Academic journal article Romance Notes

Inside the Writer's Studio: Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Mes Bureaux: Luoghi Dove Scrivo

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Inside the Writer's Studio: Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Mes Bureaux: Luoghi Dove Scrivo

Article excerpt

JEAN-PHILIPPE Toussaint's Mes bureaux: Luoghi dove scrivo is a little-known book by a relatively well-known author. None of the scholarly literature acknowledges its existence, Toussaint's publisher the Editions de Minuit does not include it in Toussaint's bibliography, and the national libraries of France and Belgium do not own a copy of the text. (1) This lacuna is particularly significant given that Toussaint has been a prominent figure on the French literary scene since the publication of his first novel La salle de bain in 1985. The novel was a commercial and critical success, selling 80,000 copies during its first year of publication and provoking critics to speak of a nouveau "nouveau roman." (2) Since this auspicious debut, Toussaint's writing has continued to receive considerable critical attention. In 2005, Toussaint gained institutional recognition by winning the prix Medicis for the novel Fuir.

Paradoxically, while Fuir was thrust into the limelight for having won Toussaint the prix Medicis, Toussaint's other book published in 2005--Mes bureaux--was ignored by nearly all critics. (3) While the text may have been overlooked due to its unusual form and content--Mes bureaux is an eclectic arrangement of prose, photographs, and drawings that take the reader inside many of the places where Toussaint has written--more likely the book owes its obscurity to its curious publication history. To begin with, Minuit, Toussaint's editor, did not publish it. In fact, Mes bureaux was not even published in France. Instead, it was printed and distributed by a small Venetian publisher--Amos Edizioni--for the very logical reason that the text is, oddly enough, in Italian. The Italian translation of an unpublished French manuscript, Mes bureaux is, indeed, an exceptional book. That Amos Edizioni printed only one thousand copies for distribution means that it is also a rare one. The text is also remarkable in that unlike Toussaint's other books which have been translated into thirty languages from Galician to Japanese (Toussaint, La bibliotheque 16), Mes bureaux has appeared in only one language. It is as if the book has been, quite literally, lost in translation.

The book's material elusiveness echoes the text itself, which walks a fine line between the opposing yet enmeshed preoccupations of intimacy and evasion, a balancing act that characterizes Toussaint's production more generally. From the publication of his first novel La salle de bain to his most recent novel (at the time of writing this essay) Fuir--the titles of which gesture toward the dual concerns of intimacy and evasion--Toussaint has explored the limits and possibilities of intimacy, both at the level of story and of discourse. Toussaint continues this investigation with Mes bureaux, albeit from a distinctly autobiographical perspective. (4) The text offers the reader a rare glimpse inside the writer's studio, giving a behind the scenes look at the diverse yet ordinary spaces where Toussaint has written. Mes bureaux constitutes an exercise in--and a meditation on--intimacy: it offers intimate details about Toussaint's writing process and production, it acknowledges and privileges the influence of his family on his writing, and it explores certain intimacies between fiction and non-fiction as well as between word and image.

The word bureau--the point of departure for the text--is a polyvalent term that the Tresor de la langue francaise delineates as having both intimate and non-intimate dimensions:

1. Table, souvent couverte d'un tissu de bure, ou d'une autre matiere protectrice, generalement munie de tiroirs ou de casiers, entouree d'une ou plusieurs chaises ou fauteuils, oU l'on ecrit, manie des papiers classes ou a classer

2. Piece privee ou officielle oU est installee cette table; lieu, etablissement oU s'effectue, generalement selon un horaire fixe, un travail regulier retribue, de nature plutot intellectuelle

3. …

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