L’Arrière-texte: pour repenser le littéraire by Marie-Madeleine Gladieu, Jean-Michel Pottier, Alain Trouvé (review)
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L’Arrière-texte: pour repenser le littéraire. Par Marie-Madeleine Gladieu, Jean-Michel Pottier et Alain Trouvé. (ThéoCrit, 8.) Bruxelles: Peter Lang, 2013. 219pp.

Literary theory is alive and well according to these three literary scholars from the Université de Reims. To prove it, their book launches a new theoretical concept, arrière-texte, and sketches out its possible applications. Modelled on terms such as arrière-garde [End Page 427] (‘rear-guard’) and arrière-pays (‘hinterland’), it might be translated as ‘rear-text’ or, simply, as ‘textual background’, although this last rendition misses the allusion to texte littéraire (‘literary text’), which in French theory has replaced the older oeuvre littéraire (‘literary work’) and generated several new concepts, the best known being the intertext, the large set of related literary texts. After reviewing the discussions that led to these concepts in the late 1960s and 1970s, the first chapters examine various dimensions of the rear-text: the cultural background, historical and personal circumstances, the tacit presence of the author’s body, and allusions to the hidden intertext. The examples come from avant-garde and modernist writers: early, surrealist Aragon, Julien Gracq, and Pierre Klossowski, but also from Elsa Triolet, Aragon’s wife, who in the 1950s, like her husband, moved closer to mainstream fiction. A section devoted to memory, language, and the unconscious leads to a discussion of the modernist views on creativity and on the vulnerable, psychotic poetic ego meant to replace the older Romantic idea of the artist as a godlike genius. One of the liveliest sections of the book is devoted to the links between literature and public cultural institutions, in particular publishing houses (including delightful details about the tense relations between Balzac and Hetzel, his publisher) and education. In the highly centralized French system, secondary school programs having for a long time been established by the Ministry of Education, the study of handbooks and school editions of classic works sheds new light on the political and ideological background of literary education. We find out, for instance, that Georges Pompidou, who became the president of France in 1969, had published in 1944 a traditional, rather good edition of Racine’s Britannicus. The implicit contrast with the more recent president Nicolas Sarkozy, who a few years ago, in a public speech, dismissed La Princesse de Clèves by Mme de Lafayette, is quite startling. The volume also offers a persuasive, non-French example of cultural rear-text by analysing the tight links that Latin-American literature kept, on the one hand, with Native American cultural traditions and, on the other, with Parisian literary fashions. The book concludes with a reflection on cultural studies, successfully bringing together several approaches to literature — formalist, psychoanalytical, sociological, cultural, and historical. With the exception of the chapter on Latin American literature, most examples belong, however, to the French avant-garde and modernism, giving the reader the impression (probably erroneously) that the concept of rear-text is mostly relevant to the study of recent elitist cultural products. To erase this impression, the authors might wish in the future to apply their ideas to a wider range of literary examples.

Thomas Pavel
University of Chicago
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