MAKING LOVE by jean-philippe toussaint

your poor fabulously wealthy man of leisure slash hipster is nursing a dying love affair while his highly sensitive instrument notes, in languorous and voluptuous detail, the grime and dazzle of his worldly world.

We took shelter inside for a moment, passing abruptly from the bluish gloom of the night to the violent and timeless white blaze of overhead fluorescent lights. I glanced casually at the only two clients in the store, a young man in an orange turtleneck and a small rasta cap who was leafing through a magazine in front of the newspaper rack, and a salaryman of indeterminate age, with wet shoes and a damp forehead, who was doubtfully considering the almost empty shelves in the refrigerated section, occasionally selecting some plastic-wrapped tray filled with stringy black seaweed or sliced mushrooms, bringing it closer to his eyes and raising his glasses to read something on the label, the product’s packaging date or place of origin, then replacing the plastic tray where he had found it. Marie was in front of the baked goods shelf, looking rather apathetically at the packages of cookies, moving arbitrarily from one shelf to another, lingering at the displays of instant soups and colorful cellophane bags of noodles. She carried her damp coat in the crook of one arm, and wearing her sunglasses again because of the excessive glare in the store, she strolled, yawning, by the shelves, watched indifferently by the dejected cashiers, who followed the nonchalant progress of her splendid starry-night silhouette sailing up and down vacant aisles (47).

as satirical of the decadent consumerist life as DEMONLOVER or LOST IN TRANSLATION or ENTER THE VOID, that is: barely or not at all…

but even if the trite subject is only mitigated slightly and rather shamelessly with a thin glaze of self awareness, toussaint transcends the shallowness with his sumptuous, gloriously paced, and perfectly elegant style. he’s at some of his best here; MAKING LOVE was a bestseller in france and the first of his, by The New Press, to be translated into english. rarer to find than the dalkey archive translations but if you’re a fan absolutely worth the tracking down.

buy it from the publisher or find it in the library or from an independent bookstore.

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TELEVISION by jean-philippe toussaint

life in the eurozone! across the pond there’s a fabled land, a kingdom beating us into decline and empire’s twilight by a scant half-century. they say of it that democratic socialism is a viable political party there, but we’re skeptical of the outrageous. rumor also describes a state-subsidized intelligentsia so embedded and entitled it flirts constantly with bourgeois decadence — before collapsing into spasms of marxist self-flagellation. (our native, barbaric artists dream nightly of immigration.)

from those far shores, a message in a bottle. jean-philippe toussaint’s TELEVISION was published in 1997 at the dawn of the internet era — but, plus ça change, a find-and-replace of the one technology with the other would make a fairly (you could quibble) lossless reprise.

Television is formal beyond all reason, I now told myself as I lay on the Dreschers’ bed; twenty-four house a day, it seems to flow along hand in hand with time itself, aping its passage in a crude parody where no moment lasts and everything soon disappears, to the point where you might sometimes wonder where all those images go once they’ve been broadcast, with no one watching them or remembering them or retaining them, scarcely seen at all, only momentarily skimmed by the viewer’s gaze. For where books, for instance, always offer a thousand times more than they are, television offers exactly what it is, its essential immediacy, its ever-evolving, always-in-progress superficiality (95).

the plot of an academic who gives up tv unfortunately allows toussaint to occasionally lapse from the art of prose into the (admittedly well-done) rhetoric of cultural criticism.

…”No, no, very little,” he said, “more or less never, maybe an opera now and then, or certain old films. But I tape them,” he added, “I tape them” (as if the fact that he taped them might somehow soften the reproach that could be leveled against him for watching them).

I’d often observed this kind of quiet, troubled modesty when people were forced to speak of the relationship we all have with television. They seemed to broach the subject in spite of themselves, as if discussing some grave illness which touched their lives not indirectly but on the most intimate level… and even out in the streets, in the cafes, in the buses and subways, on the radio, in the offices, in every conversation the subject was never anything other than television, as if the very basis of conversation, its single visceral material, had become television, and in spite of all this everyone went on looking away, forever denying the gravity of the disease (150-1).

but toussaint is at his most hilarious and at his witty best when describing the familiar tiny tragedies of the pampered intellectual:

Then, my breakfast at an end, as I passed through the chiaroscuro of the apartment to make my way toward the study, I caught a fleeting glimpse of myself in the entryway mirror, and I found this image of me to be rather a true one, that tall, hunched form in the half-lit hallway, a cup of coffee in one hand, advancing at dawn toward the study and its thousand untarnished promises of good work to come. My mind still keenly focused, I switched on the computer, which bade me welcome, sputtering like a coffee maker. I pensively opened the hard drive icon with a quick click of the mouse. Wasting no time, from among the dozen or so vaguely bluish folders that appeared before me in the electronic window I’d opened I selected the file… and opened it with two more quick strokes of my finger over the mouse’s clitoris, expertly teasing its little ductile zone. Almost without transition, a vast expanse appeared before on the screen, luminous and grayish. I raised my head, my gaze fixed, and began to think. I took a pensive sip of coffee and set the cup down onto its saucer. But nothing came.

For three weeks now I’d been trying in vain to get down to work (25).

an easy-flowing and beautifully lazy(-seeming) writer, toussaint’s charming slyness at times distracts from a (perhaps purposeful) shallowness. up for grabs is how much that’s mitigated by the fact we live in shallow times.

buy it from the publisher or pick it up from your local library.

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via dalkey’s BEST EUROPEAN FICTION 2010, you can read toussaint’s “Zidane’s Melancholy” here along with an interview with toussaint from it here.

and, in english, an interview with toussaint by KCRW’s silverblatt here.

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