Monday, June 25, 2012

Authors Behaving Badly

I've been reading Gerard Gennette's Paratexts recently, as part of my research into game manuals.  Essentially, the paratext is anything to do with a book that isn't part of what we'd normally consider its content--everything from the title page to the typesetting to the book reviews and author interviews.  The definition has been greatly expanded by pop culture scholars, to include anything that impacts on the original text.  Applied to videogames, the manual is a form of paratext, in that it shapes the player's perception of the game--if they bother to read it.  As you might gather from this description, my use of paratext has drifted quite a bit from Genette's original, and as a result, there's not a lot here to guide my own reading, though it is making me pay attention to the paratext of the manual, such as its warning labels and help numbers.  (Paratext of paratext?  Paraparatext?  Papararatext?)

But honestly, what I'm getting most out of the book is some fun reading.  I'm used to doing a lot of heavy lifting whenever I read some French theory, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Jacques Derrida.  But Gennette is a pleasure to read, filling the book with not only meaningful observations, but witty (well-translated) jokes and amusing anecdotes.  In the chapter on dedications, for example, he considers a few cases where the author has later reason to regret a signed message:

Gide’s biography is rich in changeful inscription-related episodes, authentic or apocryphal, that may illustrate this type of embarrassment or conflict. An example: having had a falling out with Andre Ruyters, he inscribes a copy of his Voyage au Congo to Ruyters with this single word: “Nonobstant” [nonwithstanding]. Another example: Claudel having inscribed a volume of his corespondence with Gide to his grandson with the words ‘My regrets at being in such bad company,” and the inscribee having had the good taste to bring the volume to Gide for him, too, to sign, Gide is alleged to have simply added this pithy retort: ‘Idem.’ True, Claudel has already much annoyed him by sending him a copy of what was indeed their common work with this very insolent inscription: ‘With the author’s compliments”--an occasion, if ever there was one, for Gide to feel (in his word) ‘suppressed.’ And we know that in 1922 Gide held a public sale of part of his library, particularlyu all the books inscribed by former friends with whom in the meantime he had had a falling out. One of them, Henri de Regnier, took his revenge by sending Gide nonobstant his next book, but with the biting inscription: ‘To Andre Gide, for his next sale.’” 

Great stuff.  I should note that I'm free to sign any one of these blog posts, if any readers out there want me to take a sharpie to their monitor.  

Later Days. 

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