French author Volodine aims at the head rather than the heart in this postmodern novel featuring one of his main alter egos, Lutz Bassmann, supposedly the author of his most renowned book, Minor Angels.
From the title alone we know we’re not in a Jamesian tradition of realistic fiction. Volodine is far more interested in crafting an aesthetic than a novel with plot and character conflict. The opening conceit here is that sometime in the future, the incarcerated Bassmann is facing death for unknown reasons (though primarily because he’s seen as a revolutionary), yet he remains to the end a spokesman for the “post-exotic principle according to which a portion of shadow always subsists in the moment of explanation or confession, modifying the confession to the point of rendering it unusable to the enemy.” This 11th “lesson” of post-exoticism—the main narrative thread—is interrupted by 10 other lessons made up of lists and aesthetic manifestos of various pseudo-authors/alter egos such as Maria Clementi, Elli Kronauer, and Bassmann. These names are all masks for Volodine himself, whose authorial voice remains enigmatic in the extreme. The manifestos primarily define and examine a world of post-exotic forms, the most important of which are romånces, Shaggås, and interjoists. A random sampling of Volodine’s (and Bassmann’s) preoccupations would include the following: “A Shaggå always breaks down into two distinct textual masses: one part, a series of seven sequences rigorously identical in length and tone; the other, a commentary, in which the style and dimensions are free.” To be sure we get the point, the tenth (and final) “lesson” of the novel consists of a list of 343 works identified by title, author, form, and date, a whimsical and tortuous exhibition of post-exoticism itself.
Elaborate fiction that has a certain perverse fascination—though one wonders subversively whether it needs doing at all.