Antoine Volodine at "The New Inquiry"
Over at The New Inquiry, there’s an extensive, amazing essay about “post-exotic novels” by Antoine Volodine, man of a few pseudonyms, author of Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, winner of the Prix Médicis (for another book that Open Letter will be publishing), and creator of one of the most ambitious literary projects ever.
And here are some choice quotes:
Writing a novel, then, isn’t the expression we should use to sum up the intention preceding a spokesperson’s or post-exotic author’s work. Because it’s more, for him, composing a book that brings together several writing processes—quasi-novelistic, para-novelistic, poetic, sometimes theatrical, specifically post-exotic—with the goal of publicly producing a work that can be read like a novel, which is to say continuously, with a unifying thread, images, characters, and voices that structure and approach a story. Without theorizing here, the goal of every post-exotic author is certainly to give the public a way into, and certainly a stay within the novelistic domains barely or not yet explored by official literature. [. . .]
It’s true that for some time we felt some embarrassment in saying that we were writing novels. We were just starting to take part in the publishing world, we had just one spokesperson (Volodine), and, not having yet made our mark on the publishing world, we were dismayed by the overly close proximity we had to what we might in retrospect call official literature. Without giving up our soul, because we had to keep the contents of our books separate, we felt like were making a somewhat painful concession by accepting the editors’ suggestion to impose that word, which we had to agree to. When we were asked, we said that we preferred to call what we wrote “books.” More than ten years had to pass before the questions of genre could be cleared up, whether it had to do with literary genre (we belong neither to science-fiction literature nor to a dispassionate avant-garde nor to minimalism) or the appropriate category for shelving our texts in bookstores. In that sense, the work Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven was a fundamental step. Not foundational, because post-exoticism’s basis had already been solidly established, but illuminating.
The books mentioned here are unusual, but still novelistic. They’re filled by musical, poetic, or architectural constraints which are often unobtrusive and which, even in their specificity, do not distance them from the novelistic world, at least not enough for punctilious or sectarian academics to dream of refusing them a place. They stir up passions and images, which is how they are novels. They indissolubly interweave fiction and reality, which is how they are novels. They seek, inside and outside prisons, partners in dreams and dreaming, which is how they are novels. And they will stay this way, their authors will pursue in this way their progress in the new twenty-first century, in friendly harmony with their sympathizers, standing alongside and often ignoring official literature, without going to the trouble of following whatever trend there may be, without worrying about whether or not they’re respecting sophisticated narrative theories, ideological propriety, rules set by the academy or the marketplace for best sellers. So they will go on and on existing, not necessarily in a closed circuit, not necessarily bound to confidentiality, but indifferent to classifications, currents, and explanations.
The essay then goes into a “Summary for others as well as for ourselves and our kind or apparent kind” that consists of a bullet-pointed list containing entries like these:
• Neither revolutions nor dreams turn out well. It’s about that, too; about nostalgia overwhelmed by bolshevism which hasn’t fallen apart; about passionate, violently unforgettable and never-forgotten daydreams; about love in a vacuum; about horizons in a vacuum; always within reach, always ruined.
• In We Monks and Soldiers, for example, Lutz Bassmann sadly describes humanity in its terminal phase, already ready to give way to a civilization of tarantulas and land crabs. At the end of Dreams of Mevlido, Volodine suggests that after humanity’s extinction, its ruins will then be inhabited by house spiders and tropical spiders. In Naming the Jungle, the torrential egalitarian speech that declares Gutierrez dying is given to a public consisting solely of caranguejeiras, enormous spiders from the deep forest that several explorers claim to have seen living in organized groups. Several of our books follow in the same vein. We willingly speak to those who will people the future, we do not disregard the possibility that there may no longer be any hominids or related species.
• Humanity, in due time, will itself be shunted aside, without any ambiguity and not without any authority, by intelligent spiders.
Volodine is amazing. And his post-exoticist project is astounding. Go be indoctrinated. Once you start down the Volodine hole, you will be sucked in, reading more and more of his books—six of which are now available—constantly amazed as his world-view and the way all of these ideas and voices play off one another.
Also, special thanks to Jeffrey Zuckerman for translating this essay, and to J.T. Mahany for his work on Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven and Bardo or No Bardo.