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Interview with Claude Ollier

Author(s): Jean-Max Tixier, Claude Ollier, Carl R. Lovitt

Source: SubStance, Vol. 5, No. 13 (1976), pp. 38-44
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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'4%fo' Jean-MaxTixier

Jean-Max Tixier: At the Cerisy colloquium devoted to the New Novel in 1971, you
began your presentation with a precise reference to the work of Roman Jakobson.
In another connection, we note that your varied written essays give evidence of a
similar attention to the most current linguistic research. Under these conditions,
it is legitimate to ask if you do in fact establish a privilegedrelation between such
research and literary production; would you elaborate upon that relation, in other
words, upon the particularmannerin which one derivessupport or seeks a confirma-
tion from the other?

Claude Oilier: I must confess that there was a certain measureof playfulnessin the
composition of the essay I read at Cerisy. Having agreedto take part in that collo-
quium, I felt bound to produce something with a semblanceof coherence. My theo-
retical inclinations have always been fairly pronounced, and I've read a greatnumber
of theoretical works: on music, film, literature, sociology, etc. The annoyanceis that
I still do not have sufficient command of any of these disciplinesto truly undertake
a theoretical venture, even a fragmentaryone. For the colloquium in question, I
therefore had a choice between an openly subjective,impressionisticpresentationor a
kind of theoretical overbid whose very excesses would provoke its demystification. I
opted for the latter solution, reinforcingat will a certain theoretical penchant in my
reflections which was soon off-set by a looser "evolutionist"overview, the irony of
which adequatelycompensated,in my opinion, for the outrageouslydeliberaterigorof
the first part. I found writing that text particularlydiverting.It nonetheless remains
true that the parallel established in the first part between linguistic functions and
fictional functions correspondsto something specific: this has been extremely useful
to my understandingthe mechanismsinvolved in the construction of my books, and
remains perfectly valid on that level. Yet, admitting this, it would be impracticable
to confine the paths of writingto the purviewof an analysiselaboratedfor speech and
discourse. If writing encompassesthe latter, it constitutes a vaster and more compre-
hensive universe. This is why, in two subsequent "theoretical" texts, I investigated
other approaches to this universe: in "Les Inscriptions Conflictuelles" (already
outlined in the text for the colloquium), and in "Pulsion,"written for the issue of
L 'Arc dedicated to Jacques Derrida. The relation established between linguistic
researchand fictional invention in the Cerisypaperis thereforenot a privilegedone; it
has its importance, and permitted, for example, my clarifyingthe opposition between
fable and fiction, but I was personallyled to correct it later, in the texts that I have
just mentioned, by outlining other relations. In fact, communicationis absolutelynot
a primordialgiven for me in the desire to write; it has its role beyond a certainstage,
but does not cover-far from it-the entire field claimedby the scripturaldrive.

Sub-StanceNO 13, 1976

J.-M. T.: In all this theoretical reflection, which necessarily accompanieswriting,
which nurtures and regeneratesit, do other human sciences intervene, and do they
all do so to the same extent? In the adjustmentof your fictions, as well as in their
density-in the sense in which each sequence adjusts,within the book, a complex of
strata in order to manifest itself-there seemed to us to be a reticence, or perhaps
more, in regardto psychoanalysis.

CO. Yes, of course, other disciplinesintervene, but it is more difficult to identify

them by name, directly, for their soil is less stable, more uneven, than that of linguis-
tics. There is sociology of marxist inspiration, there is dialecticalmaterialismitself,
there is also, of course, psychoanalysis.As for my ostensible reticence, it is only
restraint, an unwillingnessto make careless use of a complex conceptual apparatus,
one difficult to assimilate, evidently requiring assiduous exposure, and one whose
rapid, expeditious implementation-which we see carriedon here and there-is not
likely to entice me. But, my interest in psychoanalysis,equal to or greaterthan that in
linguistics, appearsclearly, it seems to me, on the one hand, in the passage in the
Cerisypaper in which I attempt to describe the genesis of my fictional developments
("original"global image, nebulous white zone, cards overturnedblindly,unveiling,
etc.) and, on the other hand, in the one which insists upon the decisive role of"sen-
sorial drives"in the act of writing. A certain comment by a psychiatristin the course
of the discussion which followed shows that these few indications did in fact focus
on the fundamental role of the unconscious in the processes of fictional genesis and
construction, and evidently appealed to the cooperation of specialists.Furthermore,
as for the fictional texts themselves,your impressionof reticence surprisesme a bit.
In fact, the entire first part of Enigma, "Iota" is openly given as a cure, albeit one of
a rather special variety, but in which each element functions with the goal of reani-
mating the traces left in the unconscious by childhood and a violent traumatism,and
in which, in addition, numerousreferencesor allusions to a Freudianvocabularycan
leave no doubts about the shadowy sector in which this entire investigationunfolds.
In the introduction to Our ou vingt ans Apres, as well, the trial by "golden herb"
("l'herbe d'or") is entirely sown with marks of this kind, notably the short italicized
scansions, one of which even representsan attempt to translateone of Freud'smost
celebrated "poetic" finds into popularFrench.Moreover,the remainderof the book is
anchored in this introduction-program,the massive use of texts spanningthe entire
history of literatureservinghere, among other functions, to manifest the considerable
role of "automatic" acquisitions in the cultural unconscious. The last book of the
series, Fuzzy Sets, also drawsabundantlyfrom both the texts of Freud and Lacanand
the teachings of psychoanalysis,from which I fail to see, in any event, how a contem-
porary writer could remain detached. Besides, in a simpler sense, the lines traced
daily, for greateror shorterperiodsof time dependingupon moods or personalinclina-
tions, represent only the visible emergence of a complex process which goes on, in
various forms,twenty-fourout of every twenty-fourhours, regardlessof what happens,
by day as well as by night, even more by night than by day; my most fecund inven-
tions are those which arise out of periods of drowsinessor suddenawakenings,at the
end of dreams. . . One of the six series of texts which make up the second part of
Enigma, "Ezzala"is derivedentirely from dream accounts taken from my notebook,
which containshundredsmore!
Dialectical Materialism and its theses on the play of super-structuresare
referred to-again in the Cerisy paper- in the passageon "conflictualinscriptions":
a passage which I subsequently tried to elaborate upon in the text by that title.
There, in fact, both psychoanalysis and dialectical materialismunderpin a reflec-
tion on the development of fictional forms and on what I distinguishedby the
terms "impositions," "oppositions," "propositions" and "dispositions." It is likely
that the appeal to these two disciplinesis best summarizedunder the rubricof what
each, in diverse yet convergingsenses, recognized and formulated under the name
"overdetermination":somethinglike a virulentculturaland familialoverdetermination
becomes activated, when attention is held by one of the "global images"which the
text will fashion, as well as in each instanceof lexical and syntactic choice and at each
"junction" in the fictional progression;the choice always bifurcates ("est toujours
aiguillee") where overdeterminationis strongest, perceived-more or less clearly,
often long afterwards-as a node of criss-crossingmotivationsarisingout of the specific
given proper (conflicts originatingin childhood, conflicts born of belongingto a given
social class or culturalsphere,etc.).

J.-M. T.: On the one hand, the extreme precision|of your texts' structurationand its
integrationinto an erudite organization,on the otlier, the use of scientificjargon,pri-
marilymathematicalor physical,in its derivedor specific sense and the importantrole
which it seems to play in the productionand reinforcementof the text translateyour
interest in precise sciences and sciences of matter. The latter seems to correspondless
to a predisposition, a personal taste, than to necessities imposed by the work you
pursue.And, in our eyes, this is an importantpoint.

C. 0.: Havingreceived no formal scientific training,I have had to live with a certain
desire or nostalgiain their connection. Whichever,has little bearingon your question.
The importantaspectswould be the following -in two parts:
1) As far back as I can recall, a taste for precision and its corollary, a horror
of negligence. Nine-tenths of what is published sins through confusion, animated
carelessness,vague eclecticism. Precisionmeans exactitude and concision. Exactitude
of what? Of poetic and metric relations, of assonances, rhythmic superimpositions,
points of rupture. . . Musical systems have always interested me tremendously, as
much or more than narrativesystems. I dreamt of being a musician; I wrote only
much later. Music is doubtless the source of my passion for minutia, construction,
the play of timbres and relations of duration. I thought for a time about writing my
paper for this colloquium in terms of musical theory and practice, but I would have
had less fun than with one in terms of linguistics.As for mathematics,they have often
attracted and quickly discouragedme: something on the side of logic doesn't work
well with me.
2) In a second regard,little by little, a fundamentalgiven so to speakinscribed
itself before my eyes as I tried to write: the primacyof combinationsand transforma-
tions of the material(linguistic, rhetorical,narrative).This took place by long stages,
one importance of which was the intimation, increasinglylegitimized by the daily
practice of writing, of a certain number of accepted notions which initially formed,
though unexamined, the ideological landscape of this work: expression, message,
representation,center, Man, communication,finality, origin, etc. The harmony of the
landscape became tarnished,the letters of the signs lost their luster, the clumsy emer-
gence of the texts drew attention to the very soil from which they sprang:the ready-
made formulas, the syntactic articulations, the fables, the tales weaving the uncon-
scious with trajectoriesdesignatingthe social domain and its culturalsectors.
Granted, this applies to the use of certain scientific words in my books, as
well as to the use of any lexicon: the word is there for its specializedmeaning,for its
general meaning, for its sonorities, its volume, its "weight," and especially to the
extent that it can open up meaningthroughexpansion, deception or riddle.

J.-M. T.: The result is an adult literature,which is no longer one of simple distraction
or affective solicitation, which, guided by the specificity of its matter and its own
logic, has definitively ruptured the mystique and its fraudulence. It is this
literature, no longer mere "literature,"which correspondsto a contemporaryspirit
which we might define as a concessionless, relativistic,scientific materialism,increas-
ingly oriented towards abstraction.With man, the substantivehas died; the relation
remains. The extreme rigor of this unprecedentedsituation in literature is enough to
disorient the "generalpublic"-even though authors, such as Valery,have been paving
its way since the beginningof the century. Is this sufficient to explain the difficulties
facingthe so-called"avant-garde"writerstoday?

C.O. I value "distraction"and "affective sollicitation" highly. Aren't these adult

givens? Of course, there are clear indications that we should try to break with the
literary mystique and its frauds, but do you believe that a single contemporarytext
has ever "definitively"doneso? The matter and logic proper to scripturalwork are
bound up in too much chicanery to be able to enjoy the fullness of their effects. And
then ... I see the myth hatching,in this aspirationtowardsthe purity of a "scientific
materialism oriented towards abstraction," and I don't believe I've ever knowingly
tended towards it. I have especiallysought, on the contrary,to respect, in my fictional
constructions, certain conventions of established genres, such as the colonial novel,
detective fiction, the science fiction novel-not in order to make my stories, by that
fact, accessible to a larger public, but simply because I am particularlyattached to
these forms of "popular"literature,and becauseI experiencedgreatpleasurein trying
my hand at it. An impressivenumber of direct references, allusions, comparisons,
citations or "seizures,"in a raw or reworked state, from famous texts of all genres
are included, in this block of eight texts which I have just completed, to reflect my
tastes, my predilections, as much as to pay hommage or attest to my involvement
in "intertextuality":what I did along these lines, as early as La mise en scene, only
received the subsequent sanction of universities: I had only done it "for laughs"
or to make the friends to whom I read them laugh. So, I have now completed this
"cycle" of adventures,which will soon be releasedunder a generaltitle after the last
"tome," Fuzzy Sets ( and don't assume I am well-versedin the theory of fuzzy sets!),
appears.When I state that I composed this sequence with the impressionof writing
something for easy reading,through the intermediaryof these narrativethreadswhich
pay hommage to Joyce, Poe, Kafka or Borges,as much as to Paul d'Ivoy, JulesVerne,
Roussel and Gaston Leroux, I am being neither whimsicalnor coy: all of these com-
ponents-lightly derived, of course-are actuallyto be found in these adventurebooks,
and I hope they will be recognizeablesome day. After all, the "extreme rigor" to
which you refer intervenes perhaps only through superstitionor timidity. Finally, I
was quite surprisedand vexed, with successivepublications,that critics, if not always
the "common reader,"most often gave me back the image of a difficult, hermetic
text, full of pitfalls, implied meanings,fearful riddles:the riddlesare includedprecise-
ly to explode the extremenarrativenaiveteof the whole and expressthe pleasureI took
in inventing these stories, which are, after all, less complicated than most of those
pointed to as models. Whatalso astonishesme is that this "fable," spanningthe length
of these eight books in bits and pieces, whose outline neverthelessappearsquite early,
let's say in Ete Indien, has not been taken for what it representsespeciallyin my own
thinking: a vast peregrinationof disorientation,the interrogativemeanderingsof the
Occidentalendlessly thrown off guardby contacts with other worlds and semiotic and
cultural systems whose bases elude him. But perhaps we must wait for Fuzzy Sets
and its disintegrationinto desatellized fragments for this overall scheme to emerge
completely-with all its consequences. I don't know. I had dreamedof being a writer
for the "generalpublic";perhapsI've gone about it the wrongway.
It is also possible, as you suggest, that the readeris disorientedby the elimina-
tion of Man as a concept, as the center of narrationand as a priviledgedorganizing
principle of the novel. I was among those who thought that, with Mallarme,Roussel,
Joyce, Kafka and the Surrealists,a decisive threshold had irreversiblybeen crossed,
which insured that the facades of novelistic literaturegroundedin the "psychological
and moral evolution" of a "hero" would henceforth be outdated, unreadable,null.
The persistence, guaranteedby the renewed readership,of these "forms of content"
as much as of "expression," as Hjelmslevwould say, leads one to believe that what
has been touched upon here is truly a tremendously resistant core. All the more
reason to persist, you might say. But, as we shall see, this is not the only source of

J.-M. T.: Throughthe generalaptitudes which it calls upon and the processesit puts
into play, an undertakingsuch as yours is assured,to the highest degree,of performing
a disalienating(desalienante) function: it defuses ideological traps. In this sense, it
is profoundly revolutionary-and not superficially, as in the case of so-called
"engaged"literature. This observationleads us quite naturallyto examine the place
of the writer in contemporarysociety, which comes down to talking of his political

C.O. : There is no question that a piece of fiction, as I understandit, must assumea

"disalienating"function, as much by putting narrativeritualsinto historical perspec-
tive as by-but they are one and the same-the establishmentof unprecedentedrela-
tions between fictional conflicts (specific contraditions which the construction of
fiction encounters and which the fictional text surmounts)and conflicts between the
subject and the social context. Such an undertakingthus, in principle,participatesof
a properly revolutionaryactivity, in the sense that it contributes to the displacement
of the pawns in the ideological game and serves to scrambleits rules. I don't know if
my books actually take part in this activity-that dependsupon the eventualresponses
from the readers.In any event, inscribingthe effects of this activity can only be a long
term propostion. Besides, we might ask whether the traditionallydeferredinfluence
of writing is not in the process of diminishing,even of being eradicatedfor an ex-
tended period. Modes of action whose effects are more direct are reachinga larger
audience, more immediately. What this raisesis the question of the relationsbetween
writer and reader. Under the current system, the routine assignment,by established
publishers and critics, of the epithet "avant-garde"to anything innovative, while
derisively perpetuating the traditions of the past century, thereby determines the
extent of the work's public: infinitesimal. As long as totally new forms of relations
between writer and reader have not been instituted-which implies, among other
things, a veritablerevolutionin the actualpublishingsystem-, the place of the innova-
tive writer in society will be indefinitely usurped,pointed to here and there through
effects of hasty flattery and a mockingvalorizationof the virtuesof materialpoverty.
The relays are lacking. In the present state of affairs (this state has had a name in
France for severalyears: cultural regression),I remainextremely skeptical about the
eventuality of a revivedinfluence of so-called ficitional writing-I refer to "disaliena-
ting" writing,of course.
This ratherpessimisticview of things could give rise to other questionswhich
we might ask. The following, for example: what precise relation is there between the
development (or the saturation) of "reading"in the broadest sense (a book, a piece
of music, a film, etc.) since, let us say, the beginning of the century, and the very
medium of the "expression"?In other words, why-excepting inventive talent and
practical genius-didn't a phenomenon like the public success of Godard'sfilms take
place in literature in the 60's? Why does it seem precludedthat it should even take
place?... You see, not to mention film, I have always been captivatedby and inter-
ested in Black music, notably by what Monk, Parker, Mingus, Coltrane, Onnette
Coleman and quite a few others have, successively,done. Here are people who have
succeeded, while creating a revolutionarymusic, in gaininga vast audience-not one
equal to that of the Beatles but one which neverthelessremainsquite considerable.
Today, Archie Shepp, among others, "launches"-with what impetuosity, what exu-
berance, what aggressiveness,even!-a music so completely extraordinaryin the rich-
ness of its inventions with register,the alliance of timbres,the freedom of the soloist,
the oppositions of volumes, etc. But that is not the essentialpart. Novelty is the angle
from which Shepp envisions music: the "range"ofthe musical act, in short. In refer-
ence to him, we had best speak of action. One of the strikingfeatures of this action
is the stupefying "re-listening"which it provides of the history of jazz by grafting
well-known classical "texts" onto the thread of his own compositions, behind which
Shepp's own "fictional" developmentslips away, for the New weds the Old here in
its movement of rereading,and carriesit vertiginouslyforward,letting it be heard as
the unheard of itself: what could only be heard in dreamsbefore the tumult of this
fabulously raucous and exasperatingly lascivious tenor. As concerns structuration,
difference, the epistemologicalrupture, the dialecticalleap and intertextuality,what a
lesson for the writer-in intelligence,in humor, in sovereignty!

Translatedby CarlR. Lovitt