Author: gidouille (---.academicplanet.com)
Date: 04-17-05 11:49
My friend "gidouille" read the discussion here and has this to say. I wonder what your views are on g's take and on Queneau and Pataphysics.
Swilley's concerns and the questions he asks strike me as silly. I have real problems with imposing formalist structural models on writing. It's a bit like using an anvil to crush an ant. It's been decades since I read The Hobbit or LoTR and can't really defend them, but I think critiques such as his are pointless at best. You have a lively discussion happening, at any rate.
Someone there wrote:
language: an uneducated working class laborer does not have a vocabulary replete with words such as "luminary or "ebullient" (or "replete" for that matter). This is probably one of the most common faults. It's often called purple prose for a reason.
I was immediately reminded of Queneau's Witch Grass in which ordinary working class French discuss philosophy. At one point there's a soliloquy by a concierge that's taken from Plato's Parmenides. Far from being purple prose, this is an intentional device Queneau uses both to demystify lofty ideas and to remind the reader of the artificiality of the work. Robbe-Grillet termed Witch Grass (Le Chien Dent) the first novel roman (predating the movement by some two decades), exactly because of the use of devices to prevent the reader from being lost in the book. In the end even the characters realize they're fictional.
It occurred to me how a someone from the formalist school would complain that Witch Grass has none. The use of contnual textual experimentation, exotic points of view (for instance a funeral is shown from the perspective of a dog) neologisms, slang, puns, crude humor all suggest an off the cuff piece of work. It took Queneau himself to come clean on the mathematics underlying his work. He said he had a horror of chance and that everything down to a character's entrance was mathematically plotted. The book has 7 chapters of 13 sections each, making a total of 91 sections or the sum of the first 13 numbers. The thirteenth section of each chapter is reserved for dreams, streams of consciouness or other decidedly subjective devices. It's cyclical, beginning and ending at the same place more or less with the sense that nothing of consequence has actually occurred, but the work is much more than that suggests. It thus appears to be completely loose and freewheeling and yet is plotted out much more rigorously than many works upon which a formalist would heap praise.
At one point there is a "he says" which makes no sense other than as an interjection by the author himself. A device he used at some point in most of his subsequent books, the way Hitchcock injected himself into the backgrounds of his own films.
Queneau in his essays argued that there was no essential difference between a novel and a poem. He liked to use rhyme and alliterations applied not so much to words as to characters and situations. In Witch Grass each major character is coupled with a complimentary or opposed other, thus Etienne, the cogito ergo sum of the novel, is coupled with Pierre who observes his transformation, the concierge Saturnin with his brother who owns a diner and so on. Events in the novel also have their echoes and rhymes and repeats with variations yet at the core of the plot is the hunt for a a treasure that turns out to be entirely illusory.