Sunday, January 24, 2016

Michel Tournier

I am not "on" Twitter, but there are a half-dozen tweeters whose tweets I look at to keep myself apprised of our cultural obsessions. Sometimes it is simply the form itself.

Aaron Peck is a tweeter whose tweets I look at. Reading Aaron's tweets can feel a little like watching a teenager at a mirror trying on an ascot for the first time.

Aaron often tweets about where he is ("Ah, Brussles [sic] and your spaghetti bolognese"), what he is reading ("Even after reading Javier Marias and Juan Benet, this Lydie Salvayre makes me realize how little I know or recall of the Spanish Civil War") and the passing of those important to him ("And now Hilla Becher. Rest in peace.").

Aaron's most recent death tweet reads: "Although it happened a few days ago, I just found out that Michel Tournier died. Sad news."(January 21)

Sad news indeed.

Like Günter Grass and W. G. Sebald, Tournier was among the last writers to remind us that Europe was ravaged by a Second World War whose consequences are still felt today. And while I appreciate their books and their attention to history, it is their patriarchal Old Man Europe tone that I find annoying, particularly in Sebald's Austerlitz (2001).

In an unattributed Independent review of Barbara Bray's 1972 translation of Tournier's 1970 novel The Erl-King (posted in 2014), the reviewer has this to say of the novel's main character:

"His overwhelming need to reclaim a lost innocence and sense of identity increasingly comes to dominate his adult life. He sees signs everywhere but cannot always interpret them."

This is consistent with my memory of the book, where the protagonist is something of a stand-in for Europe -- or at least a segment of it.

Later, after his capture by the Nazi's and his employment under Reichsmarscall Hermann Göring:

"He struggles to find a sense of self, identifying more often with beast than his fellow man, and in his search for clarity of purpose he is often met with suspicion.

It is here, ultimately, that The Erl-King comes into his own: by unravelling the paradox of Nazism's attraction to, yet final perversion of, purity, nature and the preciousness of life itself."

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