WATTEAU IN VENICE by Philippe Sollers


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Crammed with literary and philosophical allusions, this postmodern novel by the author of Women (1990) is as tedious and self-important as a loquacious tippler's 3 A.M. monologue. Pierre Froissart, a French writer who has turned his hand to smuggling stolen art (in this case, a Watteau), is passing languid days in a Venetian villa with a beauteous physics student, Luz, while he awaits orders for the completion of the deal. His meandering reveries form the bulk of this plotless novel. Pierre mostly indulges in self-justifying musings on the philistinism of a society that values art only as a commodity. He also meditates on the youthful freshness of Luz and the brittle sophistication of Geena, who introduced him to the haute world of stolen art. He ranges nonstop over a dizzying variety of people and ideas: Spinoza, France, Hitler, colonial laws in Martinique, Hemingway, Warhol, and time travel all figure in the text. It's not at all clear whether this crowd of references is intended to inform, dazzle, obscure, or stupefy. Along the way, Pierre makes some memorable observations, such as this one on the charm of Watteau's paintings: ""The figure in the carpet, the purloined letter, the grey-plated and pale pink web draped in silver, the mercury whose secret has apparently been lost, the key to the departure hidden in folds and more folds, the finger on the lips."" In criticizing contemporary vacuity, he offers this possibly self-reflective advice: ""You want to write your memoirs? Easy: recall the dullest memories possible which anyone might have had, employing the maximum of clichÉs... Success!"" The novel's essence may be distilled into another quote: ""Question: What should intellectuals do? Answer: Defend complexity. Objection: But if you repeat a sentence over and over, even that one, doesn't it become a clichÉ? Answer: So what?"" Question: If reading this novel is an exercise in masochism, was writing it a sadistic act? Answer: Really, who cares?

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Scribners