The worry of literature

Thinking about current literature from the invisible, the irrational and the strange, this is the original line that Anne-Sophie Donnarieix follows, in order to bring to light her capacity to reinvent herself under the sign of anxiety.

The first observation of Donnarieix's book takes the place of an exercise of appearance in the field of criticism: the supernatural, this power of shadow, has established itself today as an important novelistic subject, particularly in France. If this trend is part of a history, linked in particular to surrealism and the renewal of spiritual literature of the interwar period, it nevertheless stands out by a more frank, more lofty inscription of these shadowy powers (p. 16) within the texts.

This is undoubtedly one of the expressions of return of the story by which the French literary fact was illustrated at the turn of the 1980s, this nuance being that it is the forms and uses of the narrative which appear directly questioned through recourse to the invisible and the irrational. The particularity of the contemporary supernatural is in fact that it no longer operates in the manner of an irruption into reality which tilts its foundations. It further testifies to a completely different relationship, dominated by uncertainty and confusion, which is even manifested in the narration and style.

Also, for Donnarieix, the multiplication and diversification of the forms of the supernatural in the novel strongly reflect what is at stake in this famous return of the storythe observation of which is now well established in the critical discourse on postmodernity, that is ultimately a triple return: the return of the relTHE back to history and the return of the subject (p. 24).

It is still necessary to emphasize that if there is any question of a return of rel, it is to the extent that reality can henceforth only appear porous and unstable. Likewise for the return of the storywhich returns a story marked by blanks, haunted, only managing to write from the very place of disappearance and the ineffable. Finally, as for the return of subjectthis must be understood less as its triumph than as its ever-increasing questioning, the hour when the foundations of subjectivity open up to new possibilities (whether we think of transhumanism or the requalification of links with the living, in particular animal and plant).

In other words, three returns which place literature in an increasingly reflective and thorny relationship itself. Three returns as so many clues to a disenchanting worldstretched between the temptation of an archaic sublime and the realization of an irremediable loss that nothing can ward off.

Between the lines

It is immediately with a political aim that contemporary writings of the supernatural can be understood. All of them criticize a rational and dualistic modernity. Criticizing the clear imperialism of a certain Western model through irrationality often even amounts to probing the repressed irrationality of the first who, under the mask of reason, logic and the most assertive positivism, was able to justify the worst atrocities, as Adorno and Horkheimer.

By proposing other interpretive models, fictions of the supernatural rehabilitate marginal and discredited knowledge and imaginations, because they are deemed obsolete or unobjectivable. Without falling into idealism or unequivocal nostalgia. thanks to their processes of derealization and decentering, these fictions rather invent new spaces conducive to the recovery of non-dichotomous thinking (p. 146) which stretch the limits of reality, but without becoming a goal in itself.

Real pistmological instruments (p. 23), fictions of the supernatural thus mobilize a vision of the world and of history which can no longer be presented as clear and unitary. Conversely, it appears profoundly fragmented, opaque and incoherent, its modes of representation fitting into a anti-systemic aesthetic that feeds on its own unassignable character (p. 18).

going against the taxonomies, the contemporary supernatural is therefore not reduced to the marvelous, nor to the fantastic, nor to magical realism, nor even the unusual. If he borrows from all these literary genres some of their codes or their motifs, he writes between the lines, in the name of a principle of instability in which the aesthetic effects that it generates are recognized as much as its elusive generic identity.

Haunting of history, resistance of literature

To find our way, Donnarieix suggests following the trail of two literary figures serving as interpretative paradigms: that of the specter, already partly documented, and that of the shaman. With the first, she explores the crisis affecting the historicity regime of our modernity. The spectrality of the contemporary novel would in fact be the sign of a suffering memory. Ghosts, shadows and ghosts would appear there to express the impossible mourning of the past, either through forgetting or lack of transmission, or because of the incommensurability of the trauma.

As with Alain Fleischer, the rehashing of writing, its cyclicality, can then become the marks of a stopped time, stuck on an event so unspeakable that speech fails there, with no other alternative than to repeat itself in the mode of haunting. As with Marie NDiaye, the specter sometimes induces, on the other hand, a form of resistance against the dissolution or hypervisibility implied by contemporary social frameworks. A bulwark against modern life, he then teaches in his own way an art of escape which is, first and foremost, an art of survival.

Far from being just a threatening echo of the past, the specter is in some way still traceable. It allows us to see and read what, even in its eclipse, tends to persist. As a result, contemporary spectral writings generally relate to what the author calls a aesthetics of the shroud:

A writing which, through its power of incarnation, is not content to express mourning, but truly appear the faces of the dead as if through a process of literary transubstantiation, for an exalted but funereal and resigned representation of the memorial dynamic. (pg. 234)

The main thing here is that history remains open, it cannot reconcile with herself (p. 170). A principle of irresolution, the literary spectrum ruins all teleology and all historical coherence in order to imagine – without hope, but with tenacity – new forms of writing history where the margins and erasures would finally be taken into account.

A dsax subject

in the shadow of shamanism, Donnarieix invites us to explore another side of contemporary fictions of the supernatural, which this time involves a meditation on human becoming in times of catastrophe. No form of idealism here again: far from being the symptom of an aspiration for a new superman, the shaman rather attests to a crisis of the subject in its very definition.

An interstitial character, the shaman privilegedly embodies a non-binary logic, capable of holding opposites together: spirits and living things, humans and animals, men and women. It is therefore the contours of the notion of the human and our frameworks of thought which are irremediably disrupted with it.

Now it seems that such dizziness is the prerequisite for an authentic recasting of politics by the means specific to literature. Only disturbing mutations, a continuous power of metamorphosis, seem capable of recounting the destitution of man from a place once dreamed of as stable and hegemonic, with the aim of initiating new relationships between oneself and the other, and perhaps more broadly with all living things. .

However, Donnarieix takes care to specify how such a conception quickly encounters a limit among many writers. Whatever their bodily transmigrations and their fantastic bestiaries, they only speak of animals to speak of humans. Fundamentally anthropocentric, their texts rarely construct a horizontal relationship with the animal, nor do they turn towards them to imagine other sensitivities, other forms of life and relationships.

Donnarieix also does not forget to pose with finesse the question of the exoticism that literary shamanism maintains in Christian Garcin and Antoine Volodine, between trivialization and fascination. Perhaps, however, we pass a little too quickly over the ambivalences of intersex and the mixing of genders that it also implies.

To include the character of the witch alongside the specter and the shaman would certainly have required too much development, within an already substantial work. This rapprochement, however, remains to be considered in the future, on the one hand because of the growing success that the witch has encountered over the last two decades, on the other hand as it makes us think about the problem of the supernatural precisely at the intersection of the issues of gender and of the body.

Towards a critical reenchantment

To worry, to short-circuit the apparent clarity of today's literary realism is not the only merit of Dark Powers. Its strength also holds the melancholy aim (p. 313) which he frees from the contemporary regime of fiction, which now only writesclosest to discomfort (p. 314) which makes up our postmodern condition. Whether this unease is of an epistemological, historical or ontological nature, the important thing seems above all to resolve nothing, to leave its part to the night, while maintaining the literary gesture on this paradoxical thread to which Donnarieix gives the name of critical reenchantment (p. 16).

For all these reasons, we must hope that his book will be able to generate extensions and responses, as the material it treats, through subtle reading exercises and a true art of synthesis, is more than just interested in aesthetic and political questions than in today's literature. poses to us, particularly as to its very function.

What contemporary writings of the supernatural carry is an acute and unequivocal reflection on the powers and limits of literature, which of course refers to the hypothesis of its transitivity. A hypothesis that certain novels, like those of Sylvie Germain, go so far as to make the language their own, by means of a scriptural supernatural (p. 42), whose effect unheimlich sometimes has less of its inscription in the narration than what the verbal work produces: incandescence of words, jarring order of scenes, expressionism of visions.

Here again, however, we are not Or in the celebration, Or in the condemnation. The path taken is resolutely critical, constantly oscillating between deploration and wonder, irony and nostalgia. With her, it is never a question of repair (p. 314) the world, as Donnarieix reminds us. More than reparation or compassion, the writing of the supernatural arises from an oblique and painful knowledge, conscious of itself and of what it will continually lack. Her worry is, however, less what inhibits her than what revives her from the very place of her disappointment. A Pascalian exercise, this writing is the one that chooses to live in discomfort in order to measure itself against the linou of the world.

In this vast project of literary disquiet, where codes and forms betray a Malay but stubborn relationship with writing and its possibilities, Donnarieix's thesis therefore makes a truly stimulating contribution, in particular because it nuances any too fixed reading of a postmodern literature. carried only by the idea of ​​its emptiness or its end.

Still from this perspective, it would be possible to focus on the writers' own conceptions of the transitivity of literature (often leaning towards the infrasensible or magic), when it is not, as with Volodine, a question of authentic theory declines throughout the work. Indeed, it is often such conceptions and theories which nourish, within fiction itself, literary imaginations whose polysmy of the texts guarantees the depth just as it recasts its unalterable mystery.

Anne-Sophie Donnarieix, Powers of darkness. The supernatural of the contemporary novel, Lille, Presses universitaire du Septentrion. 2022, 358 p., 21.