Comparisons of writers call attention to common aspects of their work and in this sense Pascal Quignard and Roberto Calasso are both powerfully expressive writers that gather together tangles of old tales and myths. But the comparison quickly becomes facile. There are polar differences between the two writers despite both being intensely conscious, even philosophical.
I’ve just finished Quignard’s The Silent Crossing, another from Seagull Books, translated by Chris Turner. In French the book was titled La Barque silencieuse signifying the bark or boat in which Charon ferries damned souls across the Styx. This book is volume six in the Dernier royaume or Lost Kingdom series, which Quignard envisages as a set of reflections that will end only with his death. It is mildly irritating that these works are appearing in English translation out of order, having read The Roving Shadows and Abysses, which are volumes one and three of the series. Although each work appears to stand alone, by skipping ahead to the sixth, you get a sense of an essential core, which is perhaps no more than an immersion into the extraordinary mind of Quignard.
Common across all three books that I’ve read in this series is a preoccupation with our first life, the one we forget on the instant of birth, the life that precedes language, precedes our being named, when we live immersed in water, darkness and isolation. Quignard also reflects on the negative aspects of society and the social, arguing Freud’s case that “the opposite of society is maturity.” Common also to all Quignard’s books is his paean to the ecstasy of reading, quoting in The Silent Crossing the sentence I have framed in my library from Kafka’s letter to a friend, “We need books that affect us like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves.”
I’ll be reading and rereading Quignard’s work for years to come. Somewhere in the collaboration that takes place between reader and writer—perhaps I’d even call it a dialogic struggle in Quignard’s case as there is always the sense that if I read more attentively I might miss less of the assertive power of his work—I’ve fallen in love with the work of Pascal Quignard. It is work that deserves the sort of scrupulous reading I enjoy most.
Do post pictures of your library. I’d really love to see it.
I know you saw the picture from my 22nd December post. I’ve no plans to take more but maybe. Any particular aspects you are curious to see?
No, just the space, with its books and feel. That’s it. I like libraries.
I’ve been following your exploration of Quignard with interest. You’ve certainly convinced me to read him.
I am pleased. Quignard’s work deserves to be better known beyond France.
I stumbled upon this old post, having intuitively juxtaposed Calasso with Quignard as some sort of anti-philosophers. I was expecting the internet to be full of comparisons between them, but I cannot find any. What do you consider as the main differences? I am at way too early stages in my reading of both to consider myself entitled to say anything on the topic.
Hello Markku. It is a fascinating question for which I don’t think I have anything to say. I’ve not thought enough about Calasso’s line of enquiry. His best-loved tropes, from what I’ve read, are so different.