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Reviewed by:
  • La Littérature et la vie by Christophe Ippolito
  • Marie-Chantal Killeen
La Littérature et la vie. Sous la direction de Christophe Ippolito. (Rencontres, 351; Littérature des xxe et xxie siècles, 32.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2018. 333 pp.

‘La vie irrigue la littérature comme la littérature irrigue la vie’ (p. 10): editor Christophe Ippolito’s chiastic opening statement gives some sense of the dizzying magnitude of the project undertaken in this ambitious collection of essays, which sets out to interrogate the relationship between life and literature from 1800 onwards. Dealing with forms as diverse as novels, poems, diaries, notebooks, and photograms, by an array of writers and thinkers from Europe and the Americas, these essays respond to a vast, overarching question: how, and to what effect, do life and literature animate each other? The seventeen articles that make up the volume are grouped in three sections. The first section broaches the relationship between life and literature from the perspective of other [End Page 498] disciplines. Focusing on literary history’s emergence in the nineteenth century, Marine Riguet examines how the field modelled itself on the burgeoning natural sciences to bolster its authority; the desire to get to grips with life by classifying it underpins Riguet’s own approach, which mines lexical analysis to trace the shift from the conception of a fossilized literary canon to the idea of a living and evolving genealogy of genres and forms. Turning to philosophy, Xavier Le Brun takes his cue from Husserl in his phenomenological reading of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, while Michael Wiedorn trains his attention on what he calls the ‘aesthetic vitalism’ of Deleuze and Glissant, foregrounding the concepts of ‘flux’ and ‘becoming’ these thinkers deploy to describe literature’s capacity to imagine other forms of life. Life writing figures less than one might expect in the volume, but it is given pride of place in the second part, where we find accounts, in the works of Serge Doubrovsky and Éric Rondepierre, of lives lived in the shadow of traumatic loss. Highlights of this section include Hélène Jaccomard’s essay on narrative voice and the ethics of immersive journalism in works by Elsa Fayner, Florence Aubenas, and François Bon, as well as Yue Zhuo’s survey of the notion of ‘biographématique’ in the later works of Barthes. The final section, entitled ‘Formes de vie’, is devoted to representations of lived experience in poetry and prose. Despite some thought-provoking articles by Linda Rasoamanana on Valéry’s notes on Bios in his Cahiers, and by Simon Stawski on the Surrealists’ quest to close the gap between living and writing, this final section is something of a hotchpotch. Indeed, given the extremely broad field of enquiry — and in the absence of the sort of dialogue that sometimes takes shape in conference proceedings —, this could be said of the volume as a whole. Some essays appear out of place, as is the case for the sole English-language essay, or for an otherwise intriguing analysis of the metaphor of bread as a signifier for life in nineteenth-century American thought. It is hardly surprising, then, that Ippolito should strain to knit together these disparate yet often stimulating essays in his Introduction.

Marie-Chantal Killeen
Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford