CHARACTERS ✓ Sphinx by Anne Garréta

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Sphinx by Anne GarréNg any gender markers to refer to the main characters Sphinx is a remarkable linguistic feat and paragon of experimental literature that has never been accomplished before or since in the strictly gendered French language Sphinx is a landmark text in the feminist and LGBT literary canon appearing in English for the first timeAnne Garréta b 1962 is a lecturer at the University of Rennes II and research professor of literature and Romance studies at Duke University She joined the Oulipo in 2000 becom. A book known because of pronouns than plot as a friend said of Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice Though unlike the Leckie which I wasn't that keen on I'd have read Sphinx much sooner if only I'd registered its milieu It's going to irk some people including at least one GR friend that I like a lot of book blogs this year won't be treating Sphinx's Oulipian constraint as a spoiler issue But if I hadn't known it I probably still wouldn't have got round to reading the book Although I'd have at least intended to regardless It's not the same as the time when I sought out spoilers for Me Before You because my decision on whether ever to read it – ie whether to buy it a sale was 100% contingent on the ending I got it Which to some friends might be a spoiler in itself Though I doubt they wanted to read the book anywayExpecting Sphinx would be something worthy to plough through – albeit a book I knew I'd be way sympathetic to than the Leckie – I read the introduction and then left it for months to start the actual storyWhat nobody had said or if somebody said it I didn't notice was that this is a story about clubland decadence feeling torn between decadence and asceticism intellect and hedonism and about brooding romantic pain of loss and realisation of one's own guilt It takes place in a feather boa festooned ueer clubland ueer in the contemporary ambiguous sense rather than gay male which I imagined set in French euivalents of Bethnal Green Working Men's Club or rather whatever this year's version of the place is and dizzying warehouse parties where the music is at least as intoxicating as anything else Although several minor characters in Sphinx are racist very much unlike the places I was thinking of The narrator is a theology PhD candidate who falls into DJing and for a club dancer I didn't know that this phenomenon of theology students grads being eccentric and leftfield and never uite what those unacuainted with the type would expect – was far universal than a few people around my own age from 3 or 4 different universities Who diddo say that plenty of theologians weren't the unuestioning God bothering nerds that outsiders assume Were they like this in 1980s France as well Or had I stumbled on a resonance that the author could never have intended Because based on people of my acuaintance that might even be the most fitting choice of subject for this character but one I'd never have dared to use for a made up person because it seemed too much to explain too improbable Sphinx is not dry and worthy because it's like this our nocturnal itinerary a dozen cabarets from Pigalle to Opéra dives and spectacles of fake luxury where the same strippers strutted every fifteen minutes turning tirelessly from stage to stage She was describing hell to me with the frivolity of the damned Due to the combined effect of a very hot coffee and a very dry cognac I felt a sharp burn in my throatI had been in so many cabarets that they all started to look the same by five in the morning a sweaty inferno a bombardment of lighting alternatively seedy and brash a night striped with so many lights that there was neither dusk nor dawnI liked to let myself be brushed by naked skin by boas and feather fansPassing through the entrance of the club something of my being was lost or absorbed an inexplicable and immeasurable stripping away that once I finally ended up on the dance floor hadn’t left any of me behind except my carnal covering spurred on only by the rhythmic pulsing of the musicHowever I did experience nights of rapture that no human ecstasy can eual those nights when for some unknown reason a sort of inspired fury seized the entire club This trancelike state that I provoked and prolonged vibrated through my body and carried me to unimaginable excesses of delirium One such night is still carved into my memoryStrictly speaking I was no longer listening to the music; it was passing through me I was cuing up the records as if by instinct my vision obscured by a veil of blood I was in a coma agitated by rhythms that were and painfully arousing my desire without ever draining it In a vague fog I discerned the compact mass of people dancing flattened one against the other and yet swaying lifted up in waves United almost without fissure they were probably incapable of moving but the entire mass vibrated in rhythm all individual drives undone and lost in a higher sovereign need It still reigns supreme in my memory; no other night ever achieved such furious intensity From then on they all seemed bland and nondescript That night inflicted a violence upon me an annihilation; I experienced what only sex at its extremes allows one to feel infreuently and fleetingly I had reached a limit and after that came repetition and ennuiI no longer slept at night; what had previously been a tendency of mine became a permanent mode of beingThe sum of the stories they confided in me could fill entire volumes of sociological or ethnological reports There was the tedious and nonsensical conversation of tipsy society men; the chatter vaguely colored with the philosophy and aestheticism of the washed up who cling to a completely superficial and secondhand culture as a fiery temper clings to a menopausal bourgeoise; and in passing the virile and noxious conversations of old bachelors following the antics of their protégées out of the corner of their eyes—I was subjected to it all and I listened with all the presence of mind that was still within my power in those hours of confusionEntering a club or a bar was in a way like going to the cinema a dark room with sounds and images in three dimensions were there really three I lived on the film set of an enormous stock of unrealized B movies of a hitherto unseen genre At the hour when the television programs come to an end when the last spectators leave from the theaters and the maruees are taken down a different vision appears a variation each night on the same miserable and violent scenarioThis particular policy forced us into a transhumance around four in the morning inevitably leading us to a rather snooty club I love the choice of 'transhumance' It's perfect I feel like I'd thought it at some point but would never have dared articulate it A had a naïve and clichéd fondness for the antiuated world of the aristocracy an admiration for the bygone the retro the image of luxury that Hollywood associates with times pastBefore I was mourning the present; today I mourn a past that was never presentMy aptitude for suffering astonished me in that moment I was suffering as no one suffers any in this century; my sensibility was outmoded in the extreme Had I ever been capable of loving without sufferingI was experiencing a premature nostalgia which was sucking me into a state of melancholy; I was imagining all of this was closed off to me forever before I had even lost itI know these states enough for them to feel like home but because I didn't get nearly enough of most of them whilst I could they exert a far greater emotional pull in art than do most other 'homes' Reading this I was comfortable and exhilarated and hungry and yes nostalgic and melancholyMost blog and media reviews of Sphinx are so very dazzled by the concept of a story of two lovers during which neither party's gender is revealed although we do know that A has been involved with men and women that they don't say enough about the rest of the book As per the Leckie review I continue to be surprised that like this has not already been written specifically that a few decent works using the singular they aren't yet in existence but am very pleased that what is around in terms of gender neutrality in fiction such as this and Written on the Body has a great deal to recommend it in terms of style and feeling merits that are obvious to plenty of readers who've never personally been bothered about gender or pronouns From what I've gleaned about Garréta it seems that there were some political aims and personal frustrations with the French language in creating Sphinx so I couldn't agree that this is a purely artistic work of thirty years ago that has been adopted for contemporary gender political ends – but the important thing is that it is artistically good enough to be a lot than its politics unlike Little Women in space it has something to offer to people who read for aesthetics and form instead of or as well as politics Added There are a few other examples here of novels with some sort of gender ambiguityThe book's influence made me notice that I often want to refer to people using the singular they but I had been stopping myself sometimes because I thought it might annoy them or they might think I was being unnecessarily opaue and cryptic in trying to semi conceal some other's identity when there was little need Repeating myself from the Ancillary Justice post it's a habit I learned back in primary school to refer to an un named other as 'they' even when their gender was in no doubt and use of singular 'they' is a habit that has been growing in the last few years although I made no conscious effort towards it; there seem to be and people I'd reflexively refer to as 'they' rather than 'he' or 'she' if I left it unchecked There isn't a fixed pattern as such but the least likely to be 'they'd appear to be relatives or ex lovers I suppose some people might take it as political flagwaving – and I am no fan of the made up neutral terms such as 'zie' which I find forced this is not the book page on which to be less complimentary about them but will use them if someone prefers them – yet to me this 'they' is natural in a way that some friends must be familiar with someone calls it pretentious to use a 'long word' when it was actually just the first thing you thought of to say what you meant I've often wondered how people deal with heavily gendered languages when they don't feel entirely comfortable with their own or perhaps simply object on principle to such a strong presence of gender but had never heard any native speaker's opinion on this before a couple of uotes from Garréta in one or other of the essays that bookend the novella It wasn't much but it was very satisfying to know something As I expected when I first heard about Sphinx I was comfortable in this world where gender was ambiguous or unstated just as I was frustrated in Leckie's where everyone was 'she' too reminiscent of school and impatiently waiting to escape It was interesting to observe the details that could make a reader lean one way or another about a character's identity depending on the circles they'd moved in but with enough memories of boys who liked wearing makeup and girls who didn't and numerous similar analogues it floats in an idea world of bothneither which has become increasingly comfortable over the years God I'm an annoyingly smug reader for this book I really appreciated the scenes in which the narrator went clubbing alone and wasn't harrassed It's one of these things that online 4th wave feminism seems to continually assert is impossible for women and that leaves me indignant about those sites by effectively saying that experiences I've had don't exist The implication here is that the keys to getting away with it and you probably wouldn't bother trying if it's not a music focusedarty sort of club with some special set that's like going to a gig are a certain amount of aloofness without being entirely asocial and not being drunk which I think is spot on Garreta DJ'd for a while in the seventies and a few of the experiences in the book although it's not uite clear which apparently have some autobiographical basis A GR friend who is English French bilingual has found what appear to be inaccurate assertions about properties of French in excerpts from the translator's afterword excerpts uoted in online reviews I found the afterword enlightening and interesting on topics such as the narrator's aloof personality stemming from the use of constraint in French but I feel that I'd be on shaky ground to praise these things in detail until unless there are several analyses available from bilingual people who've read the entire essay After all that why only give it four stars Two reasonsThere is some intoxicatingly intense writing here yet at other times the narrative descends into dull descriptions with a bloodless administrative tone And inexplicably about things that the narrator must feel deeply There were pages sometimes several at a time that were a slog Perhaps there's some feature of French which made it necessary for the emotion to disappear down the plughole at these times although I couldn't think of any when trying a basic back translation in my head“Insta love” is a familiar critical term from reviewers of YA and romance – but “insta talent” is almost as common a feature of cheesy movies and books It was just too good to be true and seriously lowered my opinion of the book for a while that the narrator was uite that brilliant at DJing the first ever time they tried it I've picked some things up pretty uickly at various times I've seen friends do it so I'd believe it if someone became that good in a week or two or three but that fast in minutes when they'd never handled the euipment before beyond home record players was just too much One could argue there's a heightened mood and melodrama to the whole story which fits its camp environment – much like press reviews have said about 2015 hit book A Little Life and that the 'insta talent is part of that just as much as the intensity of language in the paragraphs I loved but because there's plenty of the book that does actually feel like life to me that sounds like people I've known this one impossible bit obtruded and badlyAnyway something I'd love to know could be meaningfully translated into a language where gender is unmarked like Finnish or Estonian As far as I know not actually speaking these languages it would simply be a matter of not naming the characters Would there be any point in a book like that

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CHARACTERS ✓ Sphinx by Anne Garréta ✓ Sphinx is the remarkable debut novel originally published in 1986 by the incredibly talented and inventive French author Anne Garréta one of the few female members of Oulipo the influential and exclusive French experimental literary group whose mission is to create literature based on mathematical aIng the first member to join born after the Oulipo was founded Garréta won France's prestigious Prix Médicis in 2002 awarded each year to an author whose fame does not yet match their talent for her novel Pas un jourEmma Ramadan is a graduate of Brown University and received her master's in literary translation from the American University of Paris Her translation of Anne Parian's Monospace is forthcoming from La Presse She is currently on a Fulbright Fellowship for literary translation in Morocco. A really nice mood piece of writing here Anne Garréta gives the nighttime life of Paris and Manhattan a nice smokey touch as this is a tale of lovers one is a combination of professor and DJ and the other lover is an American dancer in Paris What we don't know is the gender of either of the two Which must have been hell for the translator Emma Ramadan to do since the French language has very strong genderistic touches to their language In all honesty as I was reading I was imagining that the lovers were women and I'm not sure if it was just a stupid knowledge of knowing the author is female or somehow the nature of the two main characters Garréta wrote this novel when she was 25 and she became a member of Oulipo five years after she wrote Sphinx One can sense the playfulness of the language as well as the no gender specific of the two characters but it's not as experimental as Georges Perec for instance The story reads as a doomed love story a very smart and textured text but one that conveys the loss of a presence

Anne Garréta Ù 0 CHARACTERS

Sphinx is the remarkable debut novel originally published in 1986 by the incredibly talented and inventive French author Anne Garréta one of the few female members of Oulipo the influential and exclusive French experimental literary group whose mission is to create literature based on mathematical and linguistic restraints and whose ranks include Georges Perec and Italo Calvino among othersA beautiful and complex love story between two characters the narrator I and their lover A written without usi. Besides the constraint driving this which would be even amazing to gradually feel out had it not been spelled out by the back cover and everything to refer to this book this is just a gorgeous piece of writing and very atmospheric exploration of the nocturnal life of a city The fact that Garreta the first female member of the oulipo reach English translation is able make this so elegantly readable and also so dense and involving despite its being essentially a simple love story is a testament to her command of language and narrative and to her engagement with the metaphysical beyond but always informing the simple terms or relationship arc This becomes something almost as difficult to pin down in places as Maurice Blanchot in recit but even at its most abstract closely tethered into feeling and narrative Formidable I hope this will only be the first of many Garreta works to reach English translation now This and Jane Unrue are clearly the discoveries of the winterspringIncidentally I'm not entirely sure that the main constraint leading this to be cited as the First less novel ever written was actually first used here From what I've heard Delany did something like this three years earlier I need to verify but then he was doing totally differently and it in a sci fi context thus probably not reaching enough of the readers who would be enticed by that blurb That said this is beautiful People should read Garreta and Delany