Thursday, October 01, 1992

by Jim Leftwich

I have in front of me one Anne Frank [In Jerusalem] manuscript, something called the Nouveau Roman Reader, Roudiez's French Fiction Revisited, and a few pages of notes from Butor's research on the technique of the novel. The reason for all of this is that, simply, I would like to consider the Anne manuscript as a poem.

Not because of any defensible logic that i can muster, but as a sort of defiance.

I would like to simply assert that the result of all this blurring of boundaries, all this blending of genres, all this contestation of literary conventions is, for better or worse, the fin de millennium version of the epic poem. I think the nouveau roman view, Butor's view, in any case, would be that all the old genres converge at the site of the new novel. So the new novel contains the poem, the journal, the essay, the narrative etc etc etc. I would like to think instead that what we have is the new poem.

We dispense with all the conventions of prose, other than its shape. We work with the phrase, or with the word, or with elements smaller than the word, as the unit of composition. We are in the province of the lyric poem. But it is the lyric poem conceived at the outset as a fragment: a fragment of itself, of its ideal, of its traditional manifestations. From this conception it is imagined, projected, into the future as the unfolding of a series, or an aggregate, of fragments. The sum of the fragments is the new poem. So, if nothing else, as a way of circumventing the parameters of the language group, the writers of the nouveau roman offer an entrance. In order to imagine this new poem we will have to begin in a textual territory which is not already mapped by poets. If we remain in territory mapped by poets, we will find that there is no exit, nothing new to do, no new approach, nothing left but the rereading of previous readings, twice removed from any text before us. So, by considering the Anne manuscript in relation to the nouveau roman, in order to contextualize it as standing at the entrance to a new poetry, we manage to avoid slipping into any of the lineages prescribed for us by the traditions of poetry.

What I want to say is that the new poetry is defined as such by what it isn't: it isn't, for starters, poetry, at least not by any conventional standards. Now we're beginning to get somewhere. Raymond Federman (who should probably be an honorary member of the nouveau roman group), says somewhere that in his novel The Voice In The Closet the text begins to speak, begins in fact to chastise the author for failing to get it, the text, right. He says he know of one other instance of this in literature, Beckett's texts for nothing. This is a starting point (Roudiez suggests that some of Phillipe Sollers' texts function in similar ways).

We are in danger of moving beyond the written, beyond text which was written by someone, and beyond text which is intended primarily for prospective readers. We are nearing the possibility of text which writes itself for itself - facilitated, perhaps, by what once was called an author. Tthe question of readers will no longer be at issue (or it will be met with utter indifference). This is what is being opened to us, and it has about it almost the aura of a primal poetry, as if, after all these years, we might finally be arriving at the possibility of language speaking, of language writing. It seems unlikely that it will primarily write for us (we can do that ourselves).