The Jardin des Plantes

One of the presiding motifs in Claude Simon’s The Jardin des Plantes is the image of a man – the author, thinly disguised as “S.” – looking in a bathroom mirror and examining himself, the objects in front of him, and the things he sees behind him over his shoulder. As S. playfully makes the mirror image of the room and objects behind him disappear and reappear simply by moving his arm or shoulder, these scenes subtly comment on the nature of autobiography.

At the core of The Jardin des Plantes is a single life-changing event. Over and over S. revisits the fateful days of early May 1940 when his meager, antiquated cavalry unit was quickly overrun by the advancing German army, leading to his capture, imprisonment, torture, and eventual escape. As he revisits his own numerous memories, the recollections of others, the published record, and the archival evidence he has unearthed of the events of those days, the end result is not a definitive story, but a rich, contradictory holographic recreation that presents a different perspective from every angle.

But other threads are woven around this crucial war story. There are excerpts from the trial of Russian poet Joseph Brodsky in which the Soviet judicial system defines him as a parasite. There is the story of the Italian painter Gastone Novelli, who, after being tortured by the Nazis, tried to escape civilization altogether by living with a remote Brazilian tribe. There are various scenes of S. being placed in the role of “the famous author” (Simon won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1985), scenes that take place in cities around the world involving a seemingly endless parade of annoying bureaucrats, government handlers, inept translators, fatuous tour guides. (S. refers to this parade of the “representatives of the global intelligentsia” as the “sideshow phenomena.”) There is a sustained interview on the subject of fear with a journalist who seems set on predetermining the outcome. There is a visit with Picasso. There are ruminations on Proust, Flaubert, Dostoyevsky and other writers. These various threads are sometimes presented as two ongoing columns of text side by side like a movie containing “several screens with different images running simultaneously.” As Simon noted, this is “impossible in speech of writing. But one can try all the same.”

More from Vertigo on The Jardin des Plantes. (And see an awesome two-page spread from the book at the link.)



Recent Posts




Criticism Isn't Free


CR is dedicated to thoughtful, in-depth criticism without regard to what's commercially appealing. It takes tens of hours each month to provide this. Please help make this sort of writing sustainable, either with a subscription or a one-time donation. Thank you!

You could also purchase one of my acclaimed ebooks.





Got Something To Say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

THE SURRENDER

The Surrender is Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to be a woman.


LADY CHATTERLEY'S BROTHER

Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


THE LATIN AMERICAN MIXTAPE

5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

Shop though these links = Support this site

Copyright © 2018. Powered by WordPress & Romangie Theme.