Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Henri Barbusse's 1908 L'enfer (aka Hell or The Inferno) gives us an unnamed narrator living in a boarding house in Paris. He discovers that through a hole in the wall, he can see into the room next door, where he spies on his fellow boarders. There's a lot of pseudo-philosophizing (or, more precisely, sentimental bullshit) about love and death. When I read stuff like this...also the works of Georges Bataille and amazes me - the French capacity for this stuff. It comes out again in some of the French new wave films of the 1960s that I've seen...I'm thinking specifically of Breathless (though certainly not to this extent).

She interrupted him with a gesture of infinite weariness.

"I know what you are going to say. You are going to talk to me about the beauty of suffering. I know your noble ideas. I love them, my love, your beautiful theories, but I do not believe in them. I would believe them if they consoled me and effaced death."

With a manifest effort, as uncertain of himself as she was of herself, feeling his way, he replied:

"They would efface it, perhaps, if you believed in them."

She turned toward him and took one of his hands in both of hers. She questioned him with inexorable patience, then she slipped to her knees before him, like a lifeless body, humbled herself in the dust, wrecked in the depths of despair, and implored him:

"Oh, answer me! I should be so happy if you could answer me. I feel as though
you really could!"

He bent over her, as if on the edge of an abyss of questioning: "Do you know what we are?" he murmured. "Everything we say, everything we think, everything we believe, is fictitious. We know nothing. Nothing is sure or solid."

"You are wrong," she cried. "There is something absolute, our sorrow, our need, our
misery. We can see and touch it. Deny everything else, but our beggary, who can deny that?"

"You are right," he said, "it is the only absolute thing in the world."

There's a lot of that in this book.

I don't really have anything additional to say about this book. It wasn't very exciting, the writing was fairly mediocre, the story didn't grab me. Overall: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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