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Formalist Dogmatisms, Derridean Questioning, and the Return of Affect: Towards a Distributed Reading of Triptyque Mark Andrews T HE HEGEMONY OF THE FORMALIST MOMENT was brief; its legacy endures as an obstacle rather than a contribution to reading that most radical of Simon’s novels, Triptyque. Refuta­ tion of earlier scholarship often precedes its assimilation. David Carroll’s Derridean reappraisal of Simon’s opus provides a case in point; it is a seminal exercise in corrective vision that is diagnostic rather than cura­ tive. Carroll supplies an interpretive prescription by which to free future diachronic perspectives from the blinders of formalism, but stops short of a reconciliation with the latter’s utility. The specific danger which threatens his position is a loss of critical focus precipitated by his under­ valuation of the intertwined histories of formalist theory and fictional practice in the French New Novel. One remedy is to undertake a reading project which moves beyond the insistence on spatiality in the formalist’s agenda without relegating the fruits of their critical labors to a position of practical unimportance.1 Triptyque makes a number of unusual demands upon the reader in its manner of subverting the canons and conventions of realism. The novel seems to disappoint our expectation of affective coloration in the description by its stony indifferentism towards the potentially shocking events narrated. Simon’s art takes the form of a defamiliarization; Trip­ tyque in particular disorients by its interpenetration and serial embed­ ding of fictions.2Moreover, a thoroughgoing fragmentation of the story lines in the novel leads to frequent interruptions of one narrative series by another. An incidental consequence of the interruptio is the loss of culminant scenes which a wealth of allusive detail had led the reader to expect. Description too is fractured in the novel and operates within a restricted economy of echolalia. Words, phrases, segments of discourse migrate and mutate between scenes and narrative series, attaching them­ selves to the representation of people and events. Reciprocal allusion and collusion between descriptive components is proliferative and pervasive. During the course of the novel a little girl, thrice abandoned by suc­ cessive guardians, wanders down to the river, and presumably drowns. Vol.XXVII, No. 4 37 L ’E sprit C réateur Her death becomes one of the focal scenes in the novel, precisely because the event itself is left unnarrated, yet is frequently and obliquely alluded to by the irruption of signifiers of drowning in the narration of other scenes. In the absence of a critical strategy to contain, chart, and channel the flow of associative cross-reference which provides a vital complement to the incomplete and discontinuous narrative series, the readerly experi­ ence is akin to drowning in an unfamiliar element. The swift eddying cur­ rents of incoming figural information have no fixed point of reference; no explicit account of a drowning is inscribed in the outer shell of the narrative. The effect of narrative dispersion caused by mise en abyme tends, as Ricardou noted, to be restrained by narrative regrouping on the meta­ phorical level.3The formalists, for reasons having to do with the totaliza­ tion of structure in every discernible dimension of writing, provided a substantial store of blueprints for the resequencing of metaphor as nar­ rative. Concerned to privilege form over function, they were interested in structural principles of grouping which would demonstrate what Piaget described as “a system closed under transformation.”4The metaphorical narratives incidentally assembled were disregarded, their power to regionalize and relate an event overlooked, their concentration of affect ignored; necessarily so, for the formalist equation of fiction with spatiality would admit of no story other than that of formalist writing itself, in which the cult of the author was superseded by the narcissistic history of topological criticism. The voices of formalism no longer exert authority over Simon’s novels, many have fallen silent or recanted. Simon himself has retreated from his more extreme pronouncements. The task at hand is to restore the diachronic concerns of narrativity and affect to a reading of Simon, a reading to be undertaken as a tropological description distributed across a text whose topographical surface has been to a large extent formally mapped and...


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