Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The ham reigns supreme

Julian Barnes at the LRB on Luc Sante's translation of Feneon's Nouvelles en trois lignes:
Flaubert, in despair at the Franco-Prussian war, and trying to maintain the primacy of art, commented that in the long run, perhaps the only function of such carnage was to provide writers with a few fine scenes. So here, the function of the octogenarian Breton woman who hangs herself, or the 75-year-old man who dies of a stroke on the bowling lawn (‘While his ball was still rolling he was no more’), or the 70-year-old who drops dead of sunstroke (‘Quickly his dog Fido ate his head’) is to provide a sophisticated Parisian with a witty paragraph. As an aesthete-anarchist, Fénéon had always cultivated a detached gaiety of tone: a bomb became a ‘delightful kettle’ and the manner in which it killed six people showed ‘intimate charm’ (we are not far from Henze’s quickly retracted description of the World Trade Center attacks as ‘the greatest artwork ever made’). So with the Nouvelles: are they a Modernist’s evocation of a harsh and absurd world, a subtle continuation of propaganda by word; or are they simply a classier expression of the press’s traditional heartless sensationalism? Though they could, of course, be both.


  1. i read the sante translation of feneon a few weeks ago; i wouldn't say they're a 'classier expression,' as barnes speculates, but perhaps a more naive expression, however finely they're stylized. the phrasings, the witticisms, are of course more stylized & delectable than anything found in the press today. but the anarchic impulses & notions expressed by feneon could be as abrupt and rude as a violent joke. that certainly wouldn't fly now. anyways, i LOVED the book.

  2. Oh, yes, I've got it here, and VERY much looking forward to it...

  3. I must get this, I'm enamoured of Sante at the moment - in fact,I was planning to do a post about him soon, having just read Low Life and about to begin The Factory of Facts. And I've pretty much decided to use the name 'Luc' for the protagonist in my next novel because of him - lovely Lucifer association, eh?