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This review is taken from PN Review 120, Volume 24 Number 4, March - April 1998.

TRANSGRESSIONS AND THRESHOLDS SUZANNE GUERLAC, Literary Polemics: Bataille, Sartre; Valéry, Breton (Cambridge) £30
GÉRARD GENETTE, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Cambridge) £45(hb) £15.95 (pb)

Transgression: this was the key notion by which the French journal Tel Quel (1960-82) conjoined, in a brief, euphoric encounter, the apparent antinomies of avant-garde writing and revolutionary engagement. To put the signifier into play was to break the codes of conventional meaning and contribute to political transformation. The affair was short-lived, and it now looks pretty silly; but it didn't seem that way at the time. And while it failed to change the world, it did help to change the curriculum; indeed, in the humanities, it proved an immensely fertile union whose seeds, scattered by Tel Quel itself and by the books from its associated publishing house, fell on fruitful ground in the campuses of North America and even produced some exotic blooms in the courts of Cambridge.

In Literary Polemics, Suzanne Guerlac offers a fascinating, intricate analysis of some of the strands which lead back from Tel Quel into previous debates in twentiethcentury France about art and action. She is concerned to challenge a number of what she sees as myths or stereotypes which were forged in the heat of polemical battles and then transmitted, sometimes without question, to later generations. One of these myths is that Tel Quel's fusion of art and action constituted an absolute rupture, an epistemic break, with what had gone before. She focuses first of all on the one figure of an earlier generation whom Tel Quel did acknowledge and who provided its key notion of 'transgression' - Georges Bataille ...


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