Balzac to Beckett

Balzac to Beckett : Center and Circumference in French Fiction

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Product details

  • Hardback | 350 pages
  • 130 x 190mm
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • 019501264X
  • 9780195012644

Review Text

This is an aggressively complicated, troublesomely impressive study of "center and circumference in French fiction," rather reminiscent of, though often antagonistic to, the critical works of Blanchot and Barthes, Foucault and Bachelard, or the glittering unintelligibility of journals like Tel Quel. Ironically, in a polemical essay published in Partisan Review, it was Professor Bersani himself who pointed out much of the obfuscation present in these writers or their various movements. However, he added a rider: "The best French criticism is, to be sure, a useful antidote to the naive indifference to theory in the best Anglo-Saxon criticism." Alas, in Balzac to Beckett, the professor is awesomely "theoretical," so much so that after densely argued pages of interlocking theories and multiple "thematic selves," one not only longs for a commonsensical English critic like V. S. Pritchett, but one wonders whether beneath the discussions of Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust, Camus, Robbe-Grillet, and Beckett, and the differing struggles "between the self-immobilizing themes and the pull away from such themes toward a greater variety of response to the world and to language," a set of cliche oppositions - classicism and romanticism, impersonal and personal - aren't being decked out in modishly controversial garb. Of course, Bersani is a resourceful thinker and there is much substance to his arguments about the artist's freedom, the relations between words and reality, the psychology of reader and writer, and so forth. Yet the exemplary dichotomy he wishes to draw between the "constant reinvention of the self and the world" in Proust, Stendhal, and Robbe-Grillet, and the evaporation of such interests re the "neutrality" of Flaubert and Beckett is, in the end, much too elusive. Bersani sees a failure of nerve in the latter novelists, but he lacks both a philosophic and aesthetic perspective to make his case truly conclusive. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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