Friday, October 19, 2012

Notes for a Commonplace Book (10)

André Gide (in the voice of Édouard):

To strip away from the novel every element that does not specifically belong to the novel. Just as photography in the past liberated painting from its concern for a certain sort of accuracy, so the phonograph will no doubt shortly purge the novel of the reported dialogue on which realists so often pride themselves. Exterior events, accidents, injuries, belong to the cinema; the novel should abandon them to it. Even the description of the characters does not seem to me to properly belong to the genre. No; this doesn't seem to me the business of the pure novel (and in art, as in everything else, purity is the only thing I care about). No more so than it is the business of drama. And let no one argue that the playwright does not describe his characters merely because the spectator is intended to see them recreated in the flesh on the stage — for how often does a stage actor irritate and baffle us because he is so unlike the person our own imagination had figured better without him? The novelist does not as a rule give sufficient credit to the reader's imagination.

(From The Counterfeiters. I have messed liberally with Dorothy Bussy's translation.)

I'm not sure if Édouard's manifesto constitutes good advice or bad advice at this point; it certainly seems to have been prophetic, at least of later tendencies in the French novel. Having just finished reading Bleak House, which would seem to embody, in its glorious way, everything that Édouard wished to jettison, I find it alternately bracing and appalling. What exactly is the role of the novel in a culture in which the dominant forms of narrative are moving pictures? (And remember that Gide put these words in Édouard's notebook in 1925, before talkies and long before television.) Is the novel simply to be (as many novels now are) a transcript of what we would see and hear if we were watching the same story on TV?

On an unrelated note, can there be any doubt that Cortázar's Morelli is simply Édouard under another guise?

NB: Quoted at least twice in Cortázar's letters, including one addressed to Mario Vargas Llosa in 1970: "Toutes choses sont dites déjà; mais comme personne n'écoute, il faut toujours recommencer." (André Gide)

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