- Unlimited, Unseen and Unveiled:The Force of the Aorist in Pascal Quignard's Sur le jadis
Contrast is everywhere. One has only to take note of it. Similarity is hidden; it must be sought out, and it is found only after the most exhaustive efforts.Stravinsky, Poetics of Music
-Jadis, si je me souviens bien [...]Rimbaud, Une saison en enfer
The five volumes that make up Pascal Quignard's Dernier Royaume, published 2002-2005, are in some respects typical. They rehearse, elaborate, and modify themes and motifs long familiar from the author's considerable œuvre. Irretrievable loss and transience; silence and the human voice; uterine existence and birth; rhetoric, reading, and musical resonance; horror, nakedness and the constitutive secret-all surge forth over the course of these books, formulated in Quignard's usual kaleidoscopic and aphoristic style. As expected, deeply personal reflections and autobiographical details commingle with obscure allusions, provocative etymologies, and peculiar anecdotes drawn from the full range of the world's nearly forgotten cultural legacies. The accumulated material is presented in verbal mosaics that closely reflect Quignard's creative, wandering abandonment, his renunciation of mastery, his attentive submission to texts, history, and memory. For Quignard's devoted readers, both the form and content of Dernier Royaume amount to a return to the same, a restitution of the similar, something at once new yet not without a haunting sense of déjà lu.
That is not to say, however, that Quignard's pentalogy has simply succumbed to a flat, stylistic homogeneity, or that the work has fallen into a self-scripted routine. Although the terrain may be familiar, it is in no way comforting or reassuring. On the contrary, it affords the recognition of the disruptive power of the same. As Quignard has persistently demonstrated, the return to the same hardly offers respite, for the familiar is often the harbor for that which at any moment may surge forth with frightening force. Like Freud's Heimliche, the familiar may be the secret (heimliche, geheime) container of das Unheimliche, the uncanny, l'inquiétante étrangeté. With Quignard, as in the Freudian model, the return to the same may always be [End Page 96] but a cover for the return of the repressed. Indeed, Freud's well-known "repetition compulsion," which unconsciously drives him again and again to the same sordid neighborhood of Rome, shares many analogous traits with Quignard's sordidissimes, those pieces rejected or 'abjected' from the literary-philosophical canon which ceaselessly attract the author's concern.1 Yet, where Freud sees a symptom, Quignard discovers a method; where psychoanalysis works toward a cure, Quignard works on registering the incurable. While Freud approaches the unconscious in order to master it and thereby put life back into working order, Quignard attends to what has almost been obliterated in order to rescue it and thereby bring his writing back to life.2
This salvific program is explicitly expressed in the note Quignard appended to the back cover of his Petits Traités:
[Les Petits Traités] étaient de courts arguments déchirés, des contradictions laissées ouvertes, des mains négatives, des apories, des fragments de contes, des vestiges. Je ne retenais que ce qui du temps était rejeté par l'Histoire tandis qu'elle prétendait écrire sa grande narration mensongère. Je ne retenais des livres des Anciens que ce que la Norme expulsait des littératures du passé pour asseoir son autorité collective et académique.3
Referring to this text, Jean-Louis Pautrot comments: "Ce geste annoncé pour les Petits Traités informe l'œuvre. Les exclus de l'Histoire, dont les travaux ne firent 'pas une ride sur la surface du temps,' coupables de singularité pour leur époque, sont innocents de la doxa."4 Needless to say, in order for these rejected, paradoxical pieces to have an effect, it is necessary to present and maintain the frame of doxa, which serves as foil for the resurgence of the expelled.5 The abnormal can be defined as such only in relation to the norm. Counter-currents require something to counter. Could one, then, not argue that the typical form and content of Quignard...