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Parody and Palimpsest

Intertextuality, Language, and the Ludic in the Novels of Jean-Philippe Toussaint


Sarah L. Glasco

Parody and Palimpsest: Intertextuality, Language, and the Ludic in the Novels of Jean-Philippe Toussaint adds to the emerging body of work on intertextuality through expansion of critical examinations of the novels of this award-winning author, presenting him as the ultimate magister ludi. Sarah L. Glasco links Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s novels to cross-disciplinary texts that include not only Russian, American, and Japanese literatures, but also film and visual art. Toussaint alludes to the works of numerous French canonical authors, such as Pascal, Flaubert, Gide, Proust, and Apollinaire, with a multicultural mix of Faulkner, Beckett, Nabokov, and Kawabata, for instance, and the works of filmmakers, painters, and ancient philosophers like Wong Karwai, Mark Rothko, and Aristotle. Ultimately, intertextuality in Toussaint’s novels is linked to global cultures and new media via his contemporary literary landscapes. This in-depth study reveals, presents, and analyzes a multiplicity of intertexts, depicting the inner workings of their playful relationships to the texts as a whole, how they are intricately interwoven into Toussaint’s narratives, and also how they relate to one another. Through a process of rereading and reinterpreting Toussaint’s texts, Parody and Palimpsest illuminates both linguistic and narrative subversions, parodies, and pastiches, and, subsequently, Toussaint’s ludic landscapes emerge. Readers are then able to unmask other identities his texts can embody in order to rediscover them through the language, literature, art, products, and thus culture of others.
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Chapter 3. The Evasive Maneuvers of Monsieur


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Contextual Evasion

Much like La Salle de bain, Toussaint’s second novel Monsieur incarnates a narrative of contextual evasion that penetrates language, story, and style throughout. All of Toussaint’s characters seem to have difficulty dealing with their respective realities, but Monsieur, in particular, bases his decisions on what he believes will produce the least conflict-ridden result in any given situation. Still, Toussaint’s protagonists always manage to find themselves in awkward instances, feeling anxious, wishing to retreat to the confines of a hotel room, a bathroom, or choosing escape through television, for example. Ultimately, this apparent ambivalence or indifference portrayed in order to avoid conflict (be it desired or affected) typically backfires. Monsieur’s attempts to evade, avoid, and hide represent some of the funnier isolated moments within the text. For example, after having specifically described the room where a meeting is to take place as “immuable, une grande salle rectangulaire dans laquelle une table ovale, en bois laqué, occupait tout l’espace” (M 11), Monsieur proceeds to hide:

Monsieur s’asseyait à la dix-septième place en partant de la gauche, celle où, par expérience, il avait remarqué que la présence passait la plus inaperçue, à côté de ← 49 | 50 → Mme Dubois-Lacour, qui, supervisant une grande partie de ses activités, répondait à la plupart des questions qui lui étaient posées, et, tout au long de la réunion, fumant tranquillement une cigarette, Monsieur, veillait...

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