The Giants was published in 1973 by Gallimard. There was no mention of the genre on the cover. The expression “The Giants” is found in parentheses, below the real title: the electricity symbol. This work defies standard editorial practices from the very start. It breaks again and again with literary conventions. J.M.G. Le Clézio was considered to be the inheritor of the New Novel movement during this time period, a derider of the novelistic tradition, as evidenced by the list of authors created by Jean Ricardou (1973, 10). Besides, the work was dedicated to the first emperor of China who fought against literary traditionalism.
The characteristics of a novel: characters, plot, time, are subverted. Some characters make an intermittent appearance. They do not really have an identity, just a gender, a very vague age and they are designated by generic terms: ”the young girl Tranquility” (who had to lose a “l’” because she remains flat on the ground), her friend, Machines, who is a cart pusher at the supermarket and the “little boy nicknamed Bogo the Mute”. At the end of the work, the didactic fiction linking author and reader disappears: Tranquility, Machines, and Bogo lose what little identity they have (Ge, 307-309). Other characters appear throughout the work but in, at times, recurrent mini-stories.
Bogo’s observation of the young girls at the beginning (Ge, 41-42), is taken up again in an almost identical fashion at the end (Ge, 295-296). In the first version, “He sees the girls moving towards him on the beach, twisting their feet”. In the second version, “Screwing up his eyes, he sees the girls approaching on the beach, twisting their feet a little on the pebbles.” The boats on which they drift out to sea are almost identical. The end of the second version is even more surprising with the proliferation of these resemblances. After the first detonation, “We hear another detonation, but this one is stronger, which makes a funny double sound, when the young blond-headed girl squeezed the trigger of the LR 22 pistol against the heart of the young brown headed girl Who (which) kills her”(Ge 296). Their fate is deliberately ambiguous. Who kills who? The conclusion snubs the reader’s expectations, eschews the traditional structure of a story, and plays syntactical games based on the blurring of anaphoric mechanisms.
Other mini-stories throw the reader off balance as well. This is the case with the Brazil Nut Story that starts with “Once upon a time, in Puerto Maldonado […]” (Ge, 310). We are anticipating after the beginning a marvelous tale. There is nothing of the kind. Opening with the magic formula of a tale, the story degenerates into a critique of civilization, becomes a mise en abyme of the work itself and makes a mockery out of literary norms.
As for the place from which Tranquility, Machines, and Bogo emanate, it is both the main theme and the main character : a gigantic supermarket. From the very first pages, Western, liberal, consumer society is designated through its logos, admitting in specialized texts its goal: that of erasing consciousness in order to sell as much as possible. Hyperpolis, a product of and a metaphor for the “Giants “ and the “Masters of Language” (Ge, 310), destroys individuality, transforms horizontality into verticality, the ceiling to an abyss, the light into night. (In the novel), time is cyclical.
There is no plot or conclusion to the story. The end of the text, comprised of pages of advertisements, returns to the beginning. All of the temporal metaphors that are developed borrow from the great myths. One thinks of Daedalus: “Those who conceived this trap did it well, so that we cannot escape” (Ge, 49). Sisyphus makes an appearance as well in the unremitting condemnation to perform the same activity for all of eternity: walk, put away carts. But, Hyperpolis most closely resembles time, Chronos, conjured as a “bloody mouth of a cannibal, who was devouring the crowd […]” (Ge, 53).
These are the “Masters of Language”, these ”Giants”, against which the narrative voice of the work protests. It’s about a furious presence that decries, denounces, and condemns. A fictitious author, whose distance from the real author is hazy, addresses a fictitious reader: “I am going to tell you: I see a lot of women and a lot of men, in the light of day all of the time, and they are deaf mutes. As for me, I still hear a few whisperings” (Ge, 19). He cannot rival the prophets to whom this absolute revelation has been accorded. However, like Jeremiah cited in War, he sees the earth from a sidereal distance and his speech is comprised of condemnations, reproaches supported by interrogations, exclamations, and anaphoras: “Free yourself. Free yourself. Kill with your simple glance the men who are the masters of the gaze […]” (Ge, 33). And coming back to the leitmotif: “We have to burn down Hyperpolis.”
Marina Salles discusses “the mise en abyme of the act of writing, which Gérard Genette calls ‘the metalepsis of the author’: ‘a transgression by which he inserts himself into the fiction as a figure of his creative ability’ […]” (2006, 285-286), to be more precise as a figure of his prophetic power that announces a new era. In order to thwart the “Masters of language”, the author must summon the reader to explore other modes of thought by means of a proliferation of references to other texts, transtextuality.
From the first pages, the vocabulary of The Giants is cynical and unforgiving, but the organization is such that its effects are cancelled out, its diversions are evident: superpositions, the accumulation of logos, sales theories, borrowing their “montage” from surrealist collages. Writing makes way for the plastic arts.
The epigraphs are often borrowed from ancient civilizations unless it is a question of the ultramodern language of the sciences. The scientific explanation of the illusion of the blue of the sky is placed next to the Sanskrit “Maya” meaning illusion (Ge, 122). Ideograms, comic books or sayings from Buddha (Ge, 99), this transtextuality fights against the language of the Masters by interrogating all times and places. This leads to an over examination of the text: the computer language Michigan Algorithm Decoder (Ge, 172) is designated by the acronym MAD, “crazy” in English; so the system finds itself stigmatized and the possible interpretations are multiplied. The work is teeming with utterances to be decoded that far exceed the reader’s capacities. For that matter, the number of hapaxes due to this transtextuality renders it impossible to do a lexicometric analysis, as Kastberg Sjöblom indicates, (we are) forced to give up on The Giants.
The work compels us to tear ourselves away from hypnotic meandering in favor of the unsteadiness of the difficult, unstable spiritual quest. It is words that make up reality but reality is never definite. Against the invasive language of slogans, from wherever they come, the injunction holds « We must write, think and act through riddles […] » (Ge, 320). An analogy is created between the influence of consumerism and that of the novelistic tradition. We must destroy and break these deceptive mirrors. Is this possible without feeling the anguish of being lost? “But if we break these windows, if I break my windows […] If I do that: what if it is me who ultimately collapses […]?” (Ge, 22). Les Géants portrays both a call to subversion and a longing for form.
Translation : Keith Moser
LE CLĖZIO, J.-M.G., Les Géants, Paris, Gallimard, coll. « Le Chemin », 1973 ; The Giants (Translation Simon TAYLOR), London, Vintage Books, 2008 ; GENETTE, Gérard, Métalepse, Paris, Seuil, coll. « Poétique », 2004, p. 27 (cité par Marina Salles, note 47) ; KASTBERG-SJÖBLOM, Margareta, L’Ėcriture de J.-M.G. Le Clézio, une approche lexicométrique, Université de Nice, Thèse 2002, p. 29. www.revuetexto.net>Kastberg_LeClézio.htlm, consulté le 6 octobre 2016 ; RICARDOU, Jean, Le Nouveau Roman, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. « Ėcrivains de toujours », 1973, p.10 ; SALLES, Marina, Le Clézio dans le « champ littéraire » in Le Clézio, notre contemporain, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2006, <http://www.books.openedition.org/pur/34796> consulté le 6 octobre 2016 ; WALKER, David, « Du détail au totalitarisme : variations sur le commerce conquérant chez Le Clézio » in THIBAULT, Bruno et MOSER, Keith (dirs), J.-M.G. Le Clézio, Dans la forêt des paradoxes, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2012, p. 111-123.