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A semblance of life:: Raymond Roussel’s speculative prose

A semblance of life:: Raymond Roussel’s speculative prose
A semblance of life:: Raymond Roussel’s speculative prose
Raymond Roussel’s Impressions d’Afrique first appeared in 1909, but as a major work of the modernist tradition it is hardly known and even less well understood in the Anglophone world. I will introduce the text here and explicate its theoretical implications, for in its procedural approach to fiction it operates on a level of formalism that, along with the flatness of Roussel’s prose and the bizarre adventures he describes, has contributed to the lack of interest shown by English readers. But this lack of interest overlooks the nature of the experimentation in Roussel’s work and the consequences this unveils, as it leads to a narrative that conveys a powerful sense of autonomy, a text that appears to bear a life of its own with the concomitant implications this has for the materiality of its language, a textual approach perhaps unfamiliar to English readers but no less significant as a critical form of modernist thinking and writing. After having examined Roussel’s work in depth I will then take up the central part of his writing procedure, the transformation of sentences, and show how this creates a surprising analogue to the notion of the speculative sentence that Hegel developed in his Phenomenology. But the significance of this association lies in the fact that the formal experiments of Roussel’s writings deliver a way of thinking about the relation of language and materiality that does not rationalize it into a system of thought. Instead, the syntactical relations of Roussel’s writings bear mimetic relations to the world of things, in a manner akin to the language-like quality of the artwork discussed by Theodor W. Adorno but that is here transferred into language, which enables them to articulate the prosaic forms of the world as a mode of speculative material knowledge.
0026-7910
Allen, William
ef9ab226-9ae1-43be-a747-4fe394537116
Allen, William
ef9ab226-9ae1-43be-a747-4fe394537116

Allen, William (2014) A semblance of life:: Raymond Roussel’s speculative prose. MLN.

Record type: Article

Abstract

Raymond Roussel’s Impressions d’Afrique first appeared in 1909, but as a major work of the modernist tradition it is hardly known and even less well understood in the Anglophone world. I will introduce the text here and explicate its theoretical implications, for in its procedural approach to fiction it operates on a level of formalism that, along with the flatness of Roussel’s prose and the bizarre adventures he describes, has contributed to the lack of interest shown by English readers. But this lack of interest overlooks the nature of the experimentation in Roussel’s work and the consequences this unveils, as it leads to a narrative that conveys a powerful sense of autonomy, a text that appears to bear a life of its own with the concomitant implications this has for the materiality of its language, a textual approach perhaps unfamiliar to English readers but no less significant as a critical form of modernist thinking and writing. After having examined Roussel’s work in depth I will then take up the central part of his writing procedure, the transformation of sentences, and show how this creates a surprising analogue to the notion of the speculative sentence that Hegel developed in his Phenomenology. But the significance of this association lies in the fact that the formal experiments of Roussel’s writings deliver a way of thinking about the relation of language and materiality that does not rationalize it into a system of thought. Instead, the syntactical relations of Roussel’s writings bear mimetic relations to the world of things, in a manner akin to the language-like quality of the artwork discussed by Theodor W. Adorno but that is here transferred into language, which enables them to articulate the prosaic forms of the world as a mode of speculative material knowledge.

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Published date: September 2014

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 421846
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/421846
ISSN: 0026-7910
PURE UUID: de22d055-da8f-41ca-87a3-15153b552c8a
ORCID for William Allen: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-4731-2955

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Date deposited: 02 Jul 2018 16:30
Last modified: 08 Jan 2022 03:16

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Author: William Allen ORCID iD

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