Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"The story is made of twists, detours and many hesitations."

A Little Party Dress
By Christian Bobin
Translated from French by Alison Anderson
77 pages
Autumn Hill Books
December 1, 2009

. . . The story is like a piece of cloth folded in eight. As you read it you unfold it, it becomes bigger and bigger, ever more luminous to your eyes. A silk of pure sky. ("The Frailty of Angels")

Christian Bobin was born in Saône-et-Loire in 1951. In 1993 he was awarded the Prix des Deux Magots for his novel Le Très-Bas (The Secret Life of Francis of Assisi in English). His favorite form, however, is the fragment - a little picture representing a moment in time.

1994's Une petite robe de fête (A Little Party Dress, translated by Alison Anderson) is a collection of lyrical essays, a mode that combines the reflective essay with the prose poem. Each one is a brief rumination, like the snippet of a dream or pause in the midst of daily life, with a focus on childhood and the transcendental power of literature. Bobin's introduction establishes a link between the two with reading as the boundary between innocence and knowledge.

The three recurring tropes are the imaginative child, the transported reader, and the dull non-reading adult. The relationship between them is an uneasy, paradoxical one. Learning to read represents "a little piece of god departing, a first fracture in paradise," yet also keeps alive that spirit of boundless creativity. In the end, human growth is inevitable and accompanied by responsibility and conformity.
She leaves the white horse with regret. Each time it's the eternal question, the dark riddle: why can't I stay there? Since I'm happy there. Since when I'm close to the white horse I'm closest to myself. Why do I have to progress, to continue, when then are there all these hours that take me away from myself and from everything that matters. You don't know how to respond. You can't respond, because like her you've already met your own life in play - and nowhere else. ("Look at me, look at me")
The reading adult is the compromise between the two, standing apart from, say, a crowd of businessmen, the "same man, in dozens of copies. . . You look at them fearfully, the way as a child you used to look at dried-up old people with their somber voices" ("Promised Land"). Loss is another central motif, stemming from that original loss in the early days of school. To adults, this is often the loss of love, explored in the title piece as a redemptive but transient echo of childhood.

A Little Party Dress ultimately fulfills its own themes as the perfect book to come back to again. No essay is more than ten pages, wonderfully suited for those quiet moments in time when the philosophical mood sets in. Recommended.

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Anonymous said...

This might be just the thing to read, as I've been struggling to remain a 'reading adult' lately with work and life nonsense swamping me... Thanks for the recommendation.

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