Jim Elkins's Reviews > Coma (Semiotext

Coma (Semiotext by Pierre Guyotat
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bookshelves: french

Dangers of Self-Regard

This book is enamored of its own unbelievable, rich, resourceful, brilliant self-regard. There can't be many authors who have looked at themselves from inside such a cocoon of self-praise. "No one before me, and in this language, has written as I write, as I dare to write, as it is my pleasure and my plenitude... It is already hard enough that this world, my world, cannot be reproduced, because of its sexual power, even in future anthologies!" (pp. 181-83) Guyotat's monumental sense of his genius makes Saul Bellow (who was embalmed, late in his life, in the certainty of his immortality) look like Woody Allen (also encased in the certitude of his genius, but embarrassed about it like the comic he needs to be). Of course it's understandable that someone praised by "Michel Leiris, Roland Barthes and Philippe Sollers... Michel Foucault... Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jean-Paul Sartre, Pierre Boulez, Joseph Beuys, Pierre Dac, Jean Genet, Joseph Kessel, Maurice Blanchot, Max Ernst, Italo Calvino, Jacques Monod, Simone de Beauvoir... Nathalie Sarraute... François Mitterrand... Georges Pompidou, [and] Claude Simon" (that's from Wikipedia) would hold himself in high regard. But it's also necessary to note that radically explicit homoerotic prose and an incarceration in Algeria were practically passports for praise in the minds of mid-twentieth century French writers.

Aside from those hyperbolic moments of self-praise, what is there? A warm and affecting love for nearly everything; and many echoes of Lautréamont, Rimbaud, Genet, and Céline. The book doesn't actually describe the author's coma until ten pages from the end, and it says remarkably little that might help us understand his descent into the coma. There's a lot of talk about his addiction to an over-the-counter painkiller, and many mentions of his dwindling weight. But his sexual encounters are described so coyly that they're actually puzzling. (Why did he have to leave Orléans, exactly? And why don't we get to hear the reason, given that Guyotat is so famous for writing explicitly?) And the book has next to no direction: there is no sense, as the book goes on, of any reason why he should be declining so drastically.

These are reasons why it is important, even for important writers, not to love yourself too much.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 9, 2012 – Shelved
October 12, 2012 – Shelved as: french

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