Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Blind Spots and Afterimages: The Narrative Optics of Claude Simon's Triptyque

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Blind Spots and Afterimages: The Narrative Optics of Claude Simon's Triptyque

Article excerpt

Blind Orion

Tu sembles privilegier de plus en plus l'image, la description. [...] Il y aurait donc une sorte de coincidence entre percevoir et ecrire? (1)

To the question posed above by Lucien Dallenbach, Claude Simon answers in the affirmative, suggesting that the writing process for him has as much to do with visual perception as with its absence, the "tatonnement[...] a l'aveugle" of a blind Orion. In fact, Simon ends Orion aveugle with a vivid evocation of visual perception: the drawing of an eye accompanied by the description of images sliding onto the retinal membrane. In a sense, the image seems to identify perceptual immediacy as the horizon toward which the Simonian text leans. (2) But this particular representation of the organ of vision also warrants closer attention within the context of optical science, for no simple definition of visual perception--as immediate, subjective, or nonnarrative--can adequately define its role in Simon's novels.

On the penultimate page of Orion aveugle the reader encounters the full-color anatomical plate depicting a human head in profile. [Fig. 1]. The head's skin has been peeled away to reveal the thick crossings of banded muscle connecting cranial lobe to jaw, chin to esophagus, ear to chest. The bone structure of sockets and lobes emerges, livid, from among the striated bands of red muscle and disappears again into the folds of white flesh at the man's shoulders and chest. The head tilts slightly to the left, a large flap of excised muscle hanging forward off the bridge of its nose, partly detached from the eye socket beneath it. And from the dark hollow of the ocular cavity stares the globular form of an eyeball, connected by whitish nerves to the bone mass surrounding it. A point of light on the eyeball's pupil makes it seem active and alive, as though the man were gazing out from behind his excoriated flesh. According to Simon's notes, this anatomical image comes from an engraving round in an eighteenth-century scientific manual; its title, "Tete d'homme--document tire de `Myologie complete en couleurs et grandeur naturelle' de Jacques Gautier d'Agoty," grounds the gruesome image in the neutralizing discourse of science. In keeping with the abstracting, objectifying nature of scientific presentation, the engraving labels various body parts with small, precisely typeset letters and numerals--a's and b's around the eye, a lower-case g on the ear and an upper-case G on the lips, small numbers on the bands of muscle. But the diagram's classificatory abstraction is challenged by its vivid bodilyness. In the color reproduction, the muscles appear a bloody red against the pink-white tones of skin and bones, the shoulder looks like an amputated stump, and the set of the eyes and the mouth give the head a troubling expression that evokes a living human subject rather than a neutral anatomical model.


The engraving's uncanny juxtaposition of living tissue with textbook notation finds its counterpart in the textual description that ends Orion aveugle.

   Une coupe longitudinale de la tete de profile permit de void les
   principium organs, la masse ivories due cereal injecte de sang
   don't les circonvolutions compliquees battent a chaque afflux, la
   langue violette, les dents, les os poreux et la boule exorbitee de
   l'oeil, livide, enserree par ses racines rouges, avec son iris,
   son cristallin, son corps vitreux, et la mince membrane de sa
   retine sur laquelle les images du monde viennent se plaquer,
   glisser, l'une prenant la place de l'autre. (3)

While evoking a bulging, bloody mass of bodily tissue, the passage also uses precise anatomical terms to describe the components of the eye's mechanism: iris, lens, vitreous body, retina--terms from the field of physiological optics that divide the organ according toits various abstracted functions. There is, in this description, a striking conjunction of living flow (of blood, of images coming to rest on the retinal surface) with the necessary lifelessness of a severed head. …

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