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Narratives of French Modernity

Themes, Forms and Metamorphoses- Essays in Honour of David Gascoigne


Edited By Lorna Milne and Mary Orr

Inspired by the work of their colleague David Gascoigne, a group of scholars from the UK and France examine in this book the narrative strategies of some of the most interesting and important French writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Stretching chronologically from 1905 to 2005, the volume examines a wide variety of prose genres, from pornography to Bildungsroman to magic realism, as well as poetry. Michel Tournier figures in several of the contributions, emerging as something of a touchstone for many of the thematic preoccupations that are common throughout the period: values and authority, self and other, identity, spirituality, migration and exile, sexuality, the body, violence and war, and language. The authors also examine the flourishing of intertextuality, as well as the use of traditional forms, such as mythical structures and the ‘robinsonade’, to undermine authoritative ‘métarécits’. Probing these themes and forms, and their metamorphoses across 100 years, the essays demonstrate a striking degree of continuity, linking writers as different as Apollinaire and Houellebecq or Valéry and Fleutiaux, and highlight the difficulty of dividing the period neatly into chronologically ordered categories labelled ‘modern’ or ‘postmodern’.


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David Evans - ‘On transporte avec soi une espèce de gouffre’: Textual Spacesand Literary Heritage in Michel Houellebecq’s 'Poésies' - 153


David Evans ‘On transporte avec soi une espèce de gouf fre’: Textual Spaces and Literary Heritage in Michel Houellebecq’s Poésies Michel Houellebecq’s three volumes of poetry, La Poursuite du bonheur (1992), Le Sens du combat (1996) and Renaissance (1999), position them- selves squarely within a recognizable narrative of French poetic modernity on both thematic and formal levels.1 The poet is haunted by the vide, or gouf fre, a fil conducteur which runs through the French literary tradition from Pascal, via Baudelaire and Laforgue, to Sartre and beyond. ‘Une vie, petite’ (PDB 118) makes this af filiation explicit; the image of ‘Des troncs d’arbre écœurants’ (l. 6) echoes a famous scene from La Nausée, and ‘On transporte avec soi une espèce de gouf fre’ (l. 15) recalls Baudelaire’s own recognition of inheritance: ‘Pascal avait son gouf fre, avec lui se mouvant’ (‘Le Gouf fre’, l. 1). Moreover, Houellebecq’s predilection for metrical verse, particularly quatrains of alexandrines or octosyllables, harks back to the nineteenth century, and some French journalists, in rather dis- dainful reviews, have criticized him for perpetuating a fossilized, obso- lete verse tradition. Yet his use of prose poems, and of a vers libre which persists nonetheless with regular rhyme patterns, suggests an af finity with the crucial period 1870–1920 during which Rimbaud, Laforgue and Apollinaire accelerate the progress of poetic modernity while negotiating 1 References to Houellebecq’s Poésies are taken from the paperback edition compris- ing all three volumes (Paris: J’ai lu,...

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