Event by Philippe Sollers

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 § 0

Event by Philippe Sollers: An Abstract Expressionist Novel that is an Intellectual Med(i)tation on Sentence Structure

A Book Review by
David Detrich

Philippe Sollers has entered the space of the novel, which appears as a “museum brought to life,” a perception that is accurate, since the narrator of Event (1987) is making an appearance in a novel, that appears as a painterly abstraction of characterization, with the illusion of realism transformed into a museum of modern art for the potential reader/character, who might be invited to become a participant in the novel itself. The character has become a Surrealist object, an abstract form, a painted image, which makes the reading experience similar to the interpretation of a painting, and the action of the novel can become an interaction with characters, who may wish to participate, in an intertextual way, or through social interaction.

Soon he will feel as if he has inadvertantly lost his way in a museum brought to life—where he has a principal or guest role in all the picutres at once: not one of them has the same form or creator. That’s his starting point.
                                                           Philippe Sollers

With the idea of opening the structure of the novel to characterization, the reader can play a more active role in the drama that makes up the plot, and this interconnectedness is what makes Event a more open form. 

We all began together, back when Tel Quel became known as a literary movement, with the influence of Jacques Derrida, who wrote the essay Dissemination (1981), a discussion of Nombres (1966) by Philippe Sollers, a novel written after Event, which appears as a development in style influenced by philosophical writing. The style of Philippe Sollers has evolved from his early novels, towards a more intellectual expression of abstraction as sentence structure, with subtle allusions which reveal an artistic vision of increasing complexity, intricacy, and precision.

Maurice Roche published Compact (1966) in the Tel Quel series, and the innovative novel has been influenced by the writers of Tel Quel, creating a new intellectual trend influenced by the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, with increased polysemanticism, the introduction of semiotics as visual sign, with the linguistic theory of Ferdinand de Saussure, and the use of sophisticated graphic visual design.

Square that I can watch from here, from this room which you have just left and in which I am writing to you. 
                                                           Philippe Sollers

This view of the city of Paris from the window is similar to the Robert Delaunay series called The Windows (1912), which is how a painter, or novelist, may perceive the city: as a phenomenon of perception, and we find this perspective in the novels of Philippe Sollers, modeling urban reality from the perspective of the writer's desk described as a multidimensional abstraction by the narrator. Is this description of the city of Paris in Event enough to call it a novel in the traditional sense? What is the subject matter of a novel? Is the truth of the introspective mind being expressed as an abstract story line? A drama with subtle characterizations?

For Abstract Expressionism the novelist may express the subjective space that he, or she, is writing from, the desk of the writer becomes the scene of writing, in a Freudian sense, where the contents of the unconscious mind are expressed as an abstraction. In warm colors like a Mark Rothko painting? In simple forms such as a Willem de Kooning painting? With more complexity?

Nothing is less like a novel than our story. and yet it is certainly the only novel I would want to talk to you about (the one nobody could write, the one that is written within us in our presence). The only novel that might be gleaned from what we might call our life, as in novels, were we to give in to lies.
                                                           Philippe Sollers

What is a novel? It is the one that the narrator would like write about, it is the novel within the presence of our consciousness, expressed as words which describe the conscious mind of the narrator, as he sits at his desk, the only novel that is worth expressing.

Barthes has written that the image of the chessboard structuring Drame points to a certain arbitrariness, in that the 'I' and the 'he', even as they occupy a position in the text, never seem to be necessarily rooted to that position and can easily come to assume another.
                                              The novels of Philippe Sollers:
                                              narrative and visual 
                                              Malcolm Charles Pollard

The chessboard structure of Drame is an arbitrary form, and the novel is like a solitary style of chess game where the narrator is playing a computer, or the events of the plot occur in individual squares which form a large canvas, creating the illusion of a multidimensional perspective. The sentence structure of Drame reveals the technique of assembling phrases into a larger composite sentence, which is a form of collage, or bricolage.

The narrator begins each section/square with this phrase: He writes: which leads to the pronominal analysis of writing. Who is this "he" who is writing a novel? Is this himself seen from a third person perspective, where the narrator is similar to the narrator of an imaginary novel? Or is this the reader of the novel, who is also a writer himself?

Sometimes, it is like a single line where two points meet (vertical and horizontal) lines that are moving yet whose relationship never changes... This point extends, places itself between the days and the day, between the nights and the night, (the night, "whose other bank is invisible, as is the separation"—), between my story and me...
                                                           Philippe Sollers 

Tel Quel has followed this tradition after the first generation of Cubism, Surrealism, and the Nouveau Roman, with the philosophical influence of Jacques Derrida on novelistic prose, developing the themes of early modernism into a more sophisticated awareness of novelistic design, with simultaneity in time, the use of poetic metaphor, composite sentence structure, and dreamlike psychic awareness to express an abstraction of reality which is itself the novel form, and with sophisticated graphic design applied to the novel to create a sense of visuality.

David Detrich lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he has just completed The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, an ultramodern Surrealist novel written in minimal squares. He is working on Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a monumental Surrealist novel written with innovative typographical design. His first novel Big Sur Marvels & Wondrous Delights (2001) is available from Amazon. He is the editor of Innovative Fiction Magazine and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations.

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