5 | 2020
Unmoored Languages

This volume explores the complex relations developing between a literary text and the world beyond the representational function. Not content to capture, narrate or describe the existing world, writers keep creating autonomous worlds and inventing new languages to account for yet unmapped territories and experiences. As the materiality of language and its poetic quality come out, the sounds, rhythms and visual effects of the text become living milieu rather than material or simple instruments subordinated to thought. Though the effect first produced upon the reader may well be of strangeness or obscurity, such unmooring of language warrants a valuable extension of language likely to bring back to the reader buried, unsuspected emotions and aesthetic experiences, should she be willing to adopt an open type of reading, more fluid than the automatic system of conventional associations on which reading largely relies.

In this collection, writers and literary scholars from the U.S. and France focused on the nature of the mutations to which unmoored language is submitted, as well as on the various ways in which the text makes sense in spite of all. How to describe that which exceeds language rather than avoid the confrontation by relegating it into the vague category of the ineffable? Throughout, literary, linguistic or philosophical analyses have as their horizon the vision of language reflected by the unmoored text, as well as of the relations between language and the world.

5 | 2020

Interwoven readings: R. Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America and R. Stephenson’s Passes Through

Léopold Reigner


A response to Rob Stephenson’s work.

Texte intégral

1In The Singularity of Literature, Derek Attridge defines writing as an event: “Creation […] is both an act and an event, both something that is done intentionally by an effort of the will and something that happens without warning to a passive, though alert, consciousness.” (Attridge, 26) This definition may seemingly also apply to the act of reading. Indeed, if writing is an event, so is reading, and it is an equally “private” (Attridge, 35) and solitary one. Each reader is alone with the text, enjoying the thinker’s solitude that Thoreau describes in Walden: “A man thinking or working is always alone […] The really diligent student in one of the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as solitary as a dervis in the desert” (Thoreau, 100). Reading is an individual action, which makes the reader lose sight, both literally and figuratively, of their surroundings, and enter a new world designed by the author but explored by the readers. An active reader may even discover species and places not purposefully inserted by the author. Even the modalities of the act of reading are determined by the reader. They may read in a non-linear way, read only passages, emancipating themselves from the structure created by the author. Moreover, a reader can read two books simultaneously, influencing their own reading of an author’s work with the work of a different writer. The experience of reading two books at the same time, and having the two styles merge together, forever linked in the reader’s memory though they may have little in common, may be a familiar experience to many.

2Barthes wondered in La Préparation du roman how it was possible for people to read his books while not writing themselves, how a “soul” could have the status of “reader” without possessing the desire to write (Barthes, 260), since his contention throughout the book is that reading leads to writing. Perhaps, however, reading may also be a form of rewriting in its own right. Indeed, if we consider an active reading, the kind described by Attridge, an artistically inclined, alert reception of a text may be seen as an act of invention in itself:

The old meaning of ‘invent’, as ‘to find’, (as in the rhetorical process termed inventio), is not irrelevant here: the testimony of countless artists, writers, scientists, and others […] shows that the experience of invention is an experience of coming upon a form, a phrase, a solution that seemed, in retrospect, to have been waiting in advance, or even of being found by the form, phrase or solution in a moment of illumination. Once again, Derrida’s double-headed phrase is pertinent: invention is always the invention of the other. And the other does not exist as an entity, but is lived through as an event. (Attridge, 42)

3Though the reader may not create, they certainly also find, that is invent, phrases and forms in the works they read. Nabokov, in his Cornell class, instructed students to exercise “impersonal imagination” and “artistic delight” in order to become “good readers”. Impersonality, according to Nabokov, is also a quality of the writer, and so is artistic delight, which constitutes the beginning and ending points of works of imagination.

4This is a selection of excerpts from two books. The following extracts have been chosen for the compatibility of their forms and the complimentary nature of the elements found in them according to a singular reading, so as to provide an example of how reading two different texts at the same time may create in the reader’s mind one singular text made of interwoven readings.

I began to make my own books. I made the paper and wrote the words. I collated the pages and bound them together. A limited edition of thoughts. Everything in order to make it my own. But did I succeed in making something that was mine? (Stephenson, 167)

The Introduction to Trout Fishing in America is puzzled that Trout Fishing in America is considered an obscure book, and that Richard Brautigan is sometimes considered an obscure author. It firmly believes that it should be impossible to describe the 1960s in literature without talking about both Brautigan and Trout Fishing In America. Obviously this is the kind of thing that Introductions believe about the books they introduce. The Introduction to Trout Fishing in America has no opinions about the matter. Perhaps it believes that no book that is truly loved can ever be obscure. Perhaps it knows that fashion, in literature and clothes and places to fish, will come around again, like a trout rising to feast on the evening gnat-clouds and sinking back into the dark waters.
Imagine an empty stage. Or an empty trout pool. Or a person who has figured out how to make a book in a way that nobody has made a book before. Part surrealist manifesto, part realist tract, partly an elusive joy that’s hard to explain to others, which is why you hand it to them and say ‘Read this’ and why you are so happy it is back in print once more. You hope that this may be the beginning of a Brautigan revival, but mostly you just want people to read it and be happy. Or be puzzled. Or be alive. (Brautigan, vi)

If you disagree, disagree in such a way that it makes a better story. The grid maintains more than regularity. My mind does not work like a computer. Why do they keep saying that? It is here where everything seems to flow that opposed ideas clash in silence. I long for eyes that can see what language does to me. Each language that disappears makes the world a narrower place. But perhaps I don’t how to recognize the one that comes to takes its place. How does a picture come from a thousand words? Who uses categories for what ends? I will be pegged again. Look, instead, for something that doesn’t exist. People find what they’re looking for. (Stephenson, 135)

The sun was like a huge fifty-cent piece that someone had poured kerosene on and then had lit with a match and said, "Here, hold this while I go get a newspaper, " and put the coin in my hand, but never came back. (Brautigan, 6)

The fish ran deep again and I could feel its life energy screaming back up the line to my hand. The line felt like sound. It was like an ambulance siren coming straight at me, red light flashing, and then going away again and then taking to the air and becoming an air-raid siren. The fish jumped a few more times and it still looked like a frog, but it didn’t have any legs. Then the fish grew tired and sloppy, and I swung and splashed it up the surface of the creek and into my net. (Brautigan, 57)

Steel pellets hit the window near the table I write this on. Someone is tapping on a computer keyboard in the next room. I’m using a pencil worn down to the wood. These sounds should be mixed better. All the time I’ve spent writing this book I have returned to this one specific incident. It’s not in my journal. I sat on the toilet. There were cacti in pots on the window ledge. I looked outside at the flat roof of the garage two houses away. It caved in as I stared. It made a loud unfamiliar crash that split my thoughts into two parts. The part that knew it had happened and the part that couldn’t yet believe it had. (Stephenson, 137)

I’ve had it. I’ve gone fishing now for seven years and I haven’t caught a single trout. I’ve lost every trout I ever hooked. They either jump off or twist off. or squirm off or break my leader or flop off or fuck off. I have never even gotten my hands on a trout. For all its frustration, I believe it was an interesting experiment in total loss but next year somebody else will have to go trout fishing. Somebody else will have to go out there. (Brautigan, 85)

The reader always starts at an end that begins. It’s time to admit I don’t know the whole story. It gets hard to balance the negative slant. Something had to go. The toxins. The gently sloping derangements of the years. These little scraps are supposed to preserve something. My intentions? Awkward placebos. Some of them had moustaches. Puffy faces. Mushy heads. Unreliable eyes. It already went. Brown bottle in my hand.
Such slow movements. A complex pattern of stains in an empty theater. Dirty sneakers. Traveling hands. I smelled the smell of my childhood. The skinny staircase. Honey and vinegar. Angel food cake. Yellowed photographs under cracked glass. Peeled apples browning in a bowl by the rocking chairs. Authors on cards in a tin box. Mint fondle. (Stephenson, 131-132)

How easy it is to lie to everyone. Over and over. The emaciated economy of line and color. Tossing lobsters into boiling water. For sport. (Stephenson, 133)

Expressing a human need, I always wanted to write a book that ended with the word Mayonnaise. (Brautigan, 111)


Attridge Derek, The Singularity of Literature, New York, Routledge, 2004.

Barthes Roland, La Préparation du roman [2003], Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 2015.

Brautigan Richard, Trout Fishing in America [1967], Edinburgh, Canongate, 2014.

Stephenson Rob, Passes Through, Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 2010.

Thoreau Henry David, Walden, or Life in the Woods [1854], Kent, England, Solis Press, 2014.

Pour citer ce document

Léopold Reigner, « Interwoven readings: R. Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America and R. Stephenson’s Passes Through » dans « Unmoored Languages », « Lectures du monde anglophone », 2020 Licence Creative Commons
Ce(tte) œuvre est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International. Polygraphiques - Collection numérique de l'ERIAC EA 4705

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Quelques mots à propos de :  Léopold Reigner

Normandie Univ, UNIROUEN, ERIAC, 76000 Rouen, France
Léopold Reigner is a doctoral student at the University of Rouen. His PhD is entitled « Gustave Flaubert et Vladimir Nabokov : identité littéraire et continuité du processus créatif ». This comparative study of Gustave Flaubert’s and Vladimir Nabokov’s works aims at analyzing and assessing the Norman writer’s cultural and artistic influence upon Nabokov’s writing.