Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Marc Auge's Theoretical Fictions

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Marc Auge's Theoretical Fictions

Article excerpt

Among social-scientific analyses of how individuals interact with the spreading topographies of the contemporary built environment, ethnologist Marc Auge's writings on present-day architectural and technological spaces and networks have been taken up enthusiastically in areas of the humanities well beyond his field of "l'anthropologie du proche." He is associated especially with the term non-lieu, adopted to describe the spread of certain kinds of construction in peri- and interurban spaces and the forms of interaction they invite, although he has also increasingly applied the term to the image-based technologies of the mass media that replace firsthand experience of reality with pastiches or fictions. These spaces and technologies, designed to be passed through or consumed rather than appropriated, characterize the contemporary period Auge calls "supermodernity" (la surmodernite), an age, as the prefix implies, marked by excess: the individual is simultaneously exposed to a surfeit of locations and information (through advances in transport and telecommunications) and made the reference and focus of political and commercial discourses in place of the collectivity. (1)

Auge's diagnosis of a contemporary "spatial condition," a social malaise rooted in uncontrolled urbanization and technological advancement, is informed by his observations on home ground in the Paris area or in French holiday resorts like La Baule, Center Parcs, or Disneyland Europe. It chimes with a certain vision, in contemporary French fiction, of the physical and social (and, to different degrees, emotional) landscapes of present-day urban and especially Parisian life (as represented, for example, in the works of Jean Echenoz, Michel Houellebecq, or Marie Darrieussecq). (2) But it is the place of fiction within rather than alongside Auge's ceuvre that will be the focus of this essay.

In common with the poetician Gerard Genette, I conceive "fiction" here not as a strictly delimited genre defined by particular formal or stylistic qualities (although some, such as point of view, may be closely associated with it; see note 5 below), but as a moment that occurs when narrative discourse concerns itself with imaginary objects, however intertwined these may be with real-world referents that themselves become derealized in this context: "Est litterature de fiction celle qui s'impose essentiellement par le caractere imaginaire de ses objets [...]. Le texte de fiction [...] est donc intransitif a sa maniere [...] parce que les etres auxquels [ses enonces] s'appliquent n'ont pas d'existence en dehors d'eux et nous y renvoient dans une circularite infinie" (Fiction et diction 31, 37). (3) Fiction as the creation of imaginary worlds has been widely considered by "possible worlds" theorists like Thomas Pavel: "Fictions speak of worlds that, without belonging to the real cosmos, use it as their foundation" (Fictional Worlds 132). (4) Both Genette and Pavel are keen to emphasize that in realist texts, fictionality is not logically or semantically obvious, but, according to Genette, "une probabilite culturelle, induite par un certain nombre de donnees conventionnelles d'ordres textuel, contextuel et paratextuel" (57). Thus narrative oscillates easily between fiction and nonfiction: "Fictional hypotheses about the world are not forever confined within a given fictional genre. Since their circulation involves the entire cultural space, theory of fiction cannot be isolated from the general economy of the imaginary" (Pavel, Fictional Worlds 135). Hence the permeability of theoretical discourse to moments of fiction, of engagement with imaginary objects, as we shall see with Auge.

The concept of the non-lieu itself has evolved over the years for Auge from its original empirical status to give greater place to what Genette acknowledges (after Kate Hamburger) as providing one of the most prominent (though not prerequisite) textual markers of realist fiction, namely point of view (76-77). …

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