Paths to Contemporary French Literature, Vol. 1

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9781412804790: Paths to Contemporary French Literature, Vol. 1
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Although the great French novelists of the last two centuries are widely read in America, there is a widespread notion that little of importance has happened in French literature since the heyday of Sartre, Camus, and the nouveau roman. Some might argue that even well read Americans are ignorant about what is happening in European literature generally. Certainly, there has never been so few translations of foreign books in the United States, or so little coverage of foreign writers. Curious American readers need new, up-to-date information and analyses about what is happening elsewhere. Paths to Contemporary French Literature is a stimulating and much-needed guide to the major currents of one of the world's great literatures.

This critical panorama of contemporary French literature introduces English-language readers to over fifty important writers and poets, many of whom are still little known outside of France. Emphasizing authors who are admired by their peers (as opposed to those with overnight reputations), John Taylor offers a compelling insider's view. The pioneering essays included in this book offer incisive analyses of the ideas motivating current writing and delve into a writer's or poet's entire output. Although some names may be familiar (Marguerite Duras, HÚlÞne Cixous, Philippe Jaccottet, Henri Michaux), the reader obtains fresh reappraisals of their seminal work. Especially noteworthy, however, are Taylor's lively introductions to many other key writers who either have not yet crossed the English Channel, let alone the Atlantic. Combating the notion that French literature is overtly intellectual, inaccessible, or interested only in formal experimentation, Taylor shows that many French writers are instead acutely inquisitive about the outside world, shrewd observers of reality, even very funny.

Although not conceived as a reference book, the volume possesses some qualities of a reference work: a good bibliography, reliable dates and biographical facts. Paths to Contemporary French Literature will be of interest to students of French literature and culture, literary scholars, and readers of contemporary fiction and poetry.

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About the Author:

John Taylor is the author of Paths to Contemporary French Literature (Volumes 1-3) and Into the Heart of European Poetry. He has written numerous books of stories, short prose, and poetry, including The Apocalypse Tapestries. He writes the "Poetry Today" column in the Antioch Review and has long been a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement. He has lived in France since 1977. In 2011, he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for his project to translate Georges Perros's Papiers collés and has been awarded several other translation grants from the Sonia Raiziss Charitable Foundation. His recent translations of French poetry comprise work by Philippe Jaccottet, Pierre-Albert Jourdan, and Jacques Dupin.

Review:

“Since the 1960s, French fiction, and indeed French writing in general, has declined in both readability and international prestige. This development has in turn led to an alarming decrease in the number of translations of French works available in the US. Taylor's elegantly written study, which covers the work of more than 50 little-known French novelists, poets, and essayists, represents an attempt by an extremely knowledgeable American living in France to inform readers in the US about the work of a selected group of contemporary French writers... [T]his book offers both valuable information and reader satisfaction from cover to cover. In addition to profiling individual writers, Taylor also provides a fascinating overview of the members of the "new fiction" movement, a group of writers seeking a common goal since 1992. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.”

—D. O'Connell, Choice

 

**Named a Best Book of 2007 by Ready Steady Book, an independent book review website, working in association with The Book Depository, which is devoted to reviewing the best books in literary fiction, poetry, history, and philosophy.

"In these well written, consistently instructive and often illuminating pages, Taylor discusses well over a hundred French writers, including many of my favourites: Sarraute, Des Forets, Duras, Antelme, Perec, Jabs, Marcel Cohen, Roland Barthes, Bonnefoy, Ponge, Deguy, Quignard, Paulhan, Rawicz, Beckett, Emmanuel Bove. The long essays on Pascal Quignard and Michel Deguy are particularly insightful and essential reading for the sympathetic newcomer seeking an introduction to these major writers."

—Anthony Rudolf, ReadySteadyBook.com

"As a literary critic, John Taylor is considered to be one of the most important and knowledgeable 'explainers' of contemporary French literature to foreign readers."

(Translated)—Maison des crivains et de la Littrature

"An invaluable guide to new literary territory, Taylor is equally good in discussing writers whom the reader already knows."

—Raphael Rubenstein, Rain Taxi

Review on Volumes 1 and 2: “[W]hile Mr. Taylors’s work will be used as a research tool, a reference source and a classroom text, it can be equally well approached as a vast, non-fiction novel. . . . The degree of reading and analysis that goes into any one of these studies could comprise a decade’s labor for an ordinary scholar, but Mr. Taylor takes it in stride. . . . For the student of modern French literature, and for those not fluent in the language, there exists no better introductions. . . . These two volumes (soon to be joined by a third) provide all the orientation, compass-references, and landmarks required to begin a personal expedition into the forests, valleys and mountain ranges of modern French literature.”

—Martin Abramson, Book/Mark

"In this great introduction to some 50 French writers and poets little known outside of France, Taylor (The Presence of Things Past; The World As It Is), winner of the Three Oaks Prize for Fiction, invites his readers on an interesting journey."

Library Journal

"Here it is under one cover: a deeply informed, delightful, and provocative stroll through the literature of postwar France. From the chroniques of Cingria to the mythologies of Barthes, John Taylor introduces us to the prose and poetry of dozens of French authors, many of them regrettably never translated into English. Taylor is a skillful and witty guide, able to locate a writer between the traditions of Catullus and Pavese or to identify a style borrowing equally from Holderlin and Hemingway. Working across every genre from autobiography to poetry to fiction to travelogue to the essay, these French authors, well known and obscure, have plumbed the quintessential French problem of subjectivity. Tired of the culture wars? The language-lyric debate? The post-game analysis of post-structuralism? I suggest you dive into any one of John Taylor's Paths for a reminder of the astonishing breadth and depth and complexity of which literature is capable."

—Erica Funkhouser, author, Pursuit

"Here we have vast erudition revealed in graceful, arresting sentences, writing that provides confidence and pleasure. John Taylor's writing strongly evokes Henry James' writing about French literature in his own day. Like James, Taylor is both generous and astute, never relinquishing admiration for the intricate process of analysis, analysis that he does so penetratingly and eloquently. However brilliant Taylor's observations, behind them rests a deep esteem for the writer, for his or her work, and for the tradition from which it comes. This is critical writing that is satisfying at every single level."

—Richard Goodman, author, French Dirt, The Soul of Creative Writing, and New York Memoir

"As they stroll through forgotten quarters of Paris, wander in memory through the fields of a Norman childhood, reflect on a poem's resemblance to the salt marshes of the Breton coast, mourn the death of a beloved young wife, or look for answers in questions to which the only answers are more questions—France's most celebrated and, in some cases, still uncelebrated contemporary writers are exquisitely captured by John Taylor in a prose both limpid and lapidary and through a host of finely wrought essays, each a small jewel of critical insight, poetic sensitivity, and meticulous interpretation. Like a message in a bottle cast up on the shore, this work offers the English-speaking reader an original and poetic way to understand, appreciate, and love French contemporary culture."

—Richard Stamelman, professor of romance languages and comparative literature, Williams College

“John Taylor is opinionated, but his opinions are rigorously argued ones. He strikes a canny and productive balance among a variety of competing concerns: the will to instruct his readers, the desire to share with them some very real pleasures, the imperative to interpret critically, and so forth. What emerges [in Paths to Contemporary French Literature] is the image of a rare reader, one who is always willing to engage literature on its own terms, and that of a literature that is mobile, ambitious, provocative, and deeply invested in the process of becoming."

—Warren Motte, Review of Contemporary Fiction

"(. . .) seminal, groundbreaking essays (. . .) offering insightful analysis of the literary ideas and innovations of current and influential French writers. Paths to Contemporary French Literature is especially commended for addition to college and university-level French Cultural Studies, Intellectual History, and World Literature Studies collections and supplemental curriculum reading lists."

—Midwest Book Review

"[Taylor] challenges a major criticism of contemporary French literature as solipsistic. Is autobiographique really the same thing as our autobiographical'? he asks in his introduction, then suggests that French writing is autobiographical... in distinct and provocative ways and that it has approached autobiography... from an extraordinary variety of viewpoints.' (. . .) He states Gracq's importance persuasively and offers concise, insightful introductions to the novels of Simon and the poetry of Guillevic, Jaccottet, or Bonnefoy. In a final essay on reading contemporary French poetry, Taylor grapples with the genre's "strangeness" from an Anglocentric point of view, e.g., language as ontologically problematic, Cartesian questions of self, the poet's relationship to things, and the prose poems as peculiarly French. (. . .) Taylor's meticulous essays (. . .) provide erudite and incisive introductions to a certain kind of French writer and dispel the notion that contemporary French literature is pointlessly narcissistic."

—Gervais E. Reed, The French Review

"The great temptation in reading John Taylor's Paths to Contemporary French Literature is that with every chapter, one wants to set aside the book and go seek out the work of the writers he so richly explores; like this, it might take a lifetime to finish, but without regrets. Indeed, he has spent a substantial part of the past twenty years writing this book in the form of essays, profiles, and book reviews, for such publications as the Times Literary Supplement and France Magazine, where his quarterly column has opened a window each time onto the world of another singular writer. (. . .) The great majority of these authors are little-known in English, if at all, [and he] offers us a set of optics though which we may begin to view [them]."

—Jason Weiss, Chelsea

"Despair not: attentive literary critics still exist. The ignorance with which American and English readers view contemporary French literature has now been vanquished by John Taylor's opus magnum, Paths to Contemporary French Literature. (. . .) This book now stands forth as the perfect place to discover what French literature is really all about."

—Marc Blanchet, Le Matricule des Anges

"Roland Barthes's 'plaisir du texte' is at work in these pages. For John Taylor, every book is a discovery, every author contains a universe. (. . .) Superbly well-read, Taylor fills his book with a comparatist's echoes, which is perhaps the modern form of what was formerly called humanism."

—Claude Michel Cluny, Le Figaro Littéraire (in French)

"An extraordinary gift for anyone wanting to immerse him or herself in French culture, but doesn't know where to start, John Taylor's Paths to Contemporary French Literature is an elegant and insightful book of essays featuring over fifty writers and their works. (. . .) It's intelligent, absolutely, but refreshingly accessible."

—Alexandra Carew, The Connexion

"(. . .) a broad range of authors and genres--from poetry, travel writing, and novels to essays--(. . .) allowing the reader to make unexpected rapprochements at times between writers not readily associated with each other. (. . .) What is remarkable is that he has found a voice and a point of view nicely situated both inside and outside the culture--no easy feat for a non-native French speaker reading French literature. His take on many better-known writers--Guillevic, Michaux, Modiano, Perec, Sarraute, and Simon--is remarkably juste, inspiring one to re-read if not discover some of the writers and works he examines."

—Mark D. Lee, Symposium

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