Place Names: A Brief Guide to Travels in the Book

Overview

Which came first, words or things? Are your words yours, or someone else's? And what do the Crusades have to do with it? And what do ants have to do with it? Jean Ricardou has been given something of a bad rap: he's widely seen as a difficult writer, or worse yet, as an intensely serious one. However, he easily sheds this weighty reputation in his hilariously playful new novel about the notoriously complex world of literary theory. Supplying his readers with everything they need to know to navigate this world, ...

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Dalkey Archive Press, 10/17/2007, Paperback, Brand New!

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Overview

Which came first, words or things? Are your words yours, or someone else's? And what do the Crusades have to do with it? And what do ants have to do with it? Jean Ricardou has been given something of a bad rap: he's widely seen as a difficult writer, or worse yet, as an intensely serious one. However, he easily sheds this weighty reputation in his hilariously playful new novel about the notoriously complex world of literary theory. Supplying his readers with everything they need to know to navigate this world, Ricardou uses his own irreverent interpretation of deconstructive theory to ask questions about language and history, theory and life, and all the intriguing connections between them.

Dalkey Archive Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A little bit Borges and a little bit Calvino, French postmodernist Ricardou's newly translated 1969 novel proves a circuitous trek through a fictive landscape of eight metaphorically named places. Bannière, Beaufort, Belarbre, Belcroix, Cendrier, Chaumont, Hautbois and Monteaux-each gets its own chapter, and each serves as a source from which language springs, along with the whimsically opaque plot. In the medieval village of Bannière stands the 19th-century museum house of the late fictional artist Albert Crucis ("simply the genitive of the Latin crux, 'cross' "), where a young traveler, whose name is not revealed until midbook, begins his visit to the area. He will run into an antiquarian dealer named Epsilon (l'espion, "the spy") and an elusive woman in a red dress, named Atta, who shares his passion for recondite research into the work of Crucis. The two travelers dig for clues in the artist's allegorical paintings, which depict the eight places in question. Ricardou is a practitioner of the nouveau roman, and his experimental work frees the narrative from conventional rules and plunges it, delightfully, into quandary, contradiction and travel-literature parody. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Is there inherent meaning in language, or, in assigning names to places and things, are we merely groping blindly for meaning that might not exist? Ricardou seems to advocate the latter in his latest deconstructionist work, a novel-cum-metafictional guidebook, which owes much to the tradition of the New Novel in its refusal to adhere to any conventional notions of storytelling. A notoriously difficult writer, Ricardou leavens his latest work with a much-needed playfulness as he describes villagers' attempts to construct historical significance based on the implications of the names of the places where they reside. His sentences, freed from the mundane task of propelling the plot forward, shimmer on the page like pearls dug out of the muck of ordinary language. His powers of observation are truly daunting, and his microscopic attention to detail, including the description of a single ant struggling for its life on a diminishing dry spot of rock, make one feel less content to accept meaning and names at face value and more interested in the kind of ruthless examination of the world at which Ricardou excels. Recommended for literary fiction collections.
—Emily Benson

Kirkus Reviews
This novel in the guise of a travel guide might intrigue literary theorists but will likely exasperate readers looking for plot, character, motivation and meaning. There was a period during the late '60s and '70s when college students who fancied themselves intellectuals devoured the nouveau roman ("new novel") of Robbe-Grillet as avidly as they did the existentialism of Sartre and Camus. Even then, Ricardou remained little-known outside his native France, though this new translation of his 1969 novel shows even more of an absurdist's sense of humor than most literary experimentalists. The prose at the outset is as descriptively flat as a travel guidebook, with the author working his way through towns that are not only organized alphabetically but geographically, and perhaps thematically as well. Along the way, the reader notices the recurrence of a prominent painter of the region, Albert Crucis, whose name (or pseudonym) translates as "white cross." All of the place-name translations may (or may not) have significance as well, or so the reader might learn from Atta and Olivier, two Crucis scholars whose novel this becomes as it progresses. Or does it? It turns out that one or both of the scholars have already read this book, at least the preceding pages, as part of their research, and thus ponder whether they have any existence outside these pages. Later, the novel introduces a first-person "I" who not only purports to be the author, but who provides insight into the narrative (or non-narrative) strategy and predicts how the novel will be received: "The publication of this work will allow some to advance further down the path toward coherence, but from a predictable majority, I have nodoubt, it will garner nothing but sarcasm and occasional threats." The reader wondering what it all means will find himself in the position of the character with a magnifying glass monitoring the movement of ants. Fiction about the essence of fiction challenges the reader to distinguish between what's allegory and what's arbitrary.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781564784780
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2007
  • Series: French Literature Series
  • Pages: 126
  • Product dimensions: 5.46 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Jean Ricardou is a French writer and theorist of the nouveau roman literary movement. Between 1962 and 1971, Ricardou was on the editorial board of French avant-garde journal Tel Quel

Dalkey Archive Press

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