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Not One Day by Anne Garréta
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Not One Day (2017)

by Anne Garréta

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A Blindness Brought on by Poststructural Theory

I found this book intensely annoying from the very first page.

Garreta is a member of Oulipo, and I understood from reviews that the book is experimental in an Oulipean sense. The reviews I read noted that she begins by setting out an Oulipean constraint, and then doesn't consistently follow it, which is a common Oulipean trait. Her subject is all the women she has loved or desired, and the self-imposed constraint is that she'll write about a different woman each day for the course of the project.

All that is common in Oulipean and other constrained writing, and I was curious to see how it played out here. She opens with an "Ante Scriptum," which begins with the dictum--common in poststructuralism, metafiction, and the Oulipo--that the project of writing is to "rid yourself of your self," meaning to demonstrate, in as many "intricate constructions" as possible, that the notion of the narrator is a fiction, and that the implied author is doubly so, that no self can be sleuthed behind the text. All these are commonplace beginnigs.

What was annoying was the way she positions herself (the author and the author) and her readers on that first page. She adopts a mock condescension:

"You [i.e., I] don't have the heart to tell them [the "few readers"] that no subject ever expresses itself in any narration. And besides, theywould refuse to believe this terrifying bit of news--we're still punch drunk on our little selves." (p. 3)

Notionally, the readers still posit Anne Garreta behind the texts signed in her name, and are still "drunk" enough on their vanities to go on desiring stories of desire. Bravely, she volunteers to put herself right in the center of the practices in which she has no belief:

"So you [i.e., I] have resolved... to pretend to step out onto the slippery slope that seems so natural these days and to subject yourself [myself, and my readers] to the discipline of confessional writing... You will play at a very old game that has become the hobbyhorse of a modernity balking at radical disenchantment: confession..." (pp. 3-4)

This is annoying because the pose here is that the author / narrator has entirely subscribed to "radical disenchantment," but she's going to "play" with the idea of narrating her desires, as if desires were the key to "our subjectivity," as if the narrator in the text that follows actually existed as a subject, not to mention a projection of the named author.

But this has to be entirely wrong. No reader I know, possibly excepting AI readers, is so thoroughly "disenchanted" that they do not see narrators as subjectivities, that they don't see representations of desire as attempts to elucidate subjectivity, that they don't understand narrators as intricately implicated with their authors. I like conceptual poetry as much--maybe after the fall of American conceptualism, more--as anyone, but I do not fit the portrait she paints so glibly and condescendingly.

For me, a first page like this one puts the author in question (and therefore also the narrator). I don't believe Garreta believes in the kind of disenchantment she claims. The truth has to be closer to what the reviewers have noted: this is a book about love and desire, and its degrees of fictionalization or constraint are not relevant to that fact. The reason Garreta sets rules for herself is to "play," as she says, but not in the way she intends it in the line I quoted. She's not "playing" by reconceptualizing old-fashioned narratives of desire as "intricate constructions." She's writing old-fashioned narratives of desire slightly deformed by playfully "intricate constructions."

I wrote all that before I read past the bottom of the second page. I thought it was important to register my absolute non-assent with regard to the opening voice of the book, and my possibly irreparate alienation from the narrative voice that the text s lightheartely and "playfully" proposes. I am an alienated reader from the outset.

*

Now I've read the entire book: twelve stories about desire, love, and love affairs; and a "Post Scriptum" in which the author again speaks for herself.

The "Ante Scriptum" continues with a surprisingly long list of self-imposed rules. In my enumeration:

1. "Not one day without a woman" (that is: each day she'll write about one love affair)
2. Strict fidelity the "the unwinding of memory" (no artificial composition)
3. Five hours per day, "no more, no less"
4. Seven days a week
5. Written in the order in which they come to mind
6. No pen (the book ends by acknowledging the Apple Macintosh)
7. No drafts or notebooks
8. No other rules, nothing other than memory
9. No fiction ("nor will you reconstruct [events] as they might have happened," p. 5)

The twelve stories ("Nights": ten women, a girl, and a Pontiac Grand Am, which she loves because its name reminds her of "grande ame" and "grande dame") are well observed, nicely composed, and entirely conventional. It is difficult to imagine a reader who could keep the "Ante Scriptum" in mind while reading about seductions, drinking, and nightclubs. The only traces of the "Ante Scriptum" are the titles (for example "B*," "D*") and the square-bracketed "Night" number at the end of each "Night."

But my annoyance returned in full force in the "Post Scriptum," not because it begins by excusing the author's lapses from her various rules (that is obvious early on, and it's announced on the back cover), and not because she admits at least one of the twelve stories is a fiction -- but because she returns to her idea of avoiding the fiction of subjectivity and "the idolatry of desire," and spends the last five pages on an unironic, convoluted defense of her complicity in the "empire" of desire. It turns out she remains serious about writing differently, not falling for the fiction of fiction's veracity or psychological truth, not being duped by the production of subjectivity.

What lack of self-awareness, what hypnosis brought on by a lifetime of literary theory, what confidence bolstered by uncritical praise, could produce this raw juxtaposition of poststructural theory and perfectly ordinary storytelling?
  JimElkins | May 6, 2018 |
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An intimate, sensuous exploration of memory and desire, delving into loves and lusts past, by Oulipo member Anne Garreta.

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