Silence, talk, and voice in the ritual encounter: Francois Bon's L'Enterrement and Laurent Mauvignier's Loin d'eux.
However, despite these very evident surface differences in approach, the two texts are characterized by a number of common concerns and features. Like their nouveau roman "forebears," Bon and Mauvignier share a fascination for the human drive to make sense of the world and for the mechanisms by which man tries to signify. They also differentiate themselves from that literary ancestry by their focus on characters of working-class and paysan origin who, for various reasons, are socially marginal. Indeed, it might be argued that Mauvignier and Bon "democratize" the nouveau roman's preoccupation with meaning, code, and convention. In Loin d'eux and L'Enterrement, this exploration is conducted through an examination of the impact that suicide has upon a community and its sense-making constructs and practices. In both texts, the evocation of ritual encounters--the quotidian rites of commensality, aggregation, and congregation, the rites by which life-cycle events are solemnized--provides the framework for an examination of the ways in which family and, in the case of L'Enterrement, the wider social group attempt to accommodate an event that radically transgresses the codes within which it normally operates. Among the most striking features of both texts is the complex role played by silence, (3) speech, and narrative voice, as individuals and groups of characters, many of whom have only very basic levels of education, struggle to interpret both the said and the unsaid, to find words for emotions that refuse to be contained within their limited vocabulary, to give voice to feelings that have long been repressed and to repress feelings that threaten to breach the normal limits of acceptable self-expression. It is to an analysis of this interplay of silence, talk, and voice within the ritual encounter that this article is devoted.
In the book-length study of silence that he published in 1997, David Le Breton offers a survey not only of types of silence, but also of its many different contexts, its formalized cultural uses, its strategic functions in social interaction, its relationship to speech and to noise, and its polyvalence. (4) Central to Du silence is the premise that silence is an essential element in thought and communication and a precondition for psychological interiority and engagement with the Other. It is as much through silence as through speech that the individual expresses or conceals reactions and emotions, defends or cedes personal territory, and marks momentous occasions. That silence figures prominently in the two texts analyzed here is not surprising, given that suicide--and, in particular, the suicide of the young--remains a taboo topic in most cultures. (5) However, in both texts, the silence of taboo is but one of many different types of silence that inform the interaction among characters. Here, as in Le Breton, silence is shown to have many different functions, tones, and meanings, both marking the rituals and customs that strengthen the social bond and signaling its vulnerabilities.
The first moments of encounter and greeting are, as Le Breton points out, a highly charged time in which much takes place, as those making the encounter size each other up and assess the situation. It is a time of observation, calculation, and adjustment, and a brief silence is frequently a part of this process of greeting and aggregation (DS 35). In the account of Alain's funeral in L'Enterrement, the initial silence of "accommodation mutuelle" that might customarily mark the encounter between strangers assumes an uneasy dimension as the narrator's anxiety at meeting his friend's parents leaves him so tongue-tied that be forgets to introduce himself (13). In both texts, the circumstances of death disorient those who are involved in conveying the news to the parents and who come to pay their respects: shock, embarrassment, and their insufficient "maitrise des donnees" (DS 38) make them cautious about speaking. In Loin d'eux, the responsibility of fetching Jean from the workshop to apprise him of Luc's death renders speechless the factory foreman; in the moments that follow and during which the policeman waiting at the gate announces the terrible news, Jean finds himself isolated and vulnerable at the center of a portentous silence. Similarly, the friends and neighbors who attend the funeral arrive "les visages hebetes," struggling to articulate the most basic sentences and resorting instead to clumsy hugs, foot-shuffling, back-patting, and grotesque facial contortions in an attempt to convey their sympathy (43-44, 48). Throughout Alain's funeral, the relationship between silence and noise is a constant source of tension. If the mourners have difficulty in responding to their cues and retreat into silence when they should speak, unexpected or unfamiliar sounds jar their nerves and make them even more conscious of the prevailing hush. Thus, the squeaking of the wheels of the "carriole" (L'Enterrement 67), the sharp cry of the mother who shouts at her child to get out of the way of the coffin (72), the sound of feet as the procession starts off (80), the crunching of the gravel on the cemetery path (137), and the clink of cutlery and glass or the scraping of chairs at the start of the meal (37-38) all underscore the silence even as they shatter it.
However, the tense silences of the funerals have been preceded by and, in the case of Loin d'eux, are followed by other more complex silences that signal underlying strains in family relationships. In Loin d'eux, the ordinary rituals of encounter and commensality are blighted by reticence and conversational breaks that expose the forced nature of the conviviality and the ever-attendant friction that vitiates interaction in this household. The tension felt by Marthe, Jean, and Luc at the prospect of their occasional reunions renders them as shy and reticent as strangers: the parents exchange few words as they wait on the station platform, while the eventual meeting with their son also takes place in virtual silence (41). The encounter at the station sets the tone for the remainder of the stay. Despite all their efforts to make ah occasion of Luc's visit, despite Marthe's best tablecloth and cutlery (47) and Jean's attentiveness as host (44), discussion is invariably interrupted by the sort of sudden silence that, when prolonged, becomes oppressive, leaving all concerned self-consciously aware both of their own physical presence and that of their erstwhile interlocutor, thereby challenging the meaning and direction of the conversation. (6) The pathos of this family's attempts to create an illusion of celebration and conviviality is highlighted by the one positive recollection that Marthe retains of these visits, which is, no doubt, the result of self-delusional wish-fulfillment. Ironically, the moment of supposed communion takes place in silence, as Luc demonstrates his barkeeping skills and executes, at the request of his parents, the professional ceremony of serving drinks: "Pas peu fiers, non, de voir Luc en train de nous servir nos verres, en silence, juste notre attention a nous sur son geste, juste nos sourires pour dire tout du bonheur qu'on avait qu'il soit la, comme si le possible du bonheur ca se resumait la, voir notre fils devant nous, etre tous les trois" (43). At best, this is a performance that allows all concerned to suspend their real relationships temporarily, reverse the host / guest roles, and render the interaction anonymous; more likely perhaps, given the reader's access to Luc's thoughts about his job, be is just going through the motions to humor his mother or to fill the void, and he shares none of Marthe's pleasure in the scene. It is also possible that he recognizes that Marthe's pleasure is attributable to more obscure reasons relating to the tensions between his parents: he is demonstrating practical skills that, however remote from her own experience, are accessible, whereas his obsession with cinema is completely alien to her; he has shunned the identity of "ouvrier" that defined his father and briefly gave the latter a degree of self-respect. (7) Even more moving is Jean's revelation that on one of these recent trips, while Marthe was preparing dinner in the kitchen, Luc had broken his silence and had attempted to tell him about the noises in his head; taken by surprise, Jean had given only a token acquiescent response and is now haunted by all that he did not say (83). Though Jean balks at articulating the conclusion that might be drawn from this missed opportunity, it is clear that he believes that a different response from him might have saved Luc. To the reader, Marthe's readiness to be impressed and Jean's faith in the potential of words may seem naive, but they are also very poignant, not least because of the role that class and gender play in determining the parameters of intimacy, the mother showing an appreciation of good manners and attentiveness and the father an unfamiliarity with intimacy typical of their social group and gender and a product of a culture that is at once shared and divisive. (8)
Both Luc and Alain are seen by those around them as "des silencieux," (9) a social classification that tends to be accompanied by the suspicion of their immediate social group. As Le Breton points out, "le silencieux" refuses to participate in the "'comedie de disponibilite' qui implique une attention particuliere a l'echange verbal, une consideration envers ceux qui parlent et une exigence implicite de nourrir regulierement la conversation" (DS 59). (10) The "silencieux" disrupt the flow of normal social interaction and provoke incomprehension, embarrassment, and annoyance among those who would seek to maintain it (DS 59). Thus to Genevieve in Loin d'eux, Luc's secrecy and tendency to spend hours lying on his bed contemplating his cinema posters figure among a number of other traits that, to her, suggest immaturity, an unwillingness to engage properly with the world around him, and a determination to set himself apart, while in L'Enterrement the narrator recalls the dismissive remark made by Alain's mother on the occasion of her daughter's wedding: "Mon fils est un muet" (20). Here, the impatience evident in her comment suggests perhaps that she is not simply trying to shame him into cordiality on this important family occasion, but that, like the narrator, she is aware of the resistance within Alain to her own volubility and of the tactical advantage that that gives him: "comme si c'etait en opposition a la maniere angoissee de sa mere [...] de bousculer et presser ainsi les mots qu'Alain s'etait, lui, dote de cette superiorite que j'avais toujours enviee" (20). It is also clear from the comments of Genevieve and Alain's mother that the silence of these two young men is associated with immaturity, i.e. with a failure to undergo the crucial rite of passage from adolescent to adult, from dependent to worker. In thus breaking the "la regle de reciprocite du discours," Alain and Luc not only impede "la bienfaisante immersion" of others in the convivial encounter (DS 47); as their isolation deepens, their silence takes on a more confrontational edge and their few exchanges even with their parents are designed to effect a breach. Thus, when they eventually speak, they do so only to declare the impossibility of communication (Loin d'eux 74-75; L'Enterrement 113).
If silence can be used to defend privacy and mental space, if it is part of a territoriality that may threaten the processes of community bonding and even kinship solidarity, it is also often a form of self-control, a way of protecting others, and a means of safeguarding the social order (DS 75). In Loin d'eux, the real evidence of the characters' feelings for each other is to be found not in what they say, bur in their silences, in the words that they repress and that they know would hurt or threaten the equilibrium of their relationships. Following Jaime's death, Luc prefers to return to the city in part to avoid revealing his feelings about the comedie of the funeral preparations (59-60); Genevieve does not disclose to Marthe the anger she harbors toward Luc or her irritation at her sister-in-law's exclusive absorption in her own grief (91); Jean resists the impulse to rage against the world and those who, he imagines, may be gossiping about him (30); as darkness falls on the night after Luc's funeral, Gilbert keeps to himself his thoughts about his nephew's first night in his grave (33). Again and again in the course of the narrative, characters comment on the words they have kept back, the feelings they have repressed, the thoughts they have hidden. Only the reader or the anonymous interlocutor has access to these words, feelings and thoughts. However, even he / she is kept at least partly in the dark about certain things. Two pendant passages evoking the characters' half-articulated thoughts leave us to speculate about the past, about Jean and Marthe's relationship, and about Luc's place in that relationship:
[...] cette colere que Jean avait en lui, sa rage a faire remonter de loin des histoires mortes depuis longtemps, enterrees avec tous ceux qu'elles concernaient, sont revenues la, maintenant, pour justifier les cris. Et, dans ses yeux j'ai vu les larmes que Jean avait, les larmes qui sont montees dans ses yeux comme jamais peut-etre, et moi qu'elles ont clouee, et Luc d'un seul coup qui n'etait pas encore ne dans la facon que Jean a eue de me regarder. (25) Ma colere des fois me remonte au visage [...] cette colere contre Luc [...] ne pas dire [...] comme je lui en ai toujours voulu [...] et maintenant plus encore, depuis deux ans que c'est moi [...] dont l'existence a ete niee, liquidee: toujours ca entre eux qui existe contre moi. J'ai pense quand il est parti: il va bien voir. Pourquoi ne pas faire remonter la parole jusqu'a dire a voix haute, elle et moi, seuls. (71)
Both passages occur in sections devoted to the account of family visits: in the first case, during one of Marthe's and Genevieve's coffee sessions in Marthe's kitchen; in the second, during a visit made by Luc's parents to Gilbert's and Genevieve's house. In both cases, the encounter serves as trigger for thoughts and emotions that the character has difficulty admitting even to herself / himself. Marthe's remarks in the first passage are allusive and are never explained in detail. We learn no more about the "histoires mortes" or "ceux qu'elles concernaient"; we are given no further information about or interpretation of "la facon que Jean a eue de regarder [Marthe]" before Luc was born. We might speculate that Luc was the result of an unplanned pregnancy, perhaps even that Jean was not the father; perhaps that Jean could not contemplate the integration of a third member into the family unit. Our curiosity is never fully satisfied, but weight is given to the last interpretation by Jean's subsequent tortured intervention. The change in syntax and punctuation here is telling: his rush of angry thoughts is expressed through an accumulative sentence structure that suddenly gives way to a much more staccato rhythm as he begins to grasp the significance of his thoughts and feelings and tries to formulate them. However, despite the anger that has built up over years, he still cannot fully articulate the realization that he has wished that Luc had never been born.
Finally, if silences have played their part in the malfunctioning of these families, in both texts silence is also, at least for Luc and Alain, an aspiration. Luc's increasing detachment from society, his withdrawal "hors du lien social habituel" (DS 256), is expressed in his desperation to escape the sounds associated with the routines and rituals that help bind society together, whether those sounds take the form of the hubbub of the bar, the nerve-jangling clink of tableware at the meals with his family, the deafening silences of his mother's regular letters or, indeed, since even cinema-going has for him become an empty ritual, the soundtrack of his favorite films (Loin d'eux 72-79). Luc wants to turn off the sound of the world; the only way he can achieve this is in death. Unlike Luc, Alain has known what Le Breton would call the "silence de recueillement" (DS 148). When he breaks his natural reticence, it is, by and large, to talk to the narrator about his sea voyages and, in particular, about the ways in which the solitude and the silence give him access to other dimensions of reality. Thus, on page 118 of L'Enterrement, he evokes a strange liminal experience in which wind and sea are stilled and the lingering lights in the sky suggest phenomena beyond the "ordinary world's" horizon: "les rouges sombres et les mauves profonds qu'on decouvre comme, a la lisiere du monde ordinaire, bien d'autres surfaces." However, despite the brevity of the remarks and the mysteriousness of some of the experiences evoked, it is clear that these trips and the freedom they afford from the quotidian concerns of terra firma are also associated with death. The strange double that, during the spellbinding but terrifying "heure sans pitie" following the sun's setting, seems temporarily to take over the helm has a ghost-like quality (118). Even on those occasions when he is crewing with others and the silence of his watch is broken only by the grinding of their teeth and their mumblings in sleep, he is above all conscious of his physical vulnerability and his thoughts turn to the legends of "ces vaisseaux surcharges d'ames qui passent la nuit au ras des cotes pour embarquer les morts" (70). For Alain, the feeling of being alive seems to be inextricable from isolation and fear and an awareness of the proximity of death and of the dead (49). The prospect of nothing but "le large infini" before him awakens that part of him that stops him from becoming a "mannequin correct" (103). When his accident precludes further sea trips, it might be argued that suicide becomes a logical inevitability.
If Du silence is primarily concerned with the range and multiple meanings of silence, Le Breton is nevertheless also attentive to its complement and to the strategies that, in particular in the communication-driven cultures of the West, we use to limit silence in order to acknowledge the presence of others and to reassure ourselves with regard to the meaningfulness of our encounters (67). As both anthropologists and sociolinguists have recognized, chitchat, bavardage, and gossip are the fuel of everyday social interaction. However, if silence is a potentially dangerous sanctuary into which the emotionally fragile and inarticulate take retreat, talk is a no less hazardous option, often a source of injury, at other times no more than a temporary and facile distraction from pain or a convenient stopper to fill the void. The abuse of bavardage makes of the speaker an oppressive presence, denying the needs--whether for communication or for silence--of the Other and forcing the interlocutor to resort to defensive or evasive strategies that may be misconstrued and result in disharmony. In Loin d'eux and L'Enterrement, the characters struggle and often fail to find a happy medium between silence and talk. It the silence is a source of anxiety and suspicion, bavardage frequently provokes irritation and repels rather than engages the listener; at other times, it is a poignantly transparent form of emotional camouflage or simply a social reflex that translates the speaker's discomfiture.
The characters of Loin d'eux circle around words with trepidation and suspicion, aware of the harm they have already inflicted and fearful of further damage. Inarticulate and reluctant to expose their vulnerabilities, unused to self-expression, they resort to bavardage to plug awkward silences and, frequently, to preempt more serious discussion. Thus, on Luc's first visits home after his move to Paris, his mother's nervousness translates into incessant chatter that irritates his father and accentuates the leaden tension in the room. The parents' insistence on updating him on the thriving bakery business of his cousin Celine and her husband Jaime, far from serving to reintegrate him into the extended family and to reinforce the cohesive purpose of the commensal rite, simply alienates him and provokes resentment (46). Talk serves as a cover for emotions that threaten the precarious equilibrium of the encounter or that are simply too unbearable to acknowledge. A dissonant note in Marthe's voice betrays ah underlying vulnerability beneath her bustle and chatter but, as ever, Luc remains unable to engage and, in response, resorts to the automatisms of bavardage: "Quelque chose me bouleverse quand maman me dit on a eu froid ici, quelque chose qui me fracasse dans ses mots a elle, parce qu'ils tremblent peut-etre, ses mots, a cause de leur faiblesse, parce qu'on sent qu'ils taisent ce qu'ils portent [...] encore j'entends ma voix qui resonne et repond, comment va-t-il, ce monsieur Untel. Les mots dans ma bouche ne viennent de nulle part. Ils naissent sur la langue et s'evacuent tout de suite au-dehors, et, dans le monde qu'il y a entre nous trois il y a ces phrases ou je me tais, parce que ces phrases-la ne parlent pas et ne disent jamais rien de ce qui voudrait surgir" (45).
Even the announcements of Jaime's accident and Luc's suicide are met with irrelevant, anecdotal prolixity and small talk. The neighbors rush to Marthe's and Jean's kitchen to make their contribution to the litany of platitudes, their comments echoing closely Jean's constant rehashing of the merits of Jaime (57). If Luc suddenly decides to return to Paris and refuses to attend the funeral, it is not because he disliked Jaime, but because he already anticipates his father's "consolatory" formulae and cannot bear to listen to him (59). In the hours following Luc's own death, when Gilbert and Genevieve rush to offer their support to Jean and Marthe, they find that no one is able to mention directly the reasons why they are assembled and that the most they can do is respond to Jean's distracted and mundane questions about the identity of the messenger (115-16). If, in the course of subsequent months, Jean withdraws
into near silence, it is because be cannot bear to hear his son's death dressed in platitudes, whether they be the hackneyed euphemisms that others use to skirt the harsh reality or the offerings of half-digested, popularized psychology, a reaction that offers a measure of the journey he has travelled since Jaime's death and of the extent to which Luc's death has forced him to reassess the automatisms in his responses: "Je sais qu'avant il aurait dit: pitoyables, les jeunes qui font ca. Mais [...] il n'a plus rien voulu savoir depuis tout ce temps, de ce que les gens disaient sur les depressions et les maladies nerveuses [...]. Foutaise, il avait l'air de dire, Jean, quand quelqu'un se la ramenait la-dessus, avec tout un bric-a-brac d'explications sur ces choses-la, des histoires, des anecdotes" (64).
Luc's intolerance of empty talk is also evident in much more mundane contexts; already before be leaves home, his reactions to Marthe's and Genevieve's conversations over coffee give a measure of his irritability. Marthe's pitiful attempts to discuss politics and to borrow authority by parroting the words of others infuriate him and push him further into his entrenched and isolating taciturnity (21). His escape to Paris leads to a dead end: bar-work reveals another world of inane chatter that not only fatigues him, but--because be spends his time serving the voluble cinema-goers of the Champs Elysees--sours his own passion for film (77). By the time that Luc takes his own life, words have been subsumed into the meaningless, intrusive noise that seems to pursue him at all times and that, by its resonance inside his head, seems to crush him to the point of annihilation (75).
In contrast with Loin d'eux, L'Enterrement gives the reader almost no access to the parents' thoughts as they bury their son or to the words that they may or may not exchange on the subject. However, bavardage is plentiful among the other "mourners." In a society in which, as Le Breton says, privileges talk over silence (DS 68), those who have gathered to pay their respects find the hush oppressive and have difficulty keeping in check their passing thoughts. In the procession leading to the church, the silence can only be tolerated so long before little groups start to form; indeed, the desire to talk is such that a monologue is better than nothing (47). Similarly, at the meal following the service, the initial awkwardness quickly gives way to discreet but relieved exchanges: "Pas un mot plus haut que l'autre, mais parler ca les brulait apres ces deux heures, des vagues de choses dites bas suinterent, ou s'empetraient deja des lineaments d'appels" (38). The impulse to speak in a given context is determined by a range of factors. Tension, inarticulateness, and the loss of composure provoked by the suicide of a young man make mourners grasp at any conversational straw. Direct reference to Alain's death in front of the parents is taboo, but irrelevant claims of personal acquaintance are acceptable: "Moi qui l'ai connu haut comme ca" (43). Unsurprisingly, the weather is a recurrent topic, with remarks ranging from the anonymous, laconic, and comically inappropriate ("Bigrement. [...] Ce vent. Bigrement," 91), to the icebreaking, self-evident observation to a stranger ("Ca fait du bien d'etre au chaud, dit l'organiste," 72), to the more detailed and assertive amateur forecast offered by the mayor ("Ce sera etale de mer haute, avait dit le maire dans le cortege, on aura une heure de beau. Mais ca pourrait faire de l'eau apres," 95). The approach of Christmas, the price of poultry, the breakdown of a car, a trip to the Seychelles by the local Credit Agricole agency all provide convenient conversational fillers (119, 128) that help the characters endure the ordeal of the day and divert their attention from the proceedings at hand.
The characters of L'Enterrement also seem to feel the need to exhibit their knowledge. If the mourners skirt around the circumstances of Alain's death, the men find relief from the tension by offering their "expertise" on death-related matters, offering insights into the workings of the coffin factory (71), commenting on what would have been the best way to get the coffin out of the house (72), or informing others about the effect of salty soil on the preservation of corpses (136). Madame Marineau's crude conclusions about depression may be framed as an assertion but are, in fact, not so much a statement of knowledge as an admission of incomprehension. Her observations tend less to provide information and insight than to promote solidarity through analogy and reference to a shared experience: "Les maladies on n'y peut rien [...]. Mon mari en a fait une et mon fils aussi y a rien a y comprendre ca monte a la tete et puis ca casse tout c'est ca la depression nerveuse" (130). Where they are unable to cite specific personal experience, they simply resort to the received wisdom of proverb and maxim: "On n'a qu'une vie"; "La ville on ne pardonne pas"; "Vingt ans ca croit tout savoir"; "Quand ca se fiche dans une famille c'est comme chien-dent tu ne peux plus l'extirper"; "Les regrets faut pas les emmener dans la tombe avec soi" (120-26). As Susan Stewart points out, the proverb is the repository of community authority, providing the user with a template for the accommodation of experience and seemingly offering the possibility of closure (17). Given that the reality in this case is particularly recalcitrant to assimilation, it is perhaps not surprising that the villagers should seize on the proverb with such alacrity: it offers reassurance and a steady coordinate in a situation for which these paysans are ill-equipped intellectually, emotionally, and linguistically.
Finally, if the incessant city din that had such a debilitating effect on Luc in Loin d'eux is absent here, the narrator offers evidence, nevertheless, of the encroachment of the "noise"--both auditory and visual--of commerce and advertising even in this remote Vendeen backwater. Thus, his account is punctuated with references to radio jingles ("et le matin l'odeur merveilleuse du cafe," 27), regional railway slogans ("nous sommes peuple d'Atlantique," 36), exhortations from the covers of women's magazines ("Mannequin pourquoi pas vous," 77), the suggestively incomplete axiomatic logo of an insurance firm ("Parce que la vie est pleine d'imprevus," 50), the droguerie-bazaar's incongruous sign ("Tele radio sanitaires," 47), a bank's injunction to savers ("une grand affiche avec deux vieux sous un parapluie, bonne mine et la joue rose 'Protegeons leur serenite'," 127), the densely informative, but unpunctuated florist's sticker ("Deuils mariages compositions florales plantes a louer Euroflor Lucon livraisons sur tout le canton," 55), and the accommodating pledges of a church organ company ("Nos harmoniums de campagne souvent a moins de trois metres, places avec un leger decalage dans l'axe meme de la nef," 105). The narrator's alertness to these particular advertisements is, however, not random, for even as they signal the inroads of commercialism, they also testify to the coordinates and aspirations by which the inhabitants plot their lives (predictable daily routine, weddings and funerals, the church, financial security) and underscore the limited parameters within which their opportunities are contained: they are "peuple d'Atlantique" but are for the most part tied to the land and to the task of defending it against the sea; for women like the temoin, the narrator's physical description is the cruel answer to the question of her magazine; Champ-Saint-Pere is on the Euroflor circuit, but the ready-made messages for every occasion simply provide a convenient camouflage for an innate inarticulacy.
Finally, in both novels, bavardage is seen to evolve into a more focused, formalized, and frequently more dramatic form of talk: gossip. As anthropology and sociolinguistics have shown, gossip is far from being an idle or simply malicious pastime. It is an integral and often highly ritualized part of human interaction and serves a range of different functions within society. As Gluckman and others have argued, one of the most important functions of gossip is to help maintain the unity and promote the values of the community in which it occurs. (11) It serves as a form of sanction against behavior that challenges traditional codes and accepted norms. Thus, in both novels, conduct that threatens or disrespects the institution of marriage is castigated by the local scandalmongers: the "temoin" from Alain's sister's wedding ensures that the bride's pregnancy is well-publicized (L'Enterrement 73); the rumors concerning Bossuthe's veuvage establish him as a victim of his wife's wantonness (29); Celine's refusal to sacrifice her youth and go through motions of widowhood ritual is severely condemned by the local community, who extends the punishment to her closest kin by repeating to them her harsh, drunken attacks on her family (Loin d'eux 90). Among the low-income inhabitants of Loin d'eux, the work ethic is a powerful normative force, and rejection of the limited opportunities of the previous generation invites the stern judgments of those who have accepted their lot: by setting themselves up in a trade--boulangerie--that is not only traditional, but also symbolic of service to the community, Celine and Jaime become representatives of shared values and a model to be emulated, while Luc's apparent faineantise incurs the condemnation of his aunt (11) and prompts embarrassment for his father, who fears the judgment of his colleagues at work (27). The fear of social sanction is also what motivates Alain's mother to turn what should be a rite of aggregation--the welcoming of the narrator on his arrival--into a transaction: she is able to suspend her mourning long enough to steer him into a discreet corner where she tries to extract a commitment from him that he will not answer the questions of the inquisitive (L'Enterrement 18-20). However, if gossip is a form of sanction, it is also subject to a strict code of appropriateness, the transgression of which will bring its own penalties (Gluckman 308). Thus, if in L'Enterrement, Marineau's refrain "O faut pas s'occuper des affaires des autres" is a prompt rather than a curb to the discussion of Alain's suicide, Bossuthe understands the limits of acceptable disclosure and stops short of revealing what he saw in the young man's room. This is a threshold across which he will not lead others: "Ce qu'il avait vu la-bas, derriere la porte, ne lui appartenait pas, en campagne on sait mieux qu'ailleurs ces limites implicites du recit" (115).
Gossip is also used to establish subgroups within the community, integrate the outsider, and signal an individual's status. Thus, when the organist Daniel lowers his voice to prevent the temoin from overhearing him, he is at one and the same time acknowledging the sensitivity of the subject, differentiating himself as a kind of local sage from this rather less discriminating loose talker, and attempting to befriend the narrator by making him a confidant (L'Enterrement 94). Marthe and Genevieve's daily coffee and chat sessions are a means of setting themselves apart from their neighbors and an opportunity to fortify their solidarity and celebrate their superiority (Loin d'eux 21). If the rejection of others implies the assumption of a higher status, one's self-image and power within the community can also be enhanced by the demonstration of authority. (12) Thus, the exchanges of the huddle of mourners outside the church are characterized by fairly keen competition, with the mayor, the "grande femme," and Marineau vying to place a sententious last word (L'Enterrement 98-100). Finally, the ritualized aspect of gossip is perhaps most evident in its dramatic features. (13) In both novels, death is attended not only by funerary ritual, but also by the conventionalized performances of gossips: the news of Jaime's accident, which is communicated to his uncle and aunt by their neighbor "le pere Lucas," is delivered in such a way as to maximize suspense; having achieved his effect ("bravo tout tremble dans la maison," Loin d'eux 56), he exits the humble theatre of Marthe and Jean's kitchen to make his way home, "content de son coup sans meme qu'il s'en rende compte" (56). In L'Enterrement, despite his speech impediment, Bossuthe is the victor in the gossip competition. As a cousin of the family, it was be who received the phone call from Paris, made the announcement to the parents, and travelled with them to the city. In short, he has "insider" knowledge; once he is out of earshot of the immediate family and having delayed the revelation until he has an eighty-strong audience whose curiosity has been heightened by the length of the proceedings, he can flaunt both his authority and his dramatic skills. He accompanies his tale with sound effects ("Rigne rigne"), mime (L'Enterrement 109), and various rhetorical devices--repetition, digressions, explanations--designed to heighten the dramatic tension, adding to the performance a surreal burlesque sequence in which be tries to scale the war memorial. Even the upturned cap that he holds is reminiscent of the street-performers' collection hat (110). (14) In both novels, gossip is revealed to be a complex phenomenon: a vehicle for condemnation and a means of social control, certainly, but also an occasion where community convenances and interactional codes are explored and reasserted, as well as an opportunity to display dramatic ability that, by the scope it offers for audience participation, promotes sociability. Finally, given the highly structured, but educationally limited nature of the social groups and speech communities into which Luc and Alain were born, it is not surprising that in both novels the representation of talk and the representation of the perception of talk are subtly gendered. The different sorts of "knowledge" communicated by the men and the women at Alain's funeral, the narratives of both "le pere Lucas" and Bossuthe, and Marthe's and Genevieve's coffee sessions might be read as reflecting the difference between what "dual-culture" sociolinguistician Deborah Tannen calls "rapport-talk" and "reporttalk," the women's chat bolstering their solidarity as sisters-in-law, the men's narratives purportedly providing information. Alain's and Luc's mothers and the latter's aunt are all perceived by the sons / nephew as garrulous, while the "grande femme" of L'Enterrement is identified as eccentric not only by the fact that during the funeral she remains outside the church with the men, but because her attitude to talk is essentially competitive and invades the male realm of speech (98). (15) In neither case, I would argue, is it the author's intention to make a sociological observation; rather, both are drawing on certain recognizable speech patterns in order to explore further, at the microlevel of conversational detail and verbal tics and in the exchanges between even minor characters, the complexity of meaning production and the pitfalls that forever threaten communication.
Analysis of the interplay in any text between silence and speech inevitably calls for some consideration of the deployment of narrative voice, of the number of narrators, and of the tone and the pattern of intervention. The two novels analyzed have markedly different narrative systems: Loin d'eux is recounted by six highly subjective narrators whose emotional investment in what they recount is patently evident; L'Enterrement has a single dominant narrator whose tone is deliberately dispassionate and who tries to maintain an emotional distance from the events he records; however, here too one can identify, in the subnarratives of the text, a number of other voices that compete with each other and that give indirect expression to the narrator's emotions.
The polyphonic structure of Loin d'eux highlights the family's communicative problems and the progressive isolation of all its members and conveys the complex and erratic emotions of the mourners in the face of an act that defies assimilation and accommodation. Every member of the family subjects his / her own conduct and that of other relatives to close, if partial, scrutiny, isolating and retrospectively endowing with significance particular (but often different) remembered scenes, homing in on or eclipsing details that, for various, sometimes contradictory reasons--anger, resentment, guilt, desire to impute guilt, sense of injury, protectiveness--seem to the individual to offer some purchase on events, oscillating between, on the one hand, dogmatic and trite explanations based on entrenched assumptions and popular psychology and, on the other, tortuous, inarticulate and, at times, inconsistent commentaries that convey their disarray.
Luc intervenes in his own voice five times in the first two sections of the book. These interventions, which introduce a fourth temporal stratum because they record his thoughts and feelings in the months preceding his death, are interwoven with and act as a counterpoint to the comments of his parents, aunt, and uncle after his suicide, occasionally offering a different perspective on incidents recounted by other characters, at other times highlighting the gaps in their knowledge of him, most frequently showing, by their return to certain subjects (the noises in his head, the visits home, the woman in the bar, his film posters), the increasingly narrow obsessive circles in which his mind travelled in his final months. However, it is perhaps the scarcely perceptible discrepancies in his tone that are the most moving, the childlike "maman" and "papa" that break through in his pendant accounts of the dreaded visits home giving the lie to the hostility and anger expressed elsewhere and revealing a bond he has striven in vain to break (47, 78).
Of the six narrators, Luc's uncle Gilbert is the one who clings most steadfastly to the illusion of familial solidarity, refusing to let go of the prospect of family reunions during which they might be able to share reminiscences about what he recalls as happy occasions. He cannot accept "que des trucs heureux finissent comme ca, remplis du vide ou ils nous ont laisses" (31). It is he who introduces the idea that Luc's taciturnity was, in fact, a family trait, inherited from his and Jean's father and common to Jean, Celine, and himself, an interpretation that is designed to play down the "abnormality" of Luc's conduct and to render it more assimilable. It is also Gilbert who draws attention to Luc's willing participation in and active contribution to the modest family gathering organized to celebrate Celine and Jaime's wedding (36). Given this tendency to see the best in a situation and to promote the cohesion of the family unit, it is not surprising that it is also he who voices the most positive interpretation of Luc's failure to attend Jaime's funeral. Gilbert recounts what he claims Celine has told him about the reasons Luc has given her for not coming to Jaime's funeral: "Luc n'a jamais supporte de voir comment sur les visages les gens acceptent ca, la tristesse tranquille d'un enterrement, c'est pareil que tout ce qui arrive dans leur vie il disait, ecrivait: ils vivent comme si rien ne devait jamais arriver, jamais rien advenir ou que, malgre tout, advenant quand meme, ca devait etre aussitot rabote, lime, poli" (61-62). However, the fact that we have just read, a few pages earlier, Luc's account of his revulsion at the histrionics of his mother inevitably casts doubt on Gilbert's account and, indeed, on his earlier conciliatory comments. It is quite possible that Gilbert simply heard what he wanted to hear in Celine's words. Moreover, we never find out what Luc actually said to Celine: i.e. whether he has offered a more palatable explanation to spare her feelings or, alternatively, whether he has revealed the full strength of his reaction and it is Cecile who has attenuated it in order to protect her father. In short, the double-layer of hearsay, the propitiatory and other-regarding instincts of Gilbert, and Luc's deep affection for Celine are all complicating factors that make the "truth" of what was said by whom to whom ultimately inaccessible.
There are also telling differences between Marthe's and Genevieve's reaction to the Post-it found in Luc's room following his death. Marthe's commentary shows a strong desire to read it as an insignificant piece of paper that Luc has forgotten to throw away and that she need not mention to Jean (52). Genevieve's description of the Post-it and of the occasion on which Marthe showed it to her offers a rather different perspective: the erratic writing and violent scoring hint at intense emotions and perhaps even self-obliterating tendencies, while its crumpled state implies that---contrary to Marthe's recollections--the Post-it had, indeed, been discarded and then "rescued," perhaps by Marthe herself; moreover, the account of the careful preservation and presentation of the document suggests that she has invested it with the status of a relic (52).
It is not only Luc's behavior that proves to be recalcitrant to definitive explanation. The other family members are, in many respects, opaque to each other, and their accounts of family life after Luc's death are littered with inconsistencies that highlight their difficulties in reading even those closest to them. Gilbert believes that Jean has helped Marthe to "se change[r] un peu les idees," pulling her back toward the world (60), but this reading is contradicted by both Genevieve and Marthe: Genevieve detects markedly differing reactions on the part of her in-laws and claims that Jean remains silent in order to allow Marthe's grief to "s'epanouir," while Marthe attributes her own recent outburst in Gilbert and Genevieve's kitchen to an incapacity to communicate with Jean other than through a public declaration (68). Genevieve blames Luc for Celine's rebellion against her family's attempts to turn her into a conventional widow and claims that Gilbert agrees with her (89); however, Gilbert shows no sign that he blames Luc and explains the breach as a consequence of Celine's attribution of responsibility for Luc's death to the family (60-61).
The fact that Celine intervenes in her own voice only once in the text and that that intervention is the last in the book might be read as a form of validation of her perspective. Certainly, her closeness to Luc would support such an interpretation. Moreover, the account that she gives of the clearing of his room in Paris closes the text on a moment of stillness and apparent harmony that might suggest the possibility of emotional closure and, eventually, of real communication among those left behind. In her account, the sorting and packing of Luc's possessions become a quasi-ritualistic process carried out in a silence that is simply respectful and reflective and that, by the absence of the need for words, would seem to betoken tacit accord. However, the attentive reader will be wary of this positive "last word" and of the authority that the emphatic position of Cecile's intervention seems to give her; in particular, he / she will be alert to the fact that Cecile's account records impressions from the period immediately following Luc's death, while in the preceding text it is clear that, two years on, the other characters are no nearer to communication or selfexpression than they were when Luc died and that their lives are blighted by mutual, if usually unspoken, recrimination and self-recrimination. Ultimately, Cecile's intervention is subject to the same relativization as that of the other characters, (16) and her account of this apparently healing silence might also be interpreted as wish-fulfillment, an attempt to convince herself that a new level of understanding has been achieved. However, if, at the end of the novel, there is any prospect of hope, it lies not with the parents, but with Cecile, who has escaped from her environment, has fled the familiar for the unfamiliar, and has grasped the second chance that Jaime's death offered her.
L'Enterrement has a single dominant narrator who, despite the closeness of his friendship with Alain, seems to have set himself a documentarist's task, "attestant seulement d'une verite des paroles entendues, prononcees, et restituees, comme de l'enchainement des faits" (147). Here, the restraint of the narrating voice contrasts sharply with the grief-stricken, angry, and compassionate tones of the characters in Loin d'eux. However, as the account of the funeral progresses, it becomes clear that the neutrality of his tone and his apparent impassivity cannot be maintained; indeed, certain telltale signs would seem to suggest that, at rimes, if not always, his ostensibly indifferent but fastidious recording of minutiae is a means of keeping his own emotions under control. Thus, as he admits, the attention he pays to Alain's sister at the funeral may well be a means of clinging on to his friend and of obliterating momentarily all that is happening around him (30). As he waits in the family kitchen for the start of the funeral, he finds some relief from the embarrassment of the situation by focusing on the details of the decor: the form and the contents of the Formica sideboard (32), the distorted reflections of the mourners on the surface of the television screen (34), and the steam running down the yellow walls (33). Similarly, his hyper-alertness to every sound and his almost obsessive attention to the mechanics of the movements and gestures of the mourners at the ceremony suggest acute tension. Perhaps most tellingly, his brief reference to the sudden "hot flush" he experiences in the room where Alain is laid out betrays the emotions that he is keeping in check (53).
However, L'Enterrement is also a polyphonic text in the sense that although there is one dominant narrator, that narrator incorporates into his account a multitude of other voices: in addition to the voice of Alain, whose comments and linguistic tics are occasionally noted, these include the competing voices of the gossips and storytellers at the funeral, that of the priest who conducts the funeral service, the radio heard in the railway station, and the various literary and artistic texts that are cited. Though the narrator rarely offers direct commentary on the observations communicated by these voices, their orchestration within the text implies his perspective. Thus, in a highly stylized evocation of the funeral service, he filters out everything but the words of the priest relayed through the church's loudspeakers and the voices of the gossips standing outside the church: extracts from the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Saint-Jean Perse incongruously alternate with the gossips' tales of other suicides, snippets of amateur psychology, and expedient adages (120-24). This dissonance conveys the narrator's grim humor and his own sense of estrangement from the rural world and culture that was part of his childhood. The vigilant reader will also be alert to the irony of the deadpan description of the "maison de retraite" that the cortege passes en route to the cemetery and the presumably inadvertent literary allusion in its name ("Ile de Cea," 133): the narrator offers a disingenuous comment on the reassurance offered by this "beau nom"; however, the reader who has read Montaigne's defense of suicide in "Coutume de l'ile de Cea" will also recognize his voice and the pointed, if rather macabre humor of this passing narratorial observation. The narrator's estrangement is perhaps at its most acute in the final revelation about Alain's death; here, his brutally direct account of his friend's death stands as a shockingly frank completion of and response to the melodramatic and disingenuously coy narratives and complacent truisms of the chorus of village gossips: "La mort jamais ne se refuse a qui vraiment l'appelle, c'est comme de passer d'une piece a la piece voisine. Pour le copain plus simple encore, du coin d'une chambre a l'autre. Un grand pochon de plastique, une ficelle pour le refermer, une minuscule bonbonne de camping-gaz: travail d'artisan bien fait, precis comme le coup de gouge d'un luthier" (147). This disclosure at last allows the reader to make sense of the otherwise obscure early reference to the bottles of gas in the local droguerie-bazar that, viewed retrospectively, draws attention to the emotional currents that, every now and again, break through the even surface of the narrative (47).
More ambiguous is the narrator's reaction to the organist Daniel. His description of this character's physical defects is mercilessly frank and detailed (62-64); he makes no concessions to the organist's sense of vanity and comes close to causing offense by his laconic self-introduction (64); the contrast between his verbatim record of the organist's contributions to the "conversation" and the indirect summaries of his own interventions is pointed and highlights the former's garrulousness and self-absorption. However, the space that the narrator accords this character suggests that, albeit no doubt reluctantly, he is mesmerized by Daniel's stories, with the juxtaposition of anecdotes recounted by Daniel and Alain suggesting similarities that reflect positively on the organist (116-19). Son of a bonesetter who understood the healing powers of music, the organist is presented as a kind of shamanistic figure: he performs in all the community's key ceremonies, is associated with creatures that, in superstition and folklore, are highly symbolic; like his Biblical namesake, he is an interpreter of dreams and he also claims that, in addition to night vision powers that compensate for his otherwise impaired eyesight, he has visionary gifts. (17) In contrast with most of the other mourners, be offers evidence of a level of culture that extends beyond the received wisdom of adage and scriptures: like Alain, he is also interested in Gaston Chaissac's (imaginary) painting of the transi in the local church (18) and keen to draw the narrator's attention to
it (89). It is the link with Alain and, indeed, with Chaissac that is highlighted on pages 116-19: here, Daniel's account of a dream reminds the narrator of Alain's evocation of the strange sensation he sometimes experienced at sea in the dead of night. In his dream, Daniel finds himself facing a giant mirror reflection that bears little resemblance to himself, (19) while Alain has the impression that "une autre silhouette que vous-meme tient la barre a votre place, plus grande que vous, plus lourde, et l'etrange impression, un moment bref, mais sur tout l'horizon a la fois, de voir bien plus loin qu'a l'ordinaire et dans un spectre agrandi" (118). Moreover, throughout this passage a third voice is implied, the reference to the outsized silhouettes in the personal narratives of the speaker echoing the description of Chaissac's huge transi and the related silhouettes painted, with their accompanying obscure commentary, on the walls of the church. Here, the intertwining of voices and the crosstextual resonances highlight the similarities among these three men and suggest that their lives are simply variants on a single pattern. All three are / were eccentric, psychologically fragile figures living somewhat precarious marginal existences, and the lives that they live--Chaissac struggled constantly with mental health problems; Daniel shows signs of alcoholism; Alain commits suicide--are perhaps to be seen as typical options open to such individuals in such a community.
Perhaps even more significantly, the organist is also part of another network of voices. His final drunken words to the narrator--"on vit dans un monde a bout"--not only recall the opening epigraph from Baudelaire ("J'habite pour toujours un batiment qui va crouler, un batiment travaille par une maladie secrete" (20)), but are echoed by the text's final words that consist of the first line of Apollinaire's "Zone" ("a la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien ..."). In the narrator's account, Daniel unknowingly finds himself in the company of two of early modernism's "visionary" poets; all three reflect on the passing of a culture and of its values. Furthermore, these three quotations might also be seen to echo the comments of Alain and the occasional aside that the narrator allows himself on the "development" of the Vendee and the spoiling of the coast. However, one must be wary of reading these passages as nostalgia for a lost idyll. It is surely significant that the final quotation comes from a poem that celebrated the modern. By their different contexts and the opposing directions of their perspectives, these quotations and textual echoes convey the narrator's deep ambivalence about this waning rural world from which Alain escaped temporarily through his sea voyages and that he has himself chosen to leave. Even as he draws attention to the destruction of the natural environment and identifies the signs that herald the passing of a traditional lifestyle, be is impatient to depart once again. Equally significant is the fact that the "Zone" quotation is the narrator's (no doubt unspoken) response to Alain's mother's parting words and rather pitiful stock invitation to make a return visit: her clumsy attempt to invoke Alain and to give voice to what would have been his "wishes" is interrupted and countered by words that express the narrator's own resistance to the pull of the past.
Finally, that L'Enterrement is also a book about writing is suggested by the text's other intertextual allusions. As Bon has acknowledged, (21) L'Enterrement not only blends and reworks personal recollections (images from his childhood, memories of several quite different funerals from different periods of his life), but, in addition to those already mentioned, also draws on several other textual sources. He puts into the mouths of some of his own characters the words of other real and fictional figures: "le goitre" repeats Mr. Bloom at Paddy Dignam's funeral ("Quand on pense a tout ce bois perdu," 140; "When you think of them all it does seem a waste of wood" (22)), while Daniel cites Maupassant ("Brise savoureuse d'ocean," 104). (23) Elsewhere, the intertextual source has suggested a logistical contretemps, a character's posture, a narrative aside, a meteorological notation. The bungled lowering of the coffin into the grave (142-43) echoes Flaubert's painful memory of his sister's funeral, (24) while the posture of Alain's father leaning precariously over the edge of the grave recalls that of Sneguiriov at Ilioucha's funeral in the Brothers Karamazov. (25) The narrator's comment on the women's tears recalls a similar remark in Maupassant's L'Heritage, (26) in contrast with the epithet borrowed from Le Grand Meaulnes ("cette grande ombre inquiete et amie," 22) that suggests the depth of his affection for his friend. (27) The novel's opening sentence is taken from Ernst Bloch's Erbschaft dieser Zeit, (28) while the description of the paintings in the church draws upon D'Aubigne's Tragiques. (29) It might also be suggested that the Flaubert, Dostoievski, and Joyce intertexts have informed in a general way the evocation of the funeral; in all four cases, the solemnity of the ritual is undermined by jarring notes--the intrusion of mundane remarks or passing thoughts, irrelevant sensory impressions, minor gaffes or mishaps--that exacerbate the emotional tension or expose the absurdity of the proceedings. These citations and intertextual echoes are seamlessly assimilated into Bon's narrative, figuring as discreet references to the education that, presumably, has allowed the narrator to break out of this environment and, along with the references to Chaissac, serving also as markers of the cultural common ground that the narrator shares with those other storytellers--Alain and Daniel--who did not escape. However, their inconspicuous presence should also alert the reader to the possibility of a reflexive and more personal reading. Indeed, here as in certain other texts, Francois Bon is exploring his own relationship with the Vendee of his childhood: "Comme dans plusieurs autres de mes livres (Buzon), le pays natal devient un lieu de reference recompose fictivement pour accueillir l'explication qu'on mene avec soi-meme." (30) Here, as in the atelier d'ecriture, the words of others serve as declencheurs. Thus, like the extracts on which Bon bases his workshop propositions, (31) the brief passages cited in L'Enterrement and the literary accounts of funerals that have left their discreet imprint on the text have helped him to develop his own way of evoking his complex feelings about his regional "roots" and about the traditions of the community to which be belonged. At the same time, be is also sketching in, en filigrane, the broader international and transhistorical community and set of traditions he has found in literature, a community that includes some of the most illustrious writers of the past.
In neither Loin d'eux or L'Enterrement are we given firm and reliable purchase on the suicides of Luc and Alain. In each book, the character's own words and those of his family offer limited insights into various factors that may have contributed to his death, but hard information about personal and shared past is thin. Access to Luc's and Alain's childhood is restricted, in the first case, to references to seaside jaunts and to the closeness of the former's bond with Celine and, in the second case, to the narrator's brief reminiscences about his and Alain's schooldays. Family history is, by and large, restricted to recent time (Luc's quarrels with his family, Alain's tare phone calls to his parents); early family history is absent in L'Enterrement and tare in Loin d'eux (Gilbert's comments on hereditary taciturnity) or allusive to the point of enigmatic (Marthe's reference to the period before Luc's birth). Indeed, one might argue that despite the obsessive closeness of scrutiny in Loin d'eux and the intimacy of the narrator's relationship with Alain in L'Enterrement, we are given only enough data to opt for a broad Halbwachsian reading of these two suicides. For Halbwachs, suicide is an action committed in a particular context, one where social integration is breaking down and where the individual, as the result perhaps of a disruption in his / her life, becomes pathologically conscious of his / her isolation: "Quand un homme ne s'accorde pas avec les autres sur ce qui lui tient le plus a coeur, et que leur representation des etres et des choses et la sienne ne coincident plus sur aucun point qui l'interesse, il est pleinement isole au milieu d'eux, isole moins parce qu'il ne les comprend point qu'en ce qu'eux ne veulent pas entrer dans ses idees, isole en vertu de ce qu'il y a en lui de singulier et d'unique. [...] Il n'y a rien qu'une pensee formee par la societe soit moins capable de regarder en face que le vide social. C'est cet etat d'angoisse et de terreur qui importe seul, et en deca duquel il n'y a pas lieu de remonter, quand on veut expliquer le suicide." (32) The suicides of Alain and Luc both take place in such a context. Thus, passing remarks made by characters of both texts show that these are communities that are struggling to deal with employment problems and social, cultural, and demographic change, that have little to offer new generations, and that express their anxiety in their failed attempts to impose upon the disaffected young life-patterns that belong to the past. (33) Both texts evoke changes in circumstances--Luc's move to Paris, Alain's accident--that, it might be surmised, have triggered in the characters a more acute awareness of their isolation and of their alienation from the values and interests of their social group. In the first case, the escape route is revealed to be illusory; in the second, Alain is deprived of the periodic time-out from mainland routine that allowed him to feel that he was alive; robbed of the sea, he has nowhere else to go.
So, the focus in neither book is etiological. Ultimately, both texts are primarily concerned with the processes by which human beings attempt to confer acceptable meanings on experience and the obstacles that they encounter in that enterprise. Traditionally, ritual has provided a structure for daily lives and a means of marking momentous occasions. Consequently, any sign of mismatch between experience and ritual code, any deficiency in observance or transgression of traditional social norms reveals the malfunctions within a given group and potential threats to its values. Suicide almost invariably throws a spanner in the mechanisms of meaning production and control, and it is this crisis of signification that is explored in Loin d'eux and L'Enterrement. Both texts chart the disjunctions in ritual practice that precede and follow the deaths of Luc and Alain. Through the interplay of silence and speech, the finely tuned orchestration of narrative voice, and a discreet attentiveness to the limits on intimacy set by class and gender, the novels explore the discomfiting ambiguities and opacities that refuse to be contained within the bounds of established templates and that confound received wisdom. Neither text offers the prospect of catharsis or closure; we leave Luc's relatives struggling separately to articulate with inadequate language feelings that have, in some cases, been buried for years and that in others are new and unfamiliar, while the emotional bewilderment of Alain's parents is conveyed in his father's inappropriate smile in the cemetery (141) and his mother's clumsy and half-hearted parting invitation. Neither text offers strong evidence to suggest that these suicides might have been prevented: given broadly comparable circumstances and opportunities, one is invited to conclude simply that a few will commit suicide, and others--Celine, the organist, Chaissac, the narrator of L'Enterrement--will not. Suicide is presented as a fact of life that resists full intelligibility; however, even as it exposes the fragility of the codes by which community life is held together, in the many diverse reactions that it engenders, it also highlights the fundamental human drive to make sense.
University of Edinburgh
Abrahams, Roger D. "A Performance-Centered Approach to Gossip." Man 5.2 (1970): 290-301.
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(1.) I should like to thank the Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding a research leave that permitted the writing of this article.
(2.) "Ce qui m'interessait, et n'a jamais bouge dans les versions successives, c'est la construction en fugue, faire se superposer les trois moments temporels (la levee du corps, le cortege, le cimetiere et le banquet)" (communication from Francois Bon to the author, April 2006).
(3.) See Stephane Bikialo's article in Dialogues contemporains. With its focus on ritual, the present article complements rather than contests Bikialo's linguistic analysis.
(4.) David Le Breton, Du silence (Paris: Metailie, 1997). Hereafter, referred to as DS. Silence is, of course, a topic of central importance not only in anthropology, but also
in many other disciplines (e.g. sociolinguistics, psychology, philosophy, and religion studies). If Le Breton's overview of the subject provides a particularly useful anthropological point of reference here, it should be noted that a sociolinguistic analysis of the interplay between speech and silence in these novels would also yield very interesting insights into Bon's and Mauvignier's conception of the relationship between language, gender relationships, and class. While a sustained analysis of this nature lies beyond the scope of this article, the current study will, where pertinent, suggest potential lines of inquiry.
(5.) Silence, like taboo, may be a means of maintaining social order. See Coates 43.
(6.) See Le Breton, Du silence 45-46.
(7.) Note Jean's anger at the way Marthe indirectly silenced him by hiding from Luc his father's unleashed "gueule d'outrage" during the union demonstrations that conferred on him--albeit fleetingly--a sense of personal dignity (Loin d'eux 27-31). Note too the embarrassment that his son's idleness causes Jean in the workplace (27) and Jean's references to his experiences in the Algerian war that reveal a need to affirm a highly traditional definition of manhood: "Et meme si ce n'est pas terrible, Jean finit toujours par dire, c'est toujours mieux que nous bordel. La vision qui reste pour nous des corps pourris, etendus dans la nuit d'Alger" (24).
(8.) See, for example, Brown and Levinson; Ridgeway and Smith-Lovin; and Walker.
(9.) Bikialo distinguishes between Luc's reticence and his parents' atavistic silence (132).
(10.) See also Goffman 18.
(11.) See Gluckman, Stirling, and Emler.
(12.) Gluckman 309; Stirling 266; Abrahams 291.
(13.) Abrahams 290.
(14.) Note too the way in which Marineau, "le goitre," fuels the performance with his questions and comments; his role recalls that of the shill (see Goffman 176).
(15.) Coates 194-95.
(16.) Note too Mauvignier's comment on the implicit involuted structure of the text: "S'il devait avoir une quatrieme partie, ce serait forcement la premiere partie. L'interet etait pour ca, car ce gente d'histoire ne peut se retourner que sur elle-meme. La litterature fait ca: ce mouvement d'eternel retour sur soi, avec une idee de spirale" (Stephane Bikialo and Jacques Durrenmatt, "Entretien avec Laurent Mauvignier" 110).
(17.) He keeps cats and, on the night of Alain's death, shortly before he sees the ghostlike figure in his garden, he hears an owl (81).
(18.) The "transi" and the other "Chaissac" paintings described in L'Enterrement are fictional creations based on several sources: Bon's knowledge concerning Chaissac's "bricolage" in the eglise de Damvix and his friendship with its priest, the "transi" by
Ligier Richier on the tomb of Rene de Chalons in the Eglise Saint Pierre in Bar-le Duc (1547), the Easter Sepulchre (1554-64) in the Eglise Saint Etienne in Saint-Mihiel, and the recurrence of the word "transi" in D'Aubigne's Tragiques (see pages 108, 121, 124, 153, 173, 204, 216, 221, 251, 254, 256, 278, 288, 312, 330, 331, 333, 334). Some of this information was supplied by Francois Bon in the course of our exchanges in April / May 2006. See also Hesse, "Entretien avec Francois Bon," 19.
(19.) Both Bon's Daniel and his biblical counterpart are associated with feasts (Alain's sister's wedding dinner and the funeral meal; the feasts of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar), a giant who appears in a dream (the figure in the mirror, Chaissac's paintings, the colossus of Nebuchadnezzar's dream), the waning of an epoch (social change in the Vendee; collapse of the kingdom of the Babylonians), and writing on a wall (the inscriptions accompanying Chaissac's paintings; the "mane, thekel, phares" that appears on the wall at Belshazzar's feast). Daniel is also reminiscent of certain visionary characters in Maupassant (e.g. the old man of "La Peur" and the narrators of "Lettre d'un fou" and "Le Horla"). Daniel may also remind the reader of the Ancient Mariner: like the latter, he buttonholes a guest and compels him to listen to him; here, the guest has been to a funeral, whereas Coleridge's guest is on his way to a wedding, though it should be noted that the narrator first encountered the organist at the wedding of Alain's sister.
(20.) Baudelaire 372.
(21.) Message from Francois Bon, April 2006.
(22.) Joyce 111.
(23.) Maupassant 506.
(24.) Flaubert 258.
(25.) "Le pere, des fleurs a la main, se penchait tellement que la mere et sa fille se cramponnerent a son pardessus et le tirerent en arriere," 143. Compare: "Sneguiriov, ses fleurs a la main, se penchait tellement au-dessus de la fosse beante, que les enfants effrayes se cramponnerent a son pardessus et le tirerent en arriere" (Dostoievski 805).
(26.) "Que les femmes partent en pleurs ca leur remontait comine d'eternuer" (41). Compare: "Cora pteurait avec cette facilite de larmes qu'ont les femmes" (Maupassant 27).
(27.) Alain-Fournier 13.
(28.) "Die leeren Strassen, nicht einmal der Wind fuhlt sich darin wohl" (Bloch 32).
(29.) Compare L'Enterrement, 89 and Les Tragiques, 238, line 333.
(30.) Communication from Francois Bon to the author, 20 April 2006.
(31.) See Tous les mots sont adultes.
(32.) Halbwachs 425.
(33.) Loin d'eux 10-12, 26-29; L'Enterrement 25, 47, 73-74, 86, 88, 94, 100, 102, 120, 128.
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|Publication:||The Romanic Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||May 1, 2010|
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