Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Fragment and Hubbub

Two Doors

An hysteria of forms. Snow rampaging under the splay’d light—vaguely conical, vaguely orange—of the swan-neck’d lamps. Envie de dire “réverbère.” Plenty of odd atomizing desires. To number aimlessly the degrees of promiscuous lack. The reader / impostor fingering the material sew’d up in pleats. Barthes says “the fragment breaks up what I would call the smooth finish, the composition, discourse constructed to give a final meaning to what one says, which is the general rule of all past rhetoric . . . the fragment is a spoilsport, discontinuous, establishing a kind of pulverization of sentences, images, thoughts, none of which ‘takes’ definitively.” The danger of writing under the aegis of the fragment: a new solidifying, that of mere “anarchy,” discontinuousness its own raillery, and, it, too, final. Thus one dodges continuously to subvert the code and its codify’d counter-code: “to pretend to remain within an apparently classical code, to keep the appearance of a writing subject to certain stylistic imperatives, and thus to attain the dissociation of an ultimate meaning through a form that is not spectacularly disorganize, that avoids hysteria.” The mummer’s hysteria, the imposed calm of avoidance.

(Henry James, who walk’d a leash’d dachshund by the name of Maximilian, apprehending that Ford Madox Ford intend’d to depart for the trenches of France, reportedly exclaim’d: “Tu vas te battre pour le sol sacré de Mme de Stael!” Of James and the unending scrutiny and tremulousness of the Jamesian sentence, Ford notes: “I fancy that his mannerisms—his involutions, whether in speech or in writing, were due to a settled conviction that, neither in his public nor in his acquaintance, would he ever find anyone who would not need talking down to.” Of John Galsworthy’s writing—par contre, the anti-fragment, no wan circumspicuousness he—Ford says: “The dogged determination with which Mr Galsworthy makes point after point always reminds me of a big trout lying in a stickle of a stream on his native Dartmoor. Fly after fly comes down on the water and not one, ever, does the grim speckled being miss.”)

Barthes, replying to Pierre Boncenne’s query (out of a 1979 issue of Lire, reprint’d in The Grain of the Voice) regarding the ambiguity of the term “fragment,” and how “a whole, a complete edifice” is imply’d by the pieces:
      . . . I could give a specious answer saying that this whole does exist, that writing is in fact never anything but the rather poor and skimpy remains of the wonderful things each person has inside himself. What ends up as writing are erratic little clumps of ruins when compared to a complicated and splendid ensemble. And that is the problem of writing: how to put up with the fact that the great flood I have within me leads in the best of cases to a rivulet of writing. I myself get along best by not appearing to construct a complete whole and by leaving plural residues in plain sight. That is how I justify my fragments.
      Having said that, I am very strongly tempted these days to write a long, continuous work, something non-fragmentary. (Once more the problem is typically Proustian, since Proust spent half his life producing only fragments, and then all at once, in 1909 he began constructing that oceanic flood, Remembrance of Things Past.) . . . I’m interested in what I call the “novel” or “making a novel,” not in a commercial sense but because it would be a kind of writing that would no longer by fragmentary.
Reverie of the boat that’ll hold everything. Snow unceasing, the granular pieces piling up to make a kind of summit partout. In the interview, Barthes refers directly to the course he’s teaching at the Collège de France, the lectures now gather’d in The Preparation of the Novel (Columbia University Press, 2011). With the supply’d fragment:
A group of us go in two cars to the Waterfall (a pretty little valley on the way to Rabat). The same, uninterrupted sadness, a kind of listlessness that (since a recent bereavement) bears upon everything I do, everything I think. Return, an empty apartment, a difficult time: the afternoon (I’ll speak of it again). Alone, sad? Marinade. I reflect with enough intensity. The beginnings of an idea: something like a “literary” conversion—it’s those two very old words that occur to me: to enter into literature, into writing; to write, as if I’d never written before: to do only that.

Will I really write a novel? I’ll answer this and only this. I’ll proceed as if I were going to write one. I’ll install myself within this as if: this lecture course could have been called ‘As if’.”
Recalling the Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes adage: “It must all be considered as if spoken by a character in a novel.” That versus the canny admitting of a longing to reclaim (in Fragments d’un discours amoureux) “the intimate which seeks utterance in me.” Now, according to The Preparation of the Novel: “Better the illusions of subjectivity than the impostures of objectivity.” C’est à voir.

Roland Barthes, 1915-1980