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Reviewed by:
  • Les Spirales du sens chez Renaud Camus
  • Jan Baetens
Les Spirales du sens chez Renaud Camus. Edited by Ralph Sarkonak. (Faux titre, 336). Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009. 290 pp. Hb €58.00; $75.00.

Since the so-called 'affaire Camus' of 2000, it has become difficult to discuss the work of this most prolific of French writers. The astonishing productivity of Renaud Camus, author of some sixty generally rather hefty volumes in small print published by two mainstream companies (P.O.L and Fayard), as well as the political ostracism his work has suffered as a result of the polemics surrounding its supposed anti-Semitism and, more generally, xenophobia, have meant that both journalists and scholars have tended to eschew his oeuvre, in increasingly dramatic ways. Camus's books are less contested and criticized than they are ignored, whether deliberately or not. The present collection, exemplarily edited by Ralph Sarkonak, is not only a courageous attempt to break the conspiracy of silence that has caused Camus's work to be censored within the public arena, but also to open up a space for new visions, insights, and discussions with regard to a literary production that challenges any possible form of categorization or pigeonholing, be it in terms of genres, styles, media, or meaning. For even though Camus adheres to a classic use of the French language in his writing (his famous, sometimes infamous, attacks against the contemporary dissolution of traditional French syntax and, indeed, French civilization are indicative of the author's growing refusal of modern life and modern society), he also explores the frontiers of writing in the most radical manner. (Camus may have the reputation of being an incorrigible reactionary, but his prose is often tremendously avant-garde; he was one of the first to take the Internet seriously, and, in an era of easily accessible writing and commercial concessions, he is not afraid of launching highly experimental, even 'unreadable' books.) Ralph Sarkonak, who was himself both highly critical yet very nuanced during the 'affaire Camus', has had the clever idea of rethinking Camus's work as a whole while foregrounding specific aspects and titles. This bilingual collection, which brings together all the important scholars who have been involved in the reading of either Camus's work or his social persona, provides a strongly convincing overview of the questions raised by a writer who can be regarded as absolutely central yet at the same time totally marginal. Thanks to Sarkonak's capable editorial hand, the various contributors all manage to scrutinize one of the many paradoxes of Camus's work and life. Moreover, there is almost no overlap between the essays, which effectively cover the most significant aspects and dimensions, such as the importance of art and painting, the societal role of landscape, the role of friendship and sexuality, the problematic link between literature and meaning, or the difficulty of writing fiction. Another excellent idea fostered by the editor is the emphasis on a forgotten novel, L'Inauguration de la salle des vents (2003) and the repeated close readings of Camus's Journal. In short, this is an intelligent, well-written, extremely useful publication on an author who deserves to be more and better read. [End Page 508]

Jan Baetens
University of Leuven


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