The French Review 57.3 (1984): 439-441.

VERCIER, BRUNO, AND JACQUES LECARME. La Littérature en France depuis 1968. Paris: Bordas, 1982. Pp.320.

[Reprinted with the permission of The French Review]

A significant step forward in French literary studies, this latest anthology will be particularly welcomed by readers of the authors' previous efforts with Jacques Bersani and Michel Autrand: in successive editions of La littérature en France depuis 1945 (Paris: Bordas, 1970, 1974, and 1980), the four authors presented a massive overview of post-World War II French literature. But, as Vercier and Lecarme explain in the preface of this latest work, the initial project, by its very nature, was 'open' and continually had to be updated. They therefore chose to "close" that project by publishing La littérature en France de 1945 à 1968 and simultaneously undertake a new, "open" edition whose survey begins in the year of upheaval, 1968.

The format throughout Depuis 1968 is the same as in its parent edition: first, a general discussion of the works of a particular author, then, excerpts interspersed within this discussion, with contextual and explicatory notes in the margins and several terse stylistic remarks after each excerpt. Given this uniform format, of greater interest are the overall divisions and their subdivisions whose roots may be found in the 1980 Depuis 1945 supplemental chapter: Depuis 1968 is divided according to three perspectives, "Auteurs," "Formes," and "Actualités." In "Auteurs," Vercier and Lecarme first seek to "dresse[r] le bilan de grandes oeuvres déjà reconnues, ou enfin reconnues, qui s'achèvent, s'accroissent ou s'affirment" (p. 5). Thus, the subdivision "Figures du siècle" presents four "grands" in a contemporary light: Paul Morand (omitted entirely from the first two editions of Depuis 1945), André Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Louis Aragon. Then, the authors canonize a second group as "nouveaux classiques": Jean Giono, Marguerite Yourcenar, and Jacques Prévert, all of whom had attained 'classic' status in Depuis 1945, and Julien Gracq (formerly categorized in the wake of Surrealism and in the forefront of a certain type of "nouveau roman") and Michel Tournier (moving from the Depuis 1945 crowd of new traditionalists to emerge as "un classique immédiat," p. 69). Finally, Vercier and Lecarme develop more fully the 1980 supplement's outline of "L'avènement des inventeurs," not only including the poetry of Queneau and the prose of Michaux and Leiris, but also the recent theater of Beckett and the emergence of Genet's works.

The second division reflects the great difficulty that the authors encounter in delimiting particular forms in the ever-expanding literary domain. Their consideration of the "récit" is divided into two subdivisions: first, "Renouvellements" as a catchall for prose, the "nouvelle," various subgenres of "romans," autobiographies, "indécidables ou autofictions," and two "monstres sacrés,' Albert Cohen and Romain Gary/Emile Ajar; second, "Expérimentations" or the giants of the "Nouveau Roman," followed by an "Après le Nouveau Roman" (Sollers, Bruckner, Pividal). In a chapter on poetry, Vercier and Lecarme consider "quatre oeuvres" (Saint-John Perse, René Char, Pierre Emmanuel, and L. S. Senghor), with a complementary selection of "poésie actuelle." The final forms examined are "l'essai" (with examples from Marthe Robert and Michel Foucault) and "la critique," from Todorov to Kristeva in nine pages.

In the third section, "Actualités," the authors attempt to deal with contemporary traditions and renewal: in "Ecritures féminines," they present examples of an ever-renewing tradition of women's writing; in "La paralittérature," they include the traditional "roman policier" and science fiction, renewed through the penetration of these subgenres into the works of "serious" writers (Butor, Ollier, Le Clézio) and debutants (Volkoff); in "L'écriture fragmentaire," they consider the renewed aphoristic style of Blanchot, Cioran, and Perros. In the final subdivisions, Vercier and Lecarme return to individual authors whose works represent either significant "parcours" (Roland Barthes and Marguerite Duras) or a "littérature inquiète et différente, une littérature qui se cherche" (the works of Patrick Modiano, J. M. G. Le Clézio, Georges Perec).

Clearly, Vercier and Lecarme have a gargantuan and thankless task, to attempt to create a certain "order" from the diverse, often contradictory, currents in French literary life. Thus, their enterprise frequently risks arbitrariness and omissions: why are Gracq and Tournier any more "classic' than the "Nouveaux Romanciers," or for that matter, Duras and Le Clézio? How do we distinguish the classic "inventeurs" (section one) from the numerous examples of inventive writers in the following sections? And why not consider a category of "métalittérature," examining the penetration of philosophy and the human sciences by literature (Derrida, Deleuze, Serres, Girard)? While these and other questions will continue to linger, readers can take heart in the "open" nature of this anthological project, since we can expect several updated revisions of Depuis 1968 probably until the next arbitrary date of "closure," the year 2000.


Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University