Artful Deceptions Les Supercheries littéraires et .Artful Deceptions Les Supercheries littéraires

Embed Size (px)

Text of Artful Deceptions Les Supercheries littéraires et .Artful Deceptions Les Supercheries littéraires

  • Artful Deceptions Les Supercheries littraires et visuelles

    Verbal and Visual Trickery in French Culture La Tromperie dans la culture franaise

    vonMaria Scott, Catherine Emerson

    1. Auflage

    Artful Deceptions Les Supercheries littraires et visuelles Scott / Emerson

    schnell und portofrei erhltlich bei DIE FACHBUCHHANDLUNG

    Peter Lang Bern 2006

    Verlag C.H. Beck im

    ISBN 978 3 03910 701 8

    Inhaltsverzeichnis: Artful Deceptions Les Supercheries littraires et visuelles Scott / Emerson


    Artful Deceptions: Distortions, Seductions, and Substitutions

    Tout homme, et un Franais plus quun autre, abhorre dtre pris pour dupe.1

    This volume of essays has its origins in a conference on the subject of verbal and visual trickery in French culture, held at National Uni-versity of Ireland, Galway in April 2004. Our aim, as conference organizers, was not to demonstrate that French culture is more or less tricky than any other; we just happened to have a particular research interest in evasive French texts, both visual and verbal. The range of responses to our call for papers, only a selection of which are rep-resented in this volume, reflected the deliberately broad definition we gave to our topic: we invited discussion of intrinsically deceptive works, of those that make of trickery a theme, and of those that, in their exploration or enactment of deception, are either verbal or visual, or both verbal and visual.

    The book is divided into three sections, each corresponding broadly to a particular perspective on the notion of deception in art and literature. The first set of essays focuses largely on the relation-ship between distortion and truth, the second on links between du-plicity and seduction or entrapment, and the third on connections between deception and substitution.

    1 Stendhal, De lAmour (Paris: Gallimard, 1980), Chapitre XXXVIII, p. 129.

  • 16 Maria Scott


    In his Salon de 1859, Charles Baudelaire distinguishes between false illusions and true illusions. According to the poet and art critic, much of the landscape painting of his time is phony in its depictions, while the cruder and more fantastical forms found in stage scenery succeed in conveying a certain imaginative truth:

    Je prfre contempler quelques dcors de thtre, o je trouve artistement exprims et tragiquement concentrs mes rves les plus chers. Ces choses, parce quelles sont fausses, sont infiniment plus prs du vrai; tandis que la plupart de nos paysagistes sont des menteurs, justement parce quils ont nglig de mentir.2

    For Baudelaire, paintings that are excessively honest, excessively faithful to perceived visible reality, are essentially dishonest. By con-trast, true art reveals its own illusory status instead of dissimulating its artifice. It presents an obvious deformation of what we know as reality. According to Baudelaire, then, in not disguising the fact that it is a fake, in not attempting to substitute itself for reality, the artful distortion is closer than the replica to the truth.

    Lucile Gaudins contribution to this collection, Peinture et rh-torique: Le Vrai chez Roger de Piles, tackles the age-old problem of truth in painting and comes to a similar conclusion. Gaudin discusses the attempt of the art critic and theorist Roger de Piles to move the focus of aesthetic discussion, in the early eighteenth century, away from the idea of le vritable, towards the notion of le vrai-semblable. This meant that paintings, necessarily false according to traditional criteria, could be judged true or false in terms more properly their own. Gaudin shows that for Piles the degree of a paintings truth or vraisemblance is dependent not on its ability to convince viewers of its fidelity to reality, but rather on the strength of

    2 Charles Baudelaire, uvres compltes, ed. Claude Pichois, Bibliothque de la Pliade, 2 vols (Paris: Gallimard, 197576), II, 668.

  • Artful Deceptions 17

    its address or call to the viewer, which is itself a function of its exaggeration or distortion of the visible.

    Piless idea might be nicely illustrated by the Greek myth of Zeuxis and Parrhasios, discreetly invoked by Gaudin. Whereas Zeux-is painting of grapes succeeds in fooling birds by presenting an illusion of reality, Parrhasioss painting of a veil fools humans. Jacques Lacan, whose useful theorization of trickery in a psycho-analytic context will be evoked at several points in this Introduction, explains the distinction as follows: lexemple oppos de Parrhasios rend clair qu vouloir tromper un homme, ce quon lui prsente cest la peinture dun voile, cest--dire de quelque chose au-del de quoi il demande voir.3 Parrhasioss trompe-lil is superior to that of Zeuxis because it possesses a rhetorical dimension: it solicits a question and then shows the viewer how s/he has been duped. According to Lacan, then, Cest parce que le tableau est cette appa-rence qui dit quelle est ce qui donne lapparence, que Platon sinsurge contre la peinture comme contre une activit rivale de la sienne.4Superior forms of painting, therefore, engage the mind rather than pure physical appetite. Instead of appealing to simple scopic demand, they invite desire, always a function of language for Lacan.

    A similar appeal to the mind and frustration of the eyes appetite would seem to be at work in the photography of Nicolas Bouvier. Tellingly, in this regard, Jean-Franois Guennocs La Photographie chez Nicolas Bouvier: Un usage inquiet du regard et du monde prioritizes Bouviers writing about photography rather than the images themselves. According to Guennoc, Bouviers art takes the form of an ontological trick: while many photographs present a duplicitous image of an ordered and harmonious reality, Bouviers works aim to reveal the chaos and contingency underlying such images, the formlessness beneath form. The trickery of Bouviers photography lies not in presenting a trompe-lil replica that would bolster the viewers sense of a mastered world, but rather in revealing the photographers

    3 Jacques Lacan, Le Sminaire, Livre XI: Les Quatre Concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse (1964) (Paris: ditions du Seuil, 1973), p. 127; my emphasis.

    4 Ibid., p. 127.

  • 18 Maria Scott

    impotence and the cameras failure to dominate a recalcitrant real. As such, the purpose of this photography is to disconcert the viewer, tending to provoke ironic laughter.

    Humour is also central to the photographic art of Christian Bol-tanski, as demonstrated by Perin Emel Yavuzs Les Sayntes comi-ques de Christian Boltanski ou la mise en chec de C.B. Like both Guennocs and Gaudins contributions, this piece tackles the relation-ship between truth and visual art. Yavuz begins by reminding us that photography holds a privileged relationship with reality because of its indexical qualities; the photograph presents a trace of the real rather than representing it as such. However, Christian Boltanskis pseudo-autobiographical photographic sequences suggest, like Bouviers writings on photography, that the mechanical ability to reproduce images of the real does not entail any special relationship with truth. Boltanskis work reveals the way in which photographic images can be made to lie, despite their superficially faithful reproduction of the visible world: the captions assigned by the artist to the photographs he includes in his reconstitutions lend false authentication to the images, inviting the viewer to interpret them as genuinely autobio-graphical documents. However, Yavuz contends that the falsification of apparent photographic truth is also, in Boltanskis work, the affirmation of another kind of truth, defined as collective, symbolic, and affective. Boltanskis Sayntes comiques reinforce this affirma-tion, but do so at least partially by making their own artifice comically explicit, in a way that his previous pseudo-autobiographical photo-graphic restitutions did not. The overtness of their lie aligns the sayntes with Baudelaires stage scenery, Piless extraordinaire vrai-semblable, and Bouviers photography.

    The ironic rendering of pseudo-autobiographical truth is also Margaret Toppings concern in Exoticist Illusion in Pierre Lotis Japan. The western narrator of Pierre Lotis novel Madame Chrysan-thme, often identified with Loti himself, perceives Japan in an ideologically distorted and unconsciously patronizing manner. Top-ping contends that the faulty nature of his perceptions is revealed by numerous points of strain in the text, such as the moment when the narrator glimpses his supposedly loving Japanese mistress counting the money he has given her. By invoking a more obviously astute

  • Artful Deceptions 19

    contemporaneous work of travel writing by Loti, Topping attempts to demonstrate that the presentation of the narrators perceptions in Madame Chrysanthme is far from being purely autobiographical. In other words, Toppings analysis suggests that Lotis novelistic depic-tion of his own position as western traveller is self-consciously ironic rather than ideologically d