Current Issue Abstracts

Vol. 46.1 Spring 2021


Novel Touch: Feeling Fabric in Zola's Au Bonheur des Dames
Margot Szarke

This article analyzes tactile illusions and calculations in Emile Zola's 1883 novel Au Bonheur des Dames, focusing on the text's descriptions of fabric and its account of characters' haptic perceptions. While scholars have approached Zola's narration of the rise of the grands magasins as a depiction of consumer manipulation and desensitization, often analyzing nineteenth-century visual culture, this essay proposes another interpretive framework with which to probe the effects of both modern commercial infrastructures and representational strategies on the perceiving subject. Connecting Zola's portrayal of the sense of touch to developments in consumer practices, modern aesthetics, and contemporary medical-scientific understandings of physiological events, this article highlights the ways in which tactile sensitivities become increasingly exchanged, quantified, and mediated in a variety of contexts. An examination of touch in Au Bonheur des Dames allows us to reassess not only the stakes of Zola's literary naturalism, but in addition, the changing cultural dimensions of haptic experience in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

Une Machine à gloire? Legacies of the French Inventor(s) of Sound Recording through the Ages
Renée Altergott

The 2008 restoration of Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville's recorded voice from 1860 has rekindled old debates over the "true" origins of sound reproduction. Although Charles Cros submitted his design for the paléophone to the Académie des Sciences on 30 April 1877, they did not open it until 3 December. In the meantime, Thomas Edison produced a working model of his own phonograph. For many, the dispossession of Cros' glory placed French national identity at stake. In this article, I draw from neglected primary sources and hyper-contemporary works of fiction to show how Cros has alternately been erased and glorified as a national hero and mythical inventor. As three distinct waves of attention reveal, no matter if Cros is celebrated or ridiculed, defeat remains his inescapable legacy. Given the fact that attention to Cros persists even after the First Sounds initiative crowned Scott as the earliest recorded human voice in history, I argue that it is therefore Cros' loss of glory that is most intensely felt by the French through time, marking their relationship to the birth of the music industry as a "national tragedy."

Get Hard or Die Trying: Impotence and the Displacement of the White Male in Michel Houellebecq's Sérotonine
André Pettman

Taking up Paul Preciado's theories in his book Testo Junkie (2013) concerning contemporary biocapitalism, this essay argues that Michel Houellebecq's latest novel, Sérotonine (2019), represents a radical move away from the hegemony of the white cis-male, heterosexual body depicted in his earlier literary corpus. The narrator of Sérotonine is stripped of his sexual capacity by an antidepressant that makes him impotent. Once unable to escape the stimuli and commodities designed to incite pleasure, thus leaving the body in a constant state of arousal, Houellebecq's male subject is now unequivocally portrayed as being flaccid. Rather than disclose a sense of reconciliation or resignation with the market, the novel reveals an expulsion from it entirely. The narrator's futile attempts to reinstate his male dominance further demonstrate the totalizing presence of sex, pleasure, and pharmaceutical drugs in Houellebecq's novels and attest to the notion that the once-hegemonic male body of his literary universe is now simply hanging on to life itself as contemporary biocapitalism careens forward on its never-ending quest to maximize pleasure and desire.

A Matter of Life and Death: Michel Houellebecq's Vibrant Materialism
Gai Farchi

Michel Houellebecq's fiction is often perceived as essentially materialistic, in the sense that it follows the decline of humanity in the loss of transcendence, while every human interaction, including love and sex, is reduced to the logic of the capitalist market. Taking on a new materialistic approach, this article aims to challenge this presumption with readings that emphasize the vibrant, subversive nature of materiality in Houellebecq's fiction, particularly in the novels La carte et le territoire and Sérotonine. Drawing on recent new materialistic thought, I show that the shared destiny Houellebecq ascribes to both humans and objects under the logic of late capitalism makes, at times, this interdependence challenging to political economy. Vibrant matter, or the ex-nihilo rise of the "thing" from within the "object", becomes the ultimate rescue of both the human and the non-human in his novels. This perspective enables us to conceive of Houellebecq not merely as a pessimistic voice lamenting the decline of the human, but one that presents affirmative posthuman ethics, undermining the circulation of commodities, and of people as commodities, from the margins of the system itself.

Animal Végétal: Plants and Transhumanism in Contemporary French Literature
Gina Stamm

Transhumanism, or the idea that the boundaries of human subjectivity, bodies, and mortality can be pushed back—often by creating hybrid beings—has long been a staple of science fiction writing, a genre that can serve as a laboratory to explore new ways of relating to machines, animals, and artificial intelligence. But what can this literature tell us about our relationship to plants? This essay analyses three recent works of speculative fiction where these questions are central. Although Michel Houellebecq's La Possibilité d'une île offers the most radical transformation of the human body in genetically adopting plant characteristics, his attitude toward hybrid identity and different forms of being is fundamentally conservative. Marie Darrieussecq's Notre vie dans les forêts draws a parallel between modified human bodies and plants in a parable that highlights the link between exploitation of the vegetal world and exploitation of humans marginalized along gender and class lines. Finally, Pierre Ducrozet's L'Invention des corps offers plants as an alternative evolutionary model for the development of humans as a species and as a society, if we are to survive.

Spatialisation de la Parabole du failli de Lyonel Trouillot
Françoise Cévaër

Dans son roman Parabole du failli (2013), le poète et romancier Lyonel Trouillot rend hommage à son ami disparu, le célèbre comédien haïtien Karl-Marcel Casséus dont il fait ici un poète, médiateur d'un espace imaginaire. Sous son inspiration, l'espace réel, confiné et étriqué, se transforme en un terreau malléable retravaillé par des fragments de poèmes et des imaginaires littéraires et poétiques situés au confluent de plusieurs cultures. Cette relation entre l'homme et l'espace, construit, vécu, ou imaginé, se trouve ici mobilisée par la parabole comme motif primordial de la fiction et allégorie de la condition du poète et du sens de l'existence. A la lumière des récentes théories spatiales francophones telle la géocritique (Westphal) et la géopoétique (Collot), ou encore la perspective plus bigarrée de Gélinas-Lemaire, mais aussi d'approches plus anciennes comme la rêverie poétique du philosophe Gaston Bachelard, cet article propose d'analyser comment l'espace, appréhendé dans sa réalité mais contré par la subjectivité et l'imagination, s'inscrit dans ce roman tout à la fois comme le cadre d'un terrible désenchantement et un horizon libératoire.

En tant que véritable « paradigme heuristique » de l'histoire et du récit, l'allégorie de la parabole s'appréhende également comme la mise en espace même de son propre discours (Maingueneau), c'est-à-dire du discours qui rend l'œuvre possible en lui faisant place et en lui donnant sens, cela aussi au sein du champ littéraire. La représentation littéraire de l'espace est donc pensée ici suivant la triple perspective de sa relation avec: le monde référentiel, la dynamique de la rêverie et la mise en perspective du discours fictionnel. Cet article invite ainsi à une dialectique sur l'espace de l'imaginaire et l'imaginaire de l'espace et à une réflexion sur l'impact de leur narrativité rétrospective dans la négociation auctoriale d'un espace littéraire à habiter.

Cinematic Timekeeper: Bertrand Tavernier and L'Horloger de Saint-Paul
Jennifer Forrest

Film scholars have interpreted Bertrand Tavernier's first feature film L'Horloger de Saint-Paul (1974) as having "clearly signalled his rejection of the nouvelle vague" in favor of a return to a more classical aesthetic reminiscent of the post-World War II Tradition of Quality (Forbes 153). One of the primary elements determining this judgement was Tavernier's co-authoring of the film script with Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, the writing team singled out by Cahiers du cinéma critic François Truffaut in "Une certaine tendance du cinéma français" (1954) as representing the worst of 1950s film.


A Virtuous Knight. Defending Marshal Boucicaut (Jean II Le Meingre, 1366-1421) by Craig Taylor (review)
Charles-Louis Morand-Métivier

The Marquis de Sade and the Avant-Garde by Alyce Mahon (review)
Katharine Conley

Architextual Authenticity: Constructing Literature and Literary Identity in the French Caribbean by Jason Herbeck (review)
Lucy Swanson