[(essay date 2009) In the following essay, Asibong examines Guibert’s writing alongside that of NDiaye in the context of postmodern narrative. He maintains that both authors create narratives that “expose the sickness—in the form of textual and sometimes fantastically literal liquidation—endured by the subject who attempts to pursue fantasies of self-reinvention while he or she remains constrained by the historical contexts of psycho-social alienation and non-negotiable interpellation.”]
Dans tout citoyen d’aujourd’hui gît un métèque futur.1
The proliferation of potential identities offered by the narrative frame of an Internet chat room provides one of the more obvious contemporary cultural examples of the ‘postmodern’ subject’s capacity for seemingly limitless self-reinvention in fantasy. In the context of an Internet conversation, a 48-year-old subject, categorized in her real life as female, Algerian and lesbian, might engineer her own recreation online as a 22-year-old French man, while at the same time retaining crucial elements of her own identifiable past and present desire. Surveying her interlocutor, as well as herself (in new, imaginary, hybrid form), together with the dialogue in which they are both engaged, she may enjoy the benefits of an apparently unbounded subjectivity. Such forms of border-crossing delight are not limited to the Internet of course. Contemporary authors as diverse as Christine Angot, Bret Easton Ellis and Annie Ernaux engage in similar processes of fantasy and self-invention when they create literary texts in which they—their real, autobiographical selves—apparently figure, but often in perceptibly or imperceptibly altered form: the reconstituted heroes and heroines of ‘auto-fictional’ scenarios impossible to pin down as either true or entirely invented. Asserting an enviable control over their own narratives, such celebrated exemplars of a gleefully ‘de-centred,’ western, end-of-millennium zeitgeist, flit in and out of biographically verifiable identities and veer between accounts related by their historically-grounded selves and ‘othering’—avatar-powered tales of incest, adultery, horror and transcendence.2 The postmodern—yet autobiographically-inflected—writer stands at the helm of slippery, flickering texts that nevertheless serve to transmit very concrete preoccupations and obsessions: expressions of the author’s desire in seductively transfigured form.
This article will examine the work of two French writers whose revelry in the textual creation of displaced protagonists is clearly traceable to the authors themselves, yet impossible to map directly onto these authors, and might feasibly cause them to be categorized as typical practitioners of an effortlessly postmodern form of French fantasy life-writing. It shall be argued, though, that closer engagement with key literary texts by Marie NDiaye (born 1967) and Hervé Guibert (1955-1991) reveals that a number of their narratives cut against the free-floating metamorphoses of the ‘average’ contemporary postmodernist. These narratives expose the sickness—in the form of textual and sometimes fantastically literal liquidation—endured by the subject who attempts to pursue fantasies of self-reinvention while he or she remains constrained by the historical contexts of psycho-social alienation and non-negotiable interpellation. Writing by Guibert—exceptionally, in his final novel, Le Paradis (1992)—and NDiaye—in a more consistent manner throughout her oeuvre—demonstrates just how much is at stake when a certain kind...