restricted access Queneau's Fiction: An Introductory Study, and: Representation in Contemporary French Fiction, and: Claude Simon, and: Politics, Writing, Mutilation: The Cases of Bataille, Blanchot, Roussel, Leiris, and Ponge (review)
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Reviewed by
Christopher Shorley. Queneau's Fiction: An Introductory Study. New York: Cambridge UP. 1985. 248 pp. $39.50.
Dina Sherzer. Representation in Contemporary French Fiction. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1986. 205 pp. $21.50.
Alastair B. Duncan, ed. Claude Simon. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic P, 1985. 166 pp. $16.95.
Allan Stoekl. Politics, Writing, Mutilation: The Cases of Bataille, Blanchot, Roussel, Leiris, and Ponge. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1985. 161 pp. $25.00.

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Christopher M. Shorley is to be commended for addressing himself to a considerable lacuna in French studies in English; except for a pamphlet-length introduction written by Jacques Guicharnard some years ago, there is no book on Queneau in English. Queneau is a novelist of the status of Camus, Sartre, or Céline. He is also a major poet. As a novelist, he has had considerable influence on the current generation of New Novelists. I must admit my prejudice in this respect, having published a book on Queneau within a few weeks of Shorley's. That two books on Queneau should appear in such proximity is perhaps a sign that the critical reception of Queneau in English is about to change. For Queneau has certainly been the subject of a good bit of recent critical attention in France.

Shorley limits his introductory study to Queneau's fiction, which is a considerable body of work. He has organized his reading of the fiction in terms of a hierarchy of organizing levels, starting with the most elementary level, Queneau's use of language, and concluding with consideration of the values that inform Queneau's fictional world. The model of levels of organization is a useful critical fiction, and Shorley is an intelligent reader. Yet somehow the specificity of Queneau's individual novels gets largely dissolved in Shorley's attempt to illustrate each level—language, style, structure, etc.—with examples drawn from all of Queneau's opus. Moreover, I find it dificult to see how this study can be called introductory: at each step it presupposes a knowledge of French and French culture that would make it inaccessible at least to most American "beginners." For the specialist in French literature who has somehow managed to ignore Queneau the book may perform a useful service; it shows that Queneau is a complex writer whose fictional creations merit all the exegesis that critics have accorded other major French writers.

The problem of appropriately addressing the appropriate readership also characterizes Dina Sherzer's study of representation in what most Americans would consider to be contemporary avant-garde fiction in France—if the notion of the avant-garde can still be pressed into service today. The problem here is that she presupposes that her reader has a good grasp of contemporary concepts taken from anthropology and philosophy—especially Derridian ideas about decentering discourse—while at the same time she often writes as if explaining elementary issues to undergraduates. The most interesting aspect of the book is her proposed typology of contemporary French fiction. She sees four modes of representation characterizing French writing since approximately 1960 (though one might wonder how opportune is the notion of "representation" in this context). Her four categories are serial constructs (Ricardou, Robbe-Grillet, Simon), montages (Butor, Roche, and Sellers), reflexive texts (Beckett, Pinget, Laporte), and postmodern feminist fiction (Wittig, Duras, Cixous). Using one exemplary work from each of the writers cited to illustrate her categories, Scherzer breaks little new ground here, though her readings are adequte, and at times quite spirited. One cavil: she wants to have a feminist mode of representation while denying that there is any specificity [End Page 679] to écriture féminine. Her stand on this point is not likely to endear her to feminists and, it seems to me, places in doubt the very value of the notion of a feminist mode of representation. I probably agree with heron this point, but it seems there must be some better way of formulating the issue of women's writing. We all recall once upon a time when the notion of "feminine writing" was a catch-all category used to dismiss writing by women. Does one best overcome this...


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