13 March 2007

Merde Alors

Filed under: First Lines, Language — ktismatics @ 5:10 pm

Il existe plus d’une manière de ne pas lire, dont la plus radicale est de n’ouvrir aucun livre.

– PIerre Bayard, Comment Parler Des Livres Que L’On N’A Pas Lus? 2007

The book I posted on yesterday? I just bought it.

I grabbed the clipping about it from the International Herald Tribune, looked up the French title on Amazon.fr and wrote it on the clipping, then headed up the street to the bookstore. It’s about a two minute walk from door to door. After a cursory look around I showed my clipping to a young woman who works at the store. Ah — juste la, she said pleasantly, pointing to the display table next to her. Two copies left. It’s a classic French-looking book: paperback, plain type font, no cover art, no endorsements on the back — just a 1-paragraph précis. I head for the checkout line, hand over my debit card, punch in my PIN, get my receipt for 15 euros, and, book in hand, out the door I go.

I take it home and look at it. It’s a short book — only 162 pages. That’s encouraging. The last time a friend lent me a French book it was a meditation on poetry by Dominique de Villepin, the Prime Minister, something like 700 pages long. Imagine Dick Cheney writing a book about poetry. “I only read a hundred pages,” I admitted to Jöel when I returned it to him. “I have not read it,” he shrugged.

I flip to the front looking for the table of contents and it’s not there — that’s because French books put the table of contents at the back of the book. Also, the title and author written down the spine of the book? It’s flipped upside down compared to American books: the writing faces toward the right and reads from bottom to top as you look at it on the shelf. This book is part of the publisher’s Paradoxe series. Several other titles by Beyard are on the list: books about Maupassant, Freud, Proust, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare — psychoanalytic lit crit. Looking at the other authors’ names I recognize Deleuze, who has been the subject of a post at Church and Postmodern Culture where I’ve written a couple comments, including one alluding to the book that’s now in my hand. The other authors I’m pretty sure I don’t know, but I can tell they’d make good reading in pomo circles: The Aesthetics of Suicide; The Demon of Tautology; Listening: The Aesthetics of Espionage; The Dancer of Solitudes. The X of Y seems to be the formula for a good French pomo title. How about The Rigors of Caffeine? The Desolation of Masculinity? I should write those maybe. Then people could study Peyard’s book so they’ll know how not to read my books.

I turn to the beginning. It starts, as many books do, with a quote. This one is by Oscar Wilde: Je ne lis jamais un livre dont je dois écrire la critique; on se laisse tellement influencer. It’s not fair: Wilde wrote in English, but this quote is in French, so now I have to retranslate it back into English. “I never read a book dont I have to write a critique: one…” — what? “… it influences one too much”? Something like that: “I never read a book when I have to write a critique: it influences you too much.” LOL. Jokes aren’t nearly as funny when you have to work so hard to get them.

Next is a “Table of Abbreviations.” I don’t want to think about that right now. Next, the Prologue — skip that too for now. First section: Des Manières de Ne Pas Lire — Ways of Not Reading. First chapter: Les Livres Que L’On Ne Connaît Pas — The Books that One Does Not Know. French is big on the impersonal construction: one reads, one does. In English it sounds stilted. So the English title of the book: How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read — “you haven’t read,” not the direct translation “one hasn’t read.”

Now the first line: Il existe plus d’une manière de ne pas lire, dont la plus radicale est de n’ouvrir aucun livre. What does it mean? “There exists more than one way not to read, dont the most radical is not to open aucun book.” I’ve got the gist, so I don’t really need the two words I’m not sure of. Dont appeared in the Wilde quote: there I decided it meant “when,” but that doesn’t quite work here. How about “of which”? Aucun I think means “any.” “There’s more than one way not to read, of which the most radical is not to open any book.” Pretty good. I’m looking up the two words.

The French-English dictionary doesn’t give a definition for dont; it refers me to paragraph 79. Where’s that? Way in the back, in special topics, just after conjugation of irregular verbs. Dont: of whom, of which, from which, on which, etc. So I’m good — it’s a multipurpose word, the meaning of which depends on context. Now, aucun: “no, none, not any.” So I’m good again, got it right the first try. “There’s more than one way not to read, the most radical of which is not to open any book.” Ha ha ha. This book is going to be a pomo laugh riot. Maybe by tomorrow I’ll be able to tell one about the second sentence.



  1. A number of non-comments:

    1. That was funny.

    2. “…two minute walk from door to door.” Man. I’d be screwed. And broke. And the only time I’d ever leave my house would be for that two minute walk.

    3. “There’s more than one way not to read, of which the most radical is not to open any book.” That’s funny.

    4. “I should write those maybe. Then people could study Peyard’s book so they’ll know how not to read my books.” Also funny.

    5. “Imagine Dick Cheney writing a book about poetry.” Both funny and paintful.

    6. “I showed my clipping to a young woman who works at the store. Ah — juste la, she said pleasantly…” Also funny. French people aren’t pleasant. Unless they are Laticia Casta. Next thing you’re going to tell me you got a large portion of food at a restaurant two blocks down. Served of course by a beautiful, well-figured young French woman just about my age. Once in Paris on my way out of a restaurant I said to my pretty waitress, to parody my own non-Frenchness with my best and most exaggerated Southern accent, “Merci beaucoup” (Imagine what THAT sounded like, lol). Her response? “Yeah”, with a large dose of contempt embedded in both her voice and her eyebrows.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 13 March 2007 @ 6:04 pm

  2. Based on your personality profile I’m surprised you didn’t decide the waitress was flirting with you. Or maybe you did.


    Comment by ktismatics — 13 March 2007 @ 7:26 pm

  3. Of course she was! Ha ha. Actually, I think it might be like in the movies where the gal starts off hating the guy because she thinks he’s an arrogant (American) prick; then she finds he has a heart, and her’s melts for his sexy arse (I went with the Irish version)! Ha ha. Actually I was generally enjoying myself so much in Europe that I was always either deeply meditative or extremely goofy – often with no transition whatsoever. It was pretty entertaining for those around me. Now I’m not as entertaining as I once was. Bills, merde!


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 13 March 2007 @ 7:43 pm

  4. This could be a Borges-type process. You blog about every step of the way as you translate/read a book about not reading the book. In this sense you are kindof making a map of the countryside…..Meanwhile perhaps I will not read the book and blog about the book, anyway – blog about what I have not read and what I think it is that I have not read.


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 13 March 2007 @ 8:49 pm

  5. Wait… but then… you’d… oh SHIT!!!


    Comment by ktismatics — 13 March 2007 @ 11:06 pm

  6. Sorry, I just got back from watching The Departed and I was feeling dialogical. We came out of the theater, two minutes to walk home, sort of behind the bookstore. Some guy, right in front of the theater, is telling a woman, right up in her face, in some non-French foreign-accented English, says to her “I’m not interested in this pathetic dialogue.” We walk on. Across the street, second floor balcony, a guy with a cell phone to his ear, silent. We walk on. The outdoor tea garden, gated shut, several people sitting around the bar. A couple walking behind us, the woman says to the man, “brrrt brrrt,” and laughs. We reach our apartment. We are never leaving this apartment again.


    Comment by ktismatics — 13 March 2007 @ 11:11 pm

  7. But John your doors is like a mouth for sensible and intelligible speech! The hinges are signs of hope! He he he he he…but I know how you feel, most definitely.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 14 March 2007 @ 5:29 am

  8. I wrote a reply yesterday, but unfortunately this is a busy week for me and it was lost… My eldest son is going to a chess competition this afternoon and is excited about it.

    I thought about your post.
    This is my reply.

    Bookshop. Ktismatics, book. Motivation?

    Theory (1) writing is about content = ideas
    Theory (2) writing is about particular events = details

    is it possible to write without content or details?


    Comment by Odile — 14 March 2007 @ 10:13 am

  9. Odile –

    So your son has an intellectual enthusiasm and a talent for it. Chess is more interesting than many school classes.

    Here I’ve written a short essay on a book about not reading. Perhaps I should print a copy of my blog post, take it to the bookstore, and place it inside the remaining copy of the book. So far no success with the agents on my last book: 0 for 5. So my book will not appear in the bookstore in the near future.

    You have asked a puzzle: I’m thinking about a book that contains neither content nor details, neither ideas nor events. What is this book like? Possibilities: (1)It contains silence. (2)It contains madness. (3)It is a machine for the reader to make content and details.


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 March 2007 @ 12:04 pm

  10. There’s an entire section on rejection of manuscripts at a certain forum of writers. Apparently there are famous writers that got rejected hundreds of times before they finally found a publisher.
    They encourage you to keep on submitting.
    I’ve been thinking that there might be a market in the Netherlands for your book, even in English.
    BTW A substantial part of my readers of the English blog are Dutch, of my French blog are Canadian or Chinese and of my Dutch blog are American. lol


    Comment by Odile — 14 March 2007 @ 3:24 pm

  11. You have asked a puzzle: I’m thinking about a book that contains neither content nor details, neither ideas nor events. What is this book like? Possibilities: (1)It contains silence. (2)It contains madness. (3)It is a machine for the reader to make content and details.

    (a) a book that you don’t have to read
    (b) it looks like most books if we cannot add meaning
    (at 3) it is a projection screen, a big projection screen, similar to Bill’s screen in your other post.


    Comment by Odile — 14 March 2007 @ 5:48 pm

  12. Yes, those are good answers. Another answer: a book that you’ve never heard of. Another answer: a book that has not been written.

    I’m pessimistic about the publishing. Most people who buy hundreds of lottery ticket never win the jackpot; most people who start a business fail; most writers who send a hundred inquiry letters never get published.

    Do you think there are differences between publishing in Europe versus America? Or differences in the kinds of books people like to read? Certainly in psychology, the French bookstores carry many more books about Freud and psychoanalysis than do American bookstores. In America, most religious books are either fundamentalist or “New Age.”


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 March 2007 @ 6:35 pm

  13. Yes, I do think different books are read in different countries. Well, it at least applies to music. My brother used to be in the business of discovering American music that would be a success in the Netherlands but was hardly known in New York where the music originated.
    As you said, in France the table of content is in the rear.
    And in a questionnaire about religion, you don’t measure belief by counting how much people spent in the Netherlands. This was said to be a typical difference with the US.
    I’m thinking of dutch students, journalists, writers,…


    Comment by Odile — 15 March 2007 @ 12:06 am

  14. As you may have seen on this blog, especially the triple digits post that’s still ongoing, evangelical Christians remain strongly pro-Bush and pro-Iraq war, whereas those in the rest of the world mostly hold the opposite view. Does God say different things in different countries, or is it the same message from God but with different creative interpretations?


    Comment by ktismatics — 15 March 2007 @ 12:19 am

  15. “… contains silence…” – anyone here like John Cage?

    As for Bush, ect…they’re American! Of course they’re pro-America! Its simple. Stupid (maybe), but simple. I know that wasn’t the point, but…


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 15 March 2007 @ 1:40 am

  16. I’ve asked this one before on other blogs but gotten no replies. Let’s say that God tells each person whom to vote for in an election. Then say each person hears God’s instruction correctly and votes accordingly. Candidate A gets 53% of the Christian vote; candidate B gets 47%. Maybe God can see every situation many different ways. Each hypothetical situation suggests a different candidate as the best choice. So in the end Candidate A is the best choice in 53% of God’s hypothetical scenarios while Candidate B is best in 47%.

    And on the world stage maybe God wanted America to fight this war but he wanted nearly all the other countries to be against the war.


    Comment by ktismatics — 15 March 2007 @ 5:45 am

  17. John I don’t have an answer to that, really. Except:

    Which pretty much I think leaves your question unanswered…for me contentedly, to a degree at least. Maybe we could redirect, and ask how that relates back to your book. At which point – for me – the crux of the matter of the question of whether the right books are being published or how to go about publishing the right books – like with the question of how justice should be performed or carried out or whether justice is being carried out properly – isn’t really a question of whether that book or justice-effort “are right”, but whether that action, whatever it is, is undertaken in and with the Holy Spirit…with its evident fruits. Its an iconic question. At the tail end of a conversation on the topic, I heard a shaman – the honored and respected gues of the gathering – say once in regard to the Iraq war: “Pray to the god of war, and you get war.” With that he up and left the room; and those were his only words on the matter.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 15 March 2007 @ 6:19 am

  18. Oh and of course there’s also that element of, “Uuuhhh…God…why is my Dad dying again?” And that question in particular leads me iconically to trust and intimacy with God. What in legalistic and habitualized Christian circles is labeled “Its all in God’s plan”, or however you wanna say it. Point being, though, that it all points back and forth toward Him.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 15 March 2007 @ 6:22 am

  19. Jason –

    I like that David Fitch post a lot. Also Dostoevsky. My wife’s church is in the middle of Nice, and a lot of beggars hang around during the service. Sometimes they come in the church, apparently with the intent of robbing unattended pocketbooks. They’re very challenged about what to do.

    Dostoevsky is challenging. I would call him edifying, but he’s not a purveyor of kitsch. That’s my view of publishing: pray to the god of kitsch, and you get whole shelves full of kitsch books. Doestoevsky’s is a prophetic voice, and the hope he offers often seems desperate or nonexistent, but I find more life in him than in those who find tidy solutions. Is it possible, per Hegel, that God doesn’t know how it’s all going to resolve itself either? That God too is emerging?


    Comment by ktismatics — 15 March 2007 @ 12:31 pm

  20. Me? I’d say Jesus did’t necessarily know the resurrection was going to happen. But I believe in the present risenness. That implies a lot, of course.

    And you left church; but your wife remains?


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 15 March 2007 @ 4:25 pm

  21. Well… being critical is not the same as being against, for one.

    Christian in the Netherlands are highly educated and read a lot. They are open to science and debate about creationism.


    Comment by Odile — 15 March 2007 @ 9:55 pm

  22. As for church, my wife and I sort of traded places: I went out, she went in.

    I’m glad to hear about the Dutch Christians. Maybe I’ll be able someday to generate more enthusiasm about publishing options. I like the Netherlands. Did you know that the Dutch are now the tallest nationality in the world? Average Dutch man is 6″1″ tall. Here in France I look like a giant, but when I go to Holland I’m just an average guy.


    Comment by ktismatics — 16 March 2007 @ 9:12 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: