The Jardin des Plantes by Claude Simon

Friday, February 4, 2011 § 0

Innovative Typographic Design: The Jardin des Plantes as a Form of Bricolage & the Realization of a Dream

A Book Review by 
David Detrich

The Jardin des Plantes (1979) by Claude Simon is a novel written by the 1985 Nobel Prize winner, whose work may be considered an example of bricolage, where individual passages are written in an innovative design, that might resemble notebook entries, or a handwritten manuscript. The page is divided into columns in an individualistic design, and Claude Simon has produced an artist's book, similar to a book arts novel, where individual notes are assembled in a box. The introductory quotations state a subtle theme of intertextuality: such as a "parcel" of land, an ongoing "bass line," and the narrator's English which is poor. The plot of the novel consists of political perspectives on world events, and the "verbiage" of journalism may be considered an artform for the Nobel laureate, with the language of the mass media forming our world consciousness, and here a beautiful woman. A signature represents the willingness to love, to spend some time together. Yet who is watching these scenes unfold? A black sheep? The mountains sleep, while the narrative is converging in lines towards the philosophical, describing two abstract personas who consider the future in a time long after one has changed tense. Scenes from New York, and Moscow occur in the narration, as those events which have some personal interest occur, becoming an "elixir" made of mountain herbs, scenes from India. 

black sheep

                        Finally I stepped onto the terrace I couldn't see the rushing river only hearing it unending hiss imagining it frenzied tossing flying down the marvelous mountain The morning breeze shook the leaves on the the tall poplars gilded by autumn sometimes carrying them off lazily slanting snow Beyond on the opposite bank now the sunlight was touching the side of the mountain first foothill rounded barren yellow ochre
                                                         The Jardin des Plantes
                                                        Claude Simon                          

Claude Simon is known for his innovative novels associated with the Nouveau Roman movement of France, and with The Jardin des Plantes we see a development in novelistic design that some readers may have hoped for, a novel which fulfills the esthetic desire for original typographic design: a trend that we see in America with the novels of the Fiction Collective including Out (1973), and Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues (1979) by Ronald Sukenick. In the first part of The Jardin des Plantes Claude Simon has developed the themes of Ronald Sukenick and my own novels The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, and Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography which exemplify the trend in typographic design that gives the contemporary novel a visual presence on the page: a style of bricolage, the verbiage of journalism, notebooks which could become book arts objects to be admired in an art gallery context. 

paintings in which against that same creamy white background he continually returned to a checkerboard composition whose lines seemed to undulate each square occupied by some geometric figure triangles disks arrows snail or else a little black and white checkerboard or else inscriptions with uneven irregular letters half rubbed out
                                                             The Jardin des Plantes
                                                             Claude Simon

The large book Glas (1974) by Jacques Derrida is also relevant in this context, with the columns of text that feature variations in typefont, so that the book is similar in structure to The Jardin des Plantes by Claude Simon, both showing a trend in French literature inspired by bricolage, a word that Jacques Derrida has considered in an essay, which means an artform that consists of using whatever is at hand to create a work of art: scraps of paper with notes, handwritten manuscript pages with lines connecting different sections, drawings of objects, storyboard sketches for film writing, blueprints of electronic circuits, definitions from the dictionary, encyclopediac knowledge which encompasses the etymology of language, small notebook pages, lecture notes with drawings, tape recordings, and novelistic scenes with dialogue which can be assembled in a box, such as Marcel Duchamp's The Green Box (1934), which contains notes on individual pieces of paper for a large work of art.

The Ricardou intertexts taken from the heart of structuralist and post-structuralist theorizing on the nouveau roman - that avatar of technical virtuosities, especially the non-referentiality of words to things or the the authority of an 'author' - are replayed here fictionally like the tape recording they became of the live, literary critical session.
                                               The Garden of Forking Paths:
                                                                 Intertextuality and
                                                             Le Jardin des Plantes
                                                                              Mary Orr

Jean Ricardou, the literary critic known from the Colloque de Cerisy, an expert on the Nouveau Roman, whose lecture may appear on tape in the novel The Jardin des Plantes has used charts and graphs to show the development of the Nouveau Roman, and in a theoretical novel the idea of literary criticism may become part of the novel itself, with the tape recording representing the idea of mixed media in the novel.

STAVROGIN: What's that? An allegory? 
KIRILLOV: N-no...why? I'm not speaking of an allegory, but of a leaf, only a leaf. The leaf is good. Everything's good.
                                                          The Jardin des Plantes
                                                          Claude Simon

The Jardin des Plantes continues the tradition of the garden, which symbolizes the friendship that the narrator may feel when cultivating a garden, as one cultivates a relationship with another writer, with the intertextuality that develops these parallel lines of thought that converge on the page like flowers of thought.

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 edits Innovative Fiction Magazine, and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations.


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