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  • F/V Placing the Experimental Novel
  • Percival Everett (bio)

The first pages here are an excerpt from a work which I offer as a piece of fiction, though it might easily be classified as parody of its subject text, which in this case is Roland Barthes’ S/Z. The fiction is followed by a complaint/proposal for understanding what we so loosely call the experimental novel (the innovative novel, the nouveau roman, surfiction) and a modest suggestion for the new new novel’s direction.

F/V: a novel excerpt

The text I have chosen (Why? Because as a subject of this exercise it lends itself so easily, almost embarrassingly so, to parody, in spite of my appreciation, to some extent, of its spirit and finally perhaps of its basic tenets) is Barthes S/Z.

1) S/Z * The title perhaps answers any question before it is raised, making it in some sense an anti-title, but a title nonetheless, thus offering the suggestion of negation. So, is the title the name of a work or the name of a mere shadow of a work? In establishing its own subject, ostensibly Balzac’s Sarrasine, it raises the question of whether that text is indeed its subject. And of course it is not, as S/Z tells us, its subject is the elusive model of that thing which Sarrasine might be argued to be a representation. Like Barthes, let us designate as hermeneutic code (HER) “all the units whose function is to articulate in various ways a question, its response and the variety of chance events which can either formulate the question or delay its answer; or even, constitute an enigma and lead to its solution.” ** The S/Z refers no doubt to the voiced and unvoiced, but the enigma pales in consideration of the slash which separates them. The “/” at once combines the S and the Z into the title/anti-title and divides them, equally, but not so, as the S precedes the Z. The “/” is also that line which we have come to accept as the greasy and shifting mark, however dimensionless, between the signifier and the signified. The slashed whole connotes the cut text, the injured text or perhaps merely the fragmented text (which is either a lie of the writerly or a necessity of the readerly). The separated letters hold together as an indication of the containment of opposites and the necessity of their union in context, illustrating the impossibility [End Page 18] of the individual consideration or the definitional bounding of the two, the “slash” or “/” being not only glue, but wedge. The “/” itself becomes a signifier and in each reference to the title it will be a sliding, conflicting element which behaves similarly to its function between S and Z, which is to say, any way it pleases or does not please. We shall indicate this element of the “/” as a signifier or seme or any tacit or voiced reference to its notion by using the abbreviation SEM, designating each time a concept (word) contains in it an implied “/”, e.g. sick (SEM. well) or sick (SEM. crazy).

2) There are said to be certain buddhists whose ascetic practices enable them to see a whole landscape in a bean. * There are “certain” buddhists, even two might be enough, and we are not to read the majority of buddhists or common, usual buddhists. Is it the pejorative “certain” as in, “There are certain people in this room who are not welcome?” Or perhaps, “certain” means to say that those buddhists are assured, without doubt, steadfast in their beliefs. Before we enter the first sentence fully we are trapped by our first puzzle (HER. certainty). “Certain” is a word, the connotative import of which we cannot be certain. Unless, of course, given its possible meanings, we are to attend to only certain ones.

Pausing and backing up we have before the first sentence I. Evaluation. Is the “I” the Roman numeral one or is it the English pronoun I. “I” followed by a period (HER. period), connoting an extremely short sentence or, a mark of finality connoting the end of the self (SEM. self), thus casting away...

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pp. 18-23
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