Marie Nimier

Le Sujet et ses écritures / The Self in the Web of Language

by David Gascoigne (Volume editor) Ana Maria Sousa Aguiar de Medeiros (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection XII, 300 Pages
Series: Modern French Identities, Volume 142


«The collection of well-written essays offers creative and compelling readings of Nimier’s work that can serve to introduce readers to the author’s contributions to the field of autofiction, gender, and memory, to name only a few themes, or prompt new areas of inquiry for established researchers of her work. What is more, the inclusion of creative works not only allows readers to discover Nimier’s newest texts, but also reflects the creative energies of an author whose writing project includes song, theatre, and dance.» (Lisa Connell, H-France Review 22.41, March 2022)
«This volume constitutes a landmark in the study of one of France’s foremost contemporary writers. The diversity and originality of its critical approaches and the scholarship and creativity in evidence on every page make it essential reading for anybody interested in Marie Nimier, or in 'self and subject' in contemporary writing.» (Professor Shirley Jordan, Newcastle University)
«This diverse collection casts much-needed light on Marie Nimier’s corpus and does full justice to the complexity and richness of Nimier’s writing. It excavates with skill and sensitivity the multiple palimpsestic layers of the narrative self – whether historical, familial, sensorial or linguistic – and illuminates the relational resonances Nimier’s texts provoke, both readerly and literary.» (Professor Siobhán McIlvanney, King’s College London)
In the postwar literary culture of France, under the influence of Structuralism and its aftermath, deference to «the text in itself» meant that literary studies eschewed discussing narrators or characters as subjects and deriving social or political commentary from specific texts. In reaction to this trend, which also influenced the writing of novels, a new generation of authors have sought instead to focus on developing innovative ways of conceptualizing subjecthood, identity and agency.
Marie Nimier’s writing abundantly exemplifies this «return of the subject» in the rich diversity of the fifteen novels she has published since Sirène in 1985, blending fiction and life-writing. Her narrators/protagonists typically strive to achieve forms of agency which are made possible, yet also threatened, by the ostensible «givens»: heritage, memory, gender, relationships, desire, social environment and, not least, language itself. This volume explores central aspects of self and subject in her oeuvre to date and includes two short stories which Nimier formally publishes here for the first time, one with an English translation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Marie Nimier: The Self in the Web of Language/ Le Sujet et ses écritures (DAVID GASCOIGNE AND ANA DE MEDEIROS)
  • Un virgule six mètres carrés (MARIE NIMIER)
  • La Filiation et ses complexes – Problematic Heritages
  • The Other Nimier: Paternal Hauntology and Queer Politics in Marie Nimier’s Works (ADINA STROIA)
  • À la recherche du père perdu : écriture du deuil et quête identitaire dans La Place d’Annie Ernaux et La Reine du silence de Marie Nimier (MARZIA CAPORALE)
  • Récits de filiation ou comment défaire les nœuds et renouer le fil : La Reine du silence de Marie Nimier et Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit de Delphine de Vigan (SYLVIE VIGNES)
  • Je suis un homme ou l’édification du sujet (THIERRY ILLOUZ)
  • Écrire le moi sensible, sensuel – Writing Sentience and Sensuality
  • Marie-Marie : l’optique kaléidoscopique dans Photo-Photo (CAROL J. MURPHY)
  • L’Odeur en papier : Anatomie d’un sens chez Marie Nimier (MARINELLA TERMITE)
  • La Partition du désir (CHRISTIAN UWE)
  • Le Sujet et la littérarité – The Subject in the Web of Literature
  • Generic Ambiguity in Les Inséparables (PATRICIA HODGES)
  • ‘Le roi assis’ and ‘la Reine du silence’: ‘Silent’ Intra-Intertexts in Je suis un homme (LORNA MILNE)
  • La Plage de Marie Nimier, un nouveau T. Beach ? (FLORIANE BLANCHOT)
  • Un sujet qui se cherche : l’exemple de La Plage – La Plage and the Search for Selfhood
  • Reparative Revisions: Writing and Self-Creation in La Plage (ADRIENNE ANGELO)
  • L’Histoire en partage dans La Plage de Marie Nimier (JEANNE-SARAH DE LARQUIER)
  • La Plage : l’abstrait, l’élémentaire, le charnel (DAVID GASCOIGNE)
  • Nimier : dialogue et mises en scène – Nimier in Dialogue and Performance
  • Confession as Theatre: Marie Nimier’s Les Confidences (ANA DE MEDEIROS)
  • Enquête#Bifurcations3 (FLORENCE JOU)
  • Le Compas – The Compass (MARIE NIMIER AND JOHN FLETCHER)
  • Bibliography
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

←x | xi→ Acknowledgements

The editors would like to thank first and foremost the magnifique Marie Nimier. Beyond writing the rich, complex and playful texts which form the subject of this volume, she participated in the international conference on her work held at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London, in 2017, and generously continued to engage with this publication through all its stages. This collection grew out of several of the papers presented in London and the various group discussions which followed. We are indebted to the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing for their support and more generally for creating an intellectual environment where such research flourishes. We are also grateful to the Thyra Alleyne Fund and King’s College London for their financial support, and for the time and commitment of Cathy Collins and Godela Weiss-Sussex without whom the event would not have seen the light of day.

Shirley Jordan’s inspirational encouragement ensured that the proposal for this collection was both ambitious in scope and coherently planned, and we have greatly appreciated her advice. Laurel Plapp has been a most supportive editor, offering invaluable flexibility and forbearance as the volume developed beyond its initial proposal. As all the sections came together, Mary Rigby played a crucial role both as proofreader and copy-editor and deserves our warmest thanks and admiration for her forensic eye and her perceptive suggestions.

←xii | 1→


Introduction: Marie Nimier: The Self in the Web of Language/ Le Sujet et ses écritures

Marie Nimier’s entry into fiction, with the appearance of her first novel Sirène in 1985, came at a period of significant development in French literary critical thought. The structuralist model of ‘the text as a closed, self-contained system, sufficient unto itself’,1 which had dominated debate since the 1960s, was giving way to ‘the confirmation, diversification and elaboration of the trend popularly known as the “return of the subject”’.2 This shift involved a ‘refiguration and revalidation of the subject […] as the site of various capacities worthy of our attention and respect’, even if the subject in question was now to be seen as more attenuated, more provisional than before.3 In fictional writing this revalidation of the subject characteristically involved a movement towards ‘a high degree of reference to the recognizable “real world”’, still pursuing ‘explorations of literary expression and authority’ but ‘within the framework of a broader social and cultural critique’.4 Nimier’s fiction has an abiding preoccupation with human identity as shaped in its constant evolution by many factors – heritage, memory, gender, relationships, desire, social milieu and physical environment, and not least ←1 | 2→ by language itself – and through this wide focus it perfectly exemplifies this return towards an attention to and respect for individual experience embedded within that broader social and cultural critique.

The fourteen critical essays presented in this collection all offer insights into Nimier’s explorations in writing of the concepts and experiences of self and subject. Theories of the subject in narrative fiction are many and diverse, but one conceptual formulation which seems particularly useful in exploring the worlds of Nimier’s fiction is that provided by Paul Ricœur, notably in his Soi-même comme un autre. Narrative identity, he suggests, operates within a dialectic between the two poles which define identity more generally, that is sameness (‘mêmeté’), which permits reliable recognizability of the individual, thanks to the unchanging nature of their appearance and characteristics, and selfhood (‘ipséité’), which is the sense of a continuity of the self despite the mutations which it undergoes, which may be recalled in memory or anticipated in a projected future:

Dans la fiction littéraire, l’espace de variations ouvert aux rapports entre les deux modalités d’identité est immense. À une extrémité, le personnage est un caractère identifiable et réidentifiable comme même : c’est à peu près le statut du personnage des contes de fée ou du folklore. Quant au roman classique – de la Princesse de Clèves ou du roman anglais du 18e siècle à Dostoïevski et Tolstoï –, on peut dire qu’il a exploré l’espace intermédiaire de variations où, à travers les transformations du personnage, l’identification du même décroît sans disparaître. On se rapproche du pôle inverse avec le roman dit d’apprentissage et, plus encore, le roman du courant de conscience.5

Nimier’s narratives brilliantly illustrate this ‘espace de variations’ between the two modalities of identity posited by Ricœur. They exemplify this model of narrative identity in fiction as a mediation between, on the one hand, a fixity which offers the self a sense of stability but which may inhibit or preclude change, and on the other hand, a capacity for transformation which carries with it the threat of alarming discontinuity and throws the stability of identity into question. As Ricœur further observes: ‘L’identité narrative se tient dans l’entre-deux ; en narrativisant le caractère, le récit lui rend son mouvement, aboli dans les dispositions ←2 | 3→ acquises, dans les identifications-avec sédimentées.’6 In Sirène (1985), in La Plage (2016) and in many of the intervening novels, the narrative concerns the shift within the experience of a central character from an inhibiting, even distressing, fixity towards the narrativized realization of, or at least the potential for, transformative change. Nimier’s work exploits ‘l’entre-deux’ in this and in many other respects, as contributions to this volume will amply testify.


XII, 300
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (June)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. XII, 300 pp.

Biographical notes

David Gascoigne (Volume editor) Ana Maria Sousa Aguiar de Medeiros (Volume editor)

David Gascoigne is Honorary Senior Lecturer in French at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. His publications have largely focused on French narrative of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including books on Michel Tournier, and on Georges Perec and ludic fiction. After excursions into Oulipian paratext, Dadaist poetry and the writings of Pascal Bruckner, he has more recently been preoccupied with the writing of Marie Nimier: his contribution here is the fifth article he has published on her work. Ana Maria Sousa Aguiar de Medeiros is Director of the Modern Language Centre at King’s College London. She has published a number of volumes focusing on the writing of Francophone authors including Assia Djebar, Marie Nimier, Amélie Nothomb and Marguerite Yourcenar. Since 2016, she has been a co-investigator working with Language Acts and Worldmaking and a consultant for Memoirs, a Horizon 2020-funded project.


Title: Marie Nimier
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314 pages