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mardi, 05 juillet 2011

La Pastorale, & le déni de réalité

Dans l'immédiat, je me contente de copier-coller ici (sorte de laboratoire tout à trac de mon futur cours, mais aussi du WiKi en gestation) deux longs extraits de la Contrevie (The Counterlife de Philip Roth, fini de lire il y a un mois). Il y a évidemment beaucoup à en dire. ce que l'on ne peut en dire est que ces pages donnent la clef du roman. Non, c'est plus compliqué. On ne saurait non plus affirmer qu'elles éclairent entièrement la question de la pastorale dans American Pastoral - mais elles l'éclairent passablement !


Excerpt from Maria’s letter to Nathan on leaving him (pp. 320-22)

You do want to be opposed again, don't you? You may have had your fill of fighting Jews and fighting fathers and fighting literary inquisitors—the harder you fight that sort of local oppo­sition, the more your inner conflict grows. But fighting the goyim it's clear, there's no uncertainty or doubt—a good, righteous, guilt-free punch-up! To be resisted, to be caught, to find yourself in the midst of a battle puts a spring in your heel. You're just dying, after all my mildness, for a collision, a clash—anything as long as there's enough antagonism to get the story smoking and everything exploding in the wrathful philippics you adore. To be a Jew at Grossinger's is obviously a bit of a bore—but in England being Jewish turns out to be difficult and just what you consider fun. People tell you, There are restrictions, and you're in your element again, You revel in restrictions. But the fact is that as far as the English are concerned, being Jewish is something you very occasionally apologize for and that's it. It is hardly my per­spective, it strikes me as coarse and insipid, but it still is nothing like the honor you have imagined. But a life without horrible difficulties (which by the way a number of Jews do manage to enjoy here—just ask Disraeli or Lord Weidenfeld) is inimical to the writer you are. You actually like to take things hard. You can't weave your stories otherwise.

Well, not me, I like it amiable, the amiable drift of it, the mists, the meadows, and not to reproach each other for things outside our control, and not every last thing invested with urgent meaning. I don't usually give in to strange temptation and now I remember why. When I told you about that scene at Holly Tree Cottage when my mother said, about my Jewish friend, “They smell so funny, don't they?” I saw exactly what you were thinking—not “How awful for someone to say such a thing!” but “Why does she write about those stupid meadows when she can sink her teeth into that? Now there's a subject!” Perfectly true, but not a subject for me. The last thing I would ever want are the consequences of writing about that. For one thing, if I did, I wouldn't really be telling the English anything they didn't know but simply exposing my mother and me to incalculable distress in order to come up with something "strong." Well, better to keep the peace by writing something weak. I don't entirely share your superstitions about art and its strength. I take my stand for something far less important than axing every­thing open—it's called tranquillity.

But tranquillity is disquieting to you, Nathan, in writing particularly—it's bad art to you, far too comfortable for the reader and certainly for yourself, The last thing you want is to make readers happy, with everything cozy and strifeless, and desire simply fulfilled. The pastoral is not your genre, and Zuckerman Domesticus now seems to you just that, too easy a solution, an idyll of the kind you hate, a fantasy of innocence in the perfect house in the perfect landscape on the banks of the perfect stretch of river. So long as you were winning me, getting me away from him, and we were struggling with the custody issue, so long as there was that wrestling for rights and possessions, you were en-grossed, but now it begins to look to me that you're afraid of peace, afraid of Maria and Nathan alone and quiet with their happy family in a settled life. To you, in that, there's a sugges­tion of Zuckerman unburdened, too on top of it, that's not earned—or worse, insufficiently interesting. To you to live as an innocent is to live as a laughable monster. Your chosen fate, as you see it, is to be innocent of innocence at all costs, certainly not to let me, with my pastoral origins, cunningly transform you into a pastoralized Jew. I think you are embarrassed to find that even you were tempted to have a dream of simplicity as foolish and naïve as anyone's. Scandalous. How can that be? Nothing, but nothing, is simple for Zuckerman. You constitutionally distrust anything that appears to you to be effortlessly gained. As if it were effortless to achieve what we had.

Yet when I’m gone don't think I didn't appreciate you. Shall I tell you what I'm going to miss, despite my shyness and well-known lack of sexual assertiveness? It's feeling your hips between my thighs. It's not very erotic by today's standards, and probably you don't even know what I'm talking about. “My hips between your thighs?” you ask, dumbly rubbing your whiskers. Yes, posi­tion A. You'd hardly ever done anything so ordinary in your life before I came along, but for me that was just lovely and I won't forget for a long time what it was like. I will also remember an afternoon down in your apartment before my enemy came home for dinner; there was an old song on the radio, you said it was a song you used to dance to in high school with your little girl-friend Linda Mandel, and so for the first and only time, there in your study, we danced the fox-trot like adolescent kids out of the forties, danced the fox-trot glued loin to loin. When I look back on all this fifteen years from now, you know what I’ll think? I’ll think, "Lucky old me." I’ll think what we all think fifteen years later: "Wasn't that nice." But at twenty-eight this is no life, especially if you are going to be Maupassant and milk the irony for all its worth. You want to play reality-shift? Get yourself another girl. I'm leaving. When I see you now in the lift or down in the foyer collecting your mail, I will pretend, though it may only be the two of us who are there, that we have never been anything other than neighbors, and if we meet in public, at a party or a restaurant, and I am with my husband and our friends, I will blush…





Excerpt from Nathan’s reply, on pastoralization (pp. 325-7)

Now what you say about pastoralization. Do you remember the Swedish film we watched on television, that microphotography of ejaculation, conception, and ail that? It was quite wonderful. First was the whole sexual act leading to conception, from the point of view of the innards of the woman. They had a cam­era or something up the vas deferens. I still don't know how they did it—does the guy have the camera on his prick? Anyway, you saw the sperm in huge color, coming down, getting ready, and going out into the beyond, and then finding its end up some-where else—quite beautiful. The pastoral landscape par excel­lence. According to one school, it's where the pastoral genre that you speak of begins, those irrepressible yearnings by people be­yond simplicity to be taken off to the perfectly safe, charmingly simple and satisfying environment that is desire's homeland. How moving and pathetic these pastorals are that cannot admit con­tradiction or conflict! That that is the womb and this is the world is not as easy to grasp as one might imagine. As I discovered at Agor, not even Jews, who are to history what Eskimos are to snow, seem able, despite the arduous education to the contrary, to protect themselves against the pastoral myth of life before Cain and Abel, of life before the split began. Fleeing now, and back to day zero and the first untainted settlement—breaking history's mold and casting off the dirty, disfiguring reality of the piled-up years: this is what Judea means to, of all people, that belligerent, unillusioned little band of Jews . . . also what Basel meant to claustrophobic Henry lustlessly boxed-in back in Jersey . . . also—let's face it—something like what you and Gloucestershire once meant to me. Each has its own configura­tion, but whether set in the cratered moonscape of the Pentateuch, or the charming medieval byways of orderly old Schweiz, or the mists and the meadows of Constable's England, at the core is the idyllic scenario of redemption through the recovery of a sanitized, confusionless life. In dead seriousness, we all create imagined worlds, often green and breastlike, where we may finally be "ourselves." Yet another of our mythological pursuits. Think of all those Christians, hearty enough to know better, piping out their virginal vision of Momma and invoking that boring old Mother Goose manger. What's our unborn offspring meant to me, right up to tonight in fact, but something perfectly programmed to be my little redeemer? What you say is true: the pastoral is not my genre (no more than you would think of it as Mordecai Lippman's ) ; it isn't complicated enough to provide a real solution, and yet haven't I been fueled by the most innocent (and comical) vision of fatherhood with the imagined child as the therapeutic pastoral of the middle-aged man?

Well, that's over. The pastoral stops here and it stops with circumcision. That delicate surgery should be performed upon the penis of a brand-new boy seems to you the very cornerstone of human irrationality, and maybe it is. And that the custom should be unbreakable even by the author of my somewhat skeptical books proves to you just how much my skepticism is worth up against a tribal taboo. But why not look at it another way? I know that touting circumcision is entirely anti-Lamaze and the thinking these days that wants to debrutalize birth and culminates in delivering the child in water in order not even to startle him. Circumcision is startling, all right, particularly when performed by a garlicked old man upon the glory of a newborn body, but then maybe that's what the Jews had in mind and what makes the act seem quintessentially Jewish and the mark of their reality. Circumcision makes it clear as can be that you are here and not there, that you are out and not in—also that you're mine and not theirs. There is no way around it: you enter history through my history and me. Circumcision is everything that the pastoral is not and, to my mind, reinforces what the world is about, which isn't strifeless unity. Quite convincingly, circum­cision gives the lie to the womb-dream of life in the beautiful state of innocent prehistory, the appealing idyll of living "naturally," unencumbered by man-made ritual. To be born is to lose all that. The heavy hand of human values falls upon you right at the start, marking your genitals as its own. Inasmuch as one invents one's meanings, along with impersonating one's selves, this is the meaning I propose for that rite. I'm not one of those Jews who want to hook themselves up to the patriarchs or even to the modem state; the relationship of my Jewish "I" to their Jewish "we" is nothing like so direct and unstrained.


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