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clair obscur

CLAIR OBSCUR

a novel, by Louis Armand

ISBN 978-80-260-0112-6. Paperback. 288pp. Publication date: October 2011. Equus Press: Prague & London.
Price: € 8.00 (not including postage).

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Kindle edition available from Amazon

“Using the potential threat posed by the camera’s presence, Armand implicates the reader, demonstrating how constant surveillance can undercut our understanding of what is real and what is not. He asks us how we can ‘take responsibility for things which don’t exist’ if we are awake or asleep, and if we ‘know anything about objects, what causes them?’” (Barbara Bridger, Warwick Review)

“This is a poet’s novel, when it is not a filmmaker’s or a painter’s, and should be enjoyed as a multimedia, multilinguistic experience.” (Erik Martiny, The Iowa Review)

“…explores the relations between cinematic and literary writing as containers of, and vehicles for, memory. Reminiscent of Alain Resnais’ or Jean-Luc Godard’s cinema and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s and Samuel Beckett’s fiction—though in no way reducible to any one of them—Armand’s novel reads history, both personal and general, as a palimpsest of place-bound traumas, as a ghost-story of ever-eluding loss in which ‘only the dead return.’” (London Student)

“This lyric, open-ended novel spans several years in the early 1990s and ranges from Prague to Trieste and Bosnia in a meditation on time, loss and recovery.” (The Prague Post)

Set against the backdrop of the 1990s war in former-Yugoslavia, Clair Obscur presents a sustained reflection on memory, guilt, fantasy and desire in late twentieth-century Europe. Its cinematic prose ranges between forensic realism and poetic psychology, like the films of Resnais and Bertolucci its language frequently evokes. Written from a screenplay that won honourable mention at the 2009 Alpe Adria Trieste International Film Festival.

EXCERPT

The voice was familiar. It was the actress from the studio. Meret, she called herself, like the Egyptian goddess of the eighth hour. They’d spoken together at the Villa Veneziani after Van’s screening. They’d both been drinking. It was obvious, Chiara had thought, that something was going on between the two of them (her and Van). There was no denying the actress was beautiful, she herself had felt affected by it (her beauty) the first time she’d seen her on the screen. Chiara! She turned. Meret was leaning now against the wall, laughing, pulling Chiara towards her, into her arms. Suddenly she kissed her. Her mouth was slack and somehow shapeless and tasted of gin, vermouth and cigarettes. Disgust made Chiara recoil from the embrace and immediately Meret slid down the wall into a crooked sitting position, her silhouette now visible at the edge of the lamplight. Her bare feet jutted from beneath the torn hem of her dress as she laughed, helplessly. Can’t you even stand up? Chiara’s voice was slightly mocking, tense. She didn’t care about the answer. The foreknowledge of what was to come galled her. I prefer it down here. It makes me feel smaller. That laughter again. A high-pitched, birdlike laughter. And then a hissing sound, and a rush of water on the flagstones. Meret lifted the hem of her dress for Chiara to see how she’d pissed herself, looking up in childish astonishment. A pool of urine had gathered between her feet and was slowly spreading, the dull reflection of the lamplight shimmering across it like paracelene. And then, quite ridiculously, she tried to stand back up, sliding to one side and eventually falling flat on her face…

About the author:

Louis Armand is a writer and visual artist who has lived in Prague since 1994. He has worked as an editor and publisher, and as a subtitles technician at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. He currently lectures in the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University and is an editor of VLAK magazine. He is the author of seven collections of poetry (most recently, Letters from Ausland, Vagabond: 2011) and a number of volumes of criticism (including Solicitations: Essays on Criticism and Culture, Litteraria: 2008). Clair Obscur is his third work of prose fiction, following The Garden (Salt: 2001) — characterised by Clare Wallace as a “thoughtfully and beautifully written [...] complex, multi-layered and ultimately undecidable tale, which defies reduction to a simple narrative” — and Menudo (Antigen: 2006), whose depiction of Mexico has been described by Jane Lewty as “barbarous and sadistic, yet beautiful [...], portray[ed] with an incomparable eloquence,” out of which springs its “soliloquy/monologue erupting from the psyche of a delirious being.”

Critics on The Garden:

Louis Armand’s The Garden exemplifies more bold trends in the internationalization of Australian literature. Written in an experimental form borrowing from the French recit as practiced by the likes of Maurice Blanchot, this work consists of a cascade of unpunctuated disorienting prose drifting between subject and object, traversing spatial and temporal warpings as well as boundaries of imagination and reality. At times, the flow momentarily twists into interjections seemingly reflecting upon its own possibility, which: functions in weightlessness against a vertical backdrop where everything is in suspense a cliff face echoing between lines of noise on the margins of a sea traversed by an emergence of meaning which is perhaps a mere surface effect concealing the abyss of the seduction of language a recit of the wave’s journey as it draws ever over to the receding shoreline… –Sebastian Gurciullo (Colloquy: Text, Theory, Critique)

“An idea began to form of her body as a hive of wounds that somehow pre-existed an implement a secret mutilation from within.” She is everywhere here, and yet always she is not quite. The text is always too early or too late to hear. The more it chases her the more she slips the line of its noose. Text working a different time from what it desires. “I opened my mouth and a stone fell out.” This is a text haunted by feeling. It deals in abstract emotions, delicately. “Fragments of lost intimacies.” There’s a practice, an ascetic aesthetic, for moving toward feeling in the pure form of its impurity. “But to experience oneself as cut off from others is also to hold open the possibility of transcending this isolation entering into all of those lives experiencing them like a mirror in which no division of time or space prevails.” You sense it when you think you can’t. –McKenzie Wark (Saline)

Louis Armand’s The Garden is a single text, presented as prose, but definitely “poet’s prose” (to borrow a term from the US critic Stephen Fredman used for the kind of hybrid poetry / prose work of Gertrude Stein, Robert Creeley and William Carlos Williams). What Armand presents us with here is a poetic novella produced as a single unpunctuated sentence; but a disjunctive one, where the viewpoint of the narrative switches fluidly between two principle characters: an unnamed man and a woman called simply “m”. There is another subjectivity, a writing “presence” which could be Armand, could be an extension of the male character (or both?). The fluidity covers time as well, we keep looping back to the same few important scenes, glimpsed in different ways from each perspective. One thing is apparent — somehow somebody has died, and it becomes clear that it is “m”. The atmosphere of The Garden reminds me a lot of the work of the French fiction writer and theorist Maurice Blanchot – sparsely described interiors, characters who remain effectively faceless, an atmosphere of cold yet sometimes desperate alienation. It’s an utterly European Modernism, rather than the American-influenced modes we mostly receive — but then Armand lives in Prague. The writer-figure interests me: his own consciousness seems to flow out exhausting itself in a stream of words a literal death sentence & and what if it goes on write until you can’t stand it any more then give it up if you don’t want to give up go on until you can’t stand it any more This pinpoints a kind of obsessive drive in the writing which becomes particularly extreme towards the end of the book when the male character is clearly trying to come to terms with (the manner of) m’s protracted demise and things get a little too surreal, a little too gratuitously violent. At that point you almost lose the really exciting aspect of the poem, which is just this shifting between narrative aspects and subjectivities, a kind of stream-of-consciousnesses. –Keith Jebb (Poetry Review)

Critics on Menudo:

“Menudo is a thump to the head… unrelenting, a flying wedge, an encyclopaedia of the wasteland, an uzi assault pumping desolation lead… inspiring!” –Thor Garcia


The true heart of darkness can be found in Menudo, a soliloquy/monologue erupting from the psyche of a delirious being, “an almost familiar figure, barely cohering & already coming apart” who nevertheless possesses the all-seeing eye, as in Alain Robbe-Grillet’s La Jalousie. The territory is barbarous and sadistic, yet beautiful — a hallucinated Mexico that Armand portrays with an incomparable eloquence: a “danse macabre of mundane, trivial items, while elsewhere, under the ground their doubles are stirring.” And the dead, “how do they know they are not dreaming us? not reenacting us in the afterlife of dead gestures, dead words?…this is where your thinking has led to…someone else has been here before you. washing the blood from the hands, arms, neck, face.” Detailing a descent into madness and fugue, unfamiliar terrain, ritual and torture, Menudo sets out to refute the idea of its own searching, “of trying to recover. of following all the routes back. as though such a thing were possible.” Instead, “it will have always come back of its own accord despite the detail of enumeration.” What is presented to us is only a thing “in place” of the real event: “a captive piece of inertia. to stand in place of you…haunted by figures who are even patiently converging. menacing. pursuing through nightmares.” And if what lies ahead is “a silence to be filled. a space to be invested with meaning” then what of this insistent horror “plucking the liver nightly from our sides”? Whose dream are we in with its interminable analyses? “a methodology of chance operations. to arrive at the fortuitous encounter with something “‘like’ the truth?” A place where “one kills oneself the way one dreams,” where one is “outside the situation of your body. & that is what it is. & that is what it is forever.” –Jane Lewty, “Implied Offerings in This Universe: The Poetry of Louis Armand” (Thresholds)

EQUUS PRESS

www.equuspress.com

editions.equus@gmail.com

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