Authors: Robert Pinget
INTRODUCTION BY JOHN UPDIKE
TRANSLATION BY BARBARA WRIGHT
Dalkey Archive Press
Normal • London
Publisher’s note: Originally published in the U.S. by Red Dust, Inc. as three separate volumes:
Between Fantoine and Agapa
(1978). While each of the three books are here reproduced in their entirety, the text has been reset and repaginated to accommodate publication in one volume.
Originally published in French as
Entre Fantoine et Agapa
by La Tour de Feu, 1951,
by Les Editions de Minuit, 1975, and
by Les Editions de Minuit, 1969
Copyright © 1966,1975,1969 by Les Editions de Minuit
English Translation © 1982,1982,1975 by Barbara Wright
Published by arrangement with Red Dust, Inc.
Hugging the Shore
, copyright © 1983 by John Updike, and
, copyright © 1991 by John Updike. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
First Dalkey Archive edition, 2005 All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Pinget, Robert, 1919-1997.
[Selections. English. 2005]
Trio / Robert Pinget; translated by Barbara Wright, p. cm.
Contents: Between Fantoine and Agapa — That voice — Passacaglia.
ISBN 1-56478-408-8 (pbk.: alk. paper)
I. Wright, Barbara, 1915- II. Title.
PQ2631.I638A288 2005 843'.914—dc22
Partially funded by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.
Dalkey Archive Press is a nonprofit organization located at Milner Library (Illinois State University) and distributed in the UK by Turnaround Publisher Services Ltd. (London).
Table Of Contents
Preface to the American Edition
It is with some embarrassment that a critic recommends to readers a writer whom he scarcely understands, whose works are more than a little exasperating, and who furthermore writes with a high degree of colloquiality in a foreign language. Yet Robert Pinget, as glimpsed through translation and through the cloudy layers of his own obfuscations, does seem one of the more noble presences in world literature, a continuingly vital practitioner of what, a weary long half-century ago, was christened
le nouveau roman.
Pinget, unlike Alain Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute, is not a household name on this side of the Atlantic, and his jacket flaps restate the same few facts. He was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1919. He studied law and became a barrister. He went to Paris in 1946, to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, then intending to become a painter. He had an exhibition in Paris in 1950; the same year, he taught drawing and French in England. He was a friend of Samuel Beckett. He died in 1997.
Pinget’s first book,
Between Fantoine and Agapa,
was published in 1951, and ever since he has explored a fictional terrain of which the local city is Agapa and the rather interchangeable villages are Fantoine and Sirancy. One wonders where, on the road between Geneva and Paris, Pinget acquired such a rich and fond intimacy with French country life, and what holds so cosmopolitan and experimental a writer to a provincial landscape of such unvarying ingredients—a moldering chateau; a crowded gossipy village; a sinister forest and quarry. One book jacket volunteers that “Monsieur Pinget divides his time between Paris and a country home in Touraine”; Touraine, then, “garden of France” and natal ground of Descartes, Rabelais, and Balzac, is indicated as the territory of Pinget’s imagination. Though there is occasional mention of jeans and television, his world seems frozen between the two world wars, with a veritably medieval rumor of absolute evil arising from its darker places.
Pressed to name his reasons for writing, Pinget once specified, “the author’s passion for fictional creation, his obsession with the destinies of individuals, his being haunted by imagination and by the efforts required to fathom the only reality there is, his soul, and finally his limitless love of the French language.” This profession appears strikingly orthodox; realistic and indeed conservative impulses are at work in Pinget’s art. On the other hand he has advised an English translator, “Don’t bother too much about logic: everything in
is directed against it.” And a comment of several pages appended to
The Libera Me Domine
enunciates a principled surrealism inimical to logic and intelligible plot: “It is not what can be said or meant that interests me, but the
way in which it is said.
There may well be a new point of view, a modern kind of sensitivity an unusual sort of composition, in my books, but I can’t help it.
One thing is certain, though, and this is that I never know at the outset what I am going to say. For a long time I thought this a weakness, but there is no way of avoiding it, as it is my only strength, the strength that enables me to continue.
My confidence in the mechanism of the subconscious remains essentially unshakeable.”
(a type of Italian or Spanish tune, originally played on the guitar while the musician was passing through the streets) was published in 1969. There has been a mysterious violent death—this time, a body found on a dunghill. Pinget’s training as a barrister shows in his fondness for investigations and inquisitions, and his skepticism regarding their final results: “The story would seem to have begun a long time before this, but talk about prudence, talk about vigilance, it looks as if only two or three episodes have been revealed and that with some difficulty, the source of information being permanently deficient.
A man, called “the master,” sits in a cold room of a shut-up country house (“the garden was dead, the courtyard grassy”) looking at an old book, making notes in the margin; he has just torn the hands off the clock in the room. The body on the dunghill at first appears to be his (“the man sitting at this table a few hours earlier, found dead on the dunghill”) but then it becomes that of an idiot the master adopted in the past who has mutilated himself with a chain saw (or fallen off a ladder or swallowed a sponge). The original flap copy has it that both are dead: “The ‘Master’ ruminates about the death of an idiot who lived with him for which he may or may not be responsible and about his own death. He is found dead over his notebooks.” His jottings, indistinguishable from his thoughts, constitute the book’s text, and give its ebbing hero a certain status of authorship; “like a street-corner musician, he had reconstituted a kind of passacaglia.”
An endgame of a refreshed sort is being played here; though modern art has exhausted art’s possibilities, the world goes on, idiotically. Unable to write stories, Pinget can still write about the popular will to make a story: “This is where people’s imaginations take over and make them start questioning everything again.” A kind of cave art, like Dubuffet’s rough-textured daubs, arises from the voices of hearsay and gossip amid the final dilapidation of the mansions of nineteenth-century narrative.
Yet a certain incidental delight lives in many a well-struck phrase, and a real psychology and topology and sociology press toward us through the words. Unlike Beckett, he has not turned his back on the seethe of circumstance, or, like the mature Joyce, taken refuge in nostalgic reconstruction. For all his flouting of conventional expectations and all the sly comedy of his rambling village talebearers, Pinget strikes one as free of any basically distorting mannerism or aesthetic pose. His recourse remains to the real, without irony. In a France of smiling mandarins and chilly chic, he manifests the two essential passions of a maker: a love of his material and a belief in his method.
One might suppose
Between Fantoine and Agapa
to have a certain geographical focus and to lay claim to the imaginary territory of provincial France where the later fictions—preeminently,
still Pinget’s most impressive and cogent work—more or less take place. Alas one is fooled again, for the little book is a collection of disconnected pranks, or prose poems, which take place not so much between Fantoine and Agapa as between Pinget’s ears. The first chapter, or sketch, or whatever, “Vishnu Takes His Revenge,” deals with the curé of Fantoine who is bored. “He subscribes to theater-magazines. He dips into the fashionable authors. He gleans in learned vineyards. He passes for a scholar, but he’s a rotter.” His parishioners don’t provide much amusement for him: “The inhabitants of Fantoine are hopeless. They drink. They work. They drink. Their children are epileptic, their wives pregnant.” In the title story, “Between Fantoine and Agapa,” a man, his wife, and their child prepare to picnic between these two fictional towns when a sign in a field proclaims, “Alopecia-impetrating [patchy-baldness-obtaining-by-entreaty] prohibited”; this makes them so frightened they skip lunch. Later that night, the child vomits jam and the wife’s hair stands on end. “But not for long, because half an hour later she was as bald as a coot.” But for these two tales, there is no mention of Fantoine or Agapa, and the subject matter gravitates toward the mythic and the facetiously geographic—episodes take place in Manhattan, Menseck, the Forest of Grance, and Florence, and characters include Don Quixote, a parrot called Methuselah, Aeschylus and his maidservant Aglaia, and the Persian King Artaxerxes. As he roams through these prankish fancies, the young Pinget reminds us of various comrades in surrealism: of Alfred Jarry and his frenzies of mechanical precision, ofWilliam Burroughs and his gleeful wars and plagues. Pinget also shows something of the antic sunniness of Raymond Queneau and of Beckett’s clownish desolation. His playful dabbling with history and myth suggests a host of experimental modernists, from Borges to Barth, from the
of the late Michael Ayrton to the
of our contemporary Guy Davenport. Literary experiment and surrealism have certain natural channels into which to run, it would appear, not so unlike the well-worn grooves of realism; nonsense, being an inversion of sense, is condemned to share a certain structure with it, and a finitude of forms. Pinget, even in this early, rather frolicsome and eclectic work, does look forward to what is to become his mature tone. The last and longest piece in
Between Fantoine and Agapa
is titled “Journal,” and though concerned with such absurdities as snowstorms of fingernail clippings and dwarfs sold at auction to be used as candelabra by religious communities, it foreshadows the sinister cruelty and gloom of the later work. An inbred, joyless, cannibalistic sexuality is a recurrent theme in Pinget, and occurs here. Pinget’s preoccupation with the menace of the organic and with the Stygian stirrings of the dead emerges side by side with characteristic flashes of aesthetic theory: “In a work of art we do not try to conjure up beauty or truth. We only have recourse to them — as to subterfuge — in order to be able to go on breathing.”