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Reviewed by:
  • Balzac, romancier du regard
  • Dan Edelstein
Kashiwagi, Takao. Balzac, romancier du regard. St-Genouph: Nizet, 2002. Pp. 167. ISBN2-7078-1268-4

This collection of essays, written between 1984 and 2001, surveys a number of Balzac's novels, ranging from classics such as Le Lys dans la vallée and Le Chef d'œuvre inconnu to lesser-studied texts such as Facino Cane and La Muse du département. Its declared ambition is to discover "la clef de l'énigme de la création balzacienne," and this key, Kashiwagi claims, lies in Balzac's treatment of vision, both in a literal and figurative sense. Unfortunately (though perhaps fittingly), his book leaves the reader with a powerful feeling of déjà vu. Kashiwagi's methodology in particular is strongly reminiscent of 1960's criticism: his analyses rest primarily on "oppositions binaires" (light/shadows, sight/blindness, horizontal/vertical) and develop through thematic and semantic associations (for example: "L'appellation «Blanche» liée inséparab-lement avec l'existence de son «mari» n'insinue-t-elle pas l'idée d'un mariage blanc?"). Had Kashiwagi been as insightful as the critics that he emulates and quotes (such as Alain, Bachelard, Béguin, Marthe Robert, and Rousset), his methodological throw-backs might be overlooked, but his neglect of their epistemological limitations undermines his work. His symbolic interpretations do not acknowledge the existence of polysemy, and often seem counterintuitive (see for instance, "les gants blancs évoquent les cérémonies de mariage ou les bals, en un mot, le lieu de rencontre entre un homme et une femme"). Others still appear far-fetched (notably his alchemical reading of the letter "c"), or downright wrong: red, white, and blue are not the traditional colors of the Virgin Mary (blue is). His attempt to interpret Illusions perdues in the manner of Jean Rousset's Forme et signification is equally baffling: what does it mean that Lucien de Rubempré "se développe, non verticalement, mais horizontalement?" Kashiwagi does not pause to consider that such oppositions are entirely relative: Lucien may not move upwards spiritually, but he does rise socially; there is no absolute value to binary terms. And is there any instance where an [End Page 413] opposition or parallel can not be found? Kashiwagi's chapters on the structural unity of L'Illustre Gaudissart and La Muse du département, or of Le Chef d'œuvre inconnu and Hoffmann's La Leçon de violon bring to mind Dan Sperber's spoof of structural analysis, in which Hamlet and Little Red Riding Hood are proven to be diametrically correlated.

Furthermore, if his ambition is to unveil Balzac's secret art of composition, Kashiwagi should have looked elsewhere than binary oppositions. Not only have they received sufficient attention (from Barthes's S/Z to Rose Fortassier's AB article on "Balzac et le démon du double dans Le Père Goriot"), but they are usually there for all to see. If Kashiwagi can only conclude, apropos of Le Lys dans la vallée, that, "Si nous lisons le texte de plus près, nous comprenons très bien avec quel soin l'auteur fait ressortir le contraste entre les deux femmes, Henriette et Arabelle," the reader may wonder what purpose his analysis has served. When they are not gratuitous, the oppositions which Kashiwagi detects are by and large banal; his repeated claims to be revealing the "key" to La Comédie humaine cause the reader to question whether anything was locked in the first place.

Kashiwagi's analyses remind us of the need for historicizing, particularly in the case of formal analysis. Even his principal object of inquiry, vision, suffers from a lack of contextualization. For instance, he ignores the entire pre-Romantic tradition of sensibilité in his study of "seconde vue." The narrator's ability, in Facino Cane, to identify completely with someone else ("Chez moi, l'observation était déjà devenue intuitive, elle pénétrait l'âme sans négliger le corps") is not a power of voyance, but rather the hallmark of an âme sensible, as defined by Rousseau in Emile. This confusion leads Kashiwagi to bizarre conclusions: "Mme...


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pp. 413-414
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