Progress in Love on the Slow Side

Jean Paulham, Author, Christine Moneera Laennec, Translator, Michael Syrotinski, Translator University of Nebraska Press $45 (146p) ISBN 978-0-8032-3705-6
This slight but remarkable volume contains five short stories written by Paulhan (1884-1968), a celebrated French critic and essayist, between 1910 and 1917; a lucid introduction by Syrotinski; and a concluding essay by the proto-deconstructionist critic Blanchot that's so heavy-handed that Syrotinski feels compelled to prick at it: ``The reader might wonder, in following Blanchot's labyrinthine path through Paulhan's thought, whether he doesn't end up burdening the recits with a kind of philosophical gravity.'' That would be a shame, for these mostly autobiographical tales are so dreamy and fragile that any extraneous weight could cause them to crumble. The title story involves a young soldier away from home and the arduous process by which he courts three French women-the title being no exaggeration. ``The Severe Recovery'' is a disorienting firsthand account of the delirium of a young man who, like his wife and mistress, shares his name with a character in the first story-leading to the confused aura projected by the tale. ``The Crossed Bridge,'' the vaguest story in this highly elliptical collection, is about a man's dreams on three consecutive nights. Without exception, Paulhan's narrative stance is reserved and observant, even to the point of distortion. His language, brilliantly translated, is painstakingly precise, with the narrators often retracing their linguistic steps in order to clarify the exact nuances of their descriptions. The result is that the things and images being described are rendered nearly inane. Paulhan, judging from these astonishing tales, was decades ahead of his time: a fully formed postmodernist writing during the overtures of modernism. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/31/1994
Release date: 11/01/1994
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