French psychoanalytically-oriented literary critic has confirmed some of our biases about French intellectual culture. He evidently has written a book in which he discuses his long-standing practice of commenting “authoritatively” on books he never read or failed to finish. In a sign that France is becoming more like the United States, his confession book is rising to the top of the best-seller list in France!
Critic fudges the context
* Adam Sage, Paris
* February 07, 2007
ADISTINGUISHED professor of literature at Paris University has become a bestselling author with a work explaining how he comments authoritatively on books he failed to finish, has forgotten or has never read.
Pierre Bayard, 52, who specialises in the link between literature and psychoanalysis, stunned specialists with the admission. He says he often makes references in lectures, reviews and conversations to works he has not read, without being found out.
However, Bayard – who has never finished James Joyce’s Ulysses and who has forgotten what Hermann Hesse’s classic novel Steppenwolf is about – claims that this in no way devalues his opinion. “It’s possible to have a passionate conversation about a book that one has not read, including – perhaps especially – with someone else who has not read it.
“The discourse on books that have not been read places us at the heart of a creative process which leads us to their origin,” he says in Comment Parler des Livres que l’on n’a pas Lus (How to Speak About Books That You Haven’t Read).
Although Bayard’s work was written for the restricted world of Parisian academe, it is rising to the top of the bestseller lists.
“I think the success shows that it has touched on a sensitive point,” Bayard says, adding that his aim is to help people avoid feeling guilty about their failure to read. He says he wants to free French intellectuals from the taboo that prevents them from confessing they have only leafed through Marcel Proust, “although that is the case for most of them”. He says a valid opinion can be formed by dipping into a work, hearing others talk about it, or skimming a review of it.
Still to be figured out is why these intellectuals want to pretend to have read the books in the first place. And what does happen to all those unread volumes of Lacan anyway?
2 comments February 7th, 2007