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Sollers's Le Secret, Espionage and Autofiction Armine Kotin Mortimer Considère cela comme une vérité Et non comme un songe vain. —Philippe Sollers, Le Secret1 THE NARRATOR-PROTAGONIST of several autofictional novels by Philippe Sollers—La Fête à Venise, Le Secret, and Studio—works as a spy, and in all the others since the 1983 publication of Femmes, the character modeled on the author plays a figurative spy on his own behalf: the hero presents himself and at the same time presents Sollers as a secret agent of our malingering society.2 Le Secret is particularly interesting because it combines a novel in the espionage genre with an autobiographical account of mourning, and both the novel of espionage and the narrative of a mother's death are anchored in reality—but differently so. What is more, Le Secret signals a key moment in the renewal and liberalization of narrative forms in France since 1980, for in addition to the social mirror held up by the spy story and the personal mirror of the story of mourning, it is also an essay on the secret as Debord defined it and a continuation of the topos on the power of women and the technique of "l'industrie de fabrication des corps" (195), obsessive themes of Sollersian writing. The liberty inherent in the genre of autofiction lends power to the essay; it is as if the clandestine action of different genres working within the free forms of autofiction gives Le Secret its particular emotive force. The hero, Jean Clément, a French agent, has written a secret note warning his service about the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II that took place on May 13, 1981. The service failed to take action, provoking, after the event, inordinate suspicion against this rather minor agent and his superior, Frénard. Perturbations occur in the espionage networks, and Clément is shunted off into a lateral circuit for two years—not exactly out in the cold but given a cold shoulder. At the end he is reassigned, to Rome; the note resurfaces from its unknown underground trajectory, initialed by the pope himself, and a new assignment for Clément apparently puts an end to suspicion and doubt. This story, though largely linear in chronology, unfolds by snatches of nearly anonymous conversations and snippets of condensed, elliptical narratives ; the reader must concentrate intensely to "give birth" to the plot out of its code-like obscurity. At the same time, it is the very brokenness of this form Vol. XLII, No. 4 35 L'Esprit Créateur that allows the reader to forge, out of its fragments, the story of the illness and death of "Mother," an extraordinarily moving personal account. The opening words of this narrative emphasize the simultaneity of both sorts of stories: "Mon dieu, tout arrive en même temps..." (100). The importance of form emerges in an explanation Clément gives to his ten-year-old son Jeff about Le Roman de Renart. "Le récit pousse de partout et dans tous les sens comme un arbre. Renart ... ne peut pas marcher tout droit, il est comme la réalité, pleine de tours et de détours, et il donne cette allure au roman, ce qui contraint ses adversaires à crier à la falsification du roman simpliste qui les arrange" (94). Sollers has always insisted that the novel is the place where reality resides, and this specular device is one among many whose purpose is to give voice to the author's opinions. As I will discuss more fully below, Sollers is a Renart.3 Le Secret is not easy to read, as these descriptions suggest. In spite of a "readable" appearance, the novel poses serious challenges to intelligibility, not unlike those of the nouveau roman for a different generation (I am thinking in particular of Robbe-Grillet's Dans le labyrinthe). The answer to the simple question: "What happens?"—and the "plot summary" I have given—are the result of a process of extraction and combination that occurs largely in the reader's domain. The story of an illness, death, and mourning, seen from a healthy state, appropriately appears as a disrupted...

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