Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Violently Misdirected Nostalgia

One of the books that I did NOT acquire with the Big Dalkey Get, but wish I had, was The Great Fire of London by Jacques Roubaud (the friend I split the deal with got it, though if I had to wager, I'd guess she has yet to read it, or, frankly, any of her lot). I didn't know much of anything about it when we made the order, but in the meantime I've read stray pieces here and there about it that have intrigued me, about its quietness and strangness, about its form, digressions on the way to Roubaud's literary "Project". I think it was this review by Steve Mitchelmore that first drew my attention to Roubaud's book as one that I wanted to read:
Roubaud's dream was [to] write something as great as anything in the tradition; presumably that would have made him happy. He sensed its possibility in the "irreducible originality" of the Project and the joyous liberty of the dream. But with the death of Alix, and the end of his literary hopes, how could its originality be reconciled with the Romantic tradition with possibility at its core (such as retrieving Eurydice)? Roubaud's originality is to be found in The Great Fire of London's formal confrontation with the death that bears away such possibility. The plotless digressions, the limitless order of reading and obsessive focus on description, analysis and explanation, all take the place of Alix and the space she left behind. For sure, there is a certain liberty in this, but one that means the end of the kind of book that Roubaud loves. He know[s] the novels produced by Dickens' are no longer possible. He does not try to imitate them or to confuse art with a violently misdirected nostalgia.
Of course, I don't have much else to say about it now, since I have not yet read the novel. My reason for posting this today is to refer you to the excellent new blog Slightly Bluestocking, where AC, among other interesting posts, has been writing about her experience reading it:
Memory, and the way it shapes form – this is one of the primary concerns of The Great Fire of London. Roubaud states at the beginning that the book’s mystery is not in its content, but in its ‘formal meaning.’ And it is this latter aspect that slowly unravels over the course of the book. It’s actually the most fascinating part of the book (for me): that exploration of the why of the writing, and the why of the form.
Also, I like the passage from the novel that AC quoted in her previous post so much that I'm going to reproduce it here:
The fact is that a library is always expanding; from the "big bang" of one's first book up until its owner dies. A library can't really dwindle, or be emptied of a part of its substance, then start growing again. At least, not without mortal danger. Each one of the books it incorporates at one moment or another of its existence becomes equally indispensable, even if it will never be read again. A minimal pruning is in order at times, perhaps, but such action is conceivable only in the context of a general strategy of growth. If I maintain the image of the body, the books a library loses are nail clippings, fallen hair. But I find an even more appropriate comparison with plant life: a forest, perhaps, or a garden. You are surrounded by a living being. You yourself belong to this being.


Scraps said...

We split a Dalkey buy five ways. The Great Fire of London led our list of books Velma and I didn't get because someone else had it listed higher. (I believe we had it fourth on our list, and someone else had it first.)

AC said...

Thank you for linking to me; I'm flattered. :)

You should definitely track down a copy...