of the body to meaning and form. All this, which should be developed point by point, clearly has nothing to do with the activity of some experimental laboratory.
CL: What are the “politics of fiction” in France in recent years? Why do we see a resurgence of more conventional novelistic forms and a rejection, from some quarters, of experimentation in fiction?
CO: I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “politics of fiction.” Who enunciates, advocates, or applies this “politics”? What I know of are fashions, which are launched or sustained by the modem media and which are in a state of constant disjunction in respect to stages of creation such as they are lived by writers. By disjunction I mean a delay. I think that there was a remarkable series of narrative innovations in France after the end of the Second World War. One can study this series historically and formally, analyzing its currents, works, filiations, and influences. One can also, if one has the taste for it, study its echo (if there is one) in the media of the same period. One will note that the delay in providing information, to say nothing of analysis and criticism, is between two and ten years. And the principal objective of the accumulated power of the media is, today, to blur and confuse the paths, to tend to efface them, retaining only one slim trace for show, while awaiting the next show. This volatilization of reality takes place on a large scale and is motivated by the quest for quick sales and high ratings. All of this could give the impression of a “resurgence” of the traditional novel. But it has no more “resurged” now than it had foundered in the era of the New Novel, from 1955 to 1960. It has been in good health for the last forty years, and that’s perfectly normal. Every era is marked by a very major conservative current and a very minor innovative current. What characterizes a given era is the particular difference, the singular gap that it reveals between these two currents. The gap can be rather minimal in certain eras and considerable in others. It has tended to grow, in my opinion, over the last half-century, to a great extent because of the Second World War, all of whose consequences in the cultural domain have not yet been weighed by most of our contemporaries. And also because of the fact that in all the compartments of social life, evolution since the beginning of the century has been extremely sudden and rapid and unexpected, surprising everyone, creating in every domain—technological, military, political, ethical- enormous simultaneous upheavals which could not have been avoided, abated, attenuated. One submitted to them and continues to submit to their full force; one is obliged to adapt, and one adapts badly. So our Western society today strives to preserve intact the cultural sector and, above all, that of the narrative: it is absolutely imperative that this vital activity—the auto narrativity of a society, the “representation,” if you will, or the “recitation” of this society to itself—remain sheltered from this wave of questioning. And this sector can be stabilized; mastery over it can be maintained (it may well be the only one today). All that need be done is to uniformly marginalize any innovation, especially threatening manifestations of rupture. Thus it can be confirmed, curiously, in this fin de siecle, that any social change is finally admitted quite soon, even if it constitutes a break with secular customs, except in the narrative domain. Everything else can “blow”—the atom, the family, ideology—but literary genres must hold! Thus the novelistic still shines today as the enduring quietude of consciences, the glowing repose of the citizen who is buffeted on all other sides and who is frightened. The major media, plus computerization, in the service of generalized literary academicism: this is the burlesque cultural project in which we have been engaged for quite a while. This will function for a certain time. For a long time perhaps, longer than we think. And then, one fine day, the gap will resurface, in broad daylight, in all its violence.
CL: At the end of your essay “French Version,” you signal the need for a new reading, a different way of approaching the kind of texts you and others have written. Can you elaborate further on what specific directions or forms this new reading might take? How could this new kind of reading translate into literary criticism? How does this proposed accent on “le biographique,” on the person of the writer, differ from standard biographical criticism?
CO: When I suggested “new gestures of reading, ones which are attentive to metamorphoses,” at the end of “French Version,” I meant something like this: to place oneself in the movement of the text, that is, in its creative movement, in the same path that the text’s inventor was in the process of opening up, of clearing away, of exploring when he chose his words, cadences, punctuation marks, silences. In other words, to listen to the music of the text attentively enough to perceive its assonances, its resonances, its close or distant rhymes, its allusions, and at the same time the tensions, the differences between the passages that came easily (one can sense it) and those where the phrase nearly broke or hesitated or went off in an unexpected direction (one can sense this, too, in any finished text). Or again: to “get inside the skin” of the author, to adopt his apprehensions, successes, pleasures, doubts. This is the only way to feel the words vibrate fully and to deliver them of all their meaning—their manifest meaning as well as their hidden, yet perceptible meaning. This is not a new attitude, you will say, and that’s true: it holds for any truly organized text. I therefore linked “gestures of reading” to “metamorphoses.” And there I wanted to make reference to two contemporary events of extreme importance: the insistence of psychoanalysis on the play of the signifier, on the one hand, and on the other, the breakdown of European cultural ethnocentrism. There is no time to develop these two points in detail here. I will simply say that all my books, on the whole, call for an opening onto the Other, and this Other is as much the unconscious, the “double,” as it is the Other repressed by European writing for centuries—the Islamic civilization, for example. My books in which this aspect is most manifest are Marrakch Medine and Mon Double a Malacca, both subsequent to Le Jeu d’enfant. But in all of Le Jeu d’enfant the purpose is the same, the aim is identical. These books thus call for readers who will also be open and capable of abandoning, if only for a time, their prejudices and presuppositions-not only those about reading (the “character,” the “story,” pre-Freudian psychology, the taste for tragedy, etc.) but also the ideological ones, that is, all the customary cliches prevalent in the culture. This is not so easy. For example, it is significant that most of the French readers of Marrakch Medine, who claimed to be sensitive to a certain poetic quality of the text, did not, however, feel themselves mobilized by the text’s effort toward Islam; they thus recuperated for themselves, under the iridescent colors of exoticism, all that this book tried to do in order to break down the wall of exoticism and specifically of “orientalism. ” The Moroccan readers, on the other hand, judged the book to be important in this connection.
As for the critic, he is a reader like any other, even if he is overwhelmed by his readings. What I just said is valid for him as well, neither more nor less. A literary criticism applied to these books must exhibit the same openness, the same availability, which clearly requires a rupture with certain modes of behavior, too, imprinted with Eurocentric ideology.
Finally, I think I stressed that “le biographique” in “French Version” is intended as “symbolized,” rather than directly enunciated. This is to say that it is a “biographique” which is filtered and transposed by the author, the “instance” which organizes, chooses, and writes, and which is representative of a place, a period, and of the currents, intersections, practices, feelings, ideas, and voices which make themselves heard there. It is not a “biographique” which simply incorporates events in the life of the citizen who bears the same name as the writer. And these are, really, two distinct characters-another reality that the “media” fiercely deny and repress. This duality is difficult to explain and analyze, and is the source of many misunderstandings. I really should have thought, back then, of taking a pseudonym.
CL: How are other media—radio and film—related to writing fiction for you?
CO: First, allow me an objection: for me, radio and cinema are no more “media” than are language or the book. They are materials, ones that are different from those on which is exercised the writing of a book: sounds, noises, music, spoken or sung dialogues, fixed or mobile images, etc. For several years radio and cinema accompanied the writing of my books: in radio, in the form of “radiophonic pieces” composed at the request of French or German stations and broadcast all over Europe; in cinema, in the form of film critiques published in La Nouvelle Revue francaise, Le Mercure de France, and Les Cahiers du cinema (a selection of these articles was published in 1981 by Gallimard-Cahiers du Cinema as Souvenirs ecran); and also in the form of film scenarios, two of which have been produced. Writing for radio or cinema is something entirely different from writing a text of literary fiction. The former are more social, more sociable activities. I practiced them with pleasure, as a welcome diversion from the absorbing work of writing—even a pleasant recreation. Most of my radio pieces are developments or “enlargements” of the short texts collected in Nebules and Navettes. Having said this, I don’t think that these exercises effected upon composite materials have ever had any influence on my writing. They are different domains.
CL: Do you envision another fictional cycle after Le Jeu d’enfant? The two books you have published since the completion of Le Jeu d’enfant both put into play an Occidental placed in an Oriental setting. In this sense, these “travel narratives” continue some of the concerns of the earlier fictional cycle. Do they also represent a departure in respect to the earlier works?
CO: I finished the last book of Le Jeu d’enfant in the summer of 1974, after which I went several years without thinking about writing other books. I thought I had finished once and for all with the question of writing. And then, it resurfaced. . . .The two books published recently, Marrakch Medine and Mon Double a Malacca, follow chronologically, and that’s all I can say. Yes, there is still an Occidental wandering far from home, extra-muros, but these narratives contain no common fictional ties. They lie, moreover, halfway between documentary and fiction. But then so did my first books, to a lesser extent: La Mise en scene and Le Maintien de l’ordre are built upon a “documentation” that is very strong, very precise, in all domains (geographical, climatic, social, economical . . . ), which nourishes each page and permeates the plot. I sometimes think that later, if all these books haven’t perished, if they are still read, people might be more intrigued by the documentary details than by the events of the “drama”; I find this idea very amusing.
CL: What about Cahiers d’ecolier and Fables sous reve?
CO: Cahiers d’ecolier is my “diary” from the years 1950 to 1960. I have always kept a sort of work-journal, a logbook, where I record fragments of narrative, ideas for future books, dreams, things observed that day, travels. . . . In practice, these notebooks are like those used in class, in school. I had never thought about publishing them until my friends Bernard Noel and Denis Roche, having looked at one or two, assured me that they would be of interest to those who liked my books and would be curious to know how they had been made. I hesitated, equivocated, then let myself be talked into it. The second volume, Fables sous reve, covering the years 1960 to 1970, was published late last year. Next year the third volume will appear: Les Liens d’espace, covering the years 1970 to 1980. Of course I continue to record things in a notebook, right now almost nightly, but it can be quite irregular. I like to open the notebook in the evenings and scribble a few lines. It keeps me company.
CL: What kind of fiction have you written since Mon Double a Malacca? Where do you see your writing going?
CO: I recently finished a rather long narrative entitled Une Histoire illisible (An Unreadable Story), with the “unreadable” being the past, which never succeeds in constituting itself as a story, with a beginning, a development, and an ending. The past cannot be inscribed in an ordered continuity. Chronology is powerless to account for it, to organize it, to cut it up into coherent narrative segments; it can only submit unquestioningly to narrative routine in the matter at hand, which works like a veritable occultation of the reality of perception, of memory, of the real presence of mental events. In other words, it is shown in this book that writing the “biographical” in ways that are traditional, consecrated, and considered “normal” or even “natural” (a chronological narrative from A to Z), is an impossible enterprise, even a falacious one—an enterprise permeated by tragic humanist ideology and repressing with every page the direct or remembered givens of our perceptible experience. The book proposes a grand adventure in which the narrative passes through several narrative genres, through modalities which differ greatly from each other. Thus one finds, right in the middle, a short Oriental apologue followed by a fantastic tale.
Projects? I would like to write children’s stories, but that’s a difficult genre. And compose a series of musical scenes, or ones that would at least be centered upon the perception and the memory of music. But this is even more difficult.
Where is my writing going? I have no idea. If I knew, there would be no suspense, and I would have been robbed of my intrigue.