Politics of fiction in Antoine Volodine’s work: Memory, survival and persistance

Claire Richard, MA Candidate, Literature, NYU


To think of how to face collapse, it might seem that literature can offer little more than escapism. But my presentation of contemporary French writer Antoine Volodine aims at proving that literature wages its own politics of imagination, and proposes forms and models to face collapse: in the form of persistence, survival and reinvention.

Volodine’s world thematizes the world after collapse: his world is a “post-“world, full of ashes and derelict cities, forests and above all, camps. It is populated by “gueux”: those who lost, now mocked, or jailed – marginalized lunatics, century-old Siberian Marxists sorceresses, defeated guerilleros composing absurd poems in camps. These characters compose the “post-exotic community”, on the brink of extinction. With absurdity, gravity, and a black humor, they tell their stories in a collective voice, shifting from one character to the next. In this world, memory is crucial. Even though it is faulty, and narrators unreliable, memory is the only way they survive. It is their form of fidelity, to each other and to History – and it is their means of survival. Historical memory pervades the text, but after having been transformed, displaced, in dreamy images and uncanny recognitions. Volodine writes under a pseudonym and presents himself in interviews as a member of the post-exotic community. The fictional world colonizes the real one. Its haunting images that resist explanations stay with the readers, turning their own imaginations into a space where these defeated linger. By harnessing the powers of imagination, fantasmas, and fiction to create an alternate space where the defeated memory of the century survives, Volodine proposes a model of resistance to defeat: memory, persistence and, overall, fidelity.

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