Jean Cayrol

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David Carroll

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3615

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 his work and never able to control its sense. A text is always the work of a double and never of an original, unique self; it has multiple origins and senses and never one. It always works against the "writer" who desires to convey his truth, his presence or identity, by means of it. The text reveals that the "writer" is a fiction, a mask which covers no profundity; its source and its sense, therefore, are never in him. It is never the product of his voice. (p. 796)

In Je l'Entends Encore the figure of the writer appears again. This writer, Jean-Pierre, unlike Gérard, desires to know his past rather than forget it; he acknowledges the fictional status of his text, the work of the double, rather than hiding it. At the same time, however, Jean-Pierre wants to transcend the fiction and rediscover the truth of who he is, present at the origin but now lost. The fiction will be his means of arriving at the truth of the past, a past which is not a text and not a fiction, a past conveyed by the true voice of the father [Julien] speaking to him…. This desire to return to the origin is a common theme in Cayrol's novels, and it is usually represented by the desire to return to the home where the origin of the self, that which makes the self what it is, has supposedly been guarded. In Je l'Entends Encore as in the other novels the actual return reveals no truth—the origin and the true father are always missing. In Cayrol the past in itself is never grasped because with each return another version of the past comes forth. There is always another origin to be found in each origin; the return is endless.

There is no unique origin because the father is dead. Jean-Pierre, like many of Cayrol's figures, is an orphan, without a home, at the beginning of whose life there is an absence, an uncertainty, a disruption. The absence of the father determines that the past is uncertain, not simply given in itself once and for all times, but always to be invented…. The father's voice, which like all voices in Cayrol can never be his alone, is a carrier of death and not an indication of his living presence. In Cayrol's novels the father, when he speaks, is a fiction, never completely himself, never the living source of truth for the son. Without a unique origin for the self, all sons are orphans. (pp. 796-97)

The narration of Julien's life which comprises the first half of Je l'Entends Encore, a discourse supposedly spoken by the father, is in fact only spoken in the name of the father for it is actually written by Jean-Pierre, the son. Jean-Pierre takes on the mask of the father and speaks for him and in his name, as if he were the father. At a certain moment, the first text gives way to another text, that of the son speaking in his own name, and the first text is acknowledged as a fiction…. Jean-Pierre invents a fictional Julien and lets him speak because he cannot accept the death of his father and his own eventual disappearance implicated in this death. (p. 799)

Jean-Pierre writes in the name of his father in an attempt to keep his voice alive, but at the same time there are certain advantages in the death of the father. Because the father is dead and the son must write his words if he is to speak, the son has the illusion of controlling him, of being the father of his father, of replacing him in order to return to the mother [, the source for which he searches]. The father continues to speak through this fiction but it is with the words that the son gives him that he does. (p. 800)

The father must be both dead and alive at the same time; alive as a guarantee of the son's identity and dead so that the son can possess this truth. The fiction of the living father, the story of the father's life written by the son, seems at first to accomplish this end. The son will possess the truth of the father and his own truth by his mastery of the fictional father, through this father who speaks with his, the son's, words. This mastery turns out to be illusory, however, for the words that the father uses to speak and thus his voice are neither his to possess nor the son's. The fiction speaks with its own words, that is to say, with the words that are not anyone's in particular, with a voice whose source is not in any individual or self but only in another voice. The "truth" of the fiction, the sense and reality of the father's existence, continually escapes the son's attempts to possess it. The real father is continually displaced by a double of the father, a fiction or a phantom that the son cannot control….

The son cannot possess the truth of his father, who he really was, because this truth never existed. His father belongs to no one, neither to himself nor to the son…. The father speaks to Jean-Pierre but only as a fiction, when dead. (p. 801)

The impossibility of ever seizing this truth in itself makes it necessary that he compose it (write it), and without the real presence of the father the fiction is the only possibility. Each time that Jean-Pierre seems to be closing in on a particular truth in the life of his father, each time someone is about to reveal to him who his father was or exactly what he did or said, the direct revelation of the truth is replaced by another story, another version of his father, incomplete and inadequate. The living, oral testimony which is supposed to convey the truth of the past is complicated by death—by the death of his father, as we have shown, but also by the death of other witnesses…. (p. 802)

There is no faithful memory and there cannot be one. The truth is never said…. In Cayrol's novels memory is only approximate, a fiction or a matter of voice in the Cayrolian sense; and this limitation indicates the impossibility of ever capturing the real presence of the father, the truth of the self, or the essence of the past. A faithful and exact memory is the guardian of the identity of the self, and the oubli or rature at the heart of the Cayrolian memory is the indication of the destruction of this identity. (pp. 802-03)

The writer is an orphan because he can only invent his parents, that is to say, write them…. It is the writer who affirms that the self is not born once and for all times, that its truth is not at the origin nor in itself, that it is always other and never the same, a fiction rather than an identity…. The writer does not suffer … from the absence of a father; but on the contrary, the writer only suffers from his inability to write and construct fictions. He suffers not from the fact that his father, mother, and himself are written rather than real, but only from what he cannot tell, that which he finds impossible to repeat or write…. In Cayrol's novels an "experience" that cannot be repeated has "traumatic" effects, for it dominates the writer and closes him in on himself. It is not any more real in itself than another "experience", but because of the paralysing effect it has, it functions the same way the real would.

The goal of the writer in the novels of Cayrol and of Cayrol as writer is not to attempt to uncover the truth of the past or the real father, and not to present the reader some personal view of the world; but rather it is to repeat the "traumatic experience" and all "experiences", to destroy their effect, to multiply that which seems to be one. The "trauma" isolates the writer, closes him in on himself, and separates him from the others. It fixes him there where he is, prevents him from becoming other. Left unchanged, that is, unrepeated, the "trauma" defines him once and for all, destroys the possibility for change, is a limit beyond which he cannot move, a kind of death. (pp. 803-04)

The destruction or transformation of the closure, the repetition of that which seemingly could not be told, is also the destruction of the solitary self. The solitary self, because of the closure around it, is without the possibility of becoming other than what it is. With the destruction of the closure the self refuses the ideal of a fixed identity and accedes to the possible. Opposed to the solitary self, the writer is never the same. He is continually beginning again and continually multiplying his existences, his origins, his stories. To begin again is to affirm the dissolution of the identity of the self and the invasion of the self from the start by the others. To begin again is to produce another story, to repeat what is already repetition and never the same.

Cayrol states that the sea is the exemplary metaphor for his work, the sea which is a limit but not a closure, offering access to the possible, to what is other, and repeating itself continually…. The sea is never the same; it infinitely repeats not what is the same but what is different; it continually begins again from the traces or ratures of the past. The sea is always at the moment of beginning, at the moment of opening to the other, at the moment of difference…. The sea has no profundity; it cannot be given a sense nor captured as a whole. The sea is not a mirror because it repeats the differences of the past and distorts the present…. (pp. 808-09)

The concept of beginning in the novels of Cayrol is not the same, then, as the concept of source or origin, the first time before which there is nothing else; for the origin in Cayrol's work, as we have shown, is always missing. To begin is always to begin again, to repeat the differences of the past, to become other. There is never an origin but always multiple origins, never a story or text with a sense, but multiple texts with multiple senses, never a unique self but an endless succession of masks.

The repetition and duplicity of the sea (the fact that it is not a mirror of what is) destroys the closure, that which confines the self to itself and denies difference. The repetition of the sea precedes the moment of the unique occurrence, the fixture of an identity; the double precedes the one and is not the same as it. It follows, then, that the sea is also a confrontation with death…. The sea not only presents a danger of death and contains death, the corpses it eventually rejects and deposits on the beach, but by its repetitions it is death. The sea is always at the moment of (re) beginning, the moment of repetition and difference, which is also the moment of death. Death is there from the beginning, in each (re) beginning, at each moment.

By his writing, the writer affirms the repetition of the sea, the multiplicity of the self, and, therefore, the dissolution of his identity. He accepts the text which cannot possibly be his text, a reflection of his presence, but which is always the text of a double. He affirms the multiple versions of the past, the fictional status of his memories, and the death of the father and his truth. He continually takes on masks because he has no identity to reveal—behind each mask there is only another mask. He speaks in the names of others and with their words because he cannot speak in his own name with his own words. In Cayrol's novels the writer himself is written, a fiction, implicated in his text and not outside it. He is continually beginning again, becoming other than what he is, taking on another mask and speaking with another voice. (pp. 809-10)

David Carroll, "Jean Cayrol or the Fiction of the Writer," in Modern Language Notes (© copyright 1973 by The Johns Hopkins University Press), Vol. 88, No. 4, 1973, pp. 789-810.

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