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Claude Simon: A Retrospective

Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 56
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  • Book Info
    Claude Simon
    Book Description:

    This collection of essays celebrates the work of the French Nobel prize-winning novelist Claude Simon. Scholars from France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom reconsider the fifty years of Simon’s fiction in the light of his large-scale autobiographical novel Le Jardin des Plantes (1997). From a variety of perspectives – postmodernist, psychoanalytic, aesthetic – contributors reflect on the central paradox of Simon’s work: his writing and rewriting of an experience of war so disruptive and traumatic that words can never be adequate to communicate it. The layers of artifice in Le Jardin des Plantes and the nature of Simon’s aesthetic are analysed in essays which explore intertextual resonances between Simon and Proust, Flaubert, Borges and Poussin. A complementary view of Simon’s Photographies 1937–1970 shows that it too can be seen as form of indirect autobiography.

    eISBN: 978-1-78138-049-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vi-vi)
    Jean H. Duffy and Alastair Duncan
  4. Message from Claude Simon to the Participants at the Conference held in May 1999
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Claude Simon
  5. Introduction: The Critical Reception of Claude Simon since the 1960s
    (pp. 1-21)
    Jean H. Duffy and Alastair Duncan

    By the turn of the century Claude Simon had written fourteen novels and published a variety of shorter works including two volumes of photographs. His production spanned nearly sixty years, fromLe Tricheur, begun in 1941 and published in 1945, toLe Jardin des Plantes(1997).¹ LikeLes GéorgiquesandL’Acacia, which preceded it in 1981 and 1989,Le Jardin des Plantesis a work on a grand scale, at once a personal memoir and a sweeping historical fresco. Like them, it recapitulates many of the main themes of hisoeuvre, reworks familiar incidents and motifs, and rewrites his literary and personal...

  6. 1 Thinking History Otherwise: Fiction and the Sites of Memory in Claude Simon
    (pp. 22-38)
    David Carroll

    In his multi-volume collection,Les Lieux de mémoire, Pierre Nora describes the contemporary period as having at the same time both a deficiency and surplus of memory. Surplus of memory in the sense that never before has it apparently been so easy to inscribe, store and retrieve memories of all sorts, both private and official, individual and collective. And never before have there been so many different types of archives and so many different forms of memory being stored. Also, and more important, never has there been such a demand for memories, such a determined will to remember, or such...

  7. 2 (In)Commensurabilities: The Childhood of Events and the Shock of Encounter in Claude Simon
    (pp. 39-60)
    Mária Minich Brewer

    It may seem paradoxical to speak of the incommensurable in Claude Simon when readers appear to have found considerable common ground for discussing hisoeuvre. Numerous studies have treated the continued emergence of the workings of memory, the new realms of family history, the places of history, and the relationship of all these to his writing’s dynamics. While these aspects of his work solicit consensus, the broader question of asensus communisand the critical issue of incommensurability remain unexamined, out of harmony with the themes of correspondence, proximity, continuity and unity in Simon criticism. I do not wish, however,...

  8. 3 Instant Replays: The Reintegration of Traumatic Experience in Le Jardin des Plantes
    (pp. 61-76)
    Celia Britton

    Running through the first three parts ofLe Jardin des Plantesis a recurring episode in which S. is interviewed by a journalist about his experiences in the war, and in particular about the key incident of his war experience, defined here as: ‘ce qu’il éprouva pendant l’heure durant laquelle il suivit ce colonel, vraisemblablement devenu fou, sur la route de Solre-le-Château à Avesnes, le 17 mai 1940, avec la certitude d’être tué dans la seconde qui allait suivre’ (JP, 223).

    The war scene¹ has already figured, sometimes centrally, sometimes more tangentially, in previous texts, andLe Jardin des Plantesrecalls...

  9. 4 The Dynamics of Conflict in the Novels of Claude Simon
    (pp. 77-99)
    J. A. E. Loubère

    When, in the 1960s, theorists of the New Novel, led by Alain Robbe-Grillet and then Jean Ricardou, undertook a complete spring-cleaning of the fusty conventions governing fiction, they enthusiastically dismantled and discarded previous notions of intrigue, characterisation, psychology, orderly thematic development in time, spatial coordination, plot resolution and closure, recognising fiction only asfacture, that is, primarily the use and manipulation of words in a text. In this, they were themselves developing ideas inherent in the work of predecessors such as Jarry, Roussel, Valéry, Proust, Joyce, Borges and various Surrealists, but their theoretical approach demolished far more systematically the existing...

  10. 5 Satire, Burlesque and Comedy in Claude Simon
    (pp. 100-117)
    Alastair Duncan

    Satire, burlesque and comedy are not primary characteristics of Simon’s work. The subject matter of his novels derives not least from the trials and traumas of personal experience: the absence of his father, killed at the Front in 1914; the death of his mother when he was still a boy; early rejection of the Catholic faith in which he was brought up and of its secularised substitute, Marxism, which seduced so many young intellectuals of the inter-war years; above all, his personal experience of the debacle of 1940: eight days advancing then retreating on horseback before the German tanks, the...

  11. 6 The Garden of Forking Paths: Intertextuality and Le Jardin des Plantes
    (pp. 118-134)
    Mary Orr

    Although Claude Simon cited Borges in interviews and lectures from the late 1960s onwards,¹ his name is absent from theDiscours de Stockholm.²This is a striking omission given that, in this text, Simon refers in condensed form to the majority of the writers, painters and works of high cultural art of which he had spoken throughout his career as writer. Nor has Borges received much attention from critics as precursor or intertext in Simon’soeuvrein general,³ or inLe Jardin des Plantesin particular.⁴ Yet scrutiny of Borges’sThe Garden of Forking Pathsas intertext inLe Jardin des Plantesadds...

  12. 7 A partir du Jardin des Plantes: Claude Simon’s Recapitulations
    (pp. 135-151)
    David Ellison

    Faithful readers of Claude Simon’s extensive fictionaloeuvrewill sense, at first, that they are in familiar territory as they begin to peruseLe Jardin des Plantes. Not only does the central traumatic event of the novelist’s life – his strange participation/non-participation in the rapid defeat of the French army in the Second World War – occupy centre stage here, as it did in the Reixach cycle, but the overarching theme of order versus disorder inhabits the pages of this 1997 work with the same intensity as in the earlier writings. The liminary quotation forLe Jardin des Plantes, taken from Montaigne, seems,...

  13. 8 Supplementary Organs: Media and Machinery in the Late Novels of Claude Simon
    (pp. 152-167)
    Wolfram Nitsch

    Throughout Claude Simon’s novels, technology appears as an important thematic and metaphorical field. Montès, the main character of his early novelLe Vent, never parts from his camera, looking through it as through the window of ‘une auto, un tramway, un train, un véhicule en marche’ (V, 197); S., the protagonist and narrator of his 1997 novelLe Jardin des Plantes, is equally obsessed by technical media and by machines. In Simon’s literary presentation of this field three different but often overlapping perspectives can be discerned. First, numerous references reveal a polemical critique of technology as totally exterior and therefore...

  14. 9 One Step Further: Claude Simon’s Photographies 1937–1970
    (pp. 168-182)
    Mireille Calle-Gruber

    Published in 1992 and presenting prints of photographs taken between 1937 and 1970, Claude Simon’s bookPhotographies1937–1970 is itself a kind of retrospective.¹ Moreover, the themes ofPhotographiesare related to those which can be found in the novels of the period, particularlyLe Vent,La Route des FlandresandHistoire. This essay will demonstrate that Simon’s methods as a photographer offer a retrospective understanding of his art as a novelist and, in particular, of his treatment of the themes of reminiscence and the acquisition of memories. Retrospection is one of the fundamental procedures of his work. Album d’un...

  15. 10 Truth, Verbiage and Ecriture in Le Jardin des Plantes
    (pp. 183-204)
    Jean H. Duffy

    The role of the references to Poussin’s painting in the work of Claude Simon is a familiar topic in the critical corpus. Stuart Sykes, Celia Britton and Michel Bertrand have provided penetrating commentaries on the role of Poussin’sLandscape with Blind Orionin Simon’s fiction and aesthetics,¹ while Jean Rousset, Françoise van Rossum-Guyon, Mária Minich Brewer and Else Jongeneel have all offered subtle interpretations of the role of the description ofThe Victory of Joshua over the Amorites in La Bataille de Pharsale.²My own publications on the topic have focused on the formal and thematic similarities between Simon’soeuvreand...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-230)
  17. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 231-232)