Compact by Maurice Roche

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 § 0

Compact: a Typo(graph)ical Innovative Novel that Develops Contemporary Musical Theory

A Book Review by 
David Detrich

Compact (1988) by Maurice Roche was translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti from the original Éditions du Seuil (1966) novel which appeared in the prestigious Tel Quel series edited by Philippe Sollers, and is published by the Dalkey Archive Press. This is a first novel that uses innovative typographic design with alternating type fonts while utilizing the space of the page for an enhanced visuality. In the 1960s when the novel became innovative in design, it also became more sophisticated in narration with a break from the objective descriptions of the Nouveau Roman which verged on scientific or crime writing to become writing In the wake of the Wake, as David Hayman put it, in the TriQuarterly 38 issue dedicated to novelists who were influenced by Finnegans Wake (1938) by James Joyce. The narrator of Compact is recovering from a mysterious health condition called amourosis caused by travel in time and space, and the black humor of the novel implies that the scene of the writing exists as a complex of puns: cranium, body, and pen demonstrating the generative techniques of the Nouveau Roman, yet creating a new genre of avant garde fiction that has become the semiotic novel with the use of visual signs in the graphic design of the page.

You shall be made sleepless even as you are left sightless. While you're penetrating the darkness, you'll penetrate into the night, getting in deeper and deeper, your already failing memory growing proportionally weaker as—at the end of a long lethargy—you become conscious of your condition. (How will you tell day from night?)
                                                           Maurice Roche

The passage from one scene of writing to another often brings us the more advanced in literary style, and we can be thankful that Maurice Roche has written this well crafted novel with a poetic density and visual complexity of thought that places it at the forefront of the avant garde in the 20th Century novel. 

Cardinal Richelieu raises his marshall's baton to bless the armies "A measure for nothing...the father, the son, three, four!—Pacem in terris—God damn them! cries General Custer, charge! with drawn swords!")

     With finger and cod-piece I conducted these paintings in rhythmic figures which became tighter and tighter (in an arithmetic progression) and, by degrees (in the same progression inverted, I forced a slow chromatic ascent, in a gradual increase (on each level a luctual inflection) up to—
                                                              Maurice Roche

The location of Compact is within the mind of the reader/narrator, where the you refers to an imagined character who will perceive this city from a hallucinatory perspective, where every thought may be incorrect, each idea appearing to be false or illusory, or a variation on a master plot. The wise reader will realize the deception, and not be fooled by an unfair critique which may lead to unusual consequences.

I was "down the drain," completely washed out. Among all the accumulated acts of my life, I looked for one that I could really live by. And I wondered if this present event actually belonged to me. It fermented under the lid; but I had serious fade-outs in the dome! Where had I gotten? I certainly identified with someone. I was elsewhere; in a murder

                            at the center
on either                                                  side
                                                               Maurice Roche

When the narrator realizes that he must find "one that he can live by" the novel reaches its second profound moment of realization, because he is trying to chose a direction to follow which involves a literary trend. He foreshadows the novels of Raymond Federman who also writes with innovative typographic design, and whose life was influenced by war.

("—...I was a war-godmother...a son in the war...another war...always war in one's lifetime..."
                                                           his/her shattered laugh whose splinters seemed to chase after each other and fit together badly in the end
                                                            "—I wrote asking him to send me love letters
                                                             Maurice Roche

In a war which side should the narrator chose? Without studying closely he seems to be attracted by the black flag of the pirates, with the glamor of the black culture. As the novel progresses the narrator is indecisive in his perceptions, wanting to stay true to his own ideal of a well-managed society, yet perhaps feeling swept along in the momentum of political events as he transcends the reality which is not up to his expectations.

I felt it from left to right, knowing all the same that the firetruck was passing me (going down Boulevard Saint-Michel) from right to left; I mentally strained to re-establish its true direction, but the best I could obtain was a superimposition of two contrary movements irresistibly pulled toward the right
                                                                           at the same time the whole thing, pulling away from itself, formed a precious object in microstructure;
                                                              Maurice Roche

When the narrator mentions the Boulevard Saint-Michel one is reminded of the short story Blow Up (1966) by Julio Cortazar in which a photographer is walking along the boulevard while taking photographs of Paris, and later makes a photographic enlargement which suggests a potential story to his mind.
     Compact turns to other themes including the Japanese doctor who collects tattoos, and shows a complexity that is much greater than the average novel creating a masterwork of the avant garde. The narrator considers the transvestite theme developed by the Cuban Severo Sarduy who wrote Cobra (1972), and Christ on the Rue Jacob (2005), when Maurice Roche was hosting dinner parties in Paris for guests Severo Sarduy, Roland Barthes, and Mark Polizzotti. 

"he makes small things on large scale—which doesn't keep them from becoming frightening!

"he crushes words until they're reduced to a crackling of dried ink; — ..."onnyuonnthunntrovarrhounnstawn"...
                                                               Maurice Roche
This passage is reminiscent of my own monumental Surrealist novel-in-progress Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topopgraphy which uses art imagery and abstraction in a way that is similar to Compact with its ongoing eroticism, its knowledge of contemporary classical music, and its linguistic theory inspired by Julia Kristeva and the Structuralist movement.

first step:  mark the difference of the present THEORETICAL FICTION to come, perverse/pervasive difference, unique principle (to be) followed:
                                                             A Reader's Guide to
                                                             Circus and Codex
                                                             James Leigh

Compact (1988) and the novels of Maurice Roche are the innovative models (to be) followed: by the new generation of innovative novelists. Substance, a review of theory and literary criticism, published the Maurice Roche issue in 1977 which includes articles and texts by David Hayman, Claudia Reeder, Stephen Heath, James Leigh, and others. 

Compact (1988) reads like the first step in the direction of abstract innovative writing that was followed by the C series of novels Circus, CodeX, Camarade, and the M series Memoire, Macabre, and Maladie Melodie, which represent a life's work of innovative writing that explores archeological and musical themes, novels that are deserving of translation into English, and of further critical attention. Compact is a theoretical novel at the forefront of the avant garde along with the novels of Philippe Sollers, Arno Schmidt, Claude Simon, and Ronald Sukenick. Reading Compact today is relevant for those who are considering the unrest caused by rebel movements, and the romance of life in Paris, where the narrator considers classical music theory in the context of fiction writing while foreshadowing the semiotic novel of the 21st Century.

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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