Rend(er)ing 'L.C.': Susan Daitch Meets Borges & Borges, Delacroix, Marx, Derrida, Daumier, and Other Textualized Bodies

By Nericcio, William Anthony | The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993 | Go to article overview

Rend(er)ing 'L.C.': Susan Daitch Meets Borges & Borges, Delacroix, Marx, Derrida, Daumier, and Other Textualized Bodies


Nericcio, William Anthony, The Review of Contemporary Fiction


The Gallery Foyer: Epigraphs(1)

The silent printing-press parts stored in the ship's hold twitch with unwritten sentences, language waiting to be born.

Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce ... [A]ll the dead generations weigh ... like a nightmare on the brain of the living.

Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth.

Gallery A, In Which Lucienne Crozier Meets Norah Borges

It is curious to imagine what Marx would have made of author Susan Daitch's first novel L.C (U.S. 1987) where "facts and [women] of great [and little] importance in world history" recur not twice but at least three times in the course of the novel. Daitch's "triptych" introduces us to the lives of three complex female protagonists: Lucienne Crozier, a nineteenth-century French diarist and would-be revolutionary/document smuggler; Willa Rehnfield, an art historian/translator who comes upon Crozier's diary in 1968 and dies, work unfinished, in 1982; and guerrillera/archivist "Jane Amme" (an alias), Rehnfield's executrix, who comes to New York via Berkeley and finishes the good doctor's translating work, reworking sections of it in the process.

What brings these women (readers and writers all) together is Lucienne Crozier's singular diary. Ensconced by her friend Fabienne's family, under wraps for over a century, it falls into Willa Rehnfield's hands almost by chance, almost by fate. If the versions of the diary that Daitch allows us to see are any evidence, Lucienne Crozier's interests and loves include painting, writing, and, not incidentally, moving about the Paristan salon scene (ca. 1847-48) with a painter named Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863).

But I am rehashing the plot, retelling the telling of the tale when the depiction of the telling of the tale is the essence of Daitch's novel itself. We might better spend our time with an issue at a tangent to the body of L. C., one that concerns a certain subspecie of fiction where the manufacture and distribution of falsity abounds - detective stories, really, on and about paper. And as we hesitate, thinking about all the writings we know that survey this terrain (Don Quixote, Gulliver's Travels, Frankenstein, The Color Purple), allow me to distract you with a bit of show and tell - a portrait of the Argentine metaphrast Jorge Luis Borges. The line drawing in question was drawn by Jorge Luis Borges's sister, Norah Borges, in 1926.(5)

Crafted by the female sibling of a well-known, creative man, these unadorned lines appear here to signal how the thematic and structural domain traversed by Borges and Daitch is quite similar. Think of Norah's portrait as an emblem or, better yet, an insignia; one that reminds us that in arts circles from Buenos Aires to New York, you are more apt to hear discussions about Jorge Luis Borges the male writer than Norah Borges the female artist. While this has mostly to do with the peculiarities of celebrity and fate, it has been impacted upon also by the relative status accruing to men and women chez intelligentsia. This, too, serves as a keynote for our reading of Daitch's intricately curated fiction: a sensitivity to the interplay of painting and literature with some regard for issues gendered and political will be of no little help as we go along.

So let us now move to a statement by the late Emir Rodriguez Monegal, Borges's biographer, as he speaks of the Latino fabulist's talented hermana: "Norah was destined to become a painter and a draftswoman, and in her works she leaves testimony of the familial world she shared with her brother" (27). This "testimony," Norah Borges's record of her writer/ brother's figure along with her brother's written corpus, will become more important below when we arrive at a scene in L. …

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