Martina Stemberger (Wien)
Troubles of Authority: New Media, Text & Terror in Virginie Despentes' Apocalypse bébé
Since her debut with Baise-moi, Virginie Despentes has, undoubtedly, become one of the big 'brands' of the contemporary French literary landscape. Initially, her controversial work was, above all, associated with strategic provocation, crude representations of sex & crime, a remarkable violence on the level of contents as well as of language. But since then, Despentes has shown that her artistic register comprises far more notes and nuances; correspondingly, her mediatic image has somewhat evolved over time. In fact, Despentes is also a very self-reflective, theoretically sophisticated and ethically engaged writer. This article, dedicated to a detailed analysis of her latest novel, Apocalypse bébé (other texts, in particular her essay King Kong Théorie, are taken into consideration, as well), focuses on various aspects of meta-literary and meta-medial reflection in Despentes' work; on her observations on new media, the changes they induce in social life and the construction of human subjectivity, but also in the realm of literature; on her parody of the contemporary literary business; on her representation of diverse 'troubles of authority' in the age of Amazon and Wikipedia; but also, in a larger sense, on the sociocultural functions of narrative, on the delicate question of an ethics of fiction, on the ambivalence of writing between subversion and symbolic violence; and, finally, on the deconstructive (meta-)poetics of terror displayed in Despentes' 'apocalyptic' novel.
Introduction: Virginie Despentes revisited
Since her debut with Baise-moi, Virginie Despentes has, undoubtedly, become one of the big 'brands' of the contemporary French literary landscape. Initially, her controversial literary (and cinematographic) work was, above all, associated with strategic provocation,1 "[f]eminist trash" (cf. Jordan 2005: 115), crude representations of sex & crime ("d'ultraviolence et de pornographie", Beigbeder 2011: 261), a remarkable – and, in many regards, enlightening – violence on the level of contents as well as of language.2 But since then, Despentes has shown that her artistic register comprises far more notes and nuances; correspondingly, her mediatic image has somewhat evolved over time.3 In fact, Despentes is also a highly self-reflective, theoretically sophisticated and ethically engaged writer,4 meditating not only on the process of literary creation as such,5 but also on the mechanisms of the literary market. Extremely successful in creating her own 'label', she is also strongly critical of her public persona, expressing her desire to emancipate herself from the cliché 'Despentes', incessantly recycled in the media: "Baise-moi installé une Despentes vachement construite. J'ai besoin d'être autre chose. J'ai envie de faire l'inverse de ce qu'on attend de moi" (qtd. in Le Vaillant 2010).
PhiN 64/2013: 18
The following considerations – an essay in deconstruction of said "Despentes vachement construite" – are dedicated to a detailed analysis of the writer's latest novel, Apocalypse bébé (other texts, in particular her essay – pamphlet or manifesto6? – King Kong Théorie, are taken into account, as well7). They focus on various aspects of meta-literary8 and meta-medial reflection in Despentes' work; on her observations on new media, the changes they induce in social life and the construction of human subjectivity, but also in the realm of literature; on her parody of the contemporary literary business and the cultural market in general; on her representation of diverse 'troubles of authority' in the age of Amazon and Wikipedia; but also, in a larger sense, on the sociocultural functions of narrative, on the delicate question of an ethics of fiction, on the ambivalence of writing between subversion and symbolic violence; and, finally, on the deconstructive (meta-)poetics of terror displayed in Despentes' 'apocalyptic' novel.
Situating Literary Knowledge: Anarcho-Feminism, Gender Theory, and Meta-Discourse
It is tempting to consider Despentes' work as a literary equivalent to the concept of "situated knowledges" in Donna Haraway's sense (cf. Haraway 2007). Despentes systematically contextualizes her own writing,9 strategically adopting a de-centered position, defining femininity as marginality par excellence ("Naître femme, la pire des tares dans presque toutes les sociétés", Despentes 2004: 37); her novels are populated by 'marginal (wo)men',10 endowed with "la lucidité spéciale des dominés" described by Bourdieu (1998: 37) – or, in Emmanuel Carrère's terms, "l'affreuse lucidité des ratés" (Carrère 2011: 221). Indeed, the social, economic, political losers (and 'looseuses', of course) are Despentes' true – and always paradoxical – hero(in)es: "La figure de la looseuse de la féminité m'est plus que sympathique, elle m'est essentielle. Exactement comme la figure du looser [sic] social, économique ou politique" (Despentes 2006: 10). In the fiery first lines of her King Kong Théorie, she starts by introducing herself as a representative of the party of "Bad Lieutenantes":
PhiN 64/2013: 19
Despentes' meta-literary reflections (as these few lines already show) are pronouncedly gender-sensitive. By her biographical mise en scène as well as on the diegetic level of her novels, Despentes sows considerable gender trouble, carnevalizing sexual and gender identities, analyzing 'femininity' and 'masculinity' as sociocultural constructs, parodying them as a mere 'masquerades'.11 She defines her own position as a marginal – Lesbian and "anarcho-feminist"12 – writing woman, failing and unwilling to conform to normative images of heterosexual femininity, assuming her 'virility', refusing to stay 'at her place'. She reclaims various misogynous labels of 'deficient', non-conformist female bodies and behavior, subverting the corresponding stereotypes: "Je suis plutôt King Kong que Kate Moss, comme fille. […] je parle de ma place de femme toujours trop tout ce qu'elle est, trop agressive, trop bruyante, trop grosse, trop brutale, trop hirsute, toujours trop virile, me dit-on. Ce sont pourtant mes qualités viriles qui font de moi autre chose qu'un cas social parmi les autres. Tout ce que j'aime de ma vie, tout ce qui m'a sauvée, je le dois à ma virilité" (ibid.: 11). Despentes also reflects on the conditions of female 'authority', on the stereotyped patterns of reception applied to 'female' and to 'male' literature (the latter, usually, being considered as literature tout court). Still in her King Kong Théorie, she analyzes the critical reactions to her first novel, Baise-moi, and to the homonymous film in terms of gender, harshly commenting on the misogynous bias marking most reviews, on the ways in which critics obsessively focused on the sex of the author rather than on the work as such:
Irritated by this 'pornographic' work, said critic 'Papy', quoting Renoir, pedagogically reminds the transgressive artist that "les films devraient être faits par de jolies femmes montrant de jolies choses" – "Ça me fera au moins une idée de titre", as Despentes sarcastically comments (ibid.: 117); in 1998, she publishes her novel Les Jolies Choses (cf. Despentes 1998), exploring the (de)formation of female individuality (cf. Gambus 2009) and parodying the mise en scène of fashionable femininity as physical and psychic heavy labor – the text was granted a quite honorific entry (No. 36 among his "Top 100") in Frédéric Beigbeder's contemporary (anti-)canon Premier bilan après l'apocalypse (cf. Beigbeder 2011: 260ff.). Despentes, whose literary career and socio-critical views have more than one point in common with Michel Houellebecq's14 (despite the self-proclaimed 'anarcho-feminism' of the former and the alleged misogyny and anti-feminist resentments of the latter), explicitly compares her own critical fate to her illustrious fellow writer's one:15
PhiN 64/2013: 20
Analyzing her own 'case', Despentes unmasks critical misogyny; but also beyond the realm of literature, she problematizes historically monopolized male authority in discourses about 'woman', 'femininity' and the (more or less eternal) 'female', the ventriloquism of 'authorized' men speaking in women's place: "Il n'y a pas pire qu'être une femme jugée par des mecs. […] on est sous-titrées, tout le temps, parce qu'on ne sait pas ce qu'on a à dire. On ne le sait pas aussi bien que les mâles dominants, qui sont habitués depuis des siècles à écrire des livres sur la question de notre féminité et de ce qu'elle implique" (ibid.: 119). Systematically gendering and queering figures of authority, Despentes declares finding it much easier to conciliate her identity as a female writer – per se an always already marginal figure, according to Marie Darrieussecq16 – with being a Lesbian rather than with traditional heterosexual (and heterosexist) conventions: "Il m'est plus facile d'être écrivain en étant lesbienne qu'hétéro. Le rapport aux hommes est moins gênant" (qtd. in Schwaab 2010).17
Rethinking Narrative: Meta-Literary and Meta-Medial Reflections
Despentes' most recent novel, a very complex, polyphonic and "polymorphous" (cf. Brocas 2010) text, at first glance, may seem less radical, less 'shocking' than Despentes' previous works (and particularly her debut novel Baise-moi); not for nothing, the nearly-canonized, Renaudot-winning romancière was labeled as a new "Virginie Despentes [qui] ne fait plus peur" (Schwaab 2010), "une écrivaine assagie" (Artus 2010), ironically confessing to her new quest of 'discipline' (cf. Savigneau 2010) and to a certain "em-bour-geoisement" (ibid.). In this regard, Despentes was once more associated with the Houellebecq of La Carte et le territoire, who, the same year, was awarded the Prix Goncourt – and who was as well perceived as a 'wised up' writer, somehow 'domesticated' by success: "Pour elle comme pour Houellebecq, on a l'impression que le succès l'a apaisée" (Schwaab 2010).
PhiN 64/2013: 21
Nevertheless, Apocalypse bébé quite organically ties up with earlier, less 'appeased' works. This text is not Despentes' first experiment with meta-literary features; a pronounced meta-medial sensibility may even be considered as a constant of Despentes' whole œuvre with its particular 'cinematographic' aesthetics, always haunted by "l'idée de faire un livre qui démode tous les films", as Beigbeder (2011: 261) – somewhat mockingly, but also admiringly – remarks. The protagonists of Baise-moi, literary road movie, already reflect their murderous "passage à l'acte" (cf. Juranville 2001) on a cinematographically inspired meta-level: "Elle tire une fois, à bras tendu. […] C'est moins spectacle qu'au cinéma. La tête qui explose, il tombe en arrière. N'importe comment, on dirait qu'il ne sait pas s'y prendre. C'est pas pareil qu'au cinéma" (Despentes 1994: 72). The narrator and anti-hero of Teen Spirit is a neurotic would-be writer who, after a wild youth in "un groupe punk médiocre, mais finalement assez mythique" (Despentes 2002: 20), has been rather successful in maintaining, for many years of his depressive adult life, his aura of the eternal artiste maudit (ibid.: 14), merely fantasizing about his great novel to come; by surprise, an ex-girlfriend gratifies him with the upsetting news of his teenage daughter Nancy's existence (probably not coincidentally, the girl's first name is a homograph of Despentes' birthplace). With her runaway trips, her search for her missing parent, her 'explosive' character (when her father takes her around Paris, he has the uncomfortable "impression de balader une mini-bombe menaçant d'exploser à chaque carrefour", ibid.: 111), Nancy is an evident predecessor of Valentine in Apocalypse bébé with its imagery of terror; Teen Spirit, in its turn, finishes on a vision of a shattered patchwork family, assembled in front of a TV screen displaying live the drama of 9/11 (ibid.: 156f.).18
In Bye Bye Blondie – sort of "self-begetting novel" (cf. Kellman 1980) –, problematic heroine Gloria (another of Despentes' passionate and violent 'marginal women') already decides to write down her own story, transforming into a cinematographic script the plot of the novel she 'inhabits'. At the end of the text, she errs through the streets of Paris, all covered with movie posters announcing the release of 'her' film – under the very title of Despentes' novel: Bye Bye Blondie, thus, en abyme (Despentes 2004: 240ff.). Gloria's intense work on her script motivates various reflections on the act of writing, its technical, psychological and socio-economic aspects. After a short period of creative euphoria19 and proud discovery of her new artistic ego ("Alors t'es comme ça, toi, suffit que tu le veuilles pour écrire une histoire?", ibid.: 201), she finds herself confronted not only with her own "vulnerability" (ibid.: 203), but also with the ambiguous world of the literary and cinematographic business. The latter, at first, meets the extravagant newcomer with superficial enthusiasm, enchanted by her consciously exaggerated 'proletarian' attitudes (Gloria, systematically, overacts her role as "une fille de la France d'en bas", ibid.: 208), but, soon enough, politely gets rid of her, excluding her from the further realization of the film project based on her story: "Elle s'est fait virer, comme une imbécile. Evincée de sa propre histoire" (ibid.: 217). Bye Bye Blondie, illustrating the female outsider's conflicts with the establishment, also seems to mirror – even if in hypertrophied form – some aspects of Despentes' own 'initiation' into the cultural industry (not for nothing, Gloria is endowed with several clearly autobiographical traits, re-staging Despentes' turbulent adolescence in Nancy20). Besides its meta-literary features, this novel also prepares the terror theme of Apocalypse bébé. Already in Bye Bye Blondie, "Paris, ville électrique" (ibid.: 221), haunted, after 9/11, by "la menace terroriste" (ibid.: 224), seems to wait, anxiously, for the big 'discharge': "[…] la foule attend la bombe. Ou tout autre chose d'explosif, en fait" (ibid.: 186). The heroine herself is, once more, metaphorized as a "bomb" (not only in sexual terms, cf. ibid.: 178); harassing a cinema producer (guilty of having 'stolen' her story) with her incessant phone calls, she is very explicit about her 'terrorist' intentions: "Mauvaises nouvelles, connard, je serai ton putain de Ben Laden perso, jusqu'à la fin de tes jours, tu m'entends ?" (ibid.: 223).
PhiN 64/2013: 22
Apocalypse bébé, in this sense, takes up the essential of Despentes' main literary themes, inscribing them in a larger sociocultural vision. In many regards, this text – a regular "Mine d'or pour les futurs historiens et sociologues", as Joste (2010) puts it – may well convey an even more radical critique of existing society with its 'fictions', its discursive economies and cultural hierarchies, an interrogation on the functions of literature in its social context – and also in the context of new media that force literature and literary theory to revise many of their established assumptions. As Hayles remarks, "[…] digital media have given us an opportunity we have not had for the last several hundred years: the chance to see print with new eyes, and with it, the possibility of understanding how deeply literary theory and criticism have been imbued with assumptions specific to print" (Hayles 2002: 33). Despentes' novel also raises the question of the evolution of literature under the influence of new information technologies (cf. ibid.: 19), illustrating how the emergence of new media problematizes traditional concepts of the book as well as of authorship: "[…] the new media can help us to see the older, printed book in fresh ways. […] From an aesthetic standpoint, the idea of a migration toward the virtual […] has the advantage of letting us recognize the centrality of certain narrative features that have long been marginalized or forgotten – so secure is our faith in the book's fixity and the singular authority of its author" (Tabbi 2005: 471). But beyond literature, Apocalypse bébé also reflects on the ways in which "the new media have forced a reconsideration of exactly how narrative […] represents thought and constructs subjectivity" (ibid.).
At the center of Apocalypse bébé's meta-literary setting, there is, evidently, the character of François Galtan, father of future teenage terrorist Valentine; according to Despentes, this unfortunate writer was "le personnage qui a été à l'origine du roman, s'imposant en premier" (cf. Savigneau 2010). Around her portrait of a less-than-successful novelist,21 Despentes sketches a satirical panorama of the Parisian literary milieu with its rituals and ideological idiosyncrasies; but she also mocks, from a young Polish woman's point of view, a kind of specifically 'French' literary vanity, the role of literature in the construction of an imaginary 'French' identity: "La France, j'y ai vécu très longtemps. […] Tu peux pas allumer la télé sans voir quelqu'un avec un livre à la main, on dirait que vous n'avez que ça à faire, lire, lire, lire. Il faut du temps pour comprendre que c'est une arnaque, vous n'êtes pas mieux éduqués que des veaux" (AB 211).22
But besides her parodic representation of a contemporary writer's troubles and tribulations, besides her reflections on the metamorphoses of literature in a new mediatic context, Despentes, in Apocalypse bébé, also explores the cultural meanings, the social and psychological functions of stories beyond literature in the strict sense, illustrating the ways in which humans, in their quality as "story-telling animals"23 – Umberto Eco, laconically, defines man as an "animale fabulatore per natura" (Eco 1990: 510) –, (de/re)construct their identity and cope, by means of narrative, with their existence in an 'unreadable' world. This aspect of Despentes' novel seems particularly pertinent in our "narrative age" (Salmon 2008: 9), witnessing an unprecedented extension of the narrative battle zone, a professionalization and commercialization of storytelling outside the literary domain: referring to Walter Benjamin's reflections on the depreciation of 'experience', on the crisis of narration in the interwar period (cf. Benjamin 1977), Salmon, highly critical of contemporary "narrarchy" (Salmon 2007: 119), diagnoses, in his turn, today's occidental societies with a similar narrato-pathology, a regular "néo-anekdiegesis" (Salmon 2010: 32), accompanied by a compensatory hyper-inflation of "fictions utiles" (Salmon 2008: 88) or "récits utiles" (ibid.: 98).
PhiN 64/2013: 23
Measuring the WWWorld: Apocalypse bébé as a New Media Novel
Apocalypse bébé, among other things, is a novel about the splendor and misery of our new media society, about Internet, Facebook (alias "Face de plouc", AB 65), and so on. In this 'mediatic' novel, Despentes – not for nothing categorized as a 'realist' writer,24 an anarcho-feminist Balzac of our Internet age – explores the virtual spaces of postmodernity, scrutinizing the impact of new cybernetic "machines" (emblematic, according to Deleuze, of present-day "societies of control", cf. Deleuze 2009b: 237; Deleuze 2009c: 244), the social and political implications of new media, the perspectives of democratization and subversion they may offer in certain contexts, but also the mechanisms of 'total control' over any 'connected' individual's most private life and ideas that they make possible. If new media are not the main subject of Apocalypsé bébé, they are, in fact, omnipresent in the novel, mirroring their similar importance in contemporary life: "Ils sont partout à la mesure de la place qu'ils occupent dans nos vies, à des échelles très différentes, qui peuvent aller du plus futile au plus politique" (de la Porte 2011). In Despentes' novel, the Internet – that may be considered, in its turn, as "a vast hypertext of global proportions" (Hayles 2002: 26) – functions also as a narrative "matrix", as Xavier de la Porte (2011) puts it.
Apocalypse bébé evokes a 'digitalized' world where intellectual life and the very concept of culture undergo essential changes, the internet depreciating traditionally interiorized human knowledge ("[…] à l'heure d'internet, qu'est-ce qu'on s'en fout que quelqu'un sache tout sur tout", AB 250); a world where the postmodern virtualized Carte de Tendre is re-designed by new mediatic tools ("L'amour? Sans portable? T'imagines, une love story sans SMS?", AB 109).25 Lucie's affair with sexy drug dealer Zoska also heavily depends on new media, her enigmatic lover astutely using not only the good old mobile phone and SMS (AB 338f.), but also Skype for her ambivalent games of seduction and refusal: "C'était frustrant d'être avec elle, sans qu'elle soit vraiment là. […] Mais l'amour Skype paraissait lui convenir" (AB 322ff.). Detective research activities, as well, focus on new media as precious criminological tools. The World Wide Web, "the nearest thing we have to an archive of 'everything ever'" (Tabbi 2005: 476, quoting Matt Fuller's formula), is the detective's virtual homeland, omnipresent and (nearly) omniscient Facebook her new 'Bible'. Computer specialists – "personnages dont l'importance dans la littérature est inversement proportionnelle à celle qu'ils ont dans nos sociétés" (de la Porte 2011) – play a crucial, even if quite antipathic role in Apocalypse bébé. In a passage dedicated to the profile and the media-history of Lucie's firm, the novel also takes a look back at the Internet's – still rather clumsy and noisy – beginnings (AB 98). Due to Rafik, the agency's IT mastermind, who has anticipated in good time the perspectives of a huge new market, Reldanch is now a leader in matters of virtual identity management, of Internet control and cleansing – a morally questionable business, offering quasi infinite possibilities of manipulating and 're-writing' reality: "Quand on voit opérer l'équipe de Rafik, on comprend vite que tout discours éthique concernant la censure a mal saisi l'esprit de la modernité: tout contenu virtuel est effaçable, soumis par nature à réécriture, rature et manipulation" (AB 99). From Lucie Toledo's point of view, Despentes dresses a less than flattering portrait of Reldanch's IT team, characterized as a gang of self-betraying conformists, arrogant and slavish at the same time, politically retrograde 'avant-garde' of a technocratic, anti-democratic (or rather 'post-democratic', cf. Crouch 2004), ferociously neoliberal society:
PhiN 64/2013: 24
At the opposite ideological pole, in the Marxist underground circles Valentine gets into contact with, the political implications of new media and the ambivalence of Internet – a possible "Espace utopique", facilitating democratic participation, transparent information and political resistance, or a tool of totalitarian control? – are subjects of frequent and controversial discussions (cf. AB 290ff.). Valentine, representative of a generation of 'digital natives' (Marc Prensky) for whom Facebook is, in Frédéric Beigbeder's terms, the new "opium" (cf. Ott 2010), after frequenting for a while her new Marxist friends, decides to abandon, in a quasi-ceremonial act of voluntary renouncement, the whole world of new media, cutting short all online activities, asking the group's "nerd" to eliminate "son identité virtuelle: son compte Facebook, son Twitter, son vieux MySpace, son ancien blog, sa boîte mail"; she consecrates her new, de-digitalized self by solemnly throwing her mobile phone into the Seine. Not aware of the degree to which all these new media tools and electronic gadgets formed quasi organically part of her very identity, Valentine is astonished by the shock of this withdrawal, perceived as a regular "amputation […] d'une brutalité inattendue" (AB 291). The sudden disconnection from the WWW appears as a thoroughly philosophical, existential – and existentialist – experience, version 2.0 of the Heideggerian 'thrownness' in a hostile, incomprehensible world. But Despentes' novel also confirms once more – probably more than ever – Freud's definition of man as a "prosthetic god" (Freud 2000: 222); even before Valentine's anti-media experience, illustrating the functions of new media as a 'prosthesis' of identity, the mobile phone is explicitly metaphorized as "une prothèse indissociable" of contemporary children (AB 100).
Valentine's destruction of her personal virtual world marks her farewell to her whole earlier existence; the future terrorist, consciously posing as an outsider (cf., for instance, AB 292), has definitively abandoned a problematic 'normality'. Detective Lucie, searching in vain for hints on the Internet, considers, perplexed, this strange phenomenon of a teenager without any retraceable mediatic existence (AB 19), just as Rafik and 'La Hyène' ("On n'a jamais vu ça… […] Trois mois sans téléphone portable, sans mail, sans Twitter, sans RIEN"); the latter, mockingly, speculates about the girl's eventual conversion to a hypothetical sect practicing a sort of "ramadan de l'électronique" (AB 109). Finally, Lucie – due to laborious online research, provoking a regular "mal de mer informatique" – succeeds in identifying Valentine on some Facebook photographs, showing her in the circle of her banlieue relatives (AB 130f.). In this context, Despentes uses the Internet, as Xavier de la Porte (2011) puts it, "à la manière des séries américaines, comme moteur du récit"; her Facebook discoveries allow the detective (who had arrived at a criminological dead end) to continue her research – and the narration to progress.
PhiN 64/2013: 25
Not for nothing, Mother Teresa-lookalike 'Sœur Elisabeth', diabolical agent in angelic disguise, perfectly aware of the crucial role of new media in every average teenager's life, encourages her pupil to take up again her Internet activities in order to create a simulacrum of 'normality' and to avoid any possible suspicions: "Il faudra que tu retournes sur internet, pour montrer que tu es normale […]" (AB 304f.). Valentine will return online for a last performance; some minutes before her terrorist attack, she releases a small but 'explosive' video, recorded the very morning in her room via webcam, on Youtube, documenting her (quite intimate) preparations, accompanied by a parodic poetic recital (AB 328).
Valentine's 'baby apocalypse' itself is reflected as a mediatic – and strategically mediatized – event. Just as in Frédéric Beigbeder's Windows on the World, "roman hyperréaliste" (Beigbeder 2003: 20) dedicated to 9/11 as the "premier grand attentat de l'hyperterrorisme" (ibid.: 360), the attack in Apocalypse bébé – explicitly associated with 9/1126 – appears as a traumatic irruption of reality and, at the same time, as a spectacle of seemingly 'unreal' horror, provoking disturbing thoughts about the complex relations or even blurred boundaries between 'reality' and 'fiction'.27 Despentes shows a shocked TV audience, unable to believe that what they are seeing on the screen is not just a trailer for the latest action film, but terrible reality: "Il fallait un temps pour comprendre ce qu'on voyait. Un effort pour se convaincre qu'on regarde les informations, pas la bande-annonce d'un prochain film à gros budget" (AB 324).28 Rapidly, the attack will be instrumentalized as a pretext for massive repressive measures in the 'real' as well as in the virtual world of the Internet; "l'apocalypse selon Valentine" (Marcelle 2010) finally delivers an apparently irrefutable motive for the systematic regulation – and political 'colonization' – of the World Wide Web, still all-too democratic to the taste of international governing spheres:
PhiN 64/2013: 26
Voyage around the Literary Business: Novel-Making and Novel-Marketing in the Postmodern Age
While Valentine starts practicing her radical media asceticism, her father – relict of a generation grown up offline and ill-prepared for his new mediatic existence – desperately tries to live up to the exigencies of the literary business in the age of Wikipedia & Amazon. After a rather promising début, François Galtan has finished as an outsider of the market; although specialized in the novel as the only "true business" (Houellebecq 2008: 263) of the contemporary publishing industry, he has failed to become a truly valuable 'brand': "Pas les bons appuis, pas les bons réseaux. Pas d'étiquette à brandir pour s'imposer. Rien que ses livres" (AB 40). Journalist Antonella (introduced, after Valentine's disappearance, into the Galtan household as an alluring 'Trojan' spy, in company of a photographer charged with the mission of pirating the family's complete computer contents and online data, AB 50ff.) confirms that Galtan's main problem is his lack of mediatic and ideological profile, of aggressiveness – and, consequently, of marketability: "Droite chrétienne, mais à l'ancienne, ni belliqueux, ni raciste, ni antisémite … […] Il n'est pas très agressif, c'est toujours décrédibilisant" (AB 74). Fictitious writer Galtan serves as a paradigmatic 'case' for an exercise in literary sociology, a critical exploration of a thoroughly commercialized cultural industry, based on literary 'branding', marginalizing every kind of author and text unfit for lucrative "labellisation" (Salmon 2007: 60), of a new biblio-economy subject to the "régime des best-sellers" and its laws of "rotation rapide", favoring the incessant reproduction of a profoundly eclectic "roman standard monstrueux" (Deleuze 2009a: 175), briefly: menacing to become, in fact, this "industrie un peu plus bête qu'une autre" Galtan is raging against (AB 40).
Internet as Inferno: Blogs, Wikipedia and the Writer's Way through Hell
Internet trouble every day: the presence of new media worsens Galtan's woes as a writer, following his daily via dolorosa through the WWW. Galtan, with his pronouncedly elitist views, is shocked and angered by the fact that the all-too democratic Internet gives a voice to anonymous "mediocrity"29 – and still more by the fact that said mediocrity does not even consider his own œuvre relevant enough to attack it. For the frustrated visitor of various literary blogs and forums, more and more transformed into a self-hating Internet addict, the web becomes a postmodernized version of Dante's inferno:
PhiN 64/2013: 27
Latching on the remainders of his reputation, struggling to conserve a minimal public presence on the market, the sadly neglected novelist starts obsessively 'trolling' on the Internet and anonymously denigrating potentially more successful colleagues: "Galtan laisse moult commentaires ignobles, sous des identités diverses. On les retrace, sans problème: 'qu'elle aille se faire enculer, avec son énorme cul plein de merde' à propos d'une collègue. On sent l'homme épanoui, sans aigreur ni trouble personnel" (AB 105).
Mortified by public disinterest, Galtan also becomes his own Wikipedia-hagiographer, authorizing an unfortunately all-too 'telling' bio-bibliographical notice. Even to detective Lucie's indifferent eye, his disguised Wiki-autobiography sketches a quite unpleasant portrait of a frustrated and self-infatuated person, incapable of taking the just measure of his own importance in the small world of literature, not to speak about the world as such: "Sa page Wikipédia est typique des gens insécures, qui la rédigent eux-mêmes, en perdant la décence de vue" (AB 19). But Despentes' small Wiki-parody, besides its narrative function as an indirect portrait – or rather caricature – of the artist, also raises some fundamental questions about Wikipedia as a characteristic phenomenon of the reading, writing (and copying) culture of our time, about the (re)framing of 'canonized' knowledge via the Wiki-dispositive – and about the ways contemporary (literary and other) authors might react to the kind of 'un-authorized' text provided by the online encyclopedia, advertising its ambivalent 'freedom'.30
Rating Trouble: Portrait of the Writer as Amazon Junkie
The status of Amazon, its sales ranking system (cf. Rosenthal 2011), privileging big literary brands and bestselling titles,31 as well as its customer reviews dispositive, offering rich possibilities for manipulation (cf. Merschmann 2007), its monopolizing methods of crowding smaller rivals out of the market, its impact on the development of the international book industry, etc. are, currently, controversially discussed subjects.32 Despentes, in Apocalypse bébé, thematizes the ambivalent role of Amazon via her tragicomic portrait of a dis-authorized author as a miserable Amazon junkie, desperately observing his book's rise and (quite more often) fall at the pitiless marketplace of literary values. The detailed analysis of Galtan's "navigation internaute" (AB 104), undertaken after his daughter's disappearance, motivates a critical excursion into the brave new Amazon world. Detective Lucie Toledo wonders at the protocols of Galtan's extravagant Internet habits and particularly at his obsessive visits to Amazon, reiterated dozens of times a day: "Mais qu'est-ce qu'il fout sur Amazon à regarder son livre trente fois par jour?" (AB 104). One of her colleagues from the IT service explains to her the most probable reason of Galtan's strange Amazon addiction ("Il regarde son classement dans les ventes. Il change toutes les heures", AB 104), resuming the biblio-pathological case of an acquaintance who, having finally published his own book, immediately fell under the spell of the Amazon Empire and its perfidious ranking system (AB 104).33
PhiN 64/2013: 28
Biblio-Darwinism or The E-Book as the Writer's Nightmare
Besides the disaster of his Amazon ratings, Galtan is haunted by another obsession, concerning the fate of the book – the very pillar of his whole existence – in a new mediatic context. His anxieties about the disappearance of the physical book as an economically, but also ontologically 'securing' object are fuelled by his mother, accomplished psycho-terrorist, who continuously harasses him with apocalyptic news from the bibliographical front, demonstrating him again and again that he has, from the beginning, backed the wrong horse: "Sa mère […] découpe chaque article qu'elle trouve concernant le livre numérique, le lui apporte et, s'il ne le lit pas immédiatement, le lui résume. C'est ainsi qu'elle lui fait entendre qu'il a tout raté dans sa vie. Une vie consacrée aux livres, et les livres bientôt disparus" (AB 47).
Not only in questions of medium and format, but also in matters of contents, Galtan, old-school man of letters, has lost touch with a new literary landscape (his tragicomic 'case' illustrates, once more, the dynamics of "literature as the interplay between form, content, and medium", Hayles 2002: 31). Irritated and perplexed, he observes the caprices of literary fashion; behind Galtan's depreciative enumeration of various literary 'aberrations' (as Despentes' own texts fit quite well into Galtan's scheme of postmodern non- or anti-literature, this passage produces a particular ironic effect), the real prototypes among contemporary French and other European authors (from Charlotte Roche to Frédéric Beigbeder) seem evident enough:34
Nevertheless, Galtan, in his turn, conscientiously tries to fabricate a bestseller, mixing the basic ingredients of his future roman à succès: "Il ne jetait pas le gant. Pour son dernier roman La Grande Pyramide de Paris, il avait tenté de s'adapter. […] Un peu d'histoire égyptienne […] une intrigue romanesque, des personnages jeunes, qui écoutaient de la musique dans leur téléphone et parlaient de sexe sans tabou" (AB 41f.).
PhiN 64/2013: 29
Mortal Marketing: The Birth of the Bestseller from the Death of the Author
Poor François Galtan will not achieve the desired status as a bestselling 'great European novelist' but post mortem; it is true that the frustrated writer, struck by post-cortisone 'cold turkey', had, long before his daughter's infallible if murderous marketing trick, taken into consideration the option of revalorizing his work by suicide (AB 44).35 In Apocalypse bébé, the 'death (or rather suicide) of the author' turns out to be a sophisticated advertising strategy; Galtan is finally elevated to – temporary – immortality and 'Amazonian' canonization without his activity and against his will. The bomb hidden in his daughter's vagina does not only deflagrate the Palais-Royal, all guests of the dubious ceremony (rewarded for various, but equally suspect reasons, AB 334f.) and a whole part of Paris included, but it does also catapult Galtan's books on top of international bestselling lists, the author – now "mondialement connu" – being, unfortunately, out of state to enjoy his new celebrity (AB 332).
While still alive, Galtan, menaced in his very identity as an 'Author' (with a big A), opts, bon gré mal gré, for the defensive pose of the misjudged genius; writing, for him, is also a strategy of evasion, a method of escaping his catastrophic private life and of keeping his turbulent family at bay. From his daughter's point of view, the auto-mise en scène of the bourgeois pseudo-artiste maudit is mocked pitilessly: "Son père écrivait un roman et se promenait dans la maison avec le regard vide et une tête de fou, pour éviter qu'elle lui adresse la parole, c'était le même cinéma à chaque fois" (AB 285).
Writing and/as Violence: Toward an Ethics of Fiction
Galtan, conceived as a profoundly ambivalent character, also serves a paradigmatic figure, as far as the (im)moral potential of literature is concerned. Umberto Eco, in his Confessions of a Young Novelist, reflects on the ethical implications of literary fiction as a 'school' of human existence (cf. Eco 2011: 115); as "le lieu des possibles" (Darrieussecq 2011: 22), generating (proto-)philosophical distance with existing realities, fiction has its concrete impact on the 'real world' (cf. Esposito 2007: 18). Proposing various role models, illustrating possible patterns of thought, emotion and behavior, it playfully trains humans in the complex "semantics of modern society" (cf. ibid.: 56) and its "pluralism of realities" (cf. ibid.: 68), providing them with "cette divine liberté de réinventer la vie" (Makine 2003: 72).
PhiN 64/2013: 30
In Despentes' novel, it is, ironically, the 'Hyène' – a decidedly anti-literary, but also intensely fiction- and mytho-generating character36 – who is charged with uttering some paraphilosophical reflections about fairy tales as a narrative school of (and for) life: "Les contes de fées nous apprennent la vraie vie" (AB 314). The 'Hyène', proudly and provokingly promoting the advantages of a subversive, orgiastic – and, if necessary, violent – Lesbian subculture ("Ça ne lui déplaisait pas de jouer la gouine telle que la rêvent les hétéros: brute, marginale et capable de couper la bite à n'importe qui", AB 243),37 attacking "la beauferie hétérocentrée" (AB 59),38 also plays a crucial role in her quality as a secret murderer of problematic male 'authority'. When still a schoolgirl, she has killed the abusive father of a classmate she was in love with, a symbolic representative of male violence, "endemic" in Despentes' work (Jordan 2005: 124), of a whole system of brutal and pseudo-moralist patriarchy: "[…] il avait vraiment la tête de la France du début des années 80, une France encore engoncée dans des idées de décence, d'autorité et de sens moral" (AB 220). This initiatory murder of a paradigmatic 'bad' father figure – personifying, once again, the "banality of evil" (cf. Arendt 1964) – will never be discovered, nor punished; this experience marks the 'Hyène's' whole further biography, having taught her the exceptionality of justice (AB 225), the power of violence ("Y a rien qui marche comme la violence, pour bien communiquer", AB 128) and, finally, the arbitrariness of 'reality' ("Il s'était creusé entre elle et le monde un écart infranchissable", AB 226).
But Galtan, although a professional writer of fiction and, as such, a supposed expert in the exploration of 'possible worlds', is depicted as an extremely un-empathic, egocentric character; in his personal life, he proves not only unwilling, but incapable of considering events from another point of view and interest than his own. Annoyed by his daughter's eternal excesses, he is convinced that Valentine – not content with incarnating, "comme une trace empoisonnée", the failure of his only 'true' love story – has one main reason for organizing all this trouble: "Elle déborde d'énergie. […] Elle l'emploie, à plein temps, à l'emmerder" (AB 46). As journalist Antonella, the detectives' sexy accomplice, cynically comments, the writer seems strangely disinterested in his runaway daughter's fate, as long as he can make no literary use of it: "Si la petite meurt, à la rigueur, ça peut faire un roman… […]. Mais si elle rentre pour le traiter de vieux con, que veux-tu qu'il en fasse? Il préfère penser à autre chose" (AB 75).
Selling Bodies, Selling Books: Figurations of Power and Incorporated Identities
In an interview, Despentes, perfectly aware that the literary 'recycling' of biographically close people may well be perceived as an act of symbolic violence, explains why she, so far, refrains from writing and publishing autofiction (a genre raising the question of literary ethics with special virulence39): "Moi, j'aime bien l'autofiction des autres. Je ne le ferais pas, parce que c'est dangereux. C'est dangereux de fixer les autres, tels quels. C'est une violence à la personne à qui ça arrive" (cf. Neuhoff 2010). This delicate question of an ethics of literary fiction is reflected in Apocalypse bébé, as well. As weak and insecure as he may be, François Galtan, as an author more and more desperately fighting for his fading 'authority', has a violent side, too; this aspect becomes particularly evident in the accounts of his relationship with Valentine's mother. Even if he is not very successful in accumulating economic and symbolic capital himself, his bourgeois origins, his family's wealth, his culture – and, finally, his masculinity – situate Galtan among the socially dominant, while his ex-wife, born into a poor and uneducated immigrant family of Maghrebian origins, is clearly part of the dominated class (and sex).
PhiN 64/2013: 31
Well equipped with an exceptionally beautiful body and an iron will, Louisa alias Vanessa, decided to forge herself a new identity, starts a remarkable socio-economic ascension, denying her origins, fantasizing about becoming a 'real' Frenchwoman – and even, with the neophyte's zealousness, "Raciste, comme une vraie Française" (AB 170). Actually domiciled in Barcelona, she enjoys her new social status: her 'Mediterranean' physical appearance is no longer stigmatizing; in the eyes of Catalonian 'autochthones' (whom she is eager to despise in her turn, cf. AB 169f.), she finally appears in the role of the elegant Parisian lady she has been dreaming of for years: "Ici, elle est une Parisienne. […] Jamais, de sa vie, elle n'avait eu l'occasion de ressentir le bonheur de pouvoir être raciste" (AB 168ff.).
Conscious that her body is her only capital, Vanessa, dedicated, with very rare exceptions, to an economy of 'useful' sex ("elle avait toujours couché utile", AB 184),40 is obsessed with clever investment of her erotic charms and efficient conservation of her beauty, permanently checking, labeling (AB 176), estimating the market value of her own body in comparison with others, just as compulsively as Galtan follows his books' Amazon ratings.41 A prototype of the secretly subversive 'beauté fatale' questioning the automatic reproduction of social hierarchies and the corresponding repartition of – symbolically over-determined – physical qualities (cf. Bourdieu 1998: 71), she permanently adopts an alienating gaze on her own body as "corps-pour-autrui" (ibid.: 70). At every single moment, she strategically adapts her own corporeal mise en scène, conforming her body language to her concrete addressees. Confronted with the two detectives, Vanessa, as soon as she has identified the 'Hyène' as a Lesbian, immediately modifies her behavior and gestures, recurring to the non-verbal language of seduction she would also display in front of a male heterosexual interlocutor (AB 176f.).
Nevertheless, Vanessa – body artist in an existential sense, cultivating herself, by all means, as her own and only masterpiece – is never able to make her body, archive sui generis, 'forget'; even covered with all the external accessories of wealth, assiduously imitating the manners and the rhetoric of the privileged class, she cannot erase her story, her memories inscribed in that very body. Despentes' portrait of Vanessa testifies, once more, to the author's lucidity in questions of habitus; it seems to illustrate Pierre Bourdieu's reflections on the 'incorporation' of social hierarchies, the "somatisation des rapports sociaux de domination" (Bourdieu 1998: 29).42 But Vanessa herself is well aware of the social mechanisms conditioning – if not her behavior – her inner reactions; this subtle transfer of critical competence seems of some importance, too: by accentuating and valorizing the self-reflectiveness of her 'marginal' characters, even of low social origin and without any noteworthy formal education, Despentes undermines the problematic opposition between academic analysis and its (supposedly 'unconscious') object.42
PhiN 64/2013: 32
Despite all her beauty and her remarkable utilitarianism, as far as inter-human relationships are concerned – men, in her eyes, are essentially rated as (more or less) "belle prise" (AB 184) or "grosse prise" (AB 198) –, Vanessa remains a well disguised outsider in the privileged world she has finally succeeded to enter and that tolerates her because of her exceptional decorative qualities; secretly, she is convinced that she does not belong in her new husband's life with his aristocratic pedigree and his "famille à château" (AB 172). Her body conserves the memory of another past, the ineffaceable traces of another history: "Un doute s'est insinué […]. Et si elle n'était qu'une très jolie beurette, un nœud de loseries bien emballé. […] Les accessoires, ça s'achète, ça se porte, on peut mentir avec. Mais la mémoire, elle, ne se change pas" (AB 173f.). Vanessa's self-analysis in this passage still seems to echo Bourdieu's reflections on the corporeal 'inscriptions' of social relations, on symbolic force as "une forme de pouvoir qui s'exerce sur les corps, directement, et comme par magie, en dehors de toute contrainte physique" (Bourdieu 1998: 44).
Symbolically dominated, Vanessa is also particularly sensibilized to the (private and public) concurrence of various narratives – and to the fact that her own position within the discursive economy of society is indeed a very weak one: "La détective a entendu raconter l'histoire du point de vue de la famille de François, forcément. Et l'autre, aussi […]. Elles ont déjà arrêté leur jugement, comme tout le monde. Personne n'a besoin d'entendre la version de Vanessa pour la condamner" (AB 180). At the occasion of the detectives' visit, Vanessa is surprised to realize to which degree she is longing to tell finally her own version of her past, a story embellished, manipulated in her own way: "Bien sûr, elle raconte un peu comme elle veut. Elle a le droit, depuis le temps que les Galtan répandent leur version mensongère. […] c'est agréable de refaçonner l'histoire en se donnant un rôle plus décent" (AB 183f.). For her writing ex-husband, she is convinced to have been, above all, an aesthetic object of prestige, proudly presented to his intellectual friends who systematically confined her, with unconscious bourgeois snobbism, to the more than ambivalent role of the exotic 'oriental beauty', showering her with the corresponding clichés: "Ils me parlaient tous de couscous, de l'Orient et de la danse du ventre. […] A gauche, c'était les pires, ils avaient peur qu'on oublie nos racines" (AB 182f.). In Vanessa's eyes, her ex-husband's literary activities appear as a crucial part of the symbolic violence she feels she has been exposed to. When their separation degenerates into a regular little 'rose war', all of the couple's common acquaintances take the husband's part, Galtan disposing not only of a clearly superior social status, but also, due to his literary and journalistic tasks, of a certain public authority: "Galtan avait un peu de pouvoir, à l'époque. Une colonne dans un quotidien. Juste ce qu'il faut pour qu'ils choisissent, tous, d'être de son côté. Celui du plus fort. Uniment" (AB 186f.). Once the 'stranger' gone, the Galtan family anxiously avoids any mention of Valentine's "double origine" (AB 292); it is against her family's will that the girl, who, so far, had been complicit in denying her double background (AB 292f.), desperately lonely and in quest of an – of any – identity, tries to re-establish contact with her maternal family (who, by their triviality and their obvious greed when confronted with their rich relative, will disappoint her as well). Years later, Vanessa is still furious at the idea of having been – literally and literarily – 'exploited' by the bourgeois writer, indefatigably 'recycled' in his novels. The memory of this violence, inscribed in Vanessa's beautiful, but metaphorically 'crucified' body, is evoked in intense corporeal terms; in this context, the 'writing hand' becomes an imaginary instrument of moral and physical torture:
PhiN 64/2013: 33
Google as Aphrodisiac or The Writer's Secret Sex Appeal
Galtan's current – and third – wife Claire (who has herself a bourgeois background) waits, on the contrary, in vain for her writing husband to metamorphose her into a splendid literary heroine. In her evocations of this couple, Despentes parodies another aspect of literary 'authority', the kind of sex appeal an otherwise very moderately attractive man owes to his imaginary power of reinventing and transforming reality. Galtan's profession plays indeed a crucial role in his – secretly sadomasochistic – relationship with Claire, pitilessly considered by beautiful Vanessa as "un poussin: deux gros nibards posés sur des bottines" (AB 177). After having been courted by Galtan on a train trip (ironically, she was flicking, quite bored, through a book by Paul Morand in the very moment Galtan, himself an ideologically conservative man of letters, entered her life, AB 86), Claire is less than enthusiastic about her new cavalier, devoid of any particular physical charms, but evidently very narcissistic – and, as she soon grasps, obsessed with his professional status: "Elle le trouvait grassouillet, un peu vieux […]. Plus imbu de lui-même que charismatique. […] Quand il ne parlait pas de lui, il se lançait dans des diatribes sur les prix littéraires, les journalistes publiant de mauvais livres mais obtenant de bonnes critiques des confrères,44 les auteurs traduits alors qu'ils ne le méritent pas, ou les succès injustifiés" (AB 86ff.).
But, nevertheless, her attitude changes in the (although rather modest) light of Galtan's notoriety as a writer. At this occasion, Google reveals its unsuspected capacities as a regular aphrodisiac: "Il avait dit qu'il écrivait […]. Quand elle l'avait tapé sur Google, ses sentiments avaient changé" (AB 87). The discovery of her admirer's books on the shelves of Virgin Megastore (of all possible bookshops… Despentes, ex-employee of said Megastore, does not miss this small gag) definitively transforms Claire from a more or less reasonable middle-aged woman into a devoted "groupie" (AB 87): "Trouver des romans portant le nom de cet homme dans ce grand magasin avait achevé de la transporter dans un délire érotique insensé" (AB 89). Her first erotic encounter with Galtan is an act of solitary reading; after spending a whole afternoon on her bed, ravished by her future lover's and finally husband's fiction, Claire is ready for more, fantasizing – just as Vanessa, but with quite different feelings – about the magical power of the 'writing hand'. Masochist Claire – to whom the misogyny and narcissism of Galtan's work is evident enough (cf. also AB 89) – is eager to submit herself to the hyper-eroticized 'authority' of the male writer, her complex emotions representing another variation of the "érotisation des relations sociales de domination" analyzed by Sandra Lee Bartky (Bartky 1990: 51, qtd. in Bourdieu 1998: 75):
PhiN 64/2013: 34
After this orgasmic intercourse with the author's alluring phantasm, the first sexual encounter with (on a diegetic level) 'real' François Galtan proves more than deceiving; Claire is forced to admit that sex with the writer is not quite "comme dans un livre de lui" (AB 89). But she does no longer dare to abandon him, already lustfully afraid of his possible literary revenge: "Elle rédigeait dans sa tête les bribes du roman qu'il aurait pu écrire, sur elle, si jamais elle ne se comportait pas correctement avec lui" (AB 91). Claire's attitude toward Galtan as a privileged shareholder of 'authority', in possession of a symbolic power that may, at any moment, turn into personalized violence, is extremely ambivalent; anticipating her own miraculous metamorphosis, she conforms herself to the role model of a Romanesque heroine, anxious not to disappoint Galtan's expectations: "Elle essayait toujours de se conduire en bonne héroïne." But she finally has to accept that she does not form part of her husband's "imaginaire romanesque" and never will: "Ça l'avait déçue, comme tant d'autres choses" (AB 91).
The concrete sexual mises en scène between Galtan and Claire (cf. AB 91f.) mirror the sublimated literary sadomasochism marking the couple's relationship from the very beginning. Claire, to whom Galtan refuses any consecration as his muse and/or heroine, searches her husband's earlier novels for traces of his only 'true love' (AB 96), compensating her marital frustrations, in her turn, by psychoanalytical sessions and by her personal 'writing cure', spamming her small private world with "terrifying" amounts of e-mails, assiduously posting on pedagogico-parental sites about her daughters' achievements; exhausted and exasperated Lucie spends some laborious moments scrolling through the pirated e-archive of Claire's extensive online activities (AB 106).
"tout foutre en l'air" or The (Meta-)Poetics of Terror
The problem of – more or less literary – writing as an act of violence, of vengeance, of 'storynapping' the other's body and soul, is reflected not only through François Galtan and his successive wives, but also via the character of his daughter Valentine who discovers, early enough, the virtues of writing as a weapon – a weapon the girl turns against her detested stepmother ("violente, physiquement" [AB 94], she attacks her physically as well; cf. AB 94f. and AB 107). In a seemingly innocent 'self-written' story that she presents to the latter, she mocks, with surprising (and, for the elder woman, shocking) knowledge of very intimate details, cruelly her father's and her stepmother's sex life and their sadomasochistic preferences; but, above all, she dwells, with relish, on malicious descriptions of a grotesquely deformed, abject step-maternal body (AB 93f.).
PhiN 64/2013: 35
Valentine's final transformation into a terrorist is prepared and framed by the girl's extravagant poetic activities. Still in Barcelona, the young kamikaze candidate works on a short lyrical text destined to complete her murderous performance. Sitting in a park, she sketches the poem she will read on her personal video, claiming responsibility for the terror attack:
Finally, she will use a slightly modified version of her suicidal poem (AB 327), her performance reminding the startled audience of some kind of school poetry slam. In this sense, Valentine may also be considered as a potential author, using (and abusing) writing on purposes of aggression and self-defense. But, soon enough, more audacious and still more desperate than her novelizing father,45 she switches her 'genre', using her own body as an explosive medium in order to communicate her paradoxical message, i.e. her refusal of any 'message': "Je vous dégueule, tous. Ce que je vais faire, je le fais seule. Si qui que ce soit revendique mon geste, c'est un gros mytho, pathétique. Je vais le faire juste pour le fun" (AB 328). The meta-literary implications of this character are still confirmed by the fact that, in some regards, teenage terrorist Valentine seems to realize – in the frame of a fictional text and on a physical level – some politico-poetological devices of her literary creator, whose ambivalent "énergie", according to Beigbeder (2011: 260), "pulvérise tout sur son passage". Despentes, conscious of her 'anarcho-feminist' mission, has repeatedly highlighted the necessity of female counter-violence (cf., for instance, Jordan 2005: 141), of "faire éclater les choses",46 defining feminism, in the vigorous final paragraphs of her King Kong Théorie, as a regular "revolution":
PhiN 64/2013: 36
Despentes' 'apocalyptic' heroine, taking this recommendation à la lettre, quite literally dedicates herself to the project of "tout foutre en l'air". Immediately after introducing her bomb into her vagina, Valentine – another hint at her meta-literary status – mockingly utters the very small key sentence Despentes originally envisaged as a title for her novel as a whole: "Tu la veux? Tu la prends" (AB 328).47
The teenage pioneer of 'intimate' terrorism symbolically blasts away a paradigmatic scenery of bourgeois corruption – emblematic of a system in which she could have been one of the socio-economic winners. With Valentine's attack, Despentes also stages a metaphorical explosion of politico-cultural stereotypes. As Takeda (2010) shows, the subject of (suicide) terrorist attacks plays a significant role in contemporary constructions of 'alterity'. While this "very old phenomenon" (Laqueur 2003: 232), having existed "over a long time in many countries and cultures" (ibid.: 71), should be considered, beyond current political issues and actual hot spots of terror, as a virtually "universal problem" (Takeda 2010: 22) or even as an "anthropological constant" (ibid.: 36), Occidental discourses on (suicide) terrorism – a telling example of a self-regulating discourse, permanently re-inventing the "own" and the "other" (ibid.: 35) – tend to ethno-culturalize (and to 'modernize') the phenomenon, essentializing it as "a menacing foreign object" imported to "our" civilization (ibid.: 46). Peter Sloterdijk also reflects on the ways in which 9/11, above all, has been – and continues to be – instrumentalized in order to legitimate a dichotomizing ideology, opposing an aggressive world 'outside' and a seemingly peaceful (or merely self-defensive) world 'inside' – the latter being usually resumed under "inclusive titles" such as the "civilized world", the "community of democracies" or, briefly, "the West" (Sloterdijk 2002, qtd. in Takeda 2010: 46). Apocalypse bébé, in this sense, undermines the problematic "dichotomization of discourse" about terrorism (cf. Takeda 2010: 37ff.), subverting the simplistic categories inside/outside, own/other. When informed about the event, the novel's characters, well-conditioned contemporary media users, are all-too eager to identify the terrorist(s) as representative(s) of some menacing group 'outside'; Lucie automatically assumes that the whole thing must be the work of sinister Islamist terrorists ("Au Palais-Royal? Tu veux dire à Paris? Ils laissent entrer des islamistes, là-dedans?" AB 324), while one of her colleagues, rather absurdly, brings ETA into play: "C'est pas forcément Al-Qaida, vous savez que l'ETA a prévenu qu'ils allaient frapper?" (AB 325). But the mortal danger, in fact, comes from within; the terrorist is a French teenage girl from a wealthy and conservative bourgeois family.
PhiN 64/2013: 37
Despentes' novel strategically displaces contemporary discourses on terrorism in other aspects, too. Apocalypse bébé depicts the 'making of' a juvenile terrorist, combining, in the frame of a polyphonic narration, internal and external points of view, refusing the terrorist's radical 'othering' as well as the total immersion into her consciousness and her specific vision of the world.48 Finally, gender is a most relevant category in Despentes' extravagant imagery of terror. If the phenomenon of the female suicide terrorist – after a whole series of female suicide attacks during the years of the second 'Intifada' (cf. Brunner 2005), of Chechen "Brides of Allah" (cf. Juzik 2005), etc. – is certainly not new, it still seems to produce a particular effect (as the narrator-protagonist in Yasmina Khadra's L'Attentat comments, "[…] quand il s'agit de frapper les esprits […] une femme kamikaze fait un tabac dans ce sens", Khadra 2005: 46); as a multiply 'transgressive' (cf. Brunner 2005: 2), contradictory figure, the female suicide bomber, even if dying and murdering in the name of some patriarchal ideology/religion, also seems to shatter, to a certain degree, traditional gender roles and gender codes of violence (cf. ibid.: 4). Moreover, Despentes' text, with its provoking scenario of 'vaginal terrorism', demonstratively stages the presence of the terrorist's female body, an eminently sexualized, but also eminently human – neither angelic nor diabolic – body.49
Bourgeoisie vs. Banlieue: Culture as Will and Representation
Despentes' novel still invites other considerations on an ethics of literature in its sociocultural context: Apocalypse bébé problematizes (access to) literature as a cultural privilege,50 as well as the implicit cynicism of a 'literarizing' attitude toward social realities. Valentine, among her new Marxist friends, ironically reflects on the latter's naivety and on the total indifference of her own class toward the 'poor', whose only (limited) interest may reside in their potential quality as an inspiring object of "bad literature" (AB 290). Galtan – incarnating all the "misère de riche" (AB 142), just as his prodigal daughter – represents, nevertheless, an ideal enemy for the Marxist group's intellectual mastermind, a "terroriste de salon" (AB 308) named 'Carlito'. Valentine, accustomed to her father's quite modest reputation, is surprised by Carlito's violent reaction at the mere mention of Galtan's name and his eagerness to throw himself into an imaginary dispute with the bourgeois writer, (ab)using her as a substitutive addressee (AB 283).
Ideologically well equipped and eloquent Carlito, in his way and in his milieu, still represents a kind of symbolic 'authority'. But Despentes' novel also explores the real margins of French society, trying to reconstruct the – or rather a – possible point of view of those 'outside'. In her evocations of Valentine's Maghrebian ancestry, her secret banlieue family – and particularly of her splendid and highly aggressive cousin Yacine –, Despentes offers some pertinent observations on the banlieue as a socio-economic hot spot, as well as some caustic comments on the hypocrite liberal humanism and (pseudo-)philanthropy of the French privileged classes, who prefer touring the world in search of 'good' – exotic and deferent – poverty rather than facing the 'pauvres méchants' from the abandoned banlieues back home:51
PhiN 64/2013: 38
Despentes' exploration of banlieue existences is remarkable also because of the narrative point of view adopted: at the difference of numerous other contemporary banlieue narratives,52 a part of the story is told from an 'internal' standpoint, the text's narrative organization mirroring Despentes' questioning of cultural and social hierarchies at the level of contents. If Vanessa still rages at the idea of how her bourgeois husband has 'abused' her for literary purposes, her nephew Yacine – Valentine's cousin and short-time lover ("un songe de petite fille […] le fucking prince charmant", AB 294) –, pure product of the Parisian banlieue, has his own ways of protesting against the privileges of the dominant class. He refuses, on principle, any confrontation with the 'culture' taught at school – in his eyes, merely an affair of French 'autochthones' and, consequently, not 'his business', as he categorically claims: "Cette culture-là n'est pas pour eux. […] L'enseignement des français de souche. Ça ne le regarde pas" (AB 135). His French teacher is disqualified in extremely pejorative misogynous terms, as "la pute au tableau […] Cette clocharde. Elle aimerait surtout qu'il la baise […]" (AB 136). Correspondingly, Yacine expresses his violent disdain for a female relative who, exceptionally, has managed her sociocultural ascension at least in matters of formal education. Said aunt, teaching at a Parisian university, is, in Yacine's eyes, the victim of ridiculous illusions about her social prestige and her degree of integration into 'real' French society: "Qu'est-ce qu'elle croit? Qu'on la prend moins pour une bicote parce qu'elle a singé leur culture?" (AB 135). Despentes' portrait of Yacine – self-proclaimed super-hero, proud of his precocious 'virility', but nevertheless deeply frightened by the intensity of his sexual encounters with Valentine (in erotic ecstasy, the girl appears to him "transfigurée: une Vierge noire […] déesse de la destruction, sacrée et terrifiante", AB 14353) – reflects all the ambivalences of this character's 'impossible' sociocultural situation. If Yacine ferociously refuses any participation in French culture and society, he also profoundly despises "les racailles" of his milieu (AB 134), adopting a xenophobic and pseudo-elitist perspective on his 'own' people, imitating an aggressive anti-banlieue discourse (bearing striking resemblances to a Nicolas Sarkozy's 'racaille-and-Kärcher'-sayings).
PhiN 64/2013: 39
Retelling Life or The Art of Narrative Survival
In her 'apocalyptic' novel, Despentes ingeniously uses polyphonic narrative structure not only in order to draw attention to her literary priëmy as such, stimulating the readers' vigilance and co-creative activity, but also in order to deconstruct the 'fiction' of omniscient and almighty authority. There is no single 'true' version of the events told, but only a variety of points of view, a mosaic of necessarily incomplete, biased interpretations of the world. First-person narrator Lucie Toledo is an anti-heroic character par excellence, struggling to maintain an approximate control over a story the hidden meanings and secret connections of which she is unable – and, often enough, even unwilling – to figure out, a paradigmatic 'loser', but also, just as such, endowed with the (self-)pitiless lucidity of Despentes' 'marginal women'.54 The chapters told in Lucie's voice alternate with passages assumed by a third-person narrator, but with internal focalization on several other characters (François, Claire, Yacine, Vanessa, La Hyène, Élisabeth, Valentine), delivering, to the reader, a lot of information the principal – chronically subdued and overstrained – narrator does not dispose of.55 Occasionally, Despentes short-circuits these two types of narration, having, for instance, Vanessa tell a part of her strategically embellished story (undermined, at the same time, by the fatal beauty's more 'authentic' inner ruminations) to the 'Hyène' and to "la petite Lucie", whom she considers with perfect disdain: "On oublie vite qu'elle est là" (AB 182). Thus, narrative polyphony, in Apocalypse bébé, serves ideological diversity of voices and perspectives, indirectly questioning each other's realities, illuminating and (partially) compensating each other's blind spots.
But the novel also reflects on the ways in which human beings cope with life by means of narrative, trying to make sense in an incomprehensible world. Juvenile protagonist Valentine, in search of her identity, frenetically moves between diametrically opposed milieus, 'testing' radically different visions of the world. From her status as a groupie of a hard right band with the promising name "Panique dans ton cul",56 she directly switches to a circle of the extreme left, a loose association of would-be Marxists with "des looks d'altermondialistes" ("rien qu'à les voir ça sentait mauvais", AB 278); just as readily, she adheres to the aggressive religion of pure violence that Yacine, her handsome Maghrebian cousin and lover, preaches to her. This – strongly sexualized – indoctrination will play a certain role in preparing Valentine, physically relishing Yacine's sermons of anger, for her kamikaze attack; the young man's particular power of persuasion passes right through Valentine's womb (just as the fatal 'vaginal bomb' will): "Ce que Yacine parlait le mieux, c'était le langage de la colère. Elle adorait ça. […] Il y avait un plaisir métallique dans ce genre de litanie. Un plaisir qui venait comme quand on se fait prendre violemment par le cul sans y être préparée […]. Une explosion, totale. Il avait raison. Valentine le savait, avec son ventre, ça suffisait. […] Il avait raison" (AB 295). On her ideological odyssey through these different milieus,57 Valentine, very sensitive to her own story ("Elle est très attentive à sa courte biographie. Elle la récapitule volontiers, c'est tout ce qu'elle possède aujourd'hui", AB 277), experiments also with a number of versions of her biography, unable to settle onto a more or less satisfying interpretation of herself and her place in the world, fatally moving toward her suicidal and multi-murderous end.
PhiN 64/2013: 40
After the disaster at the Palais-Royal, the survivors instinctively try to rearrange their lives, to mend their world by 'therapeutic' storytelling, this precarious "privilege of the weak" (Lewitscharoff 2011: 212). Ex-detective Lucie Toledo, profoundly traumatized, forced to flee from Paris, showers herself with auto-accusations for not having realized what was going on: "C'est comme un trou noir, un endroit dont je ne dois pas trop m'approcher: qu'est-ce qui s'est passé, au juste?" (AB 338). Full of doubt and anger, she passes through all the circles of inferno, re-living the calamitous event again and again, retelling it from various points of view, gradually reconstructing her 'pulverized' identity: "J'ai vécu obsédée, pendant trois mois, par la journée de l'explosion. J'étais dans le ventre de Valentine, dans le corps de François Galtan, j'étais déchiquetée par l'impact, j'étais dans les mains des pompiers. J'ai perdu mon identité. […] Je me suis diffusée, dans l'espace" (AB 340).
During this turbulent phase of violent identity trouble, Lucie is tutored by her lover Zoska, subjecting her to a regular 'masquerade therapy', playfully re-collecting the mosaic of her fragmented self by "de nombreuses expériences de looks" (AB 340), offering her a series of possible new images of herself: "Je n'ai plus peur qu'on me reconnaisse: moi-même, quand je me vois dans une glace, je n'ai plus l'impression d'être moi" (AB 341). Only after having coped in terms of narrative with the disaster that disrupted her previous biography, Lucie is finally ready to return to a (more or less) 'normal' life: "C'est quand le récit s'est mis à rouler que j'ai commencé à aller mieux" (AB 343). Her companion, in her turn, proposes a whole variety of explanatory narratives, consciously absurd interpretations of the events. But just as Lucie, she is perfectly aware that no one – in any case, not the two of them – will ever get to know the 'true' version, the hard facts about the terrorist attack: "Comme moi, elle a choisi de se raconter une histoire à laquelle elle peut croire, parce qu'elle ne connaîtra jamais la vérité" (AB 343).
Despentes, denying her characters (as well as the reader) any definitive explanation of what 'really' happened, refuses any final 'solution' – and, just as Houellebecq in his novels, any solid "message rassurant final" (Houellebecq 2009: 203). Hypocrite 'Sister Elisabeth', "une boxeuse de Dieu" (AB 301), will have accomplished, most efficiently, her dark mission; charged with recruiting "un jeune homme prêt aux plus grands sacrifices" (AB 263f.), she finally opts for Valentine, whose ideological reliability may be questionable, but who presents all the other qualities required for a future kamikaze: "de mauvaises relations, un équilibre instable, un grand besoin d'attention…" (AB 264). Offering the girl a perfidious simulacrum of the 'unconditional' love she is terribly in lack of (AB 303), Elisabeth rapidly succeeds in transforming her, by emotional manipulation and pharmaceutical intoxication, into a regular "machine de guerre" (AB 304). The reader will never know on behalf of which political or economic powers, under whose concrete orders this pseudo-saint,58 involved in a dubious network of charity missions, trafficking with "sommes colossales" (AB 262), Opus Dei and intelligence services, fulfills her task.59 But even – and at this point, Despentes' play with deliberate confusion reaches its apogee – the terrorist's mentor, paradigm of misanthropic submission to (any) 'authority', does not exactly know whom and whose secret aims she is working for: "On ne sait jamais pour qui on travaille. Et on ignore pour qui on meurt. Ça ne la gêne pas. Sœur Elisabeth fait ce qu'elle a toujours fait […]: elle obéit aux ordres" (AB 265).60 Evidently enough, the narrator suggests that the juvenile 'as if'-terrorist has, after merely flirting with the idea of 'blowing them all up' ("Elle garde la sensation de faire semblant, de jouer à si c'était vrai", AB 303), naively played the game of well established powers. In vain, the 'Hyène' had tried to dissuade Valentine from her murderous project by unmasking the faithless sister's obscure mission: "Tu connais l'expression 'on croit mourir pour ses idées et on tue pour un baril de pétrole'? […] dis-toi bien que ce qui se joue, ça se chiffre en euros, ou en petit gain de pouvoir" (AB 315f.).
PhiN 64/2013: 41
The whole novel stages the in-transparency, the 'unreadability' of the world; Despentes, eliminating the anachronistic phantom of a godlike, omniscient narrator, leaves things in suspense.61 Her refusal of a 'proper' dénouement, of the final reassuring elucidation of the 'truth', not only artfully provokes the readers, inviting them to construct their own 'end' to the story, but also mirrors the human condition in a (post-)postmodern world where traditional grands récits and totalizing narratives have lost their integrative (and manipulative) power, where the dis-oriented individual (or rather "dividual"62) does not have but 'small stories', temporary, precarious, pluralized 'verities' to rely on.63
In this sense, Despentes' novel finishes on a quasi-Socratian note of lucid resignation. Her first-person narrator Lucie has finally reconciled herself with the impossibility of knowing the 'truth', of understanding the world; but she has also acquired a certain philosophical serenity and a new existential narrato-competence, realizing that cultivating one's own story – as imperfect, fragmentary, probably erroneous it may be – is, for the human story-telling animal, the royal road to moral and intellectual survival in an 'unreadable' world: "La vérité, je ne la connaîtrai jamais. Reste l'histoire que je me raconte, d'une façon qui me convienne, dont je puisse me satisfaire" (AB 343).
Anders, Günther (1992 ): Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen. Vol. I: Über die Seele im Zeitalter der zweiten industriellen Revolution. München: Beck.
Arendt, Hannah (1964): Eichmann in Jerusalem. Ein Bericht von der Banalität des Bösen. München: Piper [Eichmann in Jerusalem. A Report on the Banality of Evil, 1963].
Artus, Hubert (2010): "'Apocalypse bébé' de Virginie Despentes prix
Renaudot 2010", in: Rue 89. Les Blogs (Cabinet de lecture: L'actualité des livres), 08.11.2010. http://blogs.rue89.com/cabinet-de-lecture/2010/09/19/
Assouline, Pierre (2009): "De quoi la princesse de Clèves est-elle le
'non'?", in: Le Monde. Blogs,
La République des livres: Le blog de Pierre Assouline, 16.02.2009. http://passouline.blog.lemonde.fr/2009/02/16/de-
PhiN 64/2013: 42
Bachi, Salim (2007 ): Tuez-les tous. Paris: Gallimard.
Bartky, Sandra L. (1990): Femininity and Domination. Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression. New York/London: Routledge.
Beigbeder, Frédéric (2010 ): 99 francs (14,99 €). Paris: Gallimard.
Beigbeder, Frédéric (2009 ): Windows on the World. Paris: Gallimard.
Beigbeder, Frédéric (2012 ): L'Égoïste romantique. Paris: Gallimard.
Beigbeder, Frédéric (2008 ): Au secours pardon. Paris: Grasset.
Beigbeder, Frédéric (2011): Premier bilan après l'apocalypse. Paris: Grasset.
Benjamin, Walter (1977): "Der Erzähler. Betrachtungen zum Werk Nikolai Lesskows" , in: Benjamin: Gesammelte Schriften II/2. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 438‒465.
Berliocchi, Christophe (2012): "Frédéric
Beigbeder: 'Internet, c'est l'empire de la méchanceté, de la bêtise'", in:
Sud Ouest, 24.08.2012. http://www.sudouest.fr/2012/08/24/frederic-beigbeder-internet
Bourdieu, Pierre (1998): La Domination masculine. Paris: Seuil.
Brocas, Alexis (2010): "Polar transgenre [Apocalypse bébé, Virginie Despentes]", in: Le Magazine littéraire n° 500, 9/2010, 41.
Brunner, Claudia (2005): Männerwaffe Frauenkörper? Zum Geschlecht der Selbstmordattentate im israelisch-palästinensischen Konflikt. Wien: Braumüller.
Carrère, Emmanuel (2011 ): D'autres vies que la mienne. Paris: P.O.L.
Carrère, Emmanuel (2011): Limonov. Paris: P.O.L.
Costa, Marianne (2007): "Despentes: anarcho-féministe" [Interview with Virginie Despentes] in: le magazine.info, 08.06.2007. http://www.lemagazine.info/?Despentes-anarcho-feministe[22.11.2012].
Crouch, Colin (2004): Post-democracy. Cambridge etc.: Polity.
Darrieussecq, Marie (2011 ): Rapport de police. Accusations de plagiat et autres modes de surveillance de la fiction. Paris: P.O.L.
PhiN 64/2013: 43
De la Porte, Xavier (2011): "Apocalypse Bébé: Internet, matrice du récit", in: InternetActu.net, 14.02.2011. http://www.internetactu.net/2011/02/14/apocalypse-bebe-internet-matrice-du-recit/ [22.11.2012].
Delaume, Chloé (2010): La Règle du Je. Autofiction. Un essai. Paris: PUF.
Deleuze, Gilles (2009a): "Les Intercesseurs" [L'Autre Journal, No. 8, Oct. 1985], in: Pourparlers 1972-1990. Paris: Minuit, 165‒184.
Deleuze, Gilles (2009b): "Contrôle et devenir" [Futur antérieur, No. 1, spring 1990], in: Pourparlers 1972-1990. Paris: Minuit, 229‒239.
Deleuze, Gilles (2009c): "Post-scriptum sur les sociétés de contrôle" [L'Autre Journal, No. 1, May 1990], in: Pourparlers 1972-1990. Paris: Minuit, 240‒247.
Despentes, Virginie (2006 [1993/1994]): Baise-moi. Paris: J'ai lu.
Despentes, Virginie (2006 ): Les Chiennes savantes. Paris: J'ai lu.
Despentes, Virginie (2001 ): Les Jolies Choses. Paris: J'ai lu.
Despentes, Virginie (2005 ): Mordre au travers. Nouvelles. Paris: Librio.
Despentes, Virginie (2004 ): Teen Spirit. Paris: J'ai lu.
Despentes, Virginie (2012 ): Bye Bye Blondie. Paris: Grasset.
Despentes, Virginie (2008 ): King Kong Théorie. Paris: Grasset.
Despentes, Virginie (2010): Apocalypse bébé. Paris: Grasset. [Zitiert unter der Sigle AB]
Desportes, Gérard / Alexis Lacroix: "'La
France doit demeurer une nation littéraire'. Entretien avec Alain Finkielkraut", in: Libération, 28.01.2011.
Duhamel, Roland (2001): Dichter im Spiegel. Über Metaliteratur. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann.
PhiN 64/2013: 44
Durand, Alain-Philippe (2008a): "Frédéric Beigbeder et ses doubles" [Preface], in: Durand (Ed.): Frédéric Beigbeder et ses doubles. Avec un entretien et une correspondance inédits de l'écrivain. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 7‒9.
Durand, Alain-Philippe (2008b): "Entretien avec Frédéric Beigbeder" , in: Durand (Ed.): Frédéric Beigbeder et ses doubles. Avec un entretien et une correspondance inédits de l'écrivain. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 17‒37.
Eco, Umberto (1990): "Postille a Il nome della rosa" , in: Il nome della rosa . Milano: Bompiani, 505‒533.
Eco, Umberto (2011): Bekenntnisse eines jungen Schriftstellers. Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature. München: Hanser.
Esposito, Elena (2007): Die Fiktion der wahrscheinlichen Realität. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.
Fayard, Nicole (2005): "Sadeian Sisters: Sexuality as Terrorism in the Work of Virginie Despentes", in: Sarah F. Donachie / Kim Harrison (Ed.): Love and Sexuality. New Approaches in French Studies. Oxford/Wien etc.: Lang, 101‒120.
Fayard, Nicole (2006): "The Rebellious Body as Parody: Baise-moi by Virginie Despentes", in: French Studies LX:1, 63‒77.
Freud, Sigmund (2000 [1929/1930]): "Das Unbehagen in der Kultur", in: Studienausgabe Band IX: Fragen der Gesellschaft / Ursprünge der Religion. Frankfurt a. M.: Fischer, 191‒270.
Gambus, Aurélie (2009): La quête d'individualisation du personnage féminin (Les Jolies Choses de Virginie Despentes, Amor, curiosidad, prozac y dudas de Lucía Etxebarria, Surtout ne te retourne pas et Cette Fille-là de Maïssa Bey). Univ. Avignon (Thèse).
Glad, Vincent (2010): "Houellebecq, la possibilité d'un plagiat", in: Slate, 02.09.2010. http://www.slate.fr/story/26745/wikipedia-
Glavinic, Thomas (2007): Das bin doch ich. München: Hanser.
Haraway, Donna (2007): "Situiertes Wissen. Die Wissenschaftsfrage im Feminismus und das Privileg einer partialen Perspektive", in: Sabine Hark (Ed.): Dis/Kontinuitäten. Feministische Theorie. Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 305‒322 [Situated Knowledges. The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective, 1988].
PhiN 64/2013: 45
Hart, Rob W. (2011): "Why Independent Bookstores Matter: A Rebuttal To Slate's Farhad Manjoo", in: LitReactor, 14.12.2011. http://litreactor.com/columns/why-independent-bookstores-matter-a-rebuttal-to-slates-farhad-manjoo [22.11.2012].
Hayles, N[ancy] Katherine (2002): Writing Machines. Cambridge, Mass./London: MIT Press.
Henri, Catherine (2009): "L'Affaire 'Princesse de Clèves'", in: Médiapart, 29.05.2009. http://blogs.mediapart.fr/edition/les-invites-de-
Houellebecq, Michel (2005 ): Plateforme. Paris: Flammarion.
Houellebecq, Michel (2009): Interventions 2: traces. Paris: Flammarion.
Houellebecq, Michel (2010): La Carte et le territoire. Paris: Flammarion.
Houellebecq, Michel / Bernard-Henri Lévy (2008): Ennemis publics. Paris: Flammarion/Grasset.
Jacob, Didier (2010): "Javier Marias, son visage aujourd'hui", in: Le Nouvel Observateur (Les Blogs des journalistes), 28.01.2010. http://didier-jacob.blogs.nouvelobs.com/javier-marias/[22.11.2012].
Jordan, Shirley (2002): "'Dans le mauvais goût pour le mauvais goût'? Pornographie, violence et sexualité féminine dans la fiction de Virginie Despentes", in: Nathalie Morello / Catherine Rodgers (Ed.): Nouvelles écrivaines: nouvelles voix? Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 121‒139.
Jordan, Shirley Ann (2005): "Revolting Women? Excess and détournement de genres in the work of Virginie Despentes", in: Jordan: Contemporary French Women's Writing. Women's Visions, Women's Voices, Women's Lives. Oxford/Wien etc.: Lang, 113‒150.
Joste, Juliette (2010): "Virginie Despentes, Apocalypse bébé: chapeau la hyène", in: ActuaLitté. Les Univers du livre, 18.08.2010. http://www.actualitte.com/critiques/monde-edition/critiques/ virginie-despentes-apocalypse-bebe-chapeau-la-hyene-1123.htm [22.11.2012].
Juranville, Anne (2001): "Die Frauen und die kriminelle 'passage à l'acte' aus der Sicht der zeitgenössischen feministischen Literatur", in: Texte. Psychoanalyse, Ästhetik, Kulturkritik 3, 63‒81.
Juzik, Julija (2005): Die Bräute Allahs. Selbstmord-Attentäterinnen aus Tschetschenien. Wien etc.: NP.
PhiN 64/2013: 46
Kaprièlian, Nelly (2011): "Marie Darrieussecq raconte sa rentrée littéraire", in: Les Inrockuptibles, 08.11.2011. http://www.lesinrocks.com/2011/11/08/livres/marie- darrieussecq-raconte-sa-rentree-litteraire-117232/ [22.11.2012].
Kellman, Steven G. (1980): The Self-Begetting Novel. London/New York: Macmillan.
Khadra, Yasmina (2011 ): L'Attentat. Paris: Julliard.
Lapostolle, Christine (2006): "La Princesse de Clèves au Kärcher", in: Libération, 21.11.2006. http://www.liberation.fr/tribune/ 010166942-la-princesse-de-cleves-au-karcher [22.11.2012].
Laqueur, Walter (2003): No End to War. Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century. New York/London: Continuum.
Le Naire, Olivier (2008): "Le croisé et le rusé. Entretien avec Frédéric Beigbeder et Richard Millet", in: Alain-Philippe Durand (Ed.): Frédéric Beigbeder et ses doubles. Avec un entretien et une correspondance inédits de l'écrivain. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 39‒42.
Le Vaillant, Luc (2004): "Biaise-moi (Portrait)", in: Libération, 30.07.2004. http://www.liberation.fr/portrait/0101497165-biaise-moi [22.11.2012].
Lévy, Pierre (2001): Cyberdémocratie. Essai de philosophie politique. Paris: Odile Jacob.
Lewitscharoff, Sibylle (2013 ): Blumenberg. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.
Loewenstein, Rudolph M. (1971): Psychoanalyse des Antisemitismus. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.
MacIntyre, Alasdair C. (1999 ): After Virtue. A Study in Moral Theory. London: Duckworth.
Makine, Andreï (2004 ): La Terre et le ciel de Jacques Dorme. Paris: Mercure de France.
Makine, Andreï (2010 ): Cette France qu'on oublie d'aimer. Paris: Flammarion.
Manjoo, Farhad (2011): "Don't Support Your Local Bookseller. Buying books on Amazon is better for authors, better for the economy, and better for you", in: Slate, 13.12.2011. http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/12/independent_ bookstores_vs_amazon_buying_books_online_is_better_for_ authors_better_for_the_economy_and_better_for_you_.html [22.11.2012].
PhiN 64/2013: 47
Marcelle, Pierre (2010): "L'Apocalypse selon Despentes", in: Libération, 19.08.2010. http://www.liberation.fr/culture/0101652762-l-apocalypse-selon-despentes [22.11.2012].
Marivat, Gladys (2009): "'La Princesse de Clèves' fait de la résistance", in: Les Inrockuptibles, 23.03.2009. http://www.lesinrocks.com/2009/03/23/actualite/la-princesse-de-cleves-fait-de-la-resistance-1142962/ [05.04.2013].
Martin, Marie-Claude (2010): "Elisabeth Badinter: 'Avec Virginie Despentes, je me sens moins seule'", in: Le Temps, 27.08.2010. http://www.letemps.ch/Page/Uuid/727c49c4-b1cf-11df-a0da-d2fe0d65d5d5 [09.04.2012].
Martin, Marie-Claude (2012): "Virginie Despentes, femme d'influence", in: Le Temps, 27.02.2012 [zuerst 28.08.2010 unter dem Titel "Femme d'influence"]. http://www.letemps.ch/Page/Uuid/37ec5fd4-616d-11e1-994c-566ef92fd527%7C0 [09.04.2012].
Mecke, Jochen (2003): "Der Fall Houellebecq. Zu Formen und Funktionen eines Literaturskandals", in: Giulia Eggeling / Silke Segler-Meßner (Ed.): Europäische Verlage und romanische Gegenwartsliteraturen. Profile, Tendenzen, Strategien. Tübingen: Narr, 194‒217.
Merschmann, Helmut (2007): "Rezensions-Missbrauch. Guerilla-Marketing bei Amazon", in: Der Spiegel, 15.04.2007. http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/0,1518,476359,00.html [22.11.2012].
Neuhoff, Éric (2010): "La subversive et l'inclassable. Deux femmes écrivains loin des codes et des modes", in: Le Figaro Madame, 28.11.2010. http://madame.lefigaro.fr/art-de-vivre/subversive-linclassable-281110-29655 [22.11.2012].
Ott, Clara (2010): "Ich bin traurig, deprimiert und hässlich" [Interview with Frédéric Beigbeder], in: Die Zeit, 26.11.2010. http://www.zeit.de/kultur/literatur/2010-11/interview-beigbeder/ [22.11.2012].
Preciado, Beatriz (2003): Kontrasexuelles Manifest. Berlin: b_books [Manifeste contra-sexuel, 2000].
Riché, Pascal (2008): "Nicolas Sarkozy kärcherise encore La Princesse de Clèves", in: Rue 89. Les Blogs (Mon œil!), 25.07.2008. http://www.rue89.com/mon-oeil/2008/07/25/ nicolas-sarkozy-kaercherise-encore-la-princesse-de-cleves [22.11.2012].
Russo, Richard (2011): "Amazon's Jungle Logic", in: The New York Times, 12.12.2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/13/opinion/amazons-jungle-logic.html?pagewanted=all [22.11.2012].
Salmon, Christian (2007 ): Verbicide. Du bon usage des cerveaux humains disponibles. Arles: Actes Sud.
Salmon, Christian (2008 , reprint 2010): Storytelling. La Machine à fabriquer des histoires et à formater les esprits. Paris: La Découverte.
Salmon, Christian (2010): Kate Moss Machine. Paris: La Découverte.
PhiN 64/2013: 48
Savigneau, Josyane (2010): "Virginie Despentes: 'Je ne suis pas encore
très disciplinée, mais j'essaie'", in: Le
Monde des livres, 20.12.2010. http://www.lemonde.fr/livres/
Schwaab, Catherine (2010): "Virginie Despentes ne fait plus peur", in: Paris Match, 21.11.2010. http://www.parismatch.com/Culture-Match/ Musique/Actu/Virginie-Despentes-ne-fait-plus-peur-226151/ [22.11.2012].
Setzkorn, Sylvia (2000): Vom Erzählen erzählen. Metafiktion im französischen und italienischen Roman der Gegenwart. Tübingen: Stauffenburg.
Sloterdijk, Peter (2002): "Schröders Differenz oder die Stimme Europas. Notiz über die Selbstbehauptung des Westens – mit einem Hinweis darauf, wie sich die deutsche öffentliche Meinung in ein Kriechtier verwandelt", in: Frankfurter Rundschau, 25.09.2002.
Sloterdijk, Peter (2006): Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals. Für eine philosophische Theorie der Globalisierung. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.
Stemberger, Martina (2010): "(Anti)Éloge du maquillage oder Kosmetische Katastrophen: Baudelaire, Despentes, Darrieussecq", in: Grenzgänge. Beiträge zu einer modernen Romanistik 17/2010, 33 (Themenheft: Maskeraden der Schönheit), 101‒120.
Stemberger, Martina (2011): "Tourismen, Terrorismen oder Die Unmöglichkeit einer Insel: Die Neuvermessung der Welt nach Houellebecq", in: PhiN. Philologie im Netz 56 (April 2011), 66-102. http://web.fu-berlin.de/phin/phin56/p56t4.htm [22.11.2012].
Tabbi, Joseph (2005): "A Media Migration. Toward a Potential Literature", in: Michael J. Hoffman / Patrick D. Murphy (Ed.): Essentials of the Theory of Fiction. Durham/London: Duke UP, 471‒490.
Takeda, Arata (2010): Ästhetik der Selbstzerstörung. Selbstmordattentäter in der abendländischen Literatur. München: Wilhelm Fink.
Thomä, Dieter (2007 ): Erzähle dich selbst. Lebensgeschichte als philosophisches Problem. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.
PhiN 64/2013: 49
Toriz, Rafael (2008): Metaficciones. México: UNAM/Ediciones de Punto de partida.
Vahabzadeh, S. / F. Göttler (2008): "Im Interview: Frédéric Beigbeder. 'Ich werde hübsch gehasst'", in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 29.07.2008. http://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/im-interview-frederic-beigbeder-ich-werde-huebsch-gehasst-1.585020 [22.11.2012].
Vallaeys, Béatrice / François Armanet (2000): "Trois femmes s'emparent du sexe. Interview: Catherine Breillat ('Une vraie jeune fille') dialogue avec Virginie Despentes et Coralie Trinh Thi ('Baise-moi')", in: Libération, 13.06.2000. http://www.liberation.fr/culture/0101339077-trois-femmes-s-emparent-du-sexe [22.11.2012].
Waugh, Patricia (1996 ): Metafiction. The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. London/New York: Routledge.
1 Mecke refers to Despentes – alongside with Christine Angot and Catherine Millet – as "the living proof of the fact that literature, even under the changed conditions of the post-avantgardist era, has not lost its capacity to provoke" (Mecke 2003: 195). [All translations are the author's, if not stated otherwise.]
2 "[…] Despentes rock'n'viole notre idiome national. […] Elle écrit comme si elle n'avait rien à perdre, pour restituer son époque avec des mots contemporains […]. Avec elle, le français reste une langue vivante", as Frédéric Beigbeder, himself unsuspicious of outrageous hyper-classicism, describes his fellow writer's characteristic – and, in his eyes, eminently 'contagious' – style (Beigbeder 2011: 261).
3 Cf., for instance, Brocas 2010: "Depuis Les Jolies Choses, on savait Virginie Despentes capable de moduler l'écriture expressive et agressive de ses débuts tout en lui gardant son pouvoir accrocheur." Jordan, contesting critical commonplaces about Despentes' allegedly 'pornographic' works, rather analyzes her "disruptive meta-discourse about pornography" (Jordan 2005: 131); just as Jordan (2002), Fayard highlights her "feminist appropriation of pornography" (Fayard 2005: 103).
4 It might be interesting to note that philosopher and gender theorist Élisabeth Badinter explicitly appreciates this aspect of Despentes' writing: "Son style, sa façon de vivre et d'écrire sont très loin de moi, pour autant, nous sommes sur la même ligne. […] Ce qui m'intéresse chez elle, c'est son courage, sa grande franchise et sa manière de rester ferme sur des positions minoritaires: […] Au fond, avec elle, je me sens moins seule" (qtd. in Martin 2010).
5 She admits to her perplexity when confronted with the dynamics of the writing act itself: "Un livre, je n'ai toujours pas compris comment ça se faisait" (cf. Neuhoff 2010).
PhiN 64/2013: 50
6 The text, dedicated to the team of the film Baise-moi (Karen Bach, Raffaëla Anderson and Coralie Trinh Thi), has been labeled as a "Manifeste pour un nouveau féminisme" (cf. Despentes 2006, outside back cover). The publication of a 'manifesto', in our (post-)postmodern age, may be read as a strategically anachronistic (inter)textual gesture. In this context, one will recall that Despentes' partner, gender and queer philosopher Beatriz Preciado, has also signed a manifesto, explicitly entitled as such: her Manifeste contra-sexuel was published in 2000 (cf. Preciado 2003).
7 Apocalypse bébé has been interpreted as a sort of fictionalized sequel (cf. Martin 2012) or novelistic illustration of King Kong Théorie; Brocas highlights "la cohérence de l'œuvre de Despentes" in general and the close intertextual connection between these two works in particular: "[…] certains de ces personnages semblent les illustrations vivantes de types féminins ou masculins étudiés dans son essai-pamphlet, King Kong théorie […]" (Brocas 2010).
9 Cf., for instance, Despentes' critical self-reflection in an interview with Marianne Costa: "Par mon éducation, j'ai toujours une lecture un peu marxiste de la réalité, plus intuitive que théorique. Je vois la condition féminine liée à la classe et à l'appartenance raciale. En ce sens, j'ai conscience d'avoir écrit un livre de 'petite blanche' [A/N: the book in question is King Kong Théorie]. J'aurais aimé faire quelque chose de plus universel, mais je me suis rendu compte que pour bâtir une pensée, le mieux était de commencer par parler de soi" (cf. Costa 2007). 11 In King Kong Théorie, Despentes directly refers to Joan Riviere's now classical text on "Womanliness as a Masquerade" (cf. Despentes 2006: 20f.). 12 "Je suis un électron libre, une espèce d'anarcho-féministe" (cf. Costa 2007). 13 Cf., on this subject, also Despentes' statements in Costa 2007: "En publiant mon premier livre, j'étais stupéfaite qu'on me compare toujours à des écrivains femmes […]. Voilà un exemple de cette construction imposée de l'extérieur qui définit le féminin, et qui souvent le défigure. C'est extravagant: on produit une œuvre et certains se permettent d'en remettre en question la légitimité pour des raisons de genre, sans même s'intéresser au contenu! En politique, c'est encore pire…". 14 Cf., for instance, Jordan 2005: 113. As far as questions of gender are concerned, Élisabeth Badinter explicitly establishes the connection between these two main 'gender philosophers' of contemporary French literature: "Pour moi, en France aujourd'hui, il n'y a que deux romanciers qui ont su renouveler le rapport hommes/femmes: Virginie Despentes et Michel Houellebecq" (qtd. in Martin 2010).
15 Houellebecq also sporadically appears in Despentes' fictional texts; for the anti-hero of Teen Spirit, would-be novelist still without a single novel, he seems the very incarnation of the famous bestselling author, enjoying all the privileges of this condition, female admirers included: "Évidemment, je l'aurais trompée [sa compagne Catherine], je ne pensais qu'à ça, toute la journée devant ma télé, je faisais des listes, l'ordre dans lequel je me les taperais, et ce que je leur ferais exactement, quand je serais connu comme Houellebecq" (Despentes 2002: 72).
11 In King Kong Théorie, Despentes directly refers to Joan Riviere's now classical text on "Womanliness as a Masquerade" (cf. Despentes 2006: 20f.).
12 "Je suis un électron libre, une espèce d'anarcho-féministe" (cf. Costa 2007).
13 Cf., on this subject, also Despentes' statements in Costa 2007: "En publiant mon premier livre, j'étais stupéfaite qu'on me compare toujours à des écrivains femmes […]. Voilà un exemple de cette construction imposée de l'extérieur qui définit le féminin, et qui souvent le défigure. C'est extravagant: on produit une œuvre et certains se permettent d'en remettre en question la légitimité pour des raisons de genre, sans même s'intéresser au contenu! En politique, c'est encore pire…".
14 Cf., for instance, Jordan 2005: 113. As far as questions of gender are concerned, Élisabeth Badinter explicitly establishes the connection between these two main 'gender philosophers' of contemporary French literature: "Pour moi, en France aujourd'hui, il n'y a que deux romanciers qui ont su renouveler le rapport hommes/femmes: Virginie Despentes et Michel Houellebecq" (qtd. in Martin 2010).
15 Houellebecq also sporadically appears in Despentes' fictional texts; for the anti-hero of Teen Spirit, would-be novelist still without a single novel, he seems the very incarnation of the famous bestselling author, enjoying all the privileges of this condition, female admirers included: "Évidemment, je l'aurais trompée [sa compagne Catherine], je ne pensais qu'à ça, toute la journée devant ma télé, je faisais des listes, l'ordre dans lequel je me les taperais, et ce que je leur ferais exactement, quand je serais connu comme Houellebecq" (Despentes 2002: 72).
PhiN 64/2013: 51
17 "Le rapport de séduction avec les hommes me bridait, pas tant dans la relation intime que dans l'affirmation sociale. Je me sens désormais capable de décoller, d'écrire des livres impressionnants", as Despentes also states in an interview (cf. Costa 2007).
19 In record time, Gloria finishes her first script (Despentes 2004: 200ff.) – with ironic nostalgia, Despentes herself remembers the blessed 'innocence' that allowed her to write her first novel, Baise-moi, in only three weeks: "Il n'y avait pas d'angoisse. […] Je pensais que je pourrais le refaire, écrire aussi vite. Ça ne s'est jamais reproduit" (cf. Neuhoff 2010).
20 Just as Despentes herself, the violent girl, too difficult to 'handle', is, at her parents' instigation, interned for a while in a psychiatric hospital; a crucial event in the author's biography, recurrent in her novelistic portraits of rebellious teenage girls: the same fate threatens Nancy in Teen Spirit (Despentes 2002: 154; cf. also the taxi driver's corresponding story, ibid.: 142) as well as Valentine in Apocalypse bébé (AB 94f., 108, 297); one will note, however, that in the last two cases the respective (grand)fathers play a certain – even if precarious – protective role, reluctant to see the girls 'imprisoned' (cf. Despentes 2002: 154f. and AB 95, 108).
22 Quite recently, notably in the context of the notorious "Princess of Clèves Affair" (cf. Henri 2009), the role of literature for the definition of true francité has been the subject of passionate public debates; after several sarcastic remarks of presidential candidate, then president Nicolas Sarkozy about the absurdity and the torment of reading La Princesse de Clèves in our days (cf., for instance, Lapostolle 2006, Riché 2008), the latter not only turned into a regular "porte-drapeau de l'anti-sarkozysme" (Assouline 2009), but was also reconfirmed in her status as a pillar of French identity, novelists and actors, politicians and philosophers closing ranks to defend Mme de Lafayette and her heroine against the (pre-)presidential attacks. Alain Finkielkraut explicitly insisted on the intrinsic literariness of French identity ("La France a été longtemps un peuple littéraire, qui connaissait ses classiques. Encore faudrait-il qu'elle puisse le demeurer", qtd. in Desportes/Lacroix 2011), while Régis Jauffret furiously claimed that "cracher sur La Princesse de Clèves, c'est cracher sur la France" (qtd. in Marivat 2009, cf. also Cohen 2011).
23 MacIntyre, postulating the anthropological character of narrative, claims that "man is […] essentially a story-telling animal" (MacIntyre 1999: 216); cf. also Thomä's critical comment on MacIntyre's 'narrativization' of human existence (Thomä 2007: 83ff.).
24 "[…] Despentes est une écrivaine réaliste, au sens où elle montre que la littérature a encore les moyens de rendre compte d'une part de notre réel, même la moins apparemment littéraire" (de la Porte 2011).
26 "Ça fait surtout penser aux Twin Towers" (AB 326); "Le tourisme a explosé: le monde entier voulait venir voir le Ground Zero de la Ville lumière, en même temps que la tour Eiffel" (AB 331).
PhiN 64/2013: 52
27 In the work of this writer, cultivating the art of the second degré or even "huitième degré permanent" (Beigbeder 2000: 260), the attack marks the moment of a traumatic return to a first-degree reality: "La fin du monde est ce moment où la satire devient réalité, où les métaphores deviennent vraies […]" (Beigbeder 2003: 84). Confronted with a 'reality' exceeding every 'fiction', questioning or even "destroying" the latter as such ("Depuis le 11 septembre 2001, non seulement la réalité dépasse la fiction mais elle la détruit", ibid.: 20), literature, in narrator 'Beigbeder's' eyes, has more of a "mission impossible" than ever (ibid.: 359).
28 The same effect of derealization in the face of the disaster (in this case, of 9/11, broadcasted on a TV screen) is already evoked in Teen Spirit: "[…] la première tour était en feu. Ils poussaient des hauts cris quand la deuxième s'est fait percuter. On aurait vraiment dit un gag, un type avec son micro au premier plan se demandait bien ce qui s'était passé et, pendant qu'il parlait, badaboum dans la deuxième tour […]. Puis elles se sont écroulées. Sous nos yeux" (Despentes 2002: 156).
29 Just as fictitious François Galtan, real Frédéric Beigbeder, confronted with an (in his view) exaggerated "cyberdémocratie" (cf. Lévy 2001), denounces the all-too 'democratic' character of the Internet, this "empire de la méchanceté, de la bêtise" where "n'importe quel abruti a droit au chapitre" (cf. Berliocchi 2012).
30 In this context, one will also recall the notorious affair about Michel Houellebecq's so-called 'Wikipedia plagiarisms' (cf. Glad 2010); the whole controversy will at least have had the merit of provoking a discussion, not devoid of theoretical interest, about the metamorphoses of the very concept of 'authorship' in the age of Wikipedia.
31 The Amazon rating system has already inspired the creation of auxiliary businesses; websites such as http://www.novelrank.com/ [22.11.2012] or http://www.salesrankexpress.com/ [22.11.2012] offer authors and/or publishers special services and software for professional tracking of their sales rankings at Amazon.
32 In 2011, Richard Russo has violently criticized "Amazon's Jungle Logic" as a menace to the whole book industry, conjuring the perspective of a future "genuine Occupy Amazon movement" (Russo 2011). Russo's reflections and Farhad Manjoo's counter-attack (Manjoo 2011) have provoked an illuminating controversy pro and contra Amazon; cf., for an overview of the debate, for instance Hart 2011 and Stucky 2011.
33 Austrian writer Thomas Glavinic, in his meta-literary novel Das bin doch ich (2007; 'But that's me') – another portrait of the artist as eternal schlemiel as well as a parody of the contemporary literary business –, evokes similar phenomena: the author's (barely) fictionalized alter ego is driven nearly crazy by his friend, novelist Daniel Kehlmann, who keeps informing his far less successful comrade via phone and SMS about the current sales numbers of his bestseller Measuring the World (cf. Glavinic 2007). Just as Galtan, Glavinic's autofictional anti-hero writes his own Wikipedia entry (cf. ibid.: 211f.).
34 'Galtan' himself is hardly to be read as a direct portrait (or parody) of any of the concrete representatives of contemporary French literature; the character rather resumes a certain type of author, deploring the downfall of literature (if not of the whole Occident) – and his own relative lack of success on the literary market. Some aspects of this psycho-literary dynamics become evident, for instance, in a controversial discussion between Frédéric Beigbeder and Richard Millet (whose – highly symptomatic – Éloge littéraire d'Anders Breivik, published, together with Langue fantôme. Essai sur la paupérisation de la littérature, in an 'apocalyptically' tuned volume merging literary and political issues, caused a scandal in the French cultural landscape in 2012). While Beigbeder, (ex- and again-)ad writer, incarnation of the telegenic 'society' author, defends his idea of 'public' and even 'popular' literature (and also of literary engagement, characterizing his anti-advertising novel 99 francs as "un roman engagé", cf. Durand 2008b: 20), Millet, convinced that 'true literature' is (once more) agonizing and that the cultural business has definitively entered "l'ère du postlittéraire" (cf. Le Naire 2008: 39), attacks what he considers as "la littérature spectacle" (ibid.: 40), paradigmatically represented by the very Beigbeder (cf. Durand 2008a: 7).
PhiN 64/2013: 53
35 Via the character of Galtan, fighting for a little bit of tele-celebrity, Despentes also reflects on various forms of alienation in confrontation with the own 'mediatized' image. At a certain moment, Galtan slips into a severe cortisone dependency, overlooking, in a maniac euphoria of creation, the changes in his physical appearance and behavior; he suffers a true shock when seeing his alter(ed) ego on television, not immediately recognizing this fat and hyper-active stranger, visibly affected by acute logorrhea, as himself (AB 43). After this scene of traumatic auto-anagnorisis, Galtan, despite all warnings of his all-too helpful "docteur drogues" (ibid.), stops his cortisone doping abruptly, provoking a near-suicidal depression. But even in his personal tragedy, the writer is far away from the glamorous image of the romantic poète maudit: good old 'artificial paradises' seem definitively lost.
36 "Avec le temps, la Hyène était devenue une star chez les privés, profession qui n'en compte pourtant pas beaucoup, hors la littérature de genre. […] Ensuite, les histoires qu'on raconte à son sujet se diversifient, se contredisent et relèvent de la fiction pure. Tout le monde a quelque chose à raconter sur elle […]" (AB 29).
37 In this sense, this character may be considered as a narrative innovation in the frame of Despentes' œuvre; while Fayard, in her analysis of the author's previous novels, states that "[…] sexual desire in Despentes's work seems to exist only within the heterosexual matrix" and that "Lesbians do not assume the position of speaking subjects within Despentes's system of heterosexuality […]" (Fayard 2005: 116f.), Apocalypse bébé, via the 'Hyène', largely develops a Lesbian counter-discourse, playfully appropriating and subverting sexualized stereotypes; for Lucie, their Barcelonese trip in search of Valentine turns into a voyage of discovery outside the 'prison' of heterosexuality ("[…] l'hétérosexualité, c'est aussi naturel que l'enclos électrique dans lequel on parque les vaches", as the 'Hyène' provokingly remarks, AB 275). In this context, it is interesting to note also the significant transposition in the cinematographic version of Bye Bye Blondie (2011/12): the film, directed by Despentes herself, 'lesbianizes' the novel's central heterosexual love story, Gloria's glamorous partner 'Eric' being transformed into 'Frances' (cf. http://www.byebyeblondie-lefilm.com/ [20.02.2013]). Despentes highlights, at this occasion, her intention to question cinema as "un outil de propagande qui nous informe que le féminin doit rester le féminin, et que le masculin doit rester le masculin", a mediatic tool "de plus en plus au service de l'idéologie dominante" (cf. Wullschleger 2012).
38 Even Beigbeder, in general sympathizing with Despentes' 'explosive' work, criticizes Apocalypse bébé for its manifestations of "un militantisme lesbien confinant à l'hétérophobie" (Beigbeder 2011: 263); la faute à la Hyène…
39 Not for nothing, a theoretically conscious and 'engaged' writer as Chloé Delaume (who, in her Règle du Je, sketches the poetics of a regular "Politique de l'autofiction", Delaume 2010: 77ff.) reflects also on the possibility of 'democratizing' literature, explaining how she tries to transform the other 'characters' of her autofictional project into co-authors, encouraging them to participate in the process of their own literary re-creation: "À leur fictionnalisation je veux qu'ils participent" (ibid.: 68). Emmanuel Carrère, in his turn, evokes his measures of precaution in his literary re-staging of D'autres vies que la mienne, inviting the people involved in his text to interfere, transferring to them a certain part of his authority ("[…] ils pouvaient me demander d'ajouter, de retirer ou de changer ce qu'ils voulaient, je le ferais"), even if this "engagement" somewhat disquiets his editor (Carrère 2009: 323).
40 As a competent and rather unscrupulous manager of her own charms, Vanessa, in her turn, ingeniously uses new media for her purposes. Her second husband being not only wealthy, but also regrettably prone to physical violence as well as to effusive excuses after the fact (imprudently, in written form), she soon becomes a master in fostering his fits of rage. Strategically converting male violence into her own future capital, she carefully stocks her rowdyish spouse's innumerable apologetic mails in her private archive – a marital 'portfolio' that will prove a more than valuable asset at the moment of their separation: "Au moment du divorce, le gros lot" (AB 189).
PhiN 64/2013: 54
41 The parallel is not an arbitrary one: Despentes' novel inspires also some reflections on the affinity between 'body' and 'book' (cf. on this subject, for instance, Hayles 2002: 39).
42 Cf. also the 'Hyène's' considerations on the biography of Juan, "incontestablement brillant", but irrevocably an outsider in bourgeois academic circles because of his proletarian origins ("Il avait mis du temps à comprendre que les gens bien nés se reconnaissent, à l'odeur, et repèrent les intrus, de la même façon"), relegated to the rank of a small agent, 'sacrificed' in time (AB 250f.).
43 Vanessa is not the only character in Apocalypse bébé whose 'incorporated' social identity is analyzed in great detail, from her own perspective. Other characters are provided with the same capacity of 'dissecting' their own and others' sociocultural conditionings. For instance, during the first visit of his rich cousin Valentine, fascinated Yacine observes the girl's movements and attitudes, everything about her testifying to her privileged origins, her most simple gesture speaking about money: "Même sa façon de poser son cul sur une chaise valait de la thune" (AB 141). Just as in previous novels, Despentes displays a pronounced topological sensibility, exploring the (de)construction of social spaces. The contrast between the spatial settings of the rich bourgeois classes and life in the Parisian banlieue becomes particularly evident when rebellious Valentine, "[a]vec ses deux cents mètres carrés d'appartement en plein centre, où rien que sa chambre était plus grande que leur salon" (AB 141), temporarily tries to switch between these two worlds. Lucie, on the contrary, at the occasion of her first visit to the Galtans' huge bourgeois apartment, feels aggressed and rejected not only by its inhabitants, but by this excess of expensive space itself: "L'appartement m'a agressée, d'emblée. Trop grand, trop propre, trop cher" (AB 102). In Baise-moi, very similar feelings are attributed to Nadine when visiting the rich architect's house (cf. Despentes 1994: 214f.), just as in Teen Spirit to narrator Bruno (cf. Despentes 2002: 77f.) and in Bye Bye Blondie – important 'pretext' preparing Apocalypse bébé, staging, in its turn, a violent clash of different social milieus and habitus – to Gloria. Repeatedly, the latter seems lost in her partner's all-too luxurious world, as a teenager accompanying him to his parents' apartment ("trop de sérénité, d'arrogance, d'opulence, plus qu'elle n'en pouvait supporter. […] Il semblait que l'appartement était grand comme un hypermarché", Despentes 2004: 96f.) as well as in his adult life as a TV star. When Eric, initiating the sequel of their teenage love story, invites her to a fancy restaurant, Gloria feels like "une femme des bois perdue dans un palais lointain" (ibid.: 155); vaguely bewildered, she enters his hotel room, "surface plus grande que n'importe quel appartement qu'elle ait jamais habité" (ibid.: 159).
44 Galtan's acrimonious remarks on contemporary 'journalistic' literature seem to echo Gilles Deleuze's reflections on the ambiguous 'conquest' of literature by journalism (Deleuze 2009a: 178).
45 "When one lacks the courage for terrorism, one writes novels. That is a form of disobedience considerably less dangerous for oneself and for others", as Frédéric Beigbeder – author of various novels (re-)staging real or fictitious terrorist attacks – provokingly states (cf. Vahabzadeh/Göttler 2008).
46 "J'ai le sentiment d'avoir une mission à remplir, j'allais dire une mission de vengeance, mais ce n'est pas tout à fait ça. Il faut faire éclater les choses. Rendre de la dignité, de l'humanité" (cf. Vallaeys/Armanet 2000).
47 Or, in a slightly modified version, "Tu la veux, tu la prends" (cf. Marcelle 2010).
PhiN 64/2013: 55
48 Among recent literary texts exploring the phenomenon of suicide terrorism from an (imaginary) inside, strictly confining the narrative instance to the (male) protagonist's conscience, one might quote Salim Bachi's Tuez-les tous (9/11 told from one of the involved terrorists' point of view, cf. Bachi 2006) or Rafael Toriz' short story "Fe" (cf. Toriz 2008: 50ff.). At the opposite pole, in a text like Yasmina Khadra's ('Yasmina Khadra' being the rare example of a male author [Mohammed Moulessehoul] with a feminine pseudonym) L'Attentat, another literary representation of terrorism from an alternative point of view, the female protagonist, a Palestinian kamikaze blowing herself up in the midst of a fast food restaurant in Tel Aviv, remains a perfect stranger to the reader as well as to the narrator – her own husband, a well-established surgeon confronted, by his wife's incomprehensible act, with the ambivalences of his own identity as a Palestinian 'parvenu' in Israeli society. But even as the protagonist-narrator starts investigating Sihem's secret second life as a future kamikaze, the heroine's image remains vague and enigmatic, an (anti-)icon of stereotyped divine beauty.
49 Despentes' very specific anatomy of terrorism, expliciting "the alliance of female eroticism and terror" (Fayard 2005: 114) already present in earlier works, her dis/placement of the bomb is, of course, highly significant. While a traditional "femme kamikaze" (Khadra 2005: 46) as the heroine in Khadra's L'Attentat undertakes her murderous project in the idyllic disguise of pregnancy (ibid.: 52f.; on the instrumentalization of – simulated – pregnancy and its "macabre reinterpretation" in the context of suicide bombing, cf. also Brunner 2005: 116f.), Valentine hides her bomb in her vagina, provokingly mimicking the act of (auto-)penetration in her video; the fatally explosive object – hypothetical prototype of a serialized "bombe d'utérus" (AB 342) – is, thus, charged with multiple meanings. Afterwards, it will be compared to a small vibrator (no need to dwell on the ambivalences of this object, between acceptance, appropriation and parodic reinterpretation of 'phallic' sexuality) or a huge tampon (AB 328); the motif of the 'monstrous' menstruating body – "an open container" (Fayard 2006: 74) – with its 'impure' blood, carnevalistically restaged and re-coded, plays a crucial role already in Despentes' debut novel Baise-moi, problematizing socioculturally conditioned attitudes toward "different categories of blood" (Jordan 2005: 134; cf. also Stemberger 2010: 105), as well as in her story "Des poils sur moi" (cf. Despentes 1999: 109-123), parodically representing "female menstruation as a curse" (Fayard 2005: 111).
50 For Despentes herself, access to 'grand' classical literature was not self-evident; at the occasion of the publication of Apocalypse bébé, reflecting on her own biography not only as a writer, but also as a reader, she admits having finally 'dared' to confront "une littérature que je n'aurais pas osé aborder auparavant, plus classique", having lost "la méfiance que j'avais à l'égard d'une culture que je jugeais bourgeoise" (cf. Savigneau 2010).
51 Once more, Despentes' reflections remind of Michel Houellebecq's pessimistic vision of society: in the latter's (anti-)tourism novel Plateforme, the "banlieues sensibles" (Houellebecq 2001: 161) where the head office of touristic enterprise Aurore (alias Accor) is located, appear as much more 'exotic' and dangerous than the firm's folkloristic travel destinations all over the world, part of a globalized "comfortable hothouse" (Sloterdijk 2006: 357). The firm's staff, professionally commercializing the charms of exotic otherness, anxiously avoid any encounter with the marginalized 'others' of French society; Aurore's office resembles a fortress amidst a suburban 'jungle' inhabited by "hordes barbares" (Houellebecq 2001: 261); cf. Stemberger 2011: 73.
52 As a significant example, one might quote Andreï Makine's depiction of present-day (sub)urban France as a multicultural inferno of everyday terror in La Terre et le ciel de Jacques Dorme (cf. Makine 2003: 213ff.); in his essay Cette France qu'on oublie d'aimer, Makine thematizes paradigmatic reactions of French cultural circles to his – politically very 'incorrect', although, as the author insists, eminently 'realistic' – portrayal of contemporary French society and, in particular, the banlieue (cf. Makine 2006: 80ff.). Houellebecq's latest novel, La Carte et le territoire, also describes the Parisian suburb where protagonist Jed Martin's father is still living as "une zone de plus en plus dangereuse, depuis peu à vrai dire entièrement contrôlée par les gangs" (Houellebecq 2010: 17); any visit to "les banlieues difficiles" (ibid.: 401), inhabited by "sauvages", seems a kind of safari to the true 'dark continents' of occidental postmodernity (cf. Stemberger 2011: 77).
PhiN 64/2013: 56
53 Sexually transgressive and mystically transfigured Valentine, in this sense, illustrates once more Despentes' parodic blurring of "the whore/Madonna dichotomy" (Fayard 2005: 114), a crucial element in the author's "narratives of resistance" (ibid.: 106), particularly in her novel Les Chiennes savantes, starring peep show dancer and secret virgin Louise (cf. Despentes 1996).
54 Ironically, Despentes' anti-heroine comments on the miserable condition of her ego, "plus piétiné qu'un vieux mégot sur un trottoir" (AB 109); chronically depressed, at least until the revelation of her alternative, joy- and lustful Lesbian identity, Lucie cannot explain others' vitality but by probable Prozac (ab)use (AB 57).
55 She does not apprehend the role of sister Elisabeth, she does not know about the 'Hyène's' meeting with agent Juan – "cet Anthony Blunt du pauvre" (AB 250), who puts the former on Elisabeth's (and Valentine's) traces – and about her surreal, partly 'telepathic' conversation with the nun at Montserrat Abbey; she does not even guess the sinuous links between various characters encircling Valentine; finally, at the difference of the 'Hyène', she does not suspect (at least, not in time) that the two of them are ingeniously instrumentalized in order to take the runaway girl back to Paris, allowing her to fulfill her terrorist mission.
56 The band is formed by several bourgeois "Gosses de riches" who flirt with a pseudo-proletarian attitude, vulgar misogyny and a rather naïve, purposely provoking racism; the 'Hyène', after consulting – once again – their Facebook site, sarcastically characterizes their para-ideology as "gentiment White Power" (AB 112).
57 Even lethargic Lucie finally marvels at Valentine's "petit parcours", at the sociocultural and ideological spectrum of the girl's frequentations: "On a déjà fait les nazillons, les musulmans, les petits bourges du seizième… maintenant on se fade l'Eglise et l'extrême gauche? C'est une blague, non?" (AB 271f.).
58 The 'Hyène', definitely free from devotional scruples, makes that point quite clear: "Elle a peut-être pas la stature de Mère Teresa, mais c'est le même genre de croyante. A gros compte en banque, et qui trouve la misère seyante seulement chez les autres" (AB 316). "S'attaquer à Mère Teresa, il fallait oser", as Joste (2010) ironically comments…
59 After teaching "pour le compte de la NEA" (AB 259), Elisabeth has taken the veil not "par vocation, mais parce qu'on était intéressé par des informations sur la succession de l'Albanaise [i.e. Mother Teresa]" (AB 262). After a period of quasi-oblivion, she has returned to her misty activities, engaged by a self-proclaimed "ponte des renseignements généraux", preaching the necessity of a new war "sur plusieurs fronts: contre les sectes, contre l'Islam, contre le judaïsme, contre le capitalisme…" (AB 263).
60 The concrete role of the 'Hyène' also remains somewhat unclear, as well as the eventual involvement of Lucie's colleagues at Reldanch agency, suspiciously well informed about the attack and all-too well prepared to face its consequences (AB 326f., 330f., 337f.).
61 In a similar sense, Javier Marías, questioned on his reasons for dismissing the model of the omniscient narrator, maintaining in his texts, instead, an atmosphere of 'uncertainty' and voluntary 'approximativeness', explains this strategy by his intention to reflect the human condition in the postmodern world: "C'est à cause de la réalité d'aujourd'hui. Depuis une vingtaine d'années, la plupart des écrivains trouvent que le narrateur omniscient est naïf et injustifiable. La vision du monde est plus incertaine, plus fragmentaire" (cf. Jacob 2010).
62 Cf. Günther Anders' meditations on the modern individual's fatal 'division' ("Das Individuum wird zum 'Divisum'", Anders 1992: 135, cf. also ibid.: 141) as well as Gilles Deleuze's concept of the human "dividual", conditioned by contemporary "sociétés de contrôle" ("Les individus sont devenus des 'dividuels' […]", Deleuze 2009c: 244).
63 Frédéric Beigbeder, in his "roman russe" (cf. Durand 2008b: 36) Au secours pardon – presented as "la suite" de 99 francs, but also tying up with Windows on the World –, recurs to a similar strategy. Staging a fictitious terrorist attack in Moscow, nothing less than a scenario of "Ground Zero-sous-la-Moskova" (Beigbeder 2007: 258), he also refuses any definitive explanation, as far as the event's 'real' background is concerned (a certain Russian oligarch will have played a dubious role in fostering, even provoking the attack; in any case, he is the evident profiteer, the subsequent national trauma permitting him to win without any difficulty, "après une brève campagne fortement axée sur la défense des valeurs sécuritaires, nationales et chrétiennes" [ibid.: 316], the Russian Federation's presidential elections).