Jean Cayrol Essay - Critical Essays

Cayrol, Jean

Introduction

Cayrol, Jean 1911–

Cayrol, a French novelist, poet, essayist, and screenwriter, was an early proponent of the New Novel. His fiction and poetry are dominated by his experiences in a German prison camp, and his heroes are typically Lazarus figures who must readjust to life after a spiritual death. A Christian perspective of redemptive suffering pervades his work.

David Carroll

In the novels of Jean Cayrol someone speaks, but as Roland Barthes has already argued it is impossible to say exactly who. The Cayrolian voice hides as much as it reveals its source; it is never transparent. It works against the speaker who desires to affirm his presence by speaking. The Cayrolian figure may attempt, like Gaspard of Les Corps Etrangers, to remember his past and relate it accurately and completely in order to claim he is present as an identity at the source of his voice, outside and prior to it; but he is never successful. (p. 789)

The Cayrolian voice is a voice without origin, a voice whose source is in no fully constituted subject and which, therefore, cannot be conclusively identified. It is incorrect, perhaps, even to call it a voice because it has no specific origin and is never unique. Each voice is plural, not a voice at all but multiple, with multiple origins. The invasion of each voice by other voices indicates that it would be impossible to give any voice a sense or direction and it is in this way that the Cayrolian voice constitutes a text (a fundamental characteristic of any text being this absence of a definite source, the absence of any subject hors texte governing its sense). A text demands the absence or death of the subject in order to signify—it could be considered precisely as a voice (voices) without origin.

It can be seen already, therefore, that the status of the subject who speaks is similar to and perhaps the same as that of the writer in Cayrol's novels, for since the voice can be considered to be textual, the speaker is always in this sense a writer, even if very often it is in spite of himself. I will concentrate here on two of Cayrol's works, Le Vent de la Mémoire and Je l'Entends Encore, in which the writer appears directly as a figure in the novels, in order to see just exactly what status the writer has in the novels and what his relation is to the text, keeping in mind that he is a privileged figure only in the sense that all figures who speak are writers and all voices texts to be interpreted, never transparent in themselves. In Cayrol's novels the written (the text) has invaded the spoken (the voice) at its origin.

When the figure of the writer appears in Le Vent de la Mémoire, he is a mystified figure, a figure fleeing from the differences of the past and from the others, fleeing from the implications of his text, a figure trying to hide behind a mask and to posit himself as a unified presence, an identity complete in itself. Gérard wants to have no memories and to deny the difference at the heart of the present—he simply wants to be. He desires to be the same, identical to himself and, moreover, to make his sameness manifest to others. To realize this desire he takes on a mask, a role or personality (the "writer"), which supposedly defines him completely, which is the manifestation of his inward truth, the same as what he is. (pp. 789-90)

The "writer" from Gérard's mystified point of view writes in order to make manifest his own presence, to present his personal and private view of the world, the truth which he possesses. The "writer" is always present in his text because it says exactly what he wants it to say, because it is simply an extension of him…. [In order to continuously grasp this truth without interference,] Gérard constructs his "bureau" to be a wall against the others, a physical closure for the self, a space where he can be. (pp. 790-91)

Having made himself secure, the "writer" can now write and so the completion of the "bureau" should be a moment of triumph. Instead, he fears the moment because it is the moment of his physical absence from the world, an indication of his death. In fact, it does not free him from the others and permit him to write but closes him in on himself and imprisons him. (p. 791)

The "writer" feels that he must protect himself from the others because they threaten him by interfering with his desired unity and perfection, with his state of total communion with himself. They are always inessential or accessory to him because his truth is supposedly only in himself…. The others only work, according to him, to destroy his identity and his image, and thus his pleasure. Any imperfection in the self must be the fault of the others, never that of the self. They insert their voices in his voice, their words among his. (p. 792)

The presence of the others destroys the "perfection" of [Gérard's] writing, his total grasping of himself. Now there is difference instead of unity, a division in the self, distance between the "writer" and his writing, a loss of the immediate comprehension of himself and his work. The "writer" no longer hears his own voice clearly—it no longer says exactly what he wants it to say.

Gérard fears the completion of his "bureau" because he fears the consequences of his physical absence from the world; but he fears more than this the loss of his identity, the invasion of the self by the others, and his own eventual disappearance over which he has no control, his death. He must complete his work, therefore, before he actually dies, so that his death will be insignificant. A work written in his own unique voice, with his words, he believes will insure the eternal continuation of his presence. His seclusion in his "bureau", then, is his only means of avoiding the consequences of death, his permanent disappearance. He writes in order to deny the effects of his death, to negate the presence of the others…. (pp. 792-93)

In order to establish himself as an identity he must complete his manuscript, and yet he is unable to. Paradoxically, the "writer" is unable to write. He hides himself away in his "bureau" but he produces nothing. The "writer's" manuscript is fictitious. He is sterile and has nothing to say, unable to find his own words and his own voice in order to speak. (p. 793)

He does not write because the "writer" cannot write and sustain his image and identity, write and remain the same, master of his truth and of his words. To write is to be misunderstood, to lose one's sense and identity, never to be the same. He cannot write because he has no secret to reveal about himself, because the sense of his words and the sense of his life always escape him….

Here is where the basic contradiction in Gérard's project manifests itself explicitly, for writing is never a perfect reflection of the self, never a presentation of an inner truth. It is impossible to eliminate the words of the others from one's own words because it is always "their" language that one is using. The sense of any work is never in the "writer" and never unique; and, moreover, writing destroys rather than assures the identity of the "writer" who desires to be present in his work. To write is to proclaim his death, his absence from his writing rather than his presence in it….

The "writer" cannot write without revealing that the identity he claims for himself, the unified presence he claims exists beneath the mask, is only fictional. He cannot write in conformity with his project because he does not possess the truth of who he is, because his truth itself is only a mask, not the perfect copy of an original, but a mask under which there is only another mask, a copy of a copy. The original Gérard is always missing, and the identity he desires is fictional, because it supposedly has no past, no history, no memories. It supposedly simply is, present fully in itself prior to any manifestation or narration. Gérard hides behind the mask of the "writer" in order not to admit this, in order to cling to the myth of his own importance, the existence of the self. (p. 794)

Instead of affirming his identity by being spoken in his unique voice, [Gérard's novel] lets speak the multiple voices of the past—it inserts the differences of the past within the mythical present he is attempting to construct. The novel is the emergence of the past in the present, a past which the "writer" is not able to control, not able to mold in accordance with his image of himself. He considers the novel to be against him because he neither controls its sense nor recognizes himself in it. It does not say what he wants to say about himself; it is not the work of his own voice. Rather than reflect his presence, it destroys his desired unity and multiplies his identity. (p. 795)

Le Vent de la Mémoire indicates the impossibility of totally forgetting the past (total recall being equally impossible), of fleeing the past and clinging to the illusion of an eternal undifferentiated present in order to create an identity for oneself. The "writer" is never present in...

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James Walt

An author of poems, essays and novels sufficient in number and quality to establish him as a man of letters, Cayrol isn't above playing Scheherazade and writing a suspense tale [Kakemono Hôtel]. He is a novelist of place, in love with the dank, misty, rainy Normandy coast which Flaubert and De Maupassant also loved, and fascinated by the tragedy of people who stumble from mischance to mischance in following their illusions….

Judged by its plot and its improbabilities, Kakemono Hôtel is closer to Poe than to Flaubert or Maupassant. But the atmosphere Cayrol creates is the work of a delicate observer grounded in the methods of the realistic school, and he writes with a simplicity Poe...

(The entire section is 153 words.)

Spire Pitou

Devotees of Jean Cayrol's poetry and fiction will be surprised to find that his latest novel rejects completely the surrealistic manner he has employed until now with such constant success. For Histoire d'une maison might be construed as an effort to demonstrate once and for all that surrealistic writers can and may employ the more traditional forms of composition with ease and competence. The first section of the narrative is presented directly by the author, or anonymous narrator, exactly as Balzac or Zola might have developed a tale of avarice or alcoholism; the second part turns to the epistolary format used by Rousseau in La nouvelle Héloïse; the fourth section exploits the diary or journal type...

(The entire section is 236 words.)