‘I live death at every moment. I get the feeling I came into this world with death on the brain . . . In our family, ever since the remotest antiquity, we have kept up the custom of passing away so many times, it has become hereditary.’ — Maurice Roche
‘Maurice Roche was born in Clermont-Ferrand, France, in 1924, and worked variously as a journalist, composer, critic, and race-car driver before turning to writing with a critical study of Monteverdi. He was the author of eight of the most challenging novels ever written, even for a period that saw more than its share of them. His writings belong to the tradition of Sterne, Rabelais, Jarry, Queneau and Jules Romains. The novels are composed of almost random fragments and short sequences, aphorisms, paroxysmal phrases and absurd black melodramatic interventions. Roche’s amused obsession with death and dying made some readers feel distinctly uncomfortable. He died in 1997.
‘Compact, his first novel, as well as his first book to appear in English, was published in 1966, and has since come to be considered a classic of post-New Novel fiction. Composed—as if a musical score—of six intertwining narratives (each distinguished by its own voice, tense, and typeface), Compact has lost none of its remarkable freshness or groundbreaking innovation. It was first published in Philippe Sollers’ “Tel Quel” series. In a preface, Sollers praises its liberty of form, its grim humour, its amused indifference to what are usually considered serious matters: disease, pain, loneliness and death itself. Yet Roche never belonged to the “Tel Quel” group or the creators of the nouveau roman. He remained an exception, almost an outsider, unclassifiable.
‘This is a first novel that uses innovative typographic design with alternating type fonts while utilizing the space of the page for an enhanced visuality. In the 1960s when the novel became innovative in design, it also became more sophisticated in narration with a break from the objective descriptions of the Nouveau Roman which verged on scientific or crime writing to become writing In the wake of the Wake, as David Hayman put it, in the TriQuarterly 38 issue dedicated to novelists who were influenced by Finnegans Wake (1938) by James Joyce. The narrator of Compact is recovering from a mysterious health condition called amourosis caused by travel in time and space, and the black humor of the novel implies that the scene of the writing exists as a complex of puns: cranium, body, and pen demonstrating the generative techniques of the Nouveau Roman, yet creating a new genre of avant garde fiction that has become the semiotic novel with the use of visual signs in the graphic design of the page.
‘Compact reads like the first step in the direction of abstract innovative writing that was followed by the C series of novels Circus, CodeX, Camarade, and the M series Memoire, Macabre, and Maladie Melodie, which represent a life’s work of innovative writing that explores archeological and musical themes, novels that are deserving of translation into English, and of further critical attention. Compact is a theoretical novel at the forefront of the avant garde along with the novels of Philippe Sollers, Arno Schmidt, Claude Simon, and Ronald Sukenick. Reading Compact today is relevant for those who are considering the unrest caused by rebel movements, and the romance of life in Paris, where the narrator considers classical music theory in the context of fiction writing while foreshadowing the semiotic novel of the 21st Century.’ — David Detrich and collaged
Buy Maurice Roche’s ‘Compact’ (Dalkey Archive Press)
Mark Polizzotti’s ‘Memento Maurice’
‘Maurice Roche: Paradigm Lost and Found’ by Susan Suleiman
‘Compact’ reviewed @ Innovative Fiction Magazine
Maurice Roche’s ‘Compact’ CD
Maurice Roche @ goodreads
OBITUARY: Maurice Roche
MAURICE ROCHE, LA MORT POUR DE VRAI. LA CAMARDE ÉTAIT SA VIEILLE CAMARADE. L’AUTEUR DE «COMPACT» AVAIT 72 ANS.
An Evening with Maurice Roche
‘This film was made in 2011 after COMPACT, Maurice Roche’s first novel. Multiplictous in its themes and registers (from black humor to delusional coquetry, intimate tearing to the methodical description of physical phenomena), it is a unique novel in its composition. Here, as in the novel, seven voices appear and then fade to resume further, alternately distinct or intertwined, in permanent echo. The film was an initiative of Director France David (dancer, actress, director), actor Claude Merlin, and cinematographer Bruno Wagner.’ — bw
Jean-Luc Giribone: You said something I find very interesting, which is, “It’s not that I’m trying to be a formalist, but that, when I want to tell a story, I ask myself what form best corresponds to that story.” That’s a very seductive formula.
Maurice Roche: It’s the opposite. First I come up with the form, and then I ask myself what story I’m going to stuff in it. That might sound strange, but that’s how it works.
Mark Polizzotti: But in that case, can you explain how it isn’t formalist?
MR: It’s not formalist because I’m inventing a form for, let’s say, artistic reasons. Maybe it’s an occupational hazard—I think that’s where it comes from—but I’ve composed a lot of music. When you compose music, the first thing you think of is form. You have a fugue to write, for instance, so you start with a form. The form is pre-established. It’s your starting-point. Of course, form alone isn’t enough: you have to do something with it. But I’ve never worried about that—once I’ve settled on a form, it always leads me somewhere. For instance, my idea for Compact was that there would be several intertwined plot lines, which together would form another plot. Every plot line would have its own pronoun, tense, etc. And once that was set, the ideas for a story, an adventure—because if you read closely, the story of Compact is very banal, it’s basically a crime novel. And the whole plot attached itself to that. That’s not formalism. Or if it is, then everything is formalism.
Another thing: in order to write, I need a first sentence. For Compact, it was: “You shall be made sleepless even as you are left sightless.” That came to me as soon as I’d chosen the second person future as my startingpoint. (And just as an aside, I’d like to point out that when I wrote Compact, in the 1950s, Butor’s Modification, the second-person narrative, hadn’t come out yet.) That was the key sentence, and it traced the path for the rest of the book—all I had to do was follow it. Now, to follow it, you still have to write. And not write junk or something false. I can write a bad line as much as the next fellow, but there’s not a single word in Compact that isn’t essential. I cut a lot out, a lot that maybe wasn’t bad, but that didn’t fit. On top of which, as you read through the book the form changes. Your form becomes deformed. Things happen along the way—it’s not written by a computer, after all. If you get to page 20, for instance, and you learn that a friend has died or your mother is in the hospital, believe me, the sentence you were writing is left hanging, and if you come back to it later it’s going to move off in a different direction. So one way of looking at it is like improvisation on a canvas, or like a jazz improvisation. You never know exactly where it’s going to take you.
Jean-Louis Bouttes: So what kinds of things are on this canvas? Images?
MR: The canvas naturally starts with a sentence. I surprised someone one day who asked me why I write, and I said I write so that I can learn to write. And it’s true, we’ll never master this goddamned language! When I see colleagues of mine using it poorly, it bothers me.
JLG: That’s just it, you talk about language, but you’re really talking about the French language in particular.
MR: Of course I am, it’s my language! And I’m very attached to it. That said, let’s be clear: I think every language is beautiful, and the proof is that I use them in my writing. But when I use them it’s usually to show that no one knows them, or knows them well, and that ultimately we’re all deaf. The French look at other languages as foreign, but you know that French is made up of a whole host of languages. There are a ton of words from English, Arabic, and so on. That’s what makes a language rich. I’m very happy when I’m in the bus and I hear people speaking Arabic, or Portuguese, or Vietnamese, or English, or Swedish—I think that’s great. And it’s strange, because when I incorporate a phrase of English or German in my texts, people take me to task for it. And those same people spend their days surrounded by every language in the world—without hearing a thing. It’s very beautiful, all those languages, they sound wonderful. The extreme limit is Finnegans Wake, which you can’t even translate.
Maurice Roche Compact
Dalkey Archive Press
‘Maurice Roche has been called the most interesting novelist in France (TriQuarterly), and Compact one of the classics of our modernity (Le Figaro). Certainly, Compact is one of the most compellingly original works of fiction of the postwar period. Composed as if a musical score of six intertwining narratives (each distinguished by its own voice, tense, and typeface), Compact has lost none of its remarkable freshness or groundbreaking innovation since its first appearance in 1966. But along with its striking originality, Compact is also a work rich in offbeat humor and great humanity.
‘Compact is the story of a blind man living in a city of his own imagining. Confined to his deathbed, he engages in mental walks through the world s capitals. These sightless excursions explode in a plethora of musical arrangements, sexual encounters, and mysterious funeral rites. Meanwhile, a Japanese collector and his transvestite assistant watch over the blind man in exchange upon the latter s death for his magnificent tattooed skin. As a further ordeal, the protagonist finds himself prey to the whims of a sadistic French girl in the next apartment. A novelistic tour de force, Compact fully bears out La Tribune de Geneve s judgment of Maurice Roche s work as the most important literary upheaval to hit France in the last decade.’ — DAP
—You shall be made sleepless even as you are left sightless. While you’re penetrating the darkness, you’ll penetrate into the night, getting in deeper and deeper, your already failing memory growing proportionately weaker as—at the end of a long lethargy—you become conscious of your condition. (How will you tell day from night?)
—You’ll be there, on a bed—in a room, of course. With eyes wide open you’ll scrutinize this dark desert → and will the expanding space allow you to go so far out that you can never return to your senses?
—Within your skull you’ll haunt Mnemopolis, a lonesome and obscure city. No streets no canals no paving being done in the area (the circumvolutions of your brain), but only traces that you’ll try to catch hold of: these will be shreds of memories (or hallucinations?) and sonorous debris that somehow reach you from without and most of the time evoke absolutely nothing; so many objects or fragments that patiently—and not without hesitation—you’ll want to string together, give them meaning by connecting them—
in hopes once more of coming across that fissure where the sun has penetrated you with its shadow and forgetfulness has insinuated itself, infiltrated ( and since when?), wakefulness invading your sleep, until your mind is submerged;
so you can sneak into this hole in your dazzled memory, first in search of a name (which?) whose sinuosities you’d marry . . . in order to become one in body with the calligraphy
——-then finally grow drowsy in this word . . . and sleep—rest in peace—sleep as far gone as possible.
—But you will not sleep.
—Using your elbows and forearms—will you feel those cracks in your articulations, and will you hear them as you hear the creaking mattress?—you’ll painfully (straining to twist yourself around) sit up; throwing your legs out from under the covers, you’ll simultaneously attempt a rotation toward the right, at the end of which you should be sitting on the edge of the bed. But despite your efforts, you won’t succeed.
After a second try, then a third—having lightly rocked back and forth—you’ll fall backward
and will stay half-stretched out, resting on your elbows, your hands clutching the covers, your legs slightly bent, panting . . .
—Without moving a muscle, chin jammed against your chest, you’ll slowly catch your breath: your respiration, quickened at first, will become regular.
—Your look will be desert. An entire past inexpressible at present. You’ll wait for this absence with gaping, empty eyes . . . (how will you know if someone if anyone in this room which gets larger and larger . . . ? will it frighten you to be alone?)
before letting your neck fall back on the damp pillow. The frozen contact of the pillowcase will make you shiver. You’ll touch your face, slowly you’ll feel it (a presence!); and that object (which?) that—stretching out your arm—you’ll displace on the bedside table to your right, while leaving the nocturnal landscape unchanged.
You’ll curl up . . .
p.s. Hey. ** Michael karo, Hi, Michael. How nice that the post drew you in here. Thanks, and an awesome remembrance. I did know Joseph Brooks, sure. And I must have been spacing not to have had Vinyl Fetish in there. I didn’t know that he ended up your way, no. Huh. Jewelry, huh. Good to know he’s still wielding his considerable talents. That’s great news about your album rerelease! Whoa! Yeah, remember to hook me up for sure when that happens. Best to you, bud. ** David Ehrenstein, Me too. As much as Amoeba made Aron’s superfluous, I still miss it, for instance. Excellent about Van Dyke Parks! And thank you for the way to purchase that book for myself. ** Bill, Hi, Bill. Oh, I jumped the gun with Rasputin’s? I’ll delete that photo. Wowsville went to Berlin? Weird. I hope your work de-consumes you, which is not a word, apparently, but you know what I mean heartfeltfully. That’s not a word either? ** Larry-bob Roberts, Larry-bob! What a great treat to have you in this realm. And it was so nice to see you in Berkeley. Thank you for the great personalisation of those shops. I’ll flip the words in the Mill Valley store as soon as I hit thrust on this post. And, yeah, Bill mentioned that the post inaccurately condemned Rasputin’s, and I’ll delete it. Thanks! Thanks a lot again for coming inside. It’s a pleasure and an honour. ** Tosh Berman, Hi, Tosh. The vinyl revival hasn’t caught on here in Paris like it has in the States. There are a couple of newish vinyl stores, but they aren’t sprouting up all over by any means. I think I went into Wave in Tokyo on one of my trips there and was mind-boggled. That’s sad news indeed. ** Sypha, Hi. I have the new New Juche ordered and on its way. I don’t want to get into the Quentin Tarantino thing here, but yeah. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! It wasn’t too slushy. The sun had done its work. But it’s supposed to snow again today. Sure doesn’t look like it out the window. Okay, I think I can almost see that super-awfulness of that painting, thanks to you. The producer meeting was good. We had to redo something in our contract with him, but it was simple. While we were there, this press agent was in the other room watching ‘PGL’ to consider whether to be its press agent or not. It would amazing if she agrees. She’s sort of the most respected press agent in Paris for challenging, artful films. She’s worked for all kinds of great, ‘difficult’ films from Akerman to Godard to Jonas Mekas to Chris Marker. So we’re ‘praying’ she liked the film because we could really use a press agent, and she would be the perfect kind of press agent for our film. Other than that, yesterday was more trying to focus on work and only partly succeeding. I need a breakthrough. I hope your today is as wonderful in its own way as your yesterday was. What were the haps? ** Jamie, Hi. Yeah, me too. Excellent on your scripting progress! Yay! Oh, gosh, I’m still struggling a bit to get into the zone I need to be into. But any minute now I figure my brain and energy will lock together because they always end up doing that. Eileen is a smart about that stuff, and I totally agree with what she said. Cool about the marriage between your beloveds! Have all the fun you undoubtedly will. Today, me? I have a strange urge to watch the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics, so I guess I’m going to do that in a few minutes, at least peripherally. And I’m meeting up for a coffee with a visiting American writer I’ve chatted with but never met in person before. And doing work as diligently as I can. Hm, can I pull one more ABBA out of my … something? Okay, not only is ‘Tiger’ my second all-time favorite ABBA song. And not only is its accompanying video the greatest ABBA music video ever, it’s also, in my estimation, one of the best short experimental films of the 1970s. Watch this. Okay, now may your day be so amazing it makes that seem like the worst music video by The Beautiful South. Love like Anthrax, Dennis. ** Statictick, Hi, N. Cool, sweet store memories. I liked that Jim Roll thing, yeah. I saw on FB about the stunted conclusion to your happy seeming initial move. Damn, that sucks, man. But I think you’ll find a throne next time. Pretty sure. Fingers crossed just in case though. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Yeah, I don’t what’s the what about the blog issues. The host says everything is in working order. I don’t what I can do. Wow, that’s a lot of records you bought right there. That Fall boxset is great, duh. I was very fond of Hospital. Its owner was Dominick Fernow aka Prurient, Vatican Shadow, et. al. Well, curious what you think of the Dumont then. Everyone,. Mr. Erickson has reviewed the new Clint Eastwood film ‘The 15:17 to Paris. Go find out what he thinks. ** Alex rose, Alex! Tomorrow? Wait, today? Whoa. The show is involved with Feature Foundation? Apparently I’m on the Board of … Advisors or something for the Feature Foundation, but I haven’t heard a peep from them, so I don’t know what that means. But so great about your show! I’ll try to passionately send my gaggle of folks on Facebook to it. And this lot. Everyone, Some of you already know the sublime and ultra-great work of the artist Alex Rose. Some of you don’t yet. If you’re in the general realm of NYC, you really must, for sake of your life’s inspiration and excitement, go see Alex’s new gallery exhibition there, which I believe opens today. Here’s where you get the info. Seriously, if you’re in reach, I can’t possibly recommend checking out his show highly enough. Best of all the best luck on the show, maestro, and I’m desperately sad that I can’t see it nose to nose. But I will find all of the second-hand evidence there is. Tons o’ love to you, dear Alex! ** Count Reeshard, Hey, Count! Aw, such great memories and stories, man. Thank you! I basically grew up at Pooh-Bah when it was in its original location on Fair Oaks just north of Colorado. Astounding that it has managed to survive. Thank you again. I got misty making it so you getting misted is only fair, I guess? Take care. ** _Black_Acrylic, Howdy, Ben. Does anyone ever call you Benny? Super good news about the great response to the YnY call out. DLs even, sweet. ** Armando, Hi, man. I’m good. Today: snow, Olympics Opening Ceremony, coffee with a visiting writer, work. And yours? I didn’t find a photo of that Virgin. I don’t know anything about that ‘Miss Julie’, but I will certainly go find out about it. Nope, I’ve never read read ‘War And Peace’ or ‘Les Misérables’ and never will, I’m pretty certain. Longest film? Hm. Maybe Syberberg’s ‘My Hitler’? Off the top of my head. I think there’s probably an even longer film I’ve seen that I’m spacing out on. Probably ‘The White Album’ on the Didion non-fiction front, yeah, probably. Yours? I think the most recent poetry I read was Ashbery’s ‘Commotion of the Birds’, which was sublime. What about you? ** Chris Dankland, Chris! Welcome back! And welcome to the East Coast from a city across the seas. That’s so wild and amazing that you made that big move. And for love! I think all my most gigantic moves were for love. Best reason. So incredibly happy for you, man. So happy! I’m good. Working on a lot of stuff. Doing what needs to be done regarding the beginning off ‘PGL’s’ life. There is this sales agency that is in charge of where and how the film will be shown. I think it’ll be at film festivals only for a while. And then hopefully it’ll either be distributed or screened as much as possible. It’s weird for me how films so slowly roll out. It’s very frustrating when you’re used to witting books where either it’s waiting to be published or it’s immediately available to everybody. I think, yeah, probably that turtle is supposed to be baked, ha ha. Excellent about X-R-A-Y. Very excited for that! Man, yeah, so good to see you and so happy for you! Talk to you soon! ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. Kid gloves forever re: the stoney aspects of your mouth, good plan. Hm, well, by some miracle maybe that film will be fun. It has Paris in the title, so how bad can it be? That’s my theory. Well, excluding Paris Hilton. Well, I hope you win that contest, fan boy. Sincerely. Plunge into that novel of yours and make it pay! ** Kyler, Yeah, that Tower on Broadway was cool in its time. I do remember your mystical story. And I even remember The Magickal Childe, which I even went into to shop a couple of times for some reason. Enjoy today! ** Keaton, Hey, man! New you! I mean new by you. New thing by you. And haunted. And a house! I’m so there. Everyone, Keaton made a haunted house out of words on his blog, and, jeez, if that doesn’t get you to click this, then the world is even more chaotic than it seems. ** Okay. I direct your attention to this very inventive and excellent novel by Mr. Maurice Roche today, if you would be so kind. See you tomorrow.