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From Epic Writing to Prophetic Speech Le Livre des Nuits and Nuit d'Ambre Marie-Hélène Boblet-Viart ON THE "THRESHOLD" OF EPIC. The tale of Nuit d'Ambre, which springs from the Livre des Nuits, tells the story of a century, from the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 to the war in Algeria and the civil unrest of May 1968. France is the place and sometimes the object of this bellicose story. But, in fact, the tale recounts the endless epic of man and his relationship with God, "in God's grace, in God's wrath, plumb with God." Space and time are pretexts for the writing of a story that is preoccupied with far more than refreshing, far less than magnifying, our memories as Frenchmen . Besides, both time and place are but symbolic thresholds. In the Livre des Nuits, the landscape is of crossings, of passings: the earliest member of the Péniel line leaves behind rivers and barges to lay up in the Ardennes border country, dedicated to transit, where he will forever remain a stranger. "They were people who came from the very edge of water and of land, the extreme edge of all things, and they lived as at the end of the world."1 "Any place, whether it be empire or mere hamlet, is but a place of passage. But, as they move through these places people never cease to pass and take the baton."2 The place is one where a "baton" is passed, in the spiritual sense. As for the period, it is a turning point between two centuries. Yet, from one century to another the same phenomena happen, for they belong to the same cosmic and theologised catastrophe: "and war, that war that never stopped returning, like the harvest, the equinox, and the menses of women, it too must be divine" (LN 300). From the outset, the text is written plumb with time in the same way as Nuit d'Ambre lives plumb with God. The prologue of the Livre des Nuits requires us to read the text like an epic more mythical than historical: But that night that seized him, thrashing fear and waiting into his memory forever, and that cry that entered his flesh to take root there and carry the fight, came from much further. Faraway night of his ancestors in which all his kin had risen, generation after generation (...). Out-of-time Night that presided over the upsurging of the world and that cry of inaudible silence which opened up the history of the world like a great book of flesh leafed through by wind and fire. (UV 11-12) The cycle of nights throws us "out of line," in the metaphor that Sylvie Germain repeats, outside linear and progressive time. The sequences of time 86 Summer 2000 Boblet-Viart are as the many scansions of the sound and fury of life, the pages of the book are turned only to be turned over: The last word does not exist. There is no last word, no last cry. The book was turning round. It would unleaf itself from the end, unwork itself, and then start again. (LN 337) The two narratives tell of a spiritual and metaphysical adventure in which the threshold is the significant element. They confirm this intuition of Roland Barthes: "Even more than its subject, the location of a fiction can be its truth, because it is at the location level that the significant is more easily stated: the location may well be the figure of desire, without which there can be no text."3 Desire as yawning gap, as in-between, divergence and quartering: here, the desire is of the soul: its quest has no object other than the grace of love. The image of the threshold structures and generates the text, for the threshold text is also, in these novels, literary. The desire for epic and its forbidding and the recourse to myth give body to its writing. No historical novel, no picturesque notes, no grand heroics. Not that a woman-for lack of experience -is unable to write an epic, but that she can only reject its system of...


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pp. 86-96
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