Mood Indigo by Boris Vian
Existentialist philosophers, such as Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Heidegger, developed their ideas about human and being in response to a loss of faith and the general optimistic mood in Europe (Existentialism). When Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Camus started to work with existentialist ideas, Europe experienced despair and anxiety because of the atrocities of the wars and revolutions in the first half of the twentieth century. Roughly speaking the term existentialism can encompass a wide array of philosophic ideas but the main point is to emphasize that people should be responsible for their existence and the reflective pondering of one’s existence can give sense and hope because no one who can do it instead of oneself.
In Mood Indigo, Boris Vian gives a direct reference to this philosophic movement by mockingly adding the chief figure of the twentieth-century existentialism Jean-Sol Partre. This technique is a tongue-in-cheek play on words on Jean-Paul Sartre. In the novel, Vian makes Jean-Sol Partre so ubiquitous and annoying that Alise kills Partre because he refuses to stop writing a book and her husband Chick spends all his money on Partre’s books. This playful joking continues in many details, such as the appearance of Partre, and the mentioning of “the Duchess of Bovouard.” However, this mocking has nothing in common with existentialism. At one point, Coli, the protagonist, describes what Partre presents to the public as “petrified vomit” so it does not look like a reverential attitude. It is rather a time reference and an indication that this philosophic movement was popular at the time before and after World War II.
Vian does not explicitly talk about existentialism but what he writes about may indirectly be referred to existentialist ideas. Existentialists believed that similar to Stoics and Socrates all people should practice philosophical view of life in their daily life. Being confronted with the disillusionment of the two World Wars, existentialists intended to find what meaning they could have in their existence. Otherwise nausea awaited them. In this regard, Vian creates his world, his fantasy, where everything is possible. His butler can catch an eel for dinner in Colin’s bathtub, Colin owns pianococktails, and he and Chloe can walk on clouds when they want. However, this illusion shatters when Chloe gets terminally ill.
Chloe’s illness becomes the truth of existence that the characters cannon overcome. It is the cold truth about existentialism. It does not try to embellish the ugly truth. By practicing philosophy and thinking about many things people can somewhat get ready that there are situations when no one can help you. In the introduction, Vian warns that the story is going to be both about beauty and ugliness. While he starts his story with descriptions of untold beauty and pleasant quirkiness, the ugly world of capitalism and human vices eventually appears.
Even though Vian does not write the word “war,” one can glimpse it from the tightening world around Colin and Chloe. The feeling of tightness can be attributed to Chloe’s illness and their encroaching poverty. However, the existing in the middle of the war Paris can also dim windows and the feeling that “the world is getting tighter” because of constant fear, shortage of food, clothes, and medicine. All these negative factors describe the anxiety experienced by Colin and other characters. For existentialists, anxiety was a natural consequence of a free and independent person who had no faith in God and nothing else to trust. Therefore, people should address their anxiety somehow, for example, determine on their own the meaning of their life.
Overall, the inherent meaningless and absurdity of life is one of the features of existentialism of the twentieth century, and Boris Vian accentuates it by filling his novel with funny absurdities and pleasant irregularities. Everything is irrational until a person does something about it in his or her life. People are absurd, they look absurd, sex is absurd, and even death is absurd. As long as everything is fine in someone’s life, absurdity may not be so much evident. However, Colin’s life began changing when Chloe got sick. He saw how difficult it was to earn a living and how meaningless were many things around him. Chloe’s death ultimately destroyed Colin’s meaning of life, and he did not seem to retrieve it back. The scene of Chloe’s burial is an ultimate description of absurdity.
Even though Vian did not belong to existentialists, this philosophic movement did not disregard him. By showing the ugliness and absurdities of human life, Vian creates an existentialist love story that starts in a fascinating and beautiful way promising long life and finishing in an ugly death in a disgraceful burial. It is a reflection of generally meaningless existence unless an individual brings meaning into it by doing conscious and laborious work and consideration.
The Lover by Marguerite Duras
The chief characteristic of postmodern in literature is a difficulty of describing what the book is about and why someone loves it. If one simply says that Marguerite Duras’ The Lover is about a love affair between a 15-year old French teenager and a 27-year old Chinese businessman, it would be an understatement because it says nothing about the book. Duras unites memoir and love novel, philosophical musings about love, desire, emotional states, and very realistic descriptions of sex scenes. She mixes timelines and perspectives. Sometimes she writes in a first person and sometimes in a third person, occasionally she is a girl and then she is an old woman. Basically Duras’ novel can be characterized as a play with the reader because for a postmodernist writer it does not matter what to write about, the principal thing becomes how to do it.
A crucial feature of postmodernism is the rejection of the existing rules and conventions. It used to be customary to choose one protagonist who would tell the story. Duras has one protagonist, but she switches between “I” and “she;” she talks about the past but in the present tense; all these techniques create a postmodernist feel. Duras sets the plot in colonial Indochina under the French rule, and multiculturalism also contributes to the tradition of postmodern. Having a plot Duras does not follow the traditional linear narrative. Combining autobiographical details, self-exploration, self-expression, and fiction, Duras makes multigenre book. Duras calls the book memoir but makes it very fictional. Thus, she blurs the boundaries between what has really happened and what has been invented.
Intertextuality and metafiction are also characteristics of postmodernism. Dumas’ The Lover is presented as a memoir so the notion of metafiction should not be applied to it because this genre already acknowledges self-awareness. However, the novel is only loosely autobiographical, and there are many fictional aspects. This invention can be an intentional layer of metafiction because the reader thinks that the author follows the conventions of autobiographies and shares private details whereas the author plays with the audience and pretends in some parts while revealing her soul in others. Intertextuality is also present but not between other famous texts written by other writers but between other Duras’ texts. For example, the theme of lesbian love is touched upon in the screenplay for The Lover, Nathalie Granger, Destroy, She Said, and other works.
In contrast to modernists who lamented a loss of order, postmodernists rejoice at chaos and fragmentation and happily embrace it. In The Lover, Duras gives a highly fragmented image of a female protagonist. Not only Duras goes in circles narrating her story and making it impossible to take a good look at the nameless girl, she occasionally hides some feelings or ideas from the lover but eventually from the reader, too, or from herself. Presenting the story as coming of age narrative of a young girl Duras changes by the authoritative “she” but it does not signal the voice of the adult Duras. In facts, it determines the moments when the author introduces fictional parts in contract to more frank and sincere “facts.” It permits her double gaze at the same events. Duras remembers and relives what happened to her long ago, even if she artistically embellishes her memories, but also Duras looks at herself young from the present position of the mature woman. Through fragmented reflections of herself, Duras succeeded to create a more truthful and wholesome portrait of herself, or her protagonist. Unlike polished romantic images, Duras in The Lover is troublesome, paradoxical, non-understanding herself but that is the reason why she is more coherent and poignant for the reader.
Overall, the postmodern approach can be named as play. Postmodernists like to play with the reader connecting different books with allusions and hidden references requiring their audience to be literate and well-read. Also, the writers like to reveal that they are aware that people read their works and they intentionally communicate with the reader identifying conventions they follow or defy. In this regard, Duras’ The Lover is a very playful book. The claim to autobiography sets the rules, but Duras seems to step around them. The attentive reader sees that the moments she uses “she” instead of “I” she loses the immediacy of the voice and sounds like a narrator instead of a participant. She may be accused that she fools the reader whereas, in fact, Duras plays the same way she used to play with her lover back then in Indochina.