ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Pierre Bergounioux Coup double
by Jean-Claude Lebrun
Translated Thursday 18 November 2010, by Henry Crapoand reviewed by
Among the books recently published a thin volume is an absolute must: read forward, it proposes a work of fiction (le Baiser de la sorcière, “The Witch’s Kiss”, Argol pub. July 2010), and read backwards it proposes an essay or reflection that rises to a very high pitch (le Récit absent, “The Missing Narrative”).
The driving force behind this coupling is the idea expressed in The Missing Narrative: whereas each great period in history has had an echo in literature, whereas, conjointly since Homer, the time gap between the facts and their narrative has become increasingly shorter, from three centuries in Antiquity down to near-contemporaneousness, it so happens that the most considerable event in the last hundred years, namely the Soviet revolution, has failed to give rise, either in or since its time, to a work of literature of equal prominence. Picking up the challenge, Bergounioux dares to come forth with his own narrative.
He embarks on a JS2 tank designed toward the end of WWII by Soviet military engineers, evokes its conception, the technological improvements — kinetic and ballistic — over the famous T 34. He narrates the tests, the training of the team, then the 900 miles covered at full throttle right up to the Oder. He describes sunrise on April 29, 1945, when the Karl-Liebknecht crosses the river and rushes off towards Berlin. He then plunges into the final battle. The narrative has a rare beauty. The omnipresent technical precision, but also the men’s fragmentary sight from within the monster, their stream of consciousness, all this is masterfully rendered and resonates with the theory that develops in the pages of The Missing Narrative.
Whereas tasks have always been divided between those who do and those who, later and in their own way, narrate what the others have done, nothing of this kind took place in the USSR. Was it because the new human being was supposed to unite one and the other in the same body? the manual workers and intellectuals? the fighters and artists? Or, more likely, was it because Stalinism shoved off stage, or drove to suicide, or liquidated the greatest talents: Mayakovsky, Mandelstam… Painters were content with pasting tractors on their canvases after the manner of Repine. While Cervantes in 1605 started publishing his Don Quixote, in the then disenchanted world that followed the disappearance of the age of chivalry, “that turbulent, ingenuous tribe”, while Stendhal in 1839 published his Charterhouse of Parma twenty-five years after Waterloo, time enough for “experience to rise to the high pitch of consciousness that literary works exemplify”, no novel on the soviet era has yet succeeded in rising to such symbolic altitude. This, precisely, is the “missing narrative” that is Bergounioux’s theme. The men on the Karl-Liebknecht make history, they do not write it. Their awareness of it is too fragmentary. From within the armoured car nothing more can be perceived of the world than what appears through the narrow rectangles of its openings.
And so it appears that “The Witch’s Kiss” may well be the sketch of “The Missing Narrative”, with those young guys who had hardly been wrenched from the steppes when they were flung forth into modernity - much like the revolution itself, which erupted where it was least expected. It takes Pierre Bergounioux’s immense talent to bring together this masterly reflexion and the narrative that gives it a literary form.