Raymond Queneau's utopian dream worlds.
Another complexity, due to myths is that utopias, or the result of the belief in a utopia, can only be perceived through Queneau's use of humor, which itself is a feature of despair according to Kierkegaard. Queneau repeatedly represents these personifications, thereby making the multiple references inseparable from the characters in his stories. Humankind is seen there as futilely trying to escape the state of anguish and despair by way of the personifications expressed. In Queneau's first novel, Le chiendeni, for example, the characters speak about the possibility of erasing an embarrassing episode which is described earlier in the novel. They are in violent revolt.
Et c' qu' est rageant, c'est qu c'est ecrit, tout au long ici meme. Ah merde ! --Eh bien, dit Etienne avec bienveillance, faut supprimer cet episode, le raturer. --Le litteraturer, ajouta Saturin. --C'est pas possible, dit Mine Cloche. C'est fait, c'est fait. Pas moyen de rev'nir la-dessus. Ah malheur! (430) (An' what's infuriating is it's written about everywhere here. O shit! --Well, says Etienne kindly, gotta suppress the episode, erase it. --Lit-erase it, added Saturin. --Impossible, says Mme Cloche. It's done, it's done. No way to change it. What bad luck!)
Lit-erase ("litteraturer") is a pun on the words literature and erase ("raturer"). Human beings in the course of different Kierkegaardian phases don't wish to live with such mistakes, at least not consciously. One way to realize that this example, after all, constitutes just an attempt to escape from despair is to imagine that an author's writing error has become a living being. Kierkegaard comments drolly that the error can then refuse to be erased in order to testify to the banality of its author (Traite de desespoir 153). Queneau is thus returning to an existentialist theme similar to Kierkegaard's, namely of literary error--"lit-erase" is a pun also used by the Surrealists--and he manages to bring this theme to life throughout most if not all of his novels. In Queneau's last novel, Le vol d'Icare, Icare is a product of the imagination of Lubert, a fin-de-siecle novelist. In the beginning of Queneau's text, however, readers discover that the pages of Lubert's latest manuscript concerning Icare have disappeared from his desk. Here Icare is speaking to a character named LN (sic "Helene") about this event. Each bit of dialog is attributed to a character via a name printed in capitals, as in theatrical scripts:
Un jour, il a oublie de refermer son manuscrit ... LN Son manuscrit? ICARE Oui. Un courant d'air m'a emporte. Au lieu de reintegrer ce domicile graphique, je poursuivis mon chemin jusqu'a ce que je me retrouve dans la rue. (33) (One day he forgot to close his manuscript ... LN His manuscript? ICARE Yes. An air draft took me. Instead of reentering this graphic home I followed the path until I found myself in the street.)
Icare thus discovers life in a fictional world thanks to his escape from the writing, from the very words the writer has just literally jotted down on paper. This fictional character's being, a material form of literary error, represents another facet of the Kierkegaardian either/or which was already present in Le chiendent.
Self-revelation is a corollary of literary error: "It's done, it's done. No way to change it. What bad luck!" Readers can see this Kierkegaardian rag develop to become an essential part of different fictional episodes over the course of Queneau's long career as a novelist. Queneau uses idees recues concerning literature and the self to parody a commonly held cultural belief of the times, namely the fascination with epistemological pursuit as a means to acquire human knowledge. Barthes mentions Queneau's having engaged in hand-to-hand combat with "literary myth" ("Zazie et la litterature" 125). My hypothesis supposes that the presentation of an either/or which is composed from utopias in these novels is uniquely experienced by each reader only because the utopias form a reflection on the twentieth century as a whole. Undertaken by way of parody, this hand-to-hand combat with "The Myth of Literature" is accomplished by maintaining the text of the novel at a critical distance from realism. Readers of Queneau's novels are like spectators to a shadow play, which takes place in their imagination, and is expressed, as in theater, in their emotions and convictions. These different cases of literary utopian characterization are too stark, too enigmatic to be read in the same way as utopian novels are usually read but, nevertheless, utopias of the multiple fictional characters are to be seen in action in the text, on stage so to speak, amid the puns that mask their latent expression (their literal, errors).
In an article on the topic, Freud sets as a limit to humor the fact that it stops just short of being cause for exuberant laughter ("Humor" 268). Along with dreams, humor is also a manifestation of the workings of the psyche, and in the case of Queneau's novels humor calls for a technique comparable to that of dream interpretation. (5) Thanks to a "saving in expenditure in feeling" (264), satisfaction is taken from hearing the utopian desires of others realized without display of affect, or, in this case, rhetoric. Queneau's reader can take pleasure in not finding a long description of the social and political benefits of a utopia to be poured over. In addition, the characterization of utopias through humor--whether specifically puns or utopian sketches--comically developed as a daydream, apparently also masks any utopian desires of the author. So these utopian dream worlds could constitute a poetic message. By the use of utopian symbolism that adroitly mixes mythology with utopian daydream, Queneau allows readers themselves to perceive the elements of wish fulfillment in these novels.
Moreover, two important things happened to Queneau's poetics. First, early on in his career Queneau stopped having blind faith in any encyclopedic practice of science, especially, as a writing technique which had become quasi-obligatory, for realistic effects. Realism and its canons instead became an indirect way for Queneau to discount this absolutism, regarded by Kierkegaard as a Hegelian theology of scientific historic classification. (6) Queneau accomplished this thanks to a strategy concealing, in a mask of comic effects, the private convictions of the historic author. Thus my essay is going to adopt a position radically different from Kojeve's, Macherey's and Hale's, among others, especially regarding the encyclopedic basis in all of Queneau works. I seek to redefine here Queneau's relationship to the encyclopedic spirit as exemplified in the 1920s and 1930s through an exploratory study of the anti-Hegelian bias incarnated in allusions to the writings of a philosopher such as Kierkegaard. (7) Second, after 1934--as he began to modify his poetics--Queneau replaced the mental activist of the author by utopian sketches that represent the omnipotence of thoughts. In humorous sketches of utopias, the primitive mind in Queneau's novels is as a rule characterized by the superstitions akin to the religious origins of artistic creation. Such a totem held its greatest sway at the beginning of a cycle of guilt and religious ritual resulting from the original Oedipal complex.
By putting these changes in Queneau's poetics in such a prominent position, however, I find myself contradicting what has been up till now the most widespread critical approach to Queneau's novels, namely the assumption that his first novel contains the germ of all that follows. Henri Godard has recently put this case succinctly: "Darts Le chiendent, son premier roman ... Queneau trouve d'emblee le ton et la maniere qui lui donneront une place darts l'histoire du roman de son temps" ("Notice" 1441) ("In Le chiendent, his first novel ... Queneau from the start found the tone and the manner which give him a place in the history of the novel of his time"). However this may be, I want to demonstrate that nearly every one of the fourteen or so novels Queneau wrote after his first novel resulted from a radically different philosophy concerning the role of writing. Although humor is certainly important throughout the novels, by design Queneau's writing equally emphasizes literary error and, as its complement, self-revelation.
Puns, Masks and Private Convictions
In these novels Queneau desires for readers to share his ideas on the twentieth century's changing attitudes about utopias, although as a true modernist writer he does not make it necessary. The superabundance of utopias as seen by the characters in these novels, furthermore, is the consequence of an unfailingly witty and diverting combination of Queneau's inner beliefs, his university studies in philosophy, and "souvenirs" dating from his first literary efforts. Raymond Queneau was associated with the Surrealist group from November 1924--the year of the publication of Andre Breton's first "Manifesto of Surrealism," which founded this self-styled revolutionary group of writers and artists. This occurs approximately two years after Breton broke with the Dada movement. Queneau was also briefly Breton's brother-in-law. The young Queneau still had to do compulsory military service between 1926 and 1927 and found himself stationed in Morocco, where a colonial conflict, the Rif war, was taking place. After quitting the Surrealist group in June 1929, Queneau used the techniques of the roman a cle to formulate a series of reasons for doing so in a novel called Odile, published in 1937.
Seen from a twentieth-century modernist perspective, it is clear to readers how Queneau's novels came to be full of fake realism and purposely minimal psychological studies of motives. Readers will nonetheless find familiar subjects of discussion, such as the psychoanalytic theory of Freud, and the general historic context generated by the post war excitement among French intellectuals (after both world wars) as well as the theories of Surrealists such as Breton, or even of friends such as Georges Bataille. The ideas discussed ultimately are representative of private convictions which are vital to everyone: character, narrator, reader. However, these discussions also become the source of tension in the stories since their elaboration gives rise to antithetic ideas. By contrasting different points of view, Queneau manages to create an atmosphere of farcical (some say facetious) comedy. Fake pie-in-the-sky utopias often are reduced to the point of appearing to be nothing more than short sketches, albeit witty improvisations, because the differing concerns of the characters seem without real standing. Yet the utopian presence constitutes an interiorized polemical form (Bakhtin; Kristeva, "Le mot, le dialogue et le roman" 155). This polemic bends the design of the text in a theatrical sense. It raises a question which is vital to society such as in the theater of Brecht. (8) By its interiorized polemical form, the design of the "play" causes the "audience" to wonder whether the actions of the characters will somehow follow through--existentially speaking--on the vital question, or, instead, fail in part ignominiously and in part comically.
The idea of actors on a stage, on a set and with a direction discounts the uniqueness of character, and more importantly their emotional states. This design places more emphasis on the idea of a fictional world which is parallel to the referential one, where characters have been granted their existence amidst the generalization of rules of behavior in different domains: social, institutional, cultural and even cosmic. (9) These rules of behavior are universes in and of themselves where a state is comparable to an environment used in the study of physics. (10) In the states found in Queneau's novels, the utopias on stage avoid most technical tasks associated with the genre of psychological novels since the fictional setting is a "steady" state: most of the rules of behavior--which are parallel to those in the referential world--are unmodified because of the narrative (and when exceptionally they are, the reader is meant to take notice). The same is true of the utopias, which are mere sketches compared to the lengthy descriptions that constitute one of the traits common to most utopian novels. A further difference is that the state of utopia described through the witty improvisations sketched in these novels is often presented as the result of daydream activity. The state of utopia is a metaphor which stands for the theatrical formation of the narrative and the role that each character's mental condition, a utopian dream world, is supposed to play in it. Thus, it is only on the condition that a definition of utopias is not limited to a type of the utopian novel that I postulate degrees, among the characters, to which readers are permitted to penetrate a utopian dream world in the pages of his novels.
So, as a metaphor, state of utopia, utopian state, utopian dream world refer to the perceptions of the characters. It can be an image perhaps handed down from the literary form. The daydream of utopian states is structurally treated in Queneau's novels as the mythological types of narratives that involve a voyage to the utopian location, the exploration of this place, and the return--of the voyager and narrative text combined--to a starting point. (11) A French philosopher such as Le Senne observes that, in the case of utopias, the out-of-the-world voyage, into the future, the past, or to an inaccessible or vaguely located country, goes beyond the realm of human experience and, thus, must be classified as what he would like us to call a fictional ideal (in contrasting this fictional ideal to a serious moral ideal). Thus the fictional ideal of a utopia does not automatically cause the departure on a voyage although it permits new ways to approach a moral ideal. This idea of Le Senne's is to be understood as the backdrop to my discussion of the state as a daydreaming activity by the characters and the choices, conscious as well as unconscious, supposed by this activity.
In an essay called "Richesse et limite" (Richness and Limit), first published in 1938 and republished in Le voyage e, Grace (1987), Queneau argues in a way that is germane to my position that this steady-state technique of conception and experimentation is the key to the modernist genre of his writing. Theatrical design is a tactic practiced by the author in order to avoid the encyclopedic approach of realist novels. Theatrical unity in this case constitutes a type of purposeful critical distance from the realism of novels belonging especially to the psychological genre, and is a refusal of the view that the imagination can be transformed into the equivalent of knowing by the work (or exercise) of writing out what is on one's mind. Historically speaking, Queneau saw contemporary culture on the whole desiring to acquire a certain transcendent type of encyclopedic knowledge, but he believed also that it was in fact impossible for this type of knowledge, which was derived from contemporary science, to contribute to human happiness (102). In his opinion, the epistemophilic behavior which results should--just as compulsive gambling--be characterized as an illness since "Il y a d'ailleurs dans la science actuelle une insecurite qui n'a rien du risque d'une aventure, mais qui a tout de celle qui regne sur les Bourses de valeurs. Les theories des savants sont bien des 'speculations'" (102) ("There is also in contemporary science an insecurity which cannot be compared to the risk of adventure, but which resembles the risk that exists on the Stock Exchange. Learned theory is certainly that 'speculative'"). For Queneau, the misguided instincts of encyclopedists had also penetrated literary circles, inevitably causing contemporary literature's attempts at cultural production to be flawed. Queneau takes to task an author such as H. G. Wells, although not for his science-fiction novels. Queneau, in fact, comments that the publication of an encyclopedia of worldwide knowledge, such as Wells had suggested at the time, would not have the necessary means to synthesize everything: "C'est que cette masse colossale de faits qu'est la 'culture moderne' n'est pas en realite un savoir et ne fournit pas les moyens d'atteindre a un savoir quelconque" (101-2) ("For the colossal mass of facts which is 'modern culture' isn't in reality learning and doesn't furnish the means to attain any type of learning"). (12)
In 1956, writing in "Comment devenir un encyclopedist" ("How One Becomes an Encyclopedist") Queneau tries to explain himself: "j'avais une vocation encyclopedique sans que pour cela j'eusse l'idee grotesque de diriger effectivement une Encyclopedie. Le type qui se croit appele a diriger une Encyclopedie et va d'editeur en editeur pour leur proposer ce projet, est un fou" (119) ("I had an encyclopedic vocation although, just the same, the grotesque idea of really managing an Encyclopedia might never have entered my mind. The guy who believes himself destined to manage an Encyclopedia, and who goes from publisher to publisher to propose the idea, is crazy"). The Gallimard publishing house had asked Queneau to manage a new encyclopedic collection. Queneau isn't, however, modifying his earlier position. The title of his article is fashioned as an ironic self-defense because the whole idea is "grotesque." (13)
This reaction against the epistemophilic features of "encyclopedic" writing gives rise to a tactic of rebellious anti-realism on Queneau's part. I want first to describe this tactic in general before exploring its use more thoroughly through the aid of an example. As a rebellious daydream, his humor is a type of non-conformism which revels in its unorthodoxy. Queneau, therefore, links humor and irony to form a misreading of realism in the characters' daydreams. I can compare Queneau's technique to Kierkegaard's analysis of the Socratic form of irony, which Kierkegaard labels "demoniac." Moreover, according to Freud, "Humor is not resigned; it is rebellious. It signifies the triumph not only of the ego, but also of the pleasure principle, which is strong enough to assert itself here in the face of adverse real circumstances" ("Humor" 265). The rebellious trait of Queneau's characters can already be found in his first novel, Le chiendent. The main character in the novel is a flat silhouette until little by little he grows rounder. The killing of his pet cat is one of the causes: "Il s'imagine le cadavre, la depouille que tanne la mere Tyran. L'etre plat s'indigne, se revolte" (23) ("He imagined the cadaver [of his pet cat], which Mme Tyran was tanning. The flat being is indignant, revolted").
According to Bakhtin the ambivalent words concocted by Dostoyevsky converted the monologue of an author into a dialogue implicating both a rupture and a continuation with literary standards then prevailing in novels. Reinterpreted by Julia Kristeva the presence of this type of ambivalence in the text of a novel serves to make certain modernist works, such as those of Joyce, unreadable ("Le mot" 152; "Une poetique ruinee" 6). From this brief insight into the workings of the modern novel, where the more a text approaches the unreadable the more sure is the influence of modernism, I can show how the novelistic form may be created out of mental processes such as daydreaming. When a character's dreams of utopia appear in Queneau's novels, it is ultimately as a linguistic sign of self-representation. But the desire itself is unreadable because an ambivalent dialogue, as in a the case of a projection, has made it accessible but only by its being buried deep in a character's fictional psyche. Queneau's dream worlds depend for their manifestation on ambivalent "words," whose often complex logical inventiveness was first noted by Bakhtin in Dostoyevsky's case. This ambivalence is largely true of Queneau's texts since the character's utopian daydreaming activity is made the object of puns, jokes, and mythological realizations in the artificial huis clos of the novels. The consequences for the modernist text in general are loss of meaning, and in the case of humor: deflation, bathos, comic non-sense. That is the case in Queneau's mock serious description of a huis clos where the closure (meaning) is devalued, basically lighthearted, impossible for the reader to feel as experienced in earnest.
Before going any further, let's take just such a huis clos as an example. In the novel Pierrot mon ami a huis clos along with a description of utopian society developed in the text is in fact based on the setting of an amusement park. In the following short enunciation made about the actions of the all-powerful park manager, readers can observe how few details of the huis clos Queneau actually provides while still generating prosaic verbiage. The complete setting of the utopian dream exceeds the breadth of the simple quotation; however, the enunciation points to an equivalence which makes the fictional world of the amusement park a parallel to the entire history of the world, ancient and modern: "Son regard allait de la tombe a la tente, et de la tente a la tombe, puis se posait, nostalgique et lasse, sur la vibrionique et poussiereuse agitation dont il se glorifiait d'etre responsable" (113) ("His eyes went from the tomb to the tent, and from the tent to the tomb, then posed themselves from both nostalgia and fatigue on the vibrionic and dusty stir for which he was so proud to be responsible"). Envisaged in Old and New Testament terms the evocation--a Biblical "tent" and a Christlike "tomb"--take on, albeit briefly, a symbolic hue. (14)
in addition, in this example readers find themselves in the same universe that is composed of embedded descriptive details. The protagonist witnesses everything from his fictional vantage point located on the roof of a tall building. The building overlooks the amusement park, which is, in this case, bordered on one side by circus tents and on the other by the memorial chapel of a mysterious prince. Queneau's description sets the utopian society up at a "vibrionic" distance, a choice of words which by a fake sort of realism, an unreal utopianism, evokes the tension, the energy if not the meaning (or lack of singular meaning) of a text by Mallarme. Yet it remains just a single detail embedded in the sketch which, in turn, is embedded in the narrative that contains similar sketches of the dream worlds of other characters. The "popular" esthetic of amusement-park taste, largely developed in the text as part of the utopia, has the possibility, beyond parody, to satirize without, however, crossing the line into a realism that would take itself too seriously for Queneau's own convictions. In short, without making the narrative writing style epistemophilic. Despite the rhetoric, with the adroit punctuation of its rhetorical figure (zeugma), it is no doubt the comical ambivalence which dominates in such claims as "Les autres manages, quoique deserts encore, ronflaient du souffle de leurs orgues, et leurs musiques nostagiques contribuaient certes a developper la vie interieure des employes du Palace de la Rigolade" (8) ("The other attractions, although still deserted, snored with the breath of their musical organs, and this nostalgic music certainly contributed to the development of the inner life of employees at the Palace of Laughter").
Therefore the text uses the particularity of the local coloring of this utopia ("vibrionic") only theatrically, in order to proceed from a mild parody of the amusement park as a utopian society to a critical survey of readers' apprehensions of culture as a whole. Besides Mallarme, other literary works similarly quoted as being of the same cultural typology, of a whole with the scientific and cultural settings for utopias, include works such as George Du Maurrier's Peter Ibbetson or several Sinclair Lewis novels. Many of these works have a utopia only as motif, however. The utopia is a foil for the hero, for instance, in the fascist political state which takes power in the futuristic America imagined by Lewis in his novel It Cant Happen Here (1935), which was translated by Queneau in 1937. (15) The fictional ideal is often only an image or two suggested to Queneau by another literary work. However, when this motif is drawn for readers in a huis clos, it can become the means to envision a serious moral ideal. In short, this image of a fictional steady state is the sign of an experimental utopian paradigm. In the original work, which for Queneau appears utopian, readers discover for themselves the motifs which are parts of a metonymic series. The functioning metonymy exists along with metaphors establishing the so-called principal narrative themes. (16) For example, the paradigm of a utopia occurs when two characters of Queneau's third novel Les derniers jours focus their attention briefly on a small detail apparently from an exotic love story told by Pierre Benoit in the novel L'Atlantide. (17) in Benoit's story, however, the desert setting and the mysterious character, Antinea, who is none other than the last queen of the lost civilization of Atlantis, are part of the rather passe metaphor of exotic glamour. The seductive figure Antinea is given more attention by the hero-narrator than what Queneau's huis clos humorously contemplates in his novel as the experimental paradigm of utopias. In Benoit's novel, readers find that this motif, a metonymic series of textual occurrences, gives information concerning the utopian aspects of Antinea's desert kingdom, its timelessness and the technical prowess which is the secret of endurance over the centuries, all of which Benoit has treated as a rather secondary motif in comparison to his story of adventure and passion.
The whole reading works as a steady-state experiment with its carefully controlled variations on utopian themes, all of which would be destined to be felt by an "audience" in Brecht's theater. Queneau often uses the technique of a huis clos to indicate the lack of closure, which is an important sign of conditions in a character's utopian dream world, perhaps a sine qua non. More often than not, the huis clos is abandoned once the sketch has succeeded in combining humor with a certain amount of recognizable allusion to a readable paradigm of the symbolic utopian world. Queneau's novels thus recreate the voyager in transit by the narrative round-trip to and from utopia. He multiplies the transitions between the realistic world of the novel and the anti-realism of a fictionally ideal world visited, if only implicitly, while searching for a utopian society. Reading these novels is to observe countless times this transition which thus becomes the less-than-serious moral, a fictional cultural ideal which, in my view, is the humorous equivalent of a psychic voyage in the dreams and idealistic aspirations of the twentieth century.
One method for gauging the presence of any sincerity, in the makeup of a character's daydreaming is to observe the modifications in the mental condition of the character in order to see if slight changes reflect a world in a state of utopia. Much to my surprise, the language used in sketching these worlds regulates itself as if part of an unconscious system. For instance the central character of Loin de Rueil, Jacques L'Aumone, mounts aboard a bateau mouche (Seine river steamer) which takes him to "nulle part": "Il tient la barre et conduit son vaisseau vers une destination nulle" (79-80) ("He is at the helm and is steering his vessel towards a nonexistent destination"). The reader immediately recalls the fact that Thomas More's utopia is not locatable geographically. More created "utopia" from "u" meaning no, not, and "topos" meaning place, thus in French "nulle part." Queneau then makes of the bateau mouche a metaphoric element: "bateaumouche," "vaisseau," "pyroscaphe" (78-79) ("river steamer," "vessel," "fireproof rig") that is part of an episode which is half daydream, half hallucination. The earth falls to pieces, in the brief passage from the text, in an apocalyptic series of events which take place during the voyage.
Next, the bateau mouche is seen being incorporated into the Hugoesque promise of a nineteenth-century French socialist utopia. (18) As Kari Lokke has shown, in the nineteenth century French writers understood and developed conceptions of utopia as a function of their own historical points of view. For instance, in writing the short story "Svlvie" (1853) Nerval evokes the epoch as "un melange d'activite, d'hesitations et de paresse, d'utopies brillantes, d'aspirations philosophiques ou religieiuses, d'enthousiasmes vagues, meles de certains instincts de renaissance" (262) ("a blending of activity, of hesitations and of laziness, of brilliant utopias, of philosophical and religious aspirations, of vague enthusiasms mixed with certain instincts towards a renaissance"). (19) Here utopia would seem to mean the invention of a revolutionary social--or even metaphysical--concept.
In his poems, Victor Hugo writes about the possibility that society as a whole will someday begin living the social utopia of Saint-Simon thanks to embarking on something resembling an airplane, which is alternately called a "sphere," "vaisseau," "esquif celeste," "char volant," "navire impossible," "char aerien," "char merveilleux," "nef," "phare," "aeroscaphe" ("sphere," "vessel," "celestial skiff," "flying chariot," "impossible ship," "aerial chariot," "marvelous chariot," "vessel," "beacon," "aerodynamic rig"). The exposition of Jacques' geographic and psychic displacements while a passenger on a bateau mouche plying the Seine thus becomes part of Jacques' own psychic utopian voyage through French historical time and space.
If Jacques has first metamorphosed himself after the apocalypse in order to join one of the fragmented pieces of the planet earth, it is only to be transformed back by a pun, which indicates that the language used for sketching the voyage has the same status as a dream language. The French language does not phonically differentiate between the words "sport" and "spore," so in the French text the pronunciation of these words will form a rhyme. In the passage below, Queneau's scrambled description of Jacques' voyage across the universe closes with a wordplay on those signs:
Puis lamer s'etale et Jacques comprend qu'il se trouve maintenant seul. Les autres passagers ont ete balayes, le reste de l'humanite fut noyee.... D'ailleurs l'cau se met a bouillir doucement: c'est que la terre rapproche du soleil, l,'eau bout bout bout et les Oceans lentement s'evaporent. Jacques continue a respirer: sans doute ses poumons ont-ils subi la transformation voulue. Par mutation brusque Jacques est devenu salamandre, heliocole, incombustible, vivant amiante. La terre ne se presente plus que comme un caillou qui rougit lentement aux feux de la fournaise celeste et naturellement bien sur evidemment depuis longtemps il n'y a plus de bateau-mouche, echoue, carbonise. Puis comme le soleil s'est eteint subitement souffle par quelque vent stellaire il fait soudain bien froid et la terre eclatree projette mille morceaux gelds a travers les abimes de l'espace. Sur un des ces fragments il y a Jacques L'Aumone mais sous l'aspect d'une spore a coque tres dure. Mais il suffit que ce germe recoive la chaleur d'un reve pour que de nouveau s'eveille la forme humaine de Jacques L'Aumone qui consulte Paris-Sport. (79-80) (Then the sea stretches itself out and Jacques realizes that he is now alone. The other passengers have been swept away, the rest of humanity drowned.... Moreover the water begins to boil gently: it's because the earth is approaching the sun. The water boils boils boils and the Oceans slowly evaporate. Jacques continues to breathe: his lungs have certainly gone through the necessary transformation. In a brusque mutation Jacques has become a salamander, a heliocole, fireproof, living asbestos. (20) The earth appears to be a stone that is turning red from the fires of the celestial oven, and naturally of course it has been evident for a long time there is no longer any bateau-mouche, shipwrecked, burned to a cinder. Then since the sun has expired blown out suddenly by some stellar wind the temperature suddenly turns cold and the shattered earth strews a thousand frozen morsels throughout the depths of space. On one of these fragments there is Jacques L'Aumone, but in the form of very hard spore. But this germ requires only the warmth of a dream for it again to be awakened in its human form of Jacques L'Aumone perusing Paris-Sport.)
Is the evocation of "the warmth of a dream" merely slight of hand, or is it an attempt at mass superstition by contagion? No, not in the case of Queneau at least. Because these citations of the utopias of others are as a rule the object of such facetiously rhymed puns, the evocations always mask the question of private life as it relates to Quencau's own desires and private convictions. Putting aside for a moment the question of what this pun (sport/spore) reveals about the utopian mental condition, which, in fact, is an experimental dream world present at its genesis, the whole episode is somewhat incomprehensible in the novel. Victor Hugo's poem treats the future of the world after the coming of the airplane, symbolic for him of the progress of civilization thanks to the application of new scientific techniques (Renouvier). Though not scientific in and of themselves, Hugo's handling of concepts such as "harmony" (721) and "aromal springtime" (731) from "Plein ciel" were part of a pseudo scientific code which was expounded by Fourier and his followers, the Fourierists. (21) These pseudo-scientific concepts join the Saint-simonist positivism to become part of the aerial utopia of Hugo in the poem "Plein ciel." So, for Hugo, utopia is certainly the belief system in question.
Queneau's use of imagery to describe L'Aumone's voyage in a bateau mouche can recall several fundamentally different utopias thanks to its dream condensation. In fact, Jacques' conveyance is a twofold symbol-positive and negative. In addition to being a symbol of progress for civilization, part of the collection of images corresponds with the evil ship named Leviathan ("sinistre vaisseau") which appears in the counter utopia of the poem "Pleine mer," which precedes "Plein ciel" in Hugo's La legende des siecles (716). The utopian symbolism is dreamlike because, first of all, rhetoric is a way to constitute a sense of historicism in the text through an implicit reliance on a set of convictions, vaguely religious as well as scientific, such as readers could find in many science-fiction utopian novels. (22) More importantly, Queneau's creation of the pun (spore/sport), whose double status in this passage as an attempt at a mythological representation of both a utopian dream and a dystopian nightmare should now be clear, is a way of disavowing the author's own implication: a serious moral responsibility for the implicit value transmitted by rewriting Hugo's two poems in his text. Its theatrical ambiguity masks whether there is any intention behind the state of utopia that the historic author sketches as Jacques' dream world. A voyage to utopias thus takes place, and vet there is no intention of putting the utopias into effect. This ambiguity is not in the same vein as the French symbolist writing style of, say, Mallarme or Huysmans. Victor Hugo's attempt at updating a positivist religion aside, Queneau's writing displays a logic comparable to that of dream language in these humorous sketches.
Old Times and New
A remarkable thing about Queneau's novels is that Queneau seems never to have approached the work of writing in the same way twice. In sixteen novels, the concept of novel is treated differently each time. Nevertheless, the historical dimension manifests itself as a constant. There is an irregular form of allusion to tyrants, to totalitarian dictatorships in the news especially during the 1920s and 1930s. The world of the fictional ideal adds, moreover, a secondary appropriateness to this theme of tyranny as imagoes of the primitive Oedipal complex. Queneau returns his characters again and again to their mental reenactments of the textual theme of these utopian novels or variants of the utopian genre, such as Hugo's positivist-inspired poems. The behavior of fictional characters exists, though, in function of both the narrative and the times. It becomes clear that both are due to the historic situation of Queneau's life. The characters' problems dealing with utopias, manifested under stressful situations, thus take on a nostalgic coloring of a specific time and especially culture. Theatrical staging is meant as a type of model of humanity, a parallel world that is reproduced as a somewhat nostalgic Brechtian surrogate for old times. Each setting provides local color for an exemplary story, with frequent transition passages in the form of voyages to and from utopias. So theatrical staging of the utopias encloses a pluralistic narrative logic in the form of multiple voyages in its fictionally ideal world. The context of these parallel worlds remains the twentieth century (even in the case of the supposedly nineteenth century setting of Le vol d'Icare) because Queneau's approach to utopias is mythological. He treats them as timeless, ahistorical constructs since, significantly using the same motifs again and again, he makes the text a utopia which repeats an unreal textual theme. This staging also provide a framework to measure the change in attitude of the characters. A swing from one attitude to the other is experienced as the consequence of a negative transference. So Le Senne's speculation that the voyage to utopias is a psychic phenomenon means the fictional ideal can appear in these novels under the form of mental acts by the characters.
Queneau's inner convictions--his commitment to the task of refining the polemic humor in his novels--never flags. His inclusion of the historical dimension doesn't prevent the mythological utopia but occurs in parallel. If historic tyrants recall a failure of historical transcendence, or a disillusionment, this recollection doesn't encourage a permanent transition voyage to an imaginary utopia. Queneau's commitment is, however, to a lack of intention in realizing a utopia apart from the psychic staging of these utopian dream worlds. Madeleine Velguth, in her insightful preface to the novel Les enfants du limon, seeks to draw a strict parallel between Queneau's personal psychoanalysis and the historical elements in the texts of the novels. In doing so, she forgets the overwhelmingly comic air of these novels and consequently emphasizes the "preoccupations personelles du romancier" ("personal preoccupations of the novelist") to a very large extent ("Notice" 1600). On the same page of the Journaux (1996) cited by Velguth apropos his dreams and the Oedipal complex, Queneau also speaks of the important effect on him of Freud's writings (234). I would argue that Queneau creates a surrogate as a subject for bathos. These literary myths are useful for developing further his cosmogony. For instance, writing about a "belle epoque" at the end of the first chapter of Les enfants du limon (10), Queneau's ironic tone (as well as the lack of capital letters) indicates that it's the myth of a belle epoque which is posterior that is being considered in this manner. For Velguth, however, this passage points up "l'existence edenique des enfants du limon" ("the Edenic existence of the children of clay"), because the novel tells of the end "a leur enfance prolonge dans le paradis terrestre du Midi de la France" (1613) ("to their prolonged childhood in the earthly paradise of the French Midi").
Since these narratives contain antithetical ideas, however, they could more justly reflect the chaotic society in which Queneau was living without giving in to such a polar opposition. In Queneau's texts, characters wish for the utopian and worry about the implications of utopias as either tyrannical political systems or personal fantasies, projections, in short, born of the fear of oppression. Within this fictional world, the antithetic ideas are further proof of the two minds of Queneau's character concerning the vital question of utopias. Historians of the 1920s and 1930s tell us that the majority, of the French wished for a return to conditions which prevailed in France before the First World War, the war to end all wars, "la der des ders." Marchand, in his historical analysis of Paris life, finds this utopian dream by the French "revenir comme avant" ("to return to old times") is simply in the air after the war (239). (23) This statement may appear sweeping, yet it is supported by the observations of historians such as Becker and Weber. (24) Becker writes that after the armistice "le mythe de la 'Belle Epoque', de cet age d'or suppose de la France du debut du XXe siecle, est pret a s'epanouir" (155) ("the myth of the 'Belle Epoque,' this supposed golden age in France from the beginning of the twentieth century, is ready to bloom"). The generation born just after the turn of the century, and thus too young to be soldiers in the war, a generation of which Queneau (born in 1903) was part, tended on the contrary to see this myth as an obstacle. Michel Winock underlines the fact that "Ces jeunes eprouvent la sensation d'etouffer dans une societe de gerontes qui remache l'age d'or de la Belle Epoque" (205) ("These youth felt suffocated in a gerontocratic society that was brooding over the myth of the Belle Epoque").
An entire country led largely in this postwar period by the politician Raymond Poincare apparently was able to entertain antithetical ideas concerning its expectations. As opposed to the serious moral ideal, the fact that Queneau creates imagoes separate from the transcending imagoes of history, equally present, demonstrates the importance of the fictional ideal. By embedding the allusion to the utopian daydreams as metaphor, Queneau's writing masks the text's absence of intention to see this wish fulfilled. The entire wishing process--both fictional and historic--is attributed to others, the characters. Since the inability of author as well as characters to put such a utopian imagery completely aside is due to the history of the times, there are several possible explanations for Queneau's cosmogony. Writing about the utopias of French society is either evidence of a neurosis that simply clings to a happy mythic period perhaps preserved from childhood, or else Queneau in his novels puts readers in the presence of a counter-will in which the text becomes in writing the destination of an unconscious impulse that clearly resists analysis by acting independently of the ego. The explanation of a surrogate myth of the Belle Epoque as resistance is the more likely scenario especially given the diversity of Queneau's works. In his presentation of observations of the effects of antithetical ideas, "A Case of Successful Treatment by Hypnotism," Freud writes that "The antithetic idea establishes itself, so to speak, as a 'counter-will,' while the patient is aware with astonishment of having a will which is resolute but powerless" (47). Utopias in both scenarios remain an impossible-to-dislodge wish for a return to a happier period. In the case of resistance, the characters' psyches act out the epoch's powerlessness epitomized in their reactionary and sometimes aggressive resistance to the suggestion of new ideas. In the novel Les enfants du limon Agnes has decided that she is the new Jeanne d'Arc, i.e. a messianic figure destined to lead France through the troubled 1930s (183). She fails, however, to make many converts to her reactionary right-wing and obligatorily anti-Semitic movement called the NSC (for "nation sans classe," classless nation). In the following dialogue, her husband is trying to warn her about her antithetical, self-destructive expectations. She wants, for instance, to recruit people in Belleville, a poor district in Paris traditionally full of immigrants and historically a hotbed of left-wing ideas.
--Les aventures! Mon plan d'action n'est pas une aventure. --Non, bien sur. Je voulais seulement parler d'une certaine hate ... --Enfin, vous avez suivi un avis tout different du mien. Je voulais commencer par Saint Denis et Belleville. --Vous ne pensez pas que c'etait un peu--utopique? (186) (--Adventurous you say! My action plan isn't an adventure. --No, of course not. I wanted to point out your hastiness perhaps ... --But you followed a completely different opinion. I wanted to begin by Saint-Denis and Belleville. --Don't you think that was a bit--utopian?)
What her husband is suggesting is that in her exultation she believes that thanks to an omnipotence of thoughts she can change reality. In the novel, though, Agnes perishes during rightist antigovernment rioting in front of the French National Assembly, an event which historically took place in February 1936. (25) Already mildly parodying historical and family epic novels, the event's absurdity here is that the myth of a despotic and thus an omnipotent imago would know such a tragi-comic ending.
The second half of the thirties marks a watershed in Queneau's attitude toward science and culture since it is followed by a period of major writing-changes which firmly establish the antithetical ideas of his characters as a counter-will in his novels. (26) Once again, readers can see a reflection of the novel's theatricality in the details becoming a means to an end: first an experimental scientific technique, then a comical mask used by a historic author to create a deeper, doubtless cosmic meaning for the utopian imagery, comparable in a way to the equally polemical ironic style of the philosopher Kierkegaard. One of Queneau's friends, Georges Bataille, published an informative article concerning the complex changes that Queneau had realized for the final version of his novel Saint Glinglin. There were, in fact, three published attempts to tell the story. The first version, entitled Gueule de pierre, is partially written in verse. It recounts the story of the murder of the father by his sons in a fictional mountainous country. The father, a sort of tribal chief, has ruled with an iron hand. Just as Freud imagined the original murder of the father in the primitive society arising from this, in the story of Queneau's novel the sons hound the father to death. In the second novel, Les temps meles (1941), to assuage their guilt the sons have organized life anew after the traumatic events in the first novel. The mountainous country and city have generic-sounding names, the Native Land and the Native City. (27) In the final version, Saint Glinglin, while largely incorporating the two earlier versions but with a myriad of small changes, additional sections in the new novel feature more about the discovery of a father-daughter incest which spurs the revolt.
To understand the importance of this change requires more background about the story. In this country called Native Land, the ruler derives his powers over the others from a symbiosis that leads them to credit the leader with the successful regulation of the weather. It never rains in the Native Land until shortly after the death of the ruler, and at the end of the novel, in the final version, the rain will again stop. Drolly, for a mere superstition, it rains constantly during the rest of the time. Among the prerogatives held by the ruler is the droit de cuissage, a feudal custom permitting the noble to spend the night with the serf's bride. In Totem and Tattoo Freud sees this type of situation as the spark in the story of a revolt in the primal horde. The story of revolt as he imagines it is the nearest Freud believes humans can come to an origin of the Oedipus complex at some real date in the history of humankind, and not the mere mental reenactment as he believed to have discovered in the Oedipal complex (332). The sense of egotistical guilt that resulted from this revolt against the chief caused the perpetuators to establish the observance of totem and the proscription of incest (335).
Private life, as exemplified by this theme of father-daughter incest, therefore, gives the imago of a tyrannical ruler a wider scope in Saint Glinglin, as well as to a different degree in the rest of the works. Bataille observes that, while maintaining the novel relatively unchanged in its narrative development, Queneau moved away from using overt sociological classification as he had done in the earlier attempts to tell the same story: "Nous apprenons du moins qu'a travers une histoire des plus fantastiques, la plus lointaine recherche que l'homme se propose est en jeu" (1060) ("We at least learn that the furthest reaches attempted by humankind are in question through a fantastic story").
In addition, for Bataille this systematic change made in the new text did more than make things somehow wittier than in a simplistic parody. As was Queneau's habit, only with a crucial difference, the contemporary practice of science is the object of an attempt at comical deflation. Most tellingly, Bataille notices here how science in Queneau's new version is not as sad, or simply not as boring to read about as perhaps in the earlier attempts. Yet the changes have not drained the final version of intellectual content thanks to Queneau's technique of "poetisation":
Les choses n'y ont plus leur valour d'usage. Chacune d'elles est objet de desir ou d'aversion, d'hilarite ou d'effroi. En un sens, c'est la ce que la psychanalyse (parlant de libido), la sociologie (du sacre) et la phenomenologie (d'existence) nous apprennent, mais elles nous le disent sur le plan d'une adequation de chaque mot a l'objet distinctement defini. Rien de plus triste au fond que leur insistance a nous parler de libido, de sacre, d'existence : il leur faut. (1065) (Things no longer have the same use value. Each one is the object of longing or aversion, of hilarity or fright. In a sense that's what psychoanalysis (speaking of libido) sociology (of the sacred) and phenomenology (of existence) teach us, but these disciplines tell us this through an equivalence of each word to the distinctly defined object. Nothing is sadder finally than their insistence on speaking to us of libido, of the sacred, of existence: they must.)
In the new text, called Saint Glinglin, Queneau no longer respects this necessity to the letter, claims Bataille. The reversal in Saint Glinglin, according to Bataille, is the reversal of the position of the unconscious because--topographically speaking--through "poetisation" the new novel contains the same catalog of human sciences as the earlier all-too-serious attempts that also treated the rules of behavior as basic givens of life in the fictional world of the novels. (28)
Already present in the narrative of version two, Les temps meles, the treatment of the theme of incest becomes in Saint Glinglin the object of the most facetious puns. Yet this newly found way of distorting science is a disguise that, according to Bataille, is revealing. Instead of a scientific usage, Queneau has invented a spiteful or unkind language. (29) The title of Bataille's article, "La mechancete du langage," points in this precise direction. Bataille concludes that this "langage" makes for a type of humor where, as the proverb goes, style makes the man, that is, in this case, wit reveals the existence if not the nature of an author: ""Le style est naturellement l'agent de la trahision : c'est ici le lieu de rappeler que le style est l'homme" (1063) ("The style is of course the means of betrayal: and it is appropriate to recall that style makes the man").
What Bataille's observation means perhaps could be summed up by saying that Queneau only admits the historical existence of an author behind the mask through the somewhat comical revelation of the Oedipal complex. It is natural, therefore, that his novels somewhat deviously harp on this confession of guilt through the ambiguous presence of puns. In addition, these inventive types of pun came to be often quoted as an example of the irresistible quality of Queneau's humor. Thus, in one case, when the main character in Le dimanche de la vie threatens to become the prey of a romantically inclined sister-in-law her lugubriously drunk husband, to warn him away, makes a pun on the verbs insist and incest. "Paul arreta Valentin pour s'ecrouler sur son epaule en pleurant :--Inceste pas de trop, Valentin, inceste pas de trop. Valentin fit quelque pas en le trainant" (116) ("Paul stopped Valentin in order to collapse, cuing, on his shoulder:--Don't incest too much, Valentin, don't incest too much. Valentin dragged him several steps").
In the rest of this section, I develop a different feature of the temporal surrogate concerning old times in general and the Belle Epoque in particular, which becomes the object of resistance through the elaboration of antithetical ideas. By showing allusions to the imago in the form of ambivalent words, I hope to show more clearly how the imago could generate a betrayal of utopian desires in Queneau's works. This betrayal is what Bataille implies is taking place behind the comical mask. It's thanks to puns and the modernism of the humorous attitude that the author hides in his writing the ambivalence of utopianism. The sometimes simplistic or jejune satiric ribaldry is just an ironic mask. In its formal attacks on social decorum over its years of development, Queneau abandoned rarely if ever the tone of irony in order to reveal the finality of the temporal surrogate. When he does, however, the rebellion against the tyranny exercised over the primal horde at the origins of the Oedipal complex is most often revealed to be nothing less than the triumph of the pleasure principle. From this perspective, satire is more of a tall tale, a fictionally ideal world that resists analysis on account of the presence of antithetical ideas, an active counter-will where history and politics mix unaccountably.
In his novel Le dimanche de la vie, Queneau has a character discuss visiting Berchtesgaden, the historic retreat used by Hitler. The narrative deflation remains masked behind its ambivalent words. (30) The deflation has a point, however; it is not practiced innocently, purely for the sake of a somewhat adolescent humor. Beginning during the grimmest part of the war, in occupied Paris, Queneau produced texts with the greatest number of humorous utopian sketches and the fullest series of tyrants in allusions driven by both fictional ideals and historical attempts at transcendence. His most utopian novels are, then, Pierrot mon ami (1942), Loin de Rueil (1944), and later Saint Glinglin (1948) and Le dimanche de la vie (1951). The philosopher Alexandre Kojeve has supplied the premise that serves as a basis for this assertion. He begins his reading of three of Queneau's novels by an observation of the seriousness present in Queneau's novels--the very opposite of Blanchot's point. Kojeve labels three of the novels cited above (Saint Glinglin being the exception) "les romans de la sagesse" (the novels of wisdom) because he believes that the itineraries of the three main characters reflect a type of spiritual quest for philosophical wisdom. Readers are meant to understand that this quest is fulfilled since the characters each achieve a secular type of "sainthood." This achievement, says Kojeve, recreates in fictional form what Hegel described as the transcendence of history. As I have shown, though, since the antithetical expression resting from the counter-will is subject to bathos, what motivates the original quest for transcendence is above all crucial here. Kojeve acknowledges that the motivation of their so-called historical quest is the unfailing exhibition of a preoccupation with the tyrannies of the times:
Certes, l'eoque d'entre-deux-guerres a connu de brillants efforts destines a faire croire que les elucubrations des paranoiaques, qui semblent leur donner plein et entiere satisfaction representent des valeurs positives authentiques. Mais ces efforts, dignes d'un meilleur emploi, n'ont eu pour ainsi dire aucun dcho chez les personnes sensees. (390) (Of course, the period between the wars witnessed some brilliant efforts destined to make people believe that the wild imaginings of paranoiacs, who seemed to give them complete satisfaction, represent some authentic positive values. But these efforts, better used to some other end, received no response among people with common sense.)
It is important for Kojeve to define his historical relationship to this phenomenon in terms of a simple ("of course") yet overarching factor ("the period ... witnessed"). The omnipresence of tyranny in everyone's minds becomes the fundamental premise on which he can base a comprehensive reading of the three novels. Even so, these ideas are not palpable in the events described in the novels. However, the discourse Kojeve refers to is, i.e. the influence of their discourses on the way others think becomes a shadow over every character's actions in the novels. It is from this perspective that I argue that the definition of satiric humor must, for Queneau, involve more of the tall tale than of realistic melodrama, an Alice-in-Wonderland wandering in a fictional world which ironically, unforeseeably, strings history and politics together. It is not Queneau's commitment or absence of commitment to the realization of a transcendence of history which really counts. Instead, looking at his texts as tall tales having their origin in a surrogate counter-will proves more effective in reconstituting this type of societal wasteland where Eliot in his poetry speaks of the apprehension surrounding the mixture of "memory with desire."
So where does this leave the reader? Queneau achieves a mixture of styles thanks to the reproduction of a tyrant figure which is a fictional imago of the Oedipal complex. Anyone who reads Queneau's novels sees, therefore, that that the tallest tales of imagoes are accompanied by the most antithetical states in the characters' psyches as they struggle with the psyche's projections. The language embodies the discourse, for instance, in the form of the understatement (cited earlier) proffered by Agnes' husband: "-- Don't you think that was a bit--utopian?" Agnes is the imago of a fictional tyrant. If Queneau generally appears insouciant in his works, it is the critical distance from realism which is more significant: the puns, the jokes, the bathos in the sketches which indicate that popular realism might offer to him as a modernist nothing more than an occasion to create an empty parody of real beliefs.
In this manner a voyage to and from utopia is above all shown to be a misadventure. Somewhere between foolish dream and nightmarish incarnation of a despotic state, the utopias are staged to appear as a succession of cosmic events. The total effect leads readers to consider the narrative comically as a series of erroneous formulations of ideas reminiscent of Voltaire's Candide. The illusionary states that accompany these witty improvised sketches are all connected in the minds of the characters because of the ambivalent properties of mental acts. Queneau employs, in addition, a common imagery that creates a network of random associations relating to utopias. The inventiveness which is in evidence through the use of ambivalent words is also a metonym of the epistemological pursuit in Queneau's works. Self-revelation may be the inevitable corollary of Kierkegaardian-like literary error in this poetic rhetoric, but the strength of this deduction is undermined by semantic obstacles. Thus, the pursuit of self-knowledge depends on the presence at times of analogies that create a somewhat comical conceit out of the notion of the spiritual quest. It isn't just coincidence, nevertheless, that the character Icare has the same name as the son of Daedalus. Mental odysseys lead the reader down the path into a labyrinth because they have their beginnings in analogy constructed around literary error, as in the case of "the warmth of a dream" invoked in Loin de Rueil (80). Analogies with writing, such as literary error, provide a trace of the purpose or design of the odyssey.
When reading Queneau, the reader is always enticed into attributing to the author a comedy of errors. As Camus observed early on (in an overlooked newspaper article), (31) the structure of the narrative is faithful to a rule concerning seriousness: "Les livres de Raymond Queneau sont des feeries ambigues ou les spectacles de la vie quotidienne se melent a une melancolie sans age. Quoique l'amertume ne leur fasse pas defaut, il semble que leur auteur se refuse toujours aux conclusions et qu'il obeisse a une sorte d'horreur du serieux" ("Pierrot mon ami de Raymond Queneau"  2) ("Raymond Queneau's books are ambiguous fairytale worlds where the spectacles of daily life mix with ageless melancholy. Although bitterness is never lacking, it seems that their author refuses conclusions, and that he has a horror of anything serious"). The Kierkegaardian rag sparked by the dilemma of either/or is that he, or more precisely his characters, should embody an attitude which "holds the serious in horror." Humor that is in part revolt transforms the rule of humor into a necessity of style (Freud, "Humor" 265). It is by necessity that, in the course of a mental odyssey, characters experience antithetical attitudes as a revolt, as opposed to Kojeve's idea that a disorientation structures their spiritual quest until its ultimate accomplishment. Their attitudes are not serious even during confrontations with inner demons, just as in his spheres of existence Kierkegaard includes humor and irony as intermediary stages. In the following example, Queneau shows Bernard Lehameau as he accepts a part of the unknown future. The Kierkegaardian either/or is envisaged, through analogy, as a novel in the novel, even as Lehameau stubbornly holds on to his humorous attitude, which characterizes the desperate state of his own revolt.
Helena. Elle serait perdue. L'absence s'enflerait de routes les catastrophes et dans la masse opaque des malheurs du monde cette separation se perdrait indiscernable. Elle serait engloutie. Il l'aimerait. Ou il ne l'aimerait plus. Ridicule, l'image d'une rencontre future en des temps pacifiques, L'histoire ecrasait le roman de sa patte epaisse. Il sourit avec mepris. (Un rude hirer 141) (Helena. She would be lost. Absence would make all the catastrophes swell up and in the opaque mass of universal unhappiness this separation would be lost, indiscernible. It would be engulfed. He would love her. Or he wouldn't love her anymore. The picture of a future reunion during peacetime was ridiculous. History crushed the novel with its thick paw. He smiled scornfully.)
The complex use of the conditional fits the ambivalent pattern of a rule of humor which supplies analogies for history. First, to suggest the future, there is the passive voice in "would be gone." Almost simultaneously, but, even so, in the following paragraph, the verb form is used to reflect the character's antithetical swing in mood--the mode in "He would love her." Helena's whereabouts, her well-being and continued existence are all unknown. As the accumulated verbs forms interact, they orchestrate among themselves the reader's insight into the character's mind as Lehameau is seen shifting in reported discourse from the conditional voice to a different mode--the cool calculation in the second paragraph--till finally readers can identify with the feeling imparted by the descriptive function of the imperfect in the verb "ecrasait." The reader sees with what perfect clarity Lehameau must experience the power of history over the participants via a very forceful, bestial personification. In contrast the flimsy "novel" introduces a series of analogies corresponding to the "roman familial." Here, though, the analogy is reduced to being a metonymic aspect of history. The "paw" of history is that of a tyranny which renders the characters universally unhappy. Yet, and this is most Kierkegaardian, reclaimed by the use of the simple past ("sourit," "smiled") the indisputable psychological revelation in this passage is that Lehameau has no other choice but to smile. In its demoniac necessity, the comic style reveals the true mental character of his odyssey in its unaccomplished state (the imperfect verb) which leads to a humorous insight.
As Freud observed of the tendency of creative writers in many novels Queneau divides a single imago into differing antithetical elements. This is altogether the projection of the instincts that primitive men and women felt: "The projected creations of primitive men resemble the personifications constructed by creative writers; for the latter externalize in the form of separate individuals the opposing instinctual impulses struggling within them" (Totem 121n). This projection is already the case in the theme of parricide and incest as it exists in the supposedly primitive society, found in the series of novels leading up to and including Saint Glinglin. The imago thus divided deals with the categories of fear, anger, love, hate which are distinct from the categories of social order. For example, in Queneau's first novel (Le chiendent), there are at least two of these imagoes: Mine Tyrant and Mme Cloche. In addition, Mme Cloche is also referred to as "Miss Aullni" (390). The spelling and phonetics produce a pun on the name Mussolini, in diapason with the context of a war between the French and the Etruscans (sic) (389)--Italy evidently (Godard, "Notice" 1480). More finely, Barthes remarks that even if the main character in the novel Zazie dans le Metro is just a young adolescent, she manages to speak "tyrannically" (128). In some cases, the motif of utopia acts as a foil to reveal the utopian state of characters in their mental acts; in others, however, imagoes mark the ambivalence of modern novels such as Queneau produces because the experimental utopian paradigm has a quantitative approach to them. If readers less cautiously observant than Barthes were to lump together imagoes, without separating history from fiction, then all of Queneau's tyrants would be made to exist on the same level. This misreading overlooks how readers in general perceive the texts of a modernist writer. Queneau's writing contains imagoes such as "Miss Aulini" that function as ambivalent words, i.e. they are destined to be, relatively speaking, unreadable. Most of the examples of sketches of a huis clos extract an ambivalence from their positions vis-a-vis the utopia of another author, so the intertextual quality, of the theme of tyranny is a constant preoccupation if only semantically. It is the subject that characters entertain in their fantasy lives, as if the characters were seen theatrically setting off in search of the place of this imagery without finding it. (32) Thus, the imagoes of fictional tyrants become a separate albeit complemental series. The existence of fictional tyrants in Queneau's novels is a functional match with the series of historic tyrants and tyrannies. The Kierkegaardian rag is recognized by readers because it is a theatrical staging of an instinctual creative conflict at the base of a narrative language.
So, the off-handed nonchalance, a tone of improvisation belonging to Queneau's one-liners only appears to be insouciance. In fact, it is demoniac irony. The polemical linkage between the series of historic and fictional tyrants must have become barely perceptible since 1938 when a character in Les enfants du limon exclaims, "--Tu as des pensees triste. Moi je prends Mussolini a la rigolade" (68) ("--You have sad thoughts. I myself take Mussolini for laughs"). Yet the interior polemic depends on the reader to keep the fictional element parallel, geometrically speaking, with the historic scrics and not intersecting with it. The light-hearted remark above is ambivalent, too, as a satiric characterization of Hegelianism as a system of religious thought. One of the consequences of a theology such as Hegel's, warns Kierkegaard, is to take the responsibility for sin away from the individual and confer it on the Aristotelian animal, the mass, the crowd, this abstract concept which Kierkegaard also refers to as all of humanity (Traite 229): "I myself take Mussolini for laughs" is part of an encyclopedic realism, a symptom afflicting the epistemophilic whom Queneau makes it a rule to mock. In the case of Agnes in Les enfants du limon, a suitable enough comic treatment makes this realism appear as a delusional daydream in the text.
As I have shown, each comedy of so-called literary errors and self-revelation entails that the reader will uncover something in the narrative beyond the apparent insouciance, something which is comically masked. The random order of events becomes paramount in this case, as a satire develops in successive daydreams that supply no linear explanation of its order. This lack of explanation is due to a narrative principle based on the periodic return of one of the two series of tyranny. So in this case accomplishment (or foiling) of the quest calls for a mythological combination by Queneau. Le Senne situates the utopia as being beyond the realm of human experience. Here, it is the depth psychology of utopia that becomes paramount to readers as having various mythological properties. The errors composing the comedy will, through the parallelism of the surrogate systematically over time, evoke the terrors of tyrants in genuine as well as fictional history, striking the reader's own imagination as being random. This imagery combines the individual and the collective imaginations in a cosmic mythology made from the fictional ideal. What I think is apparent is that by reformulating the original form in terms of social and individual Oedipal imagoes I have gone towards the center of a labyrinthine construction. Queneau's use of a mask is similar to the purpose Kierkegaard put to the use of pseudonyms such as Johannes de Silentio and Frater Taciturnus. His various pseudonyms permitted him to write what he claimed would be the definitive word on the subject. Time and again, however, thanks to pseudonyms, Kierkegaard was to produce a unique and final supplement to his work. Thus I can postulate both Kierkegaard and Queneau imagining the design of a literary exercise. Writing will be a "definitive formulation" of a cultural ideal, the moral of the table. Since the circular reasoning of a fictional ideal depends on the reader, the presence of a cosmic mythology represents a moral. At the same time this limitation gives a function to literary errors. By reading utopia as only a partial or incomplete elaboration of the human identity, I am acknowledging the existence of a cultural ideal that is connected to a cosmic mythology. Another feature of humor is, however, to make this factor occult through the psychic economy of affect, in the symbolic sense.
Representation of a depth psychology, by reposing the cosmic mythology, on a fictional ideal, is a change of orientation towards the poetic rhetoric of Queneau's text. The French soldier, Bernard Lehameau, the central character of the novel Un rude hiver (1939), for instance, has been assigned to administrative work in his native Le Havre after being wounded on the front during the First World War. He takes refuge in several different attitudes which approximately reproduce the different cases of personification of despair examined by Kierkegaard. Readers follow Lehameau as he sheds his illusions, error after error, in a sort of voyage of initiation. The misadventures of Lehameau structure a fictional world which is seen as having an either/or staging. The following conversation seems to be a manifestation of Lehameau's mortal illness a la Kierkegaard; his despair affects his ideal. The fear supposedly felt by Lehameau in this passage is an anguish unconnected to any threats, so it reveals, in an algebraic Cartesian manner, the unaccomplished form of despair taken by Lehameau's anxiety. His discourse reflects an antithetical idea of utopia by wishing that the war might hypothetically be a different war, or the world a different world. He is talking about the conflict in Greece during the First World War:
N'empeche que si l'on demolit le Parthenon, c'est desageable pour la cause ties Allies. Mais qu'est c qui vous dit qu'on l'a demoli? Rien. Je ne faisais qu'exprimer uric crainte. Il se tut et son regard sembla chercher un point a l'infini. (69) ("Even so, if we destroyed the Parthenon, it's unpleasant for the Allies." "But what tells you they've destroyed it?" "Nothing. I'm only, expressing, a fear." He stopped talking and seemed to look for a point in infinity.)
The parody of Kierkegaard's philosophy of spheres of existence calls attention to itself. Kierkegaard writes of the infinite abstraction of a hermetic self in its despair. The word "fear" appears in the title of one of his better known works (in French Crainte et tremblement, "Fear and Trembhng"). Kierkegaard's opposition to Hegel, according to Le Blanc (1998), manifests his discontent with the use of Hellenism in the Hegehan system (138). When Lehameau falls in love with a woman symbolically named after Helen, his despair begins to change categories as he moves from one case of personification to another until finally, towards the end of the text, readers find this:
Mme Dutertre le regardait faisant un grand effort pour dechiffrer l'etre nouveau qui se presentait a elle. --Alors, finit-elle par dire, vous ne haissez plus les pauvres, ni les miserables, monsieur Lehameau? --Ni les Allemands meme, madame Dutertre, repondit-il en souriant. Pas meme eux. Pas meme les Havrais, ajouta-t-il en riant. --Il faut alors que vous soyez devenu un bien grand sage, dit Mme Dutertre en essayant de plaisanter. (174) (Mrs Dutertre looked at him making a great effort to understand the new being before her. --So, she ended up saying, you no longer hate either the poor or the suffering, Mr Lehameau? --Nor the Germans, Mrs Dutertre, he answered, smiling. Not even them. Not even the inhabitants of Le Havre he added, laughing. You must have become a great sage, said Mrs Dutertre trying to be funny.)
It's the middle of the war. Lehameau has seemingly just lost Helena when she is ordered back to England. Fraternization of a romantic nature between a French officer and a British nurse was forbidden. Helena may even have drowned when a boat is sunk just outside the harbor by a German submarine. Lehameau, however, has met two orphans, a barely adolescent girl and her little brother while wandering around Le Havre in despair. The choice he then makes is the equivalent of a Kierkegaardian leap.
This topographical dimension is the unconscious incest which is now unmasked at work, so to speak, in the midst of the utopian dream world of the novel. The young girl is the same age as Lehameau's unborn daughter who had been -killed years earlier in a huge fire along with his wife and mother. Lehameau's announcement to Mme Dutertre that he is settling down with them and their older sister means not that he has reached the end of a spiritual quest and become a "sage," but rather that he has finally overcome his unconscious guilt complex over their deaths. This seems at first to be an irrational decision. Yet, in addition to his change of attitude towards the German enemy, for instance, or his "vieille France" snobbism, which all make contributions to the dynamic of the imago (as well as a German spy Lehameau has just caused to be executed), the surprise of Mme Dutertre to whom he says goodbye before going back to the front lines is equally represented as being humorous: "--You must have become a great sage, said Mrs Dutertre trying to be funny." The end of Lehameau's geographical wandering, at his new home, also represents on a symbolic level the resolution of his many misadventures. Thus Queneau, who himself grew up in Le Havre during the First World War, manages to economize quantitatively speaking on the revelations concerning the historical, autobiographical, dimension of an Oedipal imago relating to his own childhood.
It is the psychic wanderings, the voyage to and from utopia, which permit the transformation in Lehameau that Queneau outlines using the separate phases of existence described by Kierkegaard, including humor and irony. The daydreams of Lehameau are a type of psychic voyage--this correspondence between wishful topography and unconsciousness that is the daydream--and the conscious desire is, in reality, an exchange which readers see to be unconsciously at work. Readers discover different levels as well as experiencing these levels as variations of the same humorous attitude. The refusal to take things seriously attributed to Queneau (formulated almost as a reproach by Blanchot and as an observation by Camus) is systemic in this sense. In the reader's mind nothing is left which can be taken for sure in the incestuous tale of the novel. (33) Is the character of the spy in the novel the imago of Queneau's father? Does Lehameau intend to marry his "daughter" or her older sister with whom he apparently went to bed one night? The fact, for instance, that the autobiographical level is nowhere given a signification makes its symbolic reading depend entirely on the mechanism of humor. Doesn't the pleasurable satisfaction come from watching--rather than an Oedipal drama--how someone such as Lehameau "is treating himself like a child and [how perhaps the kind Mme Dutertre] is at the same time playing the part of the superior adult in relation to this child?" (Freud, "Humor" 266). Mme Dutertre laughingly suggests that Lehameau has acquired a new quality in becoming wise, "sage," but this would appear too serious. On the other hand, "Behave yourself" ("Sois sage") is the type of advice often given to a child by an adult. Readers have just to place one character in the part of the child and another in the part of the adult, which in Freud's theory of humor at least, are one and the same person. The economy Queneau realizes is a savings related to the Oedipal complex once again, a mask of the author behind a writing technique which is, this time, something more complex than a single pun. Thus characters can go from one Joycean epiphany to another. These unaccomplished forms of narrative, just as the unconscious which Freud observed is manifested at work behind the changing language of dreams, can only profit readers if they are ready for these ambivalent words which mark Queneau's modernism as a fictional as opposed to a serious moral ideal.
Lands of Plenty, or the Social Fantasy Novel
The misadventures of Queneau's characters connected to wandering in search of a utopian dream world are the reactivated, or to use Freud's term, renewed memory of French history in the form of a surrogate. Queneau refers in a similar way to social fantasy ("fantastique social") in the preface to a novel, Le chant de l'equipage [The Sea Shanty], by Pierre Mac Orlan. This genre renews certain of the reader's "memories" concerning foreign adventures. Mac Orlan's narratives of voyages to an exotic place, often a colony of France as well as a land which is imagined at first through rose colored glasses as a utopia (Dubief 40), end frequently on an ironic note, much to the chagrin of his modern-day heroes. In Le chant de l'equipage (1923) after the First World War two Frenchmen are ready to risk everything they have in order to follow the instructions written on what they believe is an old pirate map. It turns out that they suffer from the type of amnesia Freud describes finding in his patients, albeit described here as having its basis in a social neurosis. They are left behind on a Caribbean island when their crew abandons them, making off with their ship while the two naive characters have their backs turned. A mysterious Man Friday, whose tongue has been cut out, helps them explore the island, but they only manage to unearth an enigmatic treasure: a large supply of canned sardines. Eventually they learn that the canned sardines as well as the Man Friday were left by a band of sadistic Chinese pirates who are using the island as a way station and prison. Marooned, at the end of the story the characters are doomed to await the return of these pirates.
Queneau discerns in social fantasy novels in general the same type of error in understanding that appears in this Mac Orlan novel. This error becomes significant, too, for the characters in Queneau's conception of the language of narrative. In his introduction to Mac Orlan's novel, Queneau first contrasts what he terms the active and the passive adventurer in social fantasy by compiling a list of examples (17). According to Queneau, the genre of social fantasy which Mac Orlan's tales exemplify would be more inclined to use "les ressources des vies imaginaires et les vertus d'une memore reactivee" (24) ("the resources of imaginary lives and the virtues of a reactivated memory"). To the reading public, Mac Orlan's novels delivered a timely moral by helping them to understand the lessons of history. These lessons are what the would-be heroes in many novels forget.
The historian Dubief includes the novels of Mac Orlan as well as those of Malraux as part of a trend among the French public toward reading adventure novels. The historian sees this genre in the 1920s as encouraging the French to seek their fortune in the colonies (40). Thus, the colonial adventure associated with Cochin China could be at the heart of Mac Orlan's pirates. Quencau's approach to Le chant de l'equipage as a pre-modernist novel differs in the choice of the basis on which to orient its reading. If Mac Orlan's amusingly drawn tales of pirates and cloak-and-dagger adventure fulfilled a need in the collective imagination, that need ceased to exist, according to Queneau, with the advent of modern-day motion pictures. Elsewhere Queneau notes too that it was the pre-modernist Mac Orlan who had made the equation of voyage with adventure, long before the trend in contemporary literary circles: "Il est banal de constater qu'il est rare de voir reunis dans le meme individu le don de s'exprimer et la capacite de susciter des aventures, ce qui, il y a quelque vingt-cinq ans, avait suggere a Mac Orlan sa distinction entre les aventuriers actif (qui se taisent) et les aventuriers passifs (qui peuvent savoir ectire)" ("Gorani" 2) ("It is banal to notice that it is rare to see reunited in the same individual the gift to express oneself and the ability to create adventures, which twenty years ago suggested to Mac Orlan his distinction between active adventurers [who remain silent] and passive adventurers [who can write]"). The speech impaired Man Friday in Le chant de l'e'quipage, therefore, is symbolic of the active adventurer who is incapable of expressing himself on the subject of adventure because his memory remains unconscious, not having been reactivated by what is a cultural or historical equivalent of psychoanalysis.
Freud at first hypothesized that psychoanalysis cured by acting on a mechanism of recall: "the task of the cure is to remove the amnesias. When all gaps in memory have been filled in, all the enigmatic products of mental life elucidated, the continuance and even the renewal of the morbid condition is impossible" ("A Case" 59). The active adventurer because of his or her amnesias cannot write, i.e. reflect independently on his or her experience as a mature adult. More subtly, the active adventurer cannot interpret the language of these pre-modern novels either. Thus the passive, not the active adventurers, were Mac Orlan's best readers because there is always deeper meaning in social-fantasy novels. The reader of these novels, if a passive adventurer, could anticipate a future in an imaginary sense by reading between the lines. When he or she identified with the hero, memory of this adventurous social experience is "reactivated" just as Freudian analysis set as its original task to reawaken the repressed memories of the patient.
Finally, Queneau's reading is different from the historian Dubief's because his attitude is adamantly opposed to the French colonial adventure. In contrast to Dubief, Queneau finds in Mac Orlan the reasons for this opposition. From this perspective, the location of the utopia is imprinted in the mind of the adventurer, not only on a discarded pirate map or in the poetic flourishes of a utopian science-fiction writer. It is also possible that the map of the voyage to utopia is only a psychic hallucination, a voyage consisting of transitions and illusions, in short a mental odyssey. The passive adventurer is, in any case, a type of reporter who is not going to accept naively what the two Frenchmen in Le chant de l'gquipage believe about the existence of a Rabelaisian pays de cocagne, a land of plenty. Queneau points out that the adventurer experiences the land of plenty through his or her writing because the odyssey is made just of words. Thus, the passive adventurer has a role in social fantasy: to be an eye-witness to the voyage, with its antithetical ideas concerning utopian imagery and the transference to the surrogate.
In the Mac Orlan form of adventure story the social fantasy contains relatively informative news. The pre-modern function performed by the genre was to inform the reading public thanks to fables (to use Brecht's term). Through closure, a nineteenth-century omniscient narrator, implicitly an active adventurer, would make the adventure express an unambiguous morality. By the 1920s, however, things had changed. Without being a psychological study, the social fantasy provides the reader with adventures that are illustrations of depth psychology. As in the case of Bernard Lehameau's problematical (for the reader) solution to his dilemma, the social fantasy is situated on another level, destined potentially for a passive adventurer who is, in addition, a writer, or at the very least someone who has doubts concerning the optimistic nostalgia of these times during which the ideas of the French leader Poincare held sway. A movie spectator in the 1920s, for example, was able to understand what it meant to imagine himself or herself leading the life of a cowboy vicariously, without having to become one. In Queneau's texts, because such childish heroics are placed alongside the other elements of the Mac Orlan social-fantasy novel, I hypothesize that Queneau could not have considered the genre practiced by Mac Orlan entirely outmoded, historically speaking. The following ideas concerning adventure in the novel Loin de Rueil, for instance, show one character's nostalgic viewpoint through a few chosen details which momentarily reconstitute the paradigm of social fantasy. The importance attributed to a cultural transformation is underlined by comparing the silent motion picture to a literary epic. The movement from naive stooges, the equivalent of Mac Orlan's would-be "pirates," to modern-day film "cowboys," for instance, is here vividly reactivated as a memory by des Cigales who, being a poet, is potentially a passive adventurer: "Ah! les cowboys du muet, les vampires du tacite, les maxlinder du silencieux, les chariot de l'aphore, combien passionne fus-je de leur geste, epique en son genre" (208) ("Ah! the silent film cowboys, the tacit vampires, the quiet Max Linders, the voiceless Charlie Chaplins, how much was I a fanatic of their gesture, which was an epic in its own way").
Such fables would not afterwards contain as much useful insight, observes Queneau, as they did before the telephone, the motion picture and other technologies, such as the radio, which flourished during the twenties. The social need for information about life in the colonies was being modified. Nevertheless, social fantasy remained a valuable experience of the wider world. The reader of social fantasy at the time of Mac Orlan--that is, 1923--would take the character for an eyewitness. Queneau's version of the modernist novel directly links the motion picture to a new social fantasy based on a similar rule of a passive adventure lived vicariously--reactivation as memory. All this is somewhat schematic. In essence, Queneau would have us believe that Mac Orlan's adventure novel contains, generally speaking, a valuable lesson which is accessible to the passive reader. Reading a novel such as Stevenson's Treasure Island, for instance, could have a similar effect on a child's imagination.
It was toward the end of the 1930s that Queneau changed points of view in his texts. Expressing himself in English (in response to an unknown text by H. G. Porteus) concerning the "non-logical elements needed to replace myths that had become meaningless" (Romans, I 1287), Queneau recognizes that myths are "of ... non-human origin" (1288). (34) First, by saying that he despises the "bleak political devices or the pseudo-mythology of the Unconscious" (1287-88), Queneau quite clearly relegates his earlier novels to a naive period of thinking about the novel. Then he adds:
I tried in a book called Gueule de Pierre ... to sojourn in the realm of myths, to create my own and to use them and to make the others do so. But was it really possible? Now I believe: no. Myths are neither literature nor poetry: they are social, vital, effective and ... above all human power. They are for men but not from (or by) them. They have a cosmic significance, not an individual one: so, one man cannot invent a myth. (1288)
I could deduce what further conclusions Queneau might draw from the fact that myths are not by human beings and are consequently "neither literature nor poetry," but I think a schematic discussion will better serve to point them out.
The characters exist as an inside to the text which is actively accessible, just as the French colonial adventure in the previous example once was, and this active inside when joined to an outside-the-text that is not by human beings becomes passive because these "non-logical elements" are thus put outside or beyond human control. Queneau can, in this way, shift the narrative point of view back and forth, inside and outside the text, from the point of view of an active adventurer to that of a passive one. As a unpredictable succession of events, the approach to myth as a mental odyssey in these texts adjusts itself from personal myth, the active adventurer inside the text, to resemble Aristotle's definition of myth as a succession of cosmic events.
In 1939 Queneau published an article inveighing against how novelists increasingly were seeking to invent myths ("Le mythe et l'imposture" 154). Before his letter to Porteus in 1936, such so-called "new" myths probably had appeared as necessary to Queneau as they apparently did to his contemporaries. After writing this letter, Queneau, however, looks elsewhere than in Greek myths to find imagoes of the Oedipal complex. He seems to have realized that in order to include the unconscious depth psychology of a cosmology, the texts had to connect the utopia to his utopian dream worlds. So, the text itself had to be, not just contain, a cosmology.
It is in a text such as Le chiendent that the dreams are not daydreams but obsessions born perhaps of excessive rationality. Queneau began writing the novel after beginning a translation of J. W. Dunne's An Experiment with Time. (35) This book, not yet translated into French, accompanied Queneau on a voyage in the summer of 1932 during which he began writing his first novel. Dunne wants to apply a method similar to Freud's for interpreting dreams. A crucial difference, however, is the absence of Freud's working hypothesis that the latent thoughts of dreams is a way to understand the unconscious wishes of the patient. Instead, Dunne uses mathematics to arrive, with a perfect lucidity, at the explanation that dreams belong to the space-time continuum of the universe. This explanation is an example of one of the "new" myths that I think readers find in Le chiendent. Dunne's attempt to explain the meaning of dreams via Einstein's theory of relativity, and without the Freudian theory of the unconscious, spills over into an excessively rational, almost schizophrenic explanation. This type of hyper-rationality is just what Queneau denounces later, in 1938, when taking of society's unwise predilection for the encyclopedic. Doesn't Queneau himself in the letter to Porteus admit having made earlier the same epistemophilic error? If that is so, then his first novel Le chiendent must be fundamentally different from almost all of his other works.
When I look to the texts of his novels, I realize that what I have shown about Queneau's shift in attitude fits a pattern. In his first novels, there is a greater fragmentation. The unity of daydreams is only achieved artificially. I find in Le chiendent a number of associated yet disconnected adventures. At the end, however, a reawakening occurs when the reader is returned to the beginning of the novel in the exact words which began the text. Thus the daydreams of the characters constitute a type of personal myth (i. e. the circular adventure of Etienne Marcel, who returns to the beginning of the novel in the last sentence). The novel is far from the social-fantasy novel since it has no other meaning than its own closure. Despite such futility, a surrealistic lucidity is achieved in the sense that reason is defined or judged lucid if it succeeds in inventing just such "myths" for the characters. In contrast, in the later novels the futility, symbolized by the circularity of the story becomes a humorous fable containing an exit point from the circle, which serves as a moral. The story indicates by its non-circularity that the succession of events is part of a larger myth. So the puns concerning humankind's different mental complexes are the mask of the situation of the historic author. Through the pleasure principle, the antithetical ideas contained in the surrogate for the utopia join with a reawakened memory thus freeing it from repression. Masks, the puns of humor, often come from totems which hearken back to imagoes of a primitive horde. In Les enfant du limon, for example, on the last page Noemi gives birth to a child fathered by her uncle: "Dans un bassin saignait la delivrance" (316) ("In a basin the placenta lay bleeding"). This image may equally be understood as the release ("la delivrance") of a prisoner. (36) Thus Queneau equates the utopian dream worlds with a mythology, where civilization permits humans to surpass beasts and prehistory while inventing the telephone, motion pictures, or the like. (37)
Barthes' fundamental argument in his 1959 essay, "Zazie et la litterature," is that Queneau's struggles with the myth of literature are proof of an alienation from the very literature he is producing. The character of Zazie is "utopian," Barthes claims, because she uses an anti-language (130). Barthes effectively agrees here with what Queneau said in his letter to Porteus about the essence of myth. When he recognizes that the character of Zazie is "hors de l'humanite" (130) ("outside humanity"), Barthes is close to agreeing to Queneau's stipulation that myth be "above all human power" and "neither poetry nor literature." Moreover, in his letter Queneau speaks of no longer inventing myths but of searching for them elsewhere. Doesn't this in another guise become a non-Hellenistic way of thinking? I can identify, for instance, an anti-Hegelian fashion of thinking by the Kierkegaardian way his character, Bernard Lehameau, at one point tearfully imagines a different, parallel, surrogate historical destiny for the whole world as a result of the imago oriented symbolic destruction of the Parthenon during the First World War. In his letter to Porteus, instead of imagining the destruction of an imago, through metaphor Queneau imagines voyaging beyond the Hellenistic. He is contrasting a universal need for myth with humankind's (and Hegehan science's) limited comprehension of myth. "It's really a great thing, the Parthenon," Queneau concludes: "It's quite like a boat, a boat of stone, I mean the Acropolis, a castle and a Noah's ark. I think it is for Westerners the best ship for a voyage towards [the] East--where Myths live" (Romans, I 1288).
The voyage East to still another utopia? A stone ship bound on a voyage to the East, Hellenism symbolized by the Parthenon is just a cosmic beginning. With this new definition of myth, the imago fulfills a qualitative role by confronting in a revealing fashion the characters with the either/or made of their own fears and confronting consequently their fantastic vicarious projections of lands of plenty. The utopian imagery is now enmeshed in this dilemma as a reactivated series, a labyrinth of memory, an innermost source of the anguished Kierkegaardian rag. In Queneau's earliest texts, the attitude is almost anti-utopian but during this second period the narrative syntax is paradoxical. Queneau uses the utopian sketches to construct an ironic narrative discourse about a voyage to utopia. In Le chiendent the characters lead lives which make their quest appear futile whereas, from a certain point, an interiorized polemical form produces an imagery full of antithetical ideas in the midst of their voyages to utopia. Simultaneously the text develops a discourse in the discourse about the dangerous daydreams of those who invent or try to invent myths. In the episode I have studied from the novel Loin de Rueil, ambivalent words represent this humorous attitude towards, for instance, the utopian imagery of Hugo which is based on Fourierism and Saint-simonism.
Beginning in the late 1930s, specifically after the 1936 letter to Porteus, the huis clos of the utopias in Queneau's writing are intertextual because their imagery, composed of ambivalent words, often comes directly from the utopias of other authors. This intertextuality explains why, for instance, a character in Loin de Rueil could be quoting from the colonial pie-in-the-sky utopia of Mac Orlan's novel (140). The training of spiders to do circus sideshow tricks is the topic of the exclamation in Queneau: "on les a par les gueules" (63) ("we train them via the mouth"), but I understand how the passage could apply to the search for a land of plenty in Mac Orlan as well. The wish for wealth and adventure, or simply dreams of fulfillment in a pays de cocagne, are the subject of antithetical ideas projected by characters. There is equally a state of resistance in characters, where the twofold emotion of both negatively charged nostalgia and regret for the Belle Epoque exist simultaneously, creating literary error, i.e. writing the text, one of the symptoms of a counter-will. I have pointed out such surrogate imagery, which has its source in the French utopias of Benoit's L'Atlantide or Mac Orlan's Le chant de l'equipage, among others. In Queneau's Loin de Rueil, it is evident that, on the one hand, just as in Hugo's two poems, the text of Jacques L'Aumone's apocalyptic voyage in bateau mouche contains a "cosmic" symbol of the happiness/unhappiness of humankind; however, on the other hand, humor and irony represent a psychic economy of affect that Hugo's utopias did not have.
I have been able to explore only a small part of Queneau's entire work even though Bakhtin's concept of the ambivalent word leaves the door open to a number of different examples. By exploiting the concept of a narrative language, humor avails itself of the changing means that Freud observed in dreams as well as the differing psychic mechanisms of wit, jokes and humorous attitudes. A secondary effect is a profound revision of Queneau's conception of the novel. From imaginary participant, and potential economic beneficiary of colonial adventure in a social fantasy, the reader finds a position closer to this humor. A reader sees the Kierkegaardian either/or of characters where the text is modeled on a narrative theater of the imagination. Queneau's characters endure the consequences and appear free to enjoy or not the benefits of utopias produced by innovative social practices arising from access to motion pictures, radios and telephones. The text doesn't lose its Chaplinesque comic unpredictability although a social-fantasy narrative often causes this vitality to become a collective nightmare, the result of a tyrannical imago. These shifts made Queneau's sketches of the utopian dream world of his characters appear the result of an ideation, an elaborate fantasy which embodies the twentieth century as being the result of an unconscious train of thought. Interspersed with periods of humor and irony, the order of representation flows fluidly from the minds of the characters, preserved through sketches of the transitions from one Kierkegaardian sphere of existence to another. Queneau himself outlines in his 1936 letter to Porteus how he moved away from the idea that myth is a distinct ideal world, a novelist's myth which consequently becomes one of those "bleak political devices or the pseudo-mythology of the Unconscious" (Romans, I 1287-88) he detests. Through the use of analogy, his characters voyage in a succession of parallel worlds making the text dependent on mental odysseys that his characters undertake.
(1) Widespread recognition of Kierkegaard's philosophy only took place at the beginning of the twentieth century. French translations started to appear during the 1920s. Queneau was acquainted with Jean Wahl, professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne (where Queneau studied philosophy between 1921 and 1926) and author of Etudes kierkegaardiennes (1944).
(2) Qtd. by Frithjof Brandt in Kierkegaard ix. Please note that all translations from French are mine.
(3) Queneau's texts combine depth psychology, history, and philosophy in his own versions of utopia. Readable as social satire or alternatively as texts incarnating a parody of contemporary ideas, this third--utopian--reading is also possible. His utopias, in fact, constitute an epistemological structure located on the periphery of the narrative. I trace this marginality back to Queneau's mythologizing of the theme of utopias. Queneau's use of mythology as a means to have access to scientific knowledge contains its own complexity. The existential dimension above all comically distorts reading his utopias. Language play and mathematical models are abundant throughout. These textual features might remind readers of Platonic myths (which by definition tend to render a problem of a mental nature more understandable), whereas a utopian story, as Louis Marin defines it, is a myth which takes as its objective "la solution d'une contradiction sociale fondamentale" (297) ("the solution of a fundamental social contradiction"). So, while Queneau's text uses myth as part of the dramatic situation of the novels, I argue that Queneau also left traces of his determination to examine popular beliefs concerning crucial social issues of the times as the byproducts of the same myths. In this way', he proposes a utopian solution.
(4) The work, On bien ... on bien [Either/Or] "Enten-Eller," is presented as the result of a written exchange between by two unknown contemporaries, one of whom argues for the esthetic stage and the other for the ethical stage. The title of the collection was chosen by the editor, a Victor Eremita (a pseudonym used by Kicrkegaard), who reports finding the manuscript. Eremita tells readers in his preface that he first asked himself which of the two writers, the ethical or the esthetic, makes the best case. His answer is that is it impossible to determine the answer so he has chosen the title "Enten-Eller" to emphasize the fact that the two conceptions of life should remain a question open to a personal interpretation by readers (Kierkegaard 13).
(5) In an afterword significantly entitled "Poe et l''Analyse"' (Poe and 'Analysis"') Queneau refers to a possible psychoanalytic dimension of the treasure in the short story "The Gold Bug": "On ne peut pas s'empecher, a ce propos, de penser a la psychoanalyse et a son dechiffrement (et son derichement) des reves" (Bords 73) ("We can't help here thinking of psychoanalysis with its decoding (and its clearing the way) of dreams").
(6) "la theologie hegelienne, forcee de se detourner toujours de l'individu, ne peut parler du peche qu'a la iegere" (Kierkegaard, Traite 229) ("the Hegelian theology, which is forced to look away from the individual, can only speak of sin lightly").
(7) Queneau reports beginning work on his first novel while on vacation in Greece in 1932. His access to books was limited to texts by Descartes, J. W. Dunne (An Experiment with Time), William Faulkner (Sanctuary), and Kierkegaard (Traite de desespoir).
(8) The comparison with Brecht's ideas concerning the theater is not meant to be complete in all details. Reproducing men and women who are opposed to each other in life is, of course, the starting point for Brecht's theater (11). Queneau only sometimes chose to show opposing social groups, for instance, in Le chiendont where many but not all of the main characters come from modest origins. This comparison has the principal advantage of underlining the fact that it is the contemporary which is on stage, even if Brecht and Queneau have somewhat differing ideas on how this should be done. Brecht uses the non-identification with actors. Queneau's approach does seem to distance characters, thus enabling readers to see the possibility of several different events taking place. So, for example, the central character in the novel Pierrot mon ami is, as the lyrics to the popular children's song maintain "my friend," but he remains mysterious, in short, definitely not object of an identification. This distance is what Brecht might call a fictional riverbed as imagined by professional builders of new riverbeds as they watch the actors perform in his theater. See passage 41 in Brecht (page 56 in the French edition). According to Roland Barthes, Brecht's revolutionary form of theater is, nevertheless, not propaganda because it plays on distance in a way which takes formalism into account. Barthes describes this process as semiological ("Les taches de la critique brechtienne" 87). Readers of Queneau are in similar fashion invited to imagine fictional utopias, and to consider for themselves their bases and ramifications.
(9) I use "cosmic" to indicate what Queneau considers mythological in nature. He includes, for instance, a horse among the speaking and thinking characters in his novel Les fleurs bleues (1978). A circus and an amusement park in Pierrot mort ami are among other places used for these mythic manifestations of the cosmological. In Un rude hirer one of the characters tells how she encountered a ghost. One of Bloch's concepts, estrangement, operates by "disguised or coded metaphoric allusion" where "such language is more telling than any gentle hint" (123). Queneau doesn't make such metaphorically explicit allusions outside a few exceptions, largely comic, such as in huis clos or in the case of animals who talk. Even then it is not in the telling way Bloch's estrangement uses "Aesopian language" (123).
(10) Physicists often choose to perform an experiment in a controlled environment where the variables can be strictly limited. This environment--liquid for instance--is either a completely stable state, or one which varies only slightly, steady.
(11) For a structural approach to British utopian fiction identified according to the voyage to and back from utopias, see Greven-Borde. For an approach to the birth of social science via the voyage of discovery and exploration akin to those found in utopian novels, see Certeau pp. 227-36.
(12) An aspect of the social trend which exemplifies civilization's unhealthy desire for an encyclopedic mind would be the contemporary popular craze over a book-form referred to as outlines according to Hoffman (310). In the United States at least, Hoffman reports that Wells' The Outline of History was the "most popular of all non-fiction best-sellers in the twenties" (388).
(13) In her recent introduction to Queneau's Alex confins des tenebres, Velguth discusses the importance of this article.
(14) At one point the word vibrionic ("vibrionique") has been evocatively embedded. In this case, seemingly on a further comic note, "vibrionic" is also one of the keys to the esthetic thinking of the French symbolist poet Mallarme. For Mallarme, poetic language is the "la merveille de tranposer un fait de nature en sa presque disparition vibratoire" (qtd. in Blanchot 305) ("marvelous transposition of a natural fact into something nearly vibratory"). Mallarme is referring to an emotion that causes one to vibrate whereas Queneau's text is referring to a crowd in agitation like the bacteria vibrio. The etymon vibrate is the same in both cases.
(15) There are, of course, two ways of looking at utopias in Lewis' novel. One is the dystopian study of the tyrannical President Windrip with his ideology and his storm troopers. This description is said to be inspired by Huey Long (Kennedy 238). The other is the vision of a continuation of the story after the end of the novel. Lewis has the central character, Doremus Jessup, envisage a future comprising harsh struggle yet one which is full of the mythological values associated with freedom. Thus, these utopias are meant to be opposed.
(16) Jakobson asserts that the nature of metonymy in novels has historically been neglected in favor of the study of metaphor (244).
(17) One of the characters sings a refrain from an Offenbach operetta (137), "La Belle Helene," which is cited by Benoit in an epigraph to his novel. The characters, just at the beginning of their affair, then go see a movie adaptation of L'Atlantide (139). The fact that these events occur in reverse order is not explained. Since the story of Queneau's novel takes place between 1920 and 1923, the characters would have watched a silent-film adaptation of the novel directed by Jacques Feyder and released in 1921. See below for my discussion of the signification of silent films in Queneau's novels.
(18) Mayeur, for instance, mentions the presence of a utopian tradition in the history of French socialism.
(19) The title of Queneau's novel Les enfants du limon [The Children of Clay] is a citation of Nerval's poem "Le Christ aux oliviers" (in Les chimeres: "Celui qui donne l'ame aux enfants du limon" ["He who gives the soul to the children of clay"]). The title of the novel is a play on words since Limon (sic) is the family name of some of the important characters, whereas presumably based on the poem, this word, in French also "limon," is printed in a lowercase letter in the book title.
(20) A leading French dictionary, Le grand Robert, indicates under the entry for helio- that Queneau is the source of the word "heliocole." "Heliocole" is composed of helio- meaning sun and -cole as in the adjective "agricole," agricultural.
(21) Fourier's word "aromal" is a neologism roughly meaning "fragrant." For a study of Fourierism in France, see Nathan. For a study of Saint simonism, see Benichou.
(22) However, innovations and lack of formalism in Queneau's novels make it very difficult to claim they are science fiction in the same sense as novels by Wells are.
(23) "L'opinion francaise, a l'instar de ses dirigeants, se rendait mal compte, apres l'armistice, de l'immensite des pertes subies en hommes et en richesses. Pendant une dizaine d'annees, les Frangais entretinrent le reve, bien utopique, de 'revenir comme avant"' (238-39) ("After the armistice, French public opinion, following the example of its leaders, only imperfectly realized the immensity of the losses suffered in human life and wealth. For a decade, the French nourished the dream, quite utopian, to 'return to old times"'). Note that the quotation marks for '"revenir comme avant"' ('"return to old times"') are Marchand's. They indicate that this sentiment was often expressed in this exact way, without, however, quoting any precise source.
(24) See Weber's introduction p.13. Weber does not underline the contrast between generations, nor the nostalgia for the Belle Epoque, but he nevertheless writes of the vivacity and optimism of the 1920s.
(25) For a brief description of events, see Weber, Chapter 5 pp. 185-87.
(26) A letter sent to Porteus, discussed later, is dated October 1936. In it, Queneau mentions an important shift in attitude which he situates after the composition of his novel, Gueule de pierre, written in 1933 and published in 1934. Although published in 1937, his fourth novel Odile was written in 1935. The article "Richness and Limit" was published in March 1938.
(27) This nomenclature is not as usual as it may at first glance appear. There is a town named Pays Natal (Native Land) in France. Different descriptions have several definite points in common with utopian novels. Queneau in Romans locates the strangely archaic society where the novel is set in a place not found on the map. The opening sentence of a synopsis included with publication of Les Temps meles reads: "Dans une ville sans situation precise a la surface de la terre se sont conserve de vieilles coutumes propres a cette cite" (1429) ("In a town with no precise location on the earth's surface a city's proper old customs are preserved"). Then, among notes for the novel itself, a tourist is seen arriving on the day of an arcane fertility rite. In this, an earlier version of the novel Saint Glinglin, the Native City attracts the typical visitor because she has heard this from friends: "L'endroit n'etait pas encore gache, disaient-ils. Les vieilles moeurs s'y conservaint intactes, tres curieux a voir" (1405) ("The place was not yet spoiled, they said. The old fashioned practices were preserved there intact, very curious to see"). Finally, using the familiar utopian story-telling device of a guided tour to a marvelous land given to readers by means of a visitor, a social scientist expounds on the ultimate wisdom of the Native Land's observation of primitive social rituals. Part of the copy included on the cover of this version of Saint Glinglin reads "Totem and Taboo," the title of a work by Freud.
(28) In a preface to Saint Glinglin dated 1948, Queneau mentions the unusual spelling of some words (they are missing the letter x) in this, the final version of the novel. For instance, in the opening paragraph readers find the word "existence" rendered as "aiguesistence" (11). The use of constraints such as the unusual spelling of words in Saint Glinglin became one of the guiding principles of Oulipo, a group of experimental writers reunited around Queneau beginning in 1960. In the novel ironically entitled La Disparition (1969), Georges Perec uses a self-imposed constraint (not to use the letter e) in order to fabricate a parable concerning the Shoah (Burgelin).
(29) For an overview of the question of scientific language, see Buyssens.
(30) It is possible that at the publication of the novel Le dimanche de la vie in 1951, in a country which not long before had found itself in the midst of post-war self-recriminations, Queneau's humorous as well as ironic intention could be misinterpreted. Readers, in this case, become unsettled at the unexplained emergence of a tragic dimension in a text otherwise full of puns and seemingly innocuous daydreaming. Such provocation is semantically construed as a flight from post-war reality--an attempt at a purely nostalgic surrogate. Maurice Blanchot for one appears convinced of this. Speaking, it is true, about an essay by Roland Barthes, Blanchot writes that Queneau ironically invites readers "rejoindre l'innocence ou le naturel du langage parle" (283) ("to go back to the innocence or naturalness of the spoken language"). Blanchot's brief remark reflects a French scale of values regarding language. Formal written expression is always considered superior to spoken expression, which is often seen as light-hearted and childish. Barthes developed a different point of view in his essay, "Zazie et la litterature," discussed later.
(31) First published in the unoccupied zone in 1942 the article is listed, in a bibliography of critical works about Queneau, as being by "A.C" but in fact varies little from a text later published, supposedly for the first time, in the Pldiade edition of Camus' Essais (1965).
(32) French utopian novels differ from many of the utopian novels such as Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, produced in English-speaking countries at approximately the same time, in the way the reader penetrates an historic and political dimension which remains only a motif (and not part of the encyclopedic "realism" I have talked about earlier). The twofold possibility--positive and negative--of Queneau's utopias indicates two series must exist separately even if the distinction is not uniformly a question of fictional and historical.
(33) In a note on the book jacket, Perec points out a resemblance between Queneau's novel and Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Lehameau (whose name would be translated as Hamlet) seems to be quoting it ("There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Ham. 1.5.166-68) when he exclaims "-Ah! Il y a des tas de choses dans le monde dont on ne se douterait jamais" (123) ("-Ah! There are piles of things in the world which we have never suspected"). Mine Dutertre sees a ghost and earlier she says something similar when she remarks, "Il y a bien des choses sur la terre que la science ne peut comprendre" (25) ("There are quite a few things on earth that science cannot understand"). Born in 1903, Queneau is about the same age as the adolescent female character that Bernard Lehameau is supposed to meet while wandering in war-time Le Havre.
(34) Queneau wrote this letter in English. In 1985, Inez Hedges published a French translation. A transcription of the original text, dated October 1936, is found in Queneau (Romas, I 1287-89).
(35) Dunne's book, which was published in 1929, addresses subjects the surrealists typically found fascinating, such as parapsychological phenomena, dream interpretation, and the ability to foresee the future. Queneau reported translating a part of the text while writing at least the opening pages of his first novel, Le chiendent.
(36) Alain Calame builds his reading of this novel on an esoteric interpretation of the word "delivrance." See Velguth's preface to the novel for a summary of the different possible interpretations.
(37) In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud explores the delicate balance between instinct and a civilization built around taboos and totems. Society produces inventions such as the telephone and railway but, Freud asks, "what good to us is a long life if it is difficult and barren of joys, and if it is so full of misery that we can only welcome death as a deliverer?" (35) in Les enfants du limon the ending of Queneau's novel can be said to provide a fictional deliverance.
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|Date:||Mar 22, 2005|
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