Pièce #6 :« On fictional intoxication »

On fictional intoxication

When fiction becomes a common democratic drug, what can literature really do for us ?

Conférence à l’occasion du colloque NYU organisé par Tom Bishop et Donatien Grau, Re-thinking literature en présence de Hélène Cixous, Tristan Garcia, Paul Audi, Avital Ronnel...

Ce texte est en anglais, langue qui fut pour moi, je l’ai dit, une langue paternelle. Je l’ai écrit pour une rencontre qui eut lieu à New York, à l’automne 2013. Depuis déjà quelques années, je suis frappé par les ressemblances entre la mécanique des fictions contemporaines et les effets de la drogue sur le système neuronal. C’est cette intuition que j’ai poursuivie dans ce texte, en me plaçant moi-même comme cobaye, comme sujet de l’addiction, de l’intoxication, pour essayer de comprendre la place que peut avoir la littérature, au 21e siècle, dans l’économie générale de l’addiction. Serait-ce une forme de « detox thérapie » où persistent des notions d’intériorité, d’attention ? Ou bien - la mort de la Bovary en est un exemple - la lecture est-elle, tout simplement, inscrite dans le continuum de notre addiction aux histoires ? C’est, je crois, avec la série des strates parue aux éditions Verticales, que j’ai commencé à travailler sur ce thème. Le roman, Vies et mort d’un terroriste américain, particulièrement dans sa version espagnole, Historia del Vertigo, portait la trace, déjà, de cette addiction. Le récit y était, en quelque sorte, infesté, intoxiqué par les fictions qui formaient, ensemble, la mémoire du narrateur… je crois depuis ce temps avoir alterné des phases d’intoxication et des phases de désintoxication. C’est le sens de cette expression, qui revient dans le texte, ici : « I do get wet ».

En effet, quoique je fasse, je suis mouillé.

Camille de Toledo, octobre 2014


It is quite suprising for me – if I may say this as an introduction – to question the relationship between literature and power. Since, as a writer, I tend to prevent myself from thinking literature in terms of power : be it, a quest for power over reality (writing to create your own rule and order), or a fiction-building responding to the fictional power of the media or government stories (i.e. writing some sort of counter-fiction). I might have had this attitude at first, as a young writer, but as the years pass by, it seems that I tend to be more attracted to the autonomy of fiction, the silent and discrete sphere in which literature happens, and the hasardous way through which literary objects do finally hit, displace, or reveal what is our contemporary and/or the fictional, geo-poetical, pyschological, political structures in which we are living. This chance, this accident (I could say the “theorem”) by which certain books gradually echo and reveal the relation we have to ourselves, to our time, to our past, as it can never be the result of a conscious strategy (what did Kafka know about how his work would actually echo modernity ?) have really drawn me to be more indifferent to the context and ignore in a way the language in which the contemporary is sold to us and just write what needs to be written without thinking. This can be seen as an endeavour to extract myself from and out of what has been the ironical age – i.e. the neverending quotation of forms, the reconduction of laughter, a certain fictional intoxication of advertisement mythologies. Of course, media stories, soft powers of all sorts, Hollywood’s overwhelming inputs, as well as what I usually coin as the story-taylorisation of reality are like rain. It pours down from whatever cloud there is, a tech-cloud pouring rain on me, where I do get wet, no matter what shelter or refuge I find. This intoxication of fiction puts me – and I think, any modern writer – in a new position. One reaction to that - as I was saying that I would try, as a discipline, to ignore the cloud – would drive me normally to see literature as a shelter or a refuge. A place where I don’t actually get wet. Where I can disregard the fictional power structure. But I do know that this would be pure illusion. As there is no shelter, as raindrops infiltrate me. Therefore, my writing has become the story of this attempt : trying and failing to escape from the rain of stories that are told and sold and broadcasted and imposed on me without my consent. Walking in this electric and digital rain, to get wet and then go back to writing. For instance, I have been consuming, in the past few months, a certain amount of hours of American TV series. I have digested enough of them – things like Breaking Bad – to feel that fiction production has reached a new paradigm of addiction. I am taking this example of Breaking Bad because we have an exact mirror between form and theme. Getting you addicted to a story that tells you the story of a professor becoming a major drug dealer. This can be regarded as the supreme stage of fiction : a general and total fictional addiction.


So this brings me back to one of my questions :
What, in that context of addiction, can literature do ?
Should it surrender to this new economics of fiction ?
As it has neither sound, nor image, nor music to build up this addiction, these after-affects kind of post-production tools,
should it be seen as a handicapped art form
waiting to be empowered ?


I would only note a vision here, a vision that I have, by circulating in the literary festivals in Europe : literature as an old man, coughing, complaining, full of resentment talking and reading to aging and bored Europeans in half empty theatres. This, of course, is a caricature, but there is a point in starting with this declining percept, the way this percept is supported, I would say, quasi ideologically, by a literary endism. I will come back later to what, in my views, are the five pillars of this literary endism, and by seeing them, I would expect that they would start to dissolve…


But this already might be too optimistic.
Where does literature’s power lie exactly, in the 21st century,
with regards to the other forms of fiction fabrics ?


The contemporary intends to create a fictional addiction,

be it through entertainment or tourism or warfare or video gaming or TV series, the ecosystem of fiction has become so sophisticated that it reproduces everywhere the mechanisms of chemical drug addiction. It stimulates our minds with fears and plots and dangers and laughters and thus maintains a high degree of brain activity. It produces adrenalin, endomorphin, or any another self-produced substances that you otherwise get by drug consumption.

So, beyond the simple pleasure that we have as viewers, spectators, a neuronal chemistry joins in the technics of fiction building to fulfill the objectives of the entertainment industry. In that sens, Jaws, the film by Steven Spielberg, is quite prophetic for our generation since it was showing the predatory face of fiction. Literaly, the jaws – the images of jaws – eating the little children and making them bleed to death. That is the tale hidden behind the film.


Unlike Moby-Dick, where the sovereignty of the beast is an echo to the figure of God, ever present and yet never to be seen. A pure and abstract force. The shark in Jaws is closer to us, to the coast, just near the beach, where we are entertained and spending our leasure time. The shark is no longer waiting to be tracked and faced. Here it is. Its image is there, close to us, and it attacks no longer the man Ahab, but children, women. It is devouring us, we are attracted to it. We are the little children submitted to this new order of fiction.


In regards to this intoxication and predation of fiction productions, where does literature stand ?


At this point, I would be tempted to say that literature, in that context of predation and intoxication, can be regarded as a « rehab », detox art form, a cure that government should support to help society free itself from fictional alienation. This, anyway, is how I feel the experience of reading in the 21st century. It is a temporary cure and a discipline where I escape from an overwhelming media bewitchment. I must say I don’t have much hope in governments supporting literature as a “detox cultural therapy” since they are so much dependant on the actual intoxication. As main players and users of the technics of bewitchment, their interest lies in less literature than more. In that sens, book culture – from writing to reading to publishing – becomes a dissident minority culture offering a space for “désenvoûtement”, un-bewitchment.


And yet, this vision might also be too idealised. In my childhood, one would use the sentence : “He is addicted to books.” So the question of fictionnal addiction might transcend the actual genres and art forms. Their might be a continuity of addiction. From Breaking Bad to Bret Easton Ellis – intoxication -, from Jaws to Harry Potter (we have here the metaphor of bewitchment, the actual plot of Harry Potter being on “sorcellerie/witchcraft/wizardry”). And if this is so, my premises would be wrong. Literature is not a refuge, nor a shelter, nor a detox technic in the context of general bewitchment. It would actually be a discipline and experience preparing our minds to a final surrender, delivering it like a land or a country to the foreign and invasive fictional world. If we think about how Don Quixote is dreaming his life as if he were in a chivalry tale, if we think also of how Madame Bovary is intoxicated by her desire of romance, her readings, literature ceases to be a refuge, a shelter, resisting to the contemporary bewitchment. On the contrary, its history would actually be that of an experience disseminating the habit of fictional deportation.


As a reader, this is the first line I would draw between the clouds pouring fictions on us. Where do I stand ?
What am I looking for ? Addiction. More addiction.
Or is there a specific literary addiction ?
Or am I looking for silence and detoxication ?
I do have the two needs in me as a reader. I move from a desire for saturation, to a need of silence and absolute disconnection.

In certain phases, I download Breaking Bad and read Jean-Philippe Toussaint or Jean Echenoz, who succeed at keeping you, whatever noise there is, in a story, in the need of the story. But in other phases, I go for a retreat and here comes the need for blank : no fiction, no potential lifes, no other presences than my presence, no other fiction than the fiction I have in front of me and that I keep on calling “reality”.


But as writer, I do keep in mind, as an old souvenir, the question of emancipation, and I feel, as an ethics of writing in the 21st century, that my responsability is not to entertain, nor contribute to this new economics of fiction. Keeping in mind my bareness as a writer, with no sound addition, no post production tools, no after affects at my disposal. I tend to make this bareness the main issue of my work, an attempt to escape from the fiction fabrik, and transmit the meaning of a presence, rather then add my work to the global deportation of our minds. As I said, I can’t ignore the cloud.

I do get wet. I do like getting wet.
I do get devoured like the little children in Jaws.

But the endeavour to get out, through writing, and explore, either my intoxication – that is the layers and layers of fiction that have been imposed on me, year after year, so it is like an archeology of images – or my desire to disconnect – and that would be reaching, by writing, a state of solitary prayer – this endeavour, anyway, has become a kind of responsability. If I don’t do it, I feel guilty.

10 novembre 2014
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