Gascar, Pierre (Pseudonym of Pierre Fournier)
Gascar, Pierre (Pseudonym of Pierre Fournier) 1916–
Gascar is a French novelist who began his writing career as a journalist. The influence of his experience as a German prisoner of war during the Second World War is felt throughout his work. Gascar's fictional world is one of cruelty and hostility, the tone of his work is pessimistic and despairing.
Inasmuch as war looms large in Les Bêtes and lies at the very center of Le Temps des morts Gascar impresses one as being of that class of writers, of which Ludwig Renn and Norman Mailer are prominent representatives, who achieve by far their highest literary flights under its crushing impact.
With Les Bêtes it is the world of Kafka born anew: strange, somber, mysterious, irrational, eternally menacing. The animals, swarming everywhere, quail helplessly before the onslaughts of their human tormentors, who, in their turn, fail not only to breach the curtain of incomprehension isolating the species but also that which segregates them from their fellow creatures. And in the three most powerful stories, those directly embraced within this study, a Kafkaesque dream-like haze envelops the impotent animals and anguished humans, overlying the world of reality and lending an air of timelessness to their tragic situation.
Not necessarily intended as such, "Les Chevaux," the book's opening selection, can readily be taken to be a strong indictment of war…. Throughout, war is ingeniously painted as epic chaos and a massacre des innocents. (pp. 327-28)
The grim face of war again terrorizes men and animals alike in "Les Bêtes," which gives its title to the volume. A masterly contrived piece, it would rate inclusion in any anthology of contemporary short stories…. In a world gone mad, in a concentrationary world, humans thus become dehumanized, being reduced to life on an animal plane.
"Entre chiens et loups" … has as its setting a military kennel in the French zone of occupation of post-World War II Germany. Here, under simulated conditions of war, human targets, grotesquely clad in not entirely protective clothing, are pitted against dogs whose savagery is as nurtured as it is natural. (pp. 328-29)
On balance, the book's human kind have all the better of it in their relentless strife with their animal relations…. It is with the grim consequences of the brutalization of man that Le Temps des morts deals. (pp. 329-30)
Gascar obviously had an initial advantage in writing of a world he experienced in his own...
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It is in the half-light of limbo that we see the forms of animals and men in Gascar's Les Bêtes…. The stories with a war or pre-war setting take place in semi-darkness, an absence of light…. The evening light in which animal forms proliferate and images of fear multiply is both that of a tormented world at war and that of the interior recesses of the minds of individual men.
When one is at that time of day which is "entre chien et loup," it is difficult to distinguish the man from the animal, the animal from the object. The title, "Entre chiens et loups," given to the longest story of this collection, is doubly ironic: it intimates that the conflict of man and dog described in the story is that of the dog with a more savage animal, a wolf, and it describes too that indistinct twilight in which the story is bathed, one in which it cannot be determined if the ambiguous shape seen in the distance is dog or wolf. One form appears to already be, or be about to become, another. The bench on which the butcher kills his animals resembles his victims with outspread legs; trees become "crucifiés" in the winter light…. (p. 85)
There is not just a superficial resemblance of forms in the dimness nor does Gascar stress this similarity solely for the purposes of comparison, in a symbolic or metaphoric fashion. In this dream-like atmosphere one form becomes another; there is a constant metamorphosis. There is the constant possibility of change in man and animal, either in the direction of evolution or that of atavism…. We are threatened by a rapid proliferation of forms, constant transformations….
There is here no line completely separating the animal kingdom from the world of men…. Gaston is an entirely new species…. He is the animal form of a new species of hate or evil which invades and conquers us each time another conquering horde invades our soil. We will return home one day and find this new species installed in our home, waiting for us.
In such an animal-man world, it cannot be assumed that man remains superior to the animal in the hierarchy of species. This superiority in the order of creation is a myth which the commandant in charge of training dogs for attack would like to believe, just as he would insist that man's word "war" denotes an orderly, rational and impersonal science, a civilized skill. (p. 86)
From the very first, [the narrator] senses that it is man, the common soldier, that is being regimented and controlled …, and that the dogs are but hiding their violence under a deceiving cloak of obedience. He recognizes their insubordination. Man, the "master," has nurtured the savage force of the dog, but he cannot truly control and discipline that force, which he would set loose against his fellow men.
For it is man who is the hunter as well as the hunted. The commandant is not superior and apart from his dogs…. The dogs are the reflection of a savage atavism in man himself. Although the organized, passionless nature of his violence deceives the commandant and makes him see himself as superior, it is really he, not Franz, who is a throwback...
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If Heraclitus had written fiction, it would have resembled the novels and stories of Pierre Gascar, where earth, air, fire, and water, and the vivid creation which they support are no less alive than man himself. Gascar's tales are like those enormous medieval tapestries, where princes and violets are set down with equal clarity, and the prince must share the stage with water, owl's ears, and the webbing of frog's feet…. [In] his stories simplest acts become ancient rites: he sees his own life blessed with the permanence of a myth.
In his collections of stories, Les bêtes, Les femmes, soleils, and his autobiographical writings, La graine and Le meilleur de la vie, good and evil have the taste of water and sun, guilt and hate have the sting of blood and salt. They cannot be separated, for more than an act of language keeps them together. The elements participate directly in the lives of his characters, fuse with their values and surround them with an ethical landscape of their own making. Transformed to a wasteland or a garden, nature mirrors their acts of hate or acts of love, just as an internal conflict, says Gascar, may be triggered or reinforced by a symbol. (pp. 104-05)
With symbols Gascar makes a new language. He never writes of ideas but fuses them with the material world where they were born…. Like Bergson, Gascar believes that when you try to describe your feelings, spreading out in space what occurred in time, you lose the very nuances you want to seize…. Symbols allow Gascar both to order his experience and to avoid the generalities that destroy its vitality. (p. 105)
The syntax of Gascar's experience is concrete things. Le meilleur de la vie contains a curious defense of that syntax. A harnessmaker and a wheelwright engage in a verbal dual to see who can invent the most fantastic images. The result is a strange yoking of things and properties: trumpets of sunshine, snails' boot, and woolen pistols, an inventory from a world of dreams. Each utterance seems to transfigure the dim workshops where they are announced. (p. 106)
Language always buckles when you have to deal with the anarchy of nature….
Threatened with anarchy, man tries to impose his will on nature, by naming it, denying it, possessing it, and killing it. Hunting, says Gascar, is an attempt to arrive at a world where animals have names. (p. 107)
Confronting nature, man confronts his fate as well. Fate is the final power, the man who comes to arrest you, the trapdoor at the end, the stone hat of death. Yet it is also a power carried in ourselves, a power we hardly know until we commit the crime of which we thought we were incapable, so that we look to the gods for an explanation. Gascar's favorite image for fate is the blind man. (p. 109)
Gascar shows man hunting beasts and man hunting man as if he were a beast. In both cases, the possibility of love is destroyed. Fate shines brightest in the lives of the poor or the outcast, and Gascar allies himself with both. (pp. 109-10)
What astonishes the reader in La graine is Gascar's...
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