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Television by Jean-Philippe Toussaint

Television (1997)

by Jean-Philippe Toussaint

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Humorous and philosophical contemporary (1997) French fiction from Les Editions de Minuit, a publishing house born out of the French Resistance during WWII and noted for its catalog of avant-garde and, more recently, postmodern novels. La Television tells the story of a French historian on sabbatical in Berlin, ostensibly to write a study on the artist Titian Vecellio. Late in the novel he realizes that Titian's initials are T.V., an amusing coincidence, since, while his pregnant wife and young son are away in Italy for the summer, he decides to stop watching television. The novel describes in detail his daily routine, which turns out to be one of complete procrastination or writer's block: his "work"-life consists in thinking about his subject while swimming at the local pool, staring for hours at paintings in the Dahlem museum, or sunbathing nude (the local custom) in the park. Tales of the protagonist's misbegotten and entirely negligent role as plant sitter for his upstairs neighbors, away on vacation like most Berliners during the months of July and August, and of a ride in a 3-passenger airplane piloted by a female student of his reading-obsessed friend John (a flight that takes off from a seedy airstrip formerly used by the Nazis and the Soviets), are particularly amusing. Throughout the novel, the central character's definition of "not watching television" slips and shifts as he wrestles with and examines this most pervasive of cultural wastelands and backgrounds, purveyor of what he ultimately classifies as "diverse parasitic information." Although I read La Television in French, it is available in translation as well. ( )
1 vote Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
This is a short, comic novella about an author who can’t write and can’t maintain his vow to give up TV. The tone is serious as the narrator contemplates the meaning of television and gives deadpan descriptions of the ridiculous situations he creates – meeting the head of the agency funding him while in the nude, going to great lengths to get a fern out of a refrigerator. It’s also a book about nothing. The author spends a lot of time describing everyday events - swimming, going to the museum, walks and dinner out. I enjoyed the narrator’s analyses of television in general – but can’t agree with his assertion that TV can’t provoke any kind of emotional reaction. I also liked the bits where the narrator works himself up to work but only ends up writing two words – active procrastination. The book does on a bit, but nicely done – will read more by him. ( )
1 vote DieFledermaus | Nov 22, 2011 |
Belgian literature at its best
  jon1lambert | Oct 17, 2008 |
This is an amusing novella about a man on a sabbatical in Berlin, hoping to work on his "monograph" about Titan, who gives up watching television. The book demonstrates the pervasiveness of television in society. A wry glimpse into an everyday, mundane, and delightfully humorous life, which is unrecognized by the narrator. Delightful if a bit frothy. ( )
  gwendolyndawson | Mar 29, 2008 |
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I quit watching television
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
The amusingly odd protagonist and narrator of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's novel is an academic on sabbatical in Berlin to work on his book about Titian. With his research completed, all he has left to do is sit down and write. Unfortunately, he can't decide how to refer to his subject—Titian, le Titien, Vecellio, Titian Vecellio—so instead he starts watching TV continuously, until one day he decides to renounce the most addictive of twentieth-century inventions.

As he spends his summer still not writing his book, he is haunted by television, from the video surveillance screens in a museum to a moment when it seems everyone in Berlin is tuned in to Baywatch.

One of Toussaint's funniest antiheroes, the protagonist of Television turns daily occurrences into an entertaining reflection on society and the influence of television on our lives.
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"The self-possessed protagonist and narrator of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's novel is an acedemic on sabbatical in Berlin. He plans to write a groundbreaking study of Titian, but after a couple of months, all he's completed is "When Musset." He blames his obsession with watching TV for preventing him from writing more, so he decides to stop watching television all together (after the end of the Tour de France, of course). Still unable to write his book, he is haunted by television, from the video surveillance screens in a museum to a moment when it seems everyone in Berlin is tuned in to Baywatch. One of Toussaint's funniest antiheroes, the protagonist of Television turns daily occurrences into comic nightmares about the influence of television on our lives."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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