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  • Claude Simon: Fashioning the Past by Writing the Present by Alina Cherry
  • Jean H. Duffy
Claude Simon: Fashioning the Past by Writing the Present. By Alina Cherry. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 2016. ix + 203 pp.

This study tackles the thorny questions arising from the privileged position given in Claude Simon’s aesthetic discourse to the ‘present of writing’ (p. 7 and passim). Taking her cue in part from Dominique Viart’s 1997 study, Une mémoire inquiète: ‘La Route des Flandres’ de Claude Simon (Paris: Presses universitaires de France), Alina Cherry broadens the enquiry to Simon’s entire œuvre, refocusing it on the tension between, on the one hand, Simon’s claim that his writing always explores its own present and, on the other, the obsession with the past that is so central to his narratives and so prevalent in his narrators’ thought-processes. Opening with an Introduction and first chapter that highlight the multiplicity of the present and examine the conceptual and experiential implications of and contradictions in Simon’s attachment to the ‘present of writing’, Cherry’s study then turns to the detail of his ‘rhetoric of immediacy’ (Chapter 2) and to the narrative and discursive strategies entailed. These include disruptive typographical layout, extensive use of present participles and of the deictic ‘maintenant’, scrambled analepses and prolepses, collapsing of temporal strata, and parataxis. Working within a framework that posits the hybrid temporality of the trace and the porosity of the boundaries between different temporal dimensions, Chapter 3 examines the ways in which the various fictional archival materials that punctuate Simon’s work combine with its implicit and explicit intertextual engagement to show how, even as the past shapes the present, so the present, by its interrogation, interpretation, and rewriting of the past, refashions it. Chapter 4 explores the rhizomatic aspects of Simon’s writing and the logic connecting the recurring metaphor of the hunt, the ‘becoming-animal’ trope and a transgressive approach to language that intersects with Deleuze’s discussion of minorization. The ‘Epilogue’ reprises and draws together some of the threads developed earlier, notably Simon’s ambivalence towards Stendhal, the relationship between the pursuit of simultaneity and dehierarchization, the ethical implications of Simon’s ahierarchical approach, the promotion of textual connectivity, and the ‘charged interplay between contradictory poles (past–present)’ (p. 186). Although Cherry revisits certain familiar narrative practices, the tight focus and overall coherence of her approach reconfigure them in new and illuminating ways. Lucidly structured, with a generally appropriate level of critical engagement, and drawing judiciously on pertinent theoretical sources (Ricœur, Barthes, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze and Guattari, Jean-Clet Martin), this study offers a fresh perspective on a centrally important issue in [End Page 133] Simon’s work, as well as fine-grained readings of textual detail. The book would have benefited from being longer, if only to permit more sustained discussion of certain texts — notably the romans charnières Le Vent (1957) and La Bataille de Pharsale (1969) — and fuller consideration of the potential offered by an application to both Simon’s fiction and his commentaries on it of Husserl’s account of time consciousness. Occasionally, the book seems slightly unsure of its target audience: although primarily of interest to specialists, it includes some well-established material and quotes French sources exclusively in English translation. Nonetheless, this is a persuasive and thought-provoking contribution to Simon studies.

Jean H. Duffy
University of Edinburgh


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pp. 133-134
Launched on MUSE
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