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Hedda Friberg-Harnesk, Reading John Banville through Jean Baudrillard

Julie Lecas
p. 157-159
Référence(s) :

Hedda Friberg-Harnesk, Reading John Banville through Jean Baudrillard, Amherst – New York, Cambria Press, 2018, 222 p.

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1Hedda Friberg-Harnesk sheds new light on the fiction of John Banville thanks to an original theoretical frame: her perceptive use of Baudrillard’s orders of simulacra engages the reader in a stimulating critical conversation with the unstable and uncertain worlds and beings of Banvillean fiction. She explores nine of John Banville’s works published between 1997 and 2015, seven novels (The Untouchable, Eclipse, Shroud, The Sea, The Infinities, Ancient Light, and The Blue Guitar) and two plays (God’s Gift and Love in the Wars), favouring his later works over earlier literary productions, finding there a more acute, more accomplished sense of the “simulation of an absent reality” (p. 7), which to Baudrillard characterises our capitalist society. The author’s eloquent, thought-provoking study grants the reader a deeper insight into Banville’s bewitching “territory of mercurial instability” (p. 1).

2The book includes an introduction, eight chapters exploring one or several of Banville’s works, and a concluding chapter articulating a poetics of creative simulation. The author first delineates “Baudrillardean ideas on simulation and the orders of simulacra” (p. 8) and convincingly presents the latter as legitimate and original analytical tools. Indeed, to readers of Banvillean fiction, Baudrillard’s description of images as objects progressively distancing themselves from their original models, from pre-Renaissance symbolic representation to distortion of reality (first order), from artful dissimulation (second order) to outright cancellation of reality (third order), cannot fail to evoke processes at play in a fiction where “meaning is shrouded, shifting, or lacking, and appearances deceive” (p. 1). Other concepts by Nietzsche (eternal recurrence, for one), a major influence on Baudrillard, or Bataille (excesses of the festival), are presented as secondary analytical approaches. The chapters explore Banville’s works chronologically, with rapprochements between the novels featuring the same issues at focus (memory in The Untouchable and The Sea), the same masks and masking strategies (Alexander Cleave and Alex Vander in Eclipse, Shroud and Ancient Light), or the same genre (God’s Gift and Love in the Wars).

3The application of Baudrillardean concepts to known literary concerns in Banville’s fiction (uncertainty, instability, duplicity, the counterfeit) proves particularly enlightening: the threat of a “cancellation by the double” (p. 93) seems pervasive in Banville’s fiction, locating it on the frontier between Baudrillard’s second and third orders of simulacra. Reality and truth are threatened by cancellation through the shifting “play[s] of masks” (p. 42) in The Untouchable, or the acts of “dys-remember[ance]” (p. 46) in The Sea; similarly, the self is threatened by cancellation through the Nietzschean “delight in simulation” (p. 56) defining the actors in Eclipse, Shroud, and Ancient Light, and through the mischievous gods “copy[ing] appearances and steal[ing] identities” (p. 96) in God’s Gift or The Infinities. Baudrillard’s idea of the “holographic double” serves an engaging analysis of the elusive feminine character Cass, revealing humans’ vain desire to seize the real, and his notions of life-in-death and blurred demarcations between the human and the non-human in the age of simulacra illuminate a compelling reading of The Infinities. Banville’s second play, Love in the Wars, interestingly stands out as firm ground in Banville’s usually mercurial fictive territories: the author locates it outside Baudrillard’s orders of simulacra, as befits its postulated affiliation to a pre-Renaissance, symbolic order characterised by “death, sacrifice, and the rule”, where the random, “a primary source of the radical uncertainty of the contemporary world” (p. 127) so dear to Banvillean fiction, has no say.

4The eighth chapter explores The Blue Guitar in the light of Baudrillard’s notion that in the age of simulacra, “[we are] consigned to an infinite replay” (p. 173): the recurrences and reiterations in characters (actors, clowns, vacant selves) or settings (houses, rooms) that link Banville’s work inter- and intra-textually, might be viewed as signs of a post-real age of simulacra where similar elements, or rather imperfect copies, creatively interact, evidencing a Baudrillardean precession of appearances. The author posits in a thought-provoking concluding chapter that this propensity of the Banvillean narrator to “turn his uniquely registering eye to the materials passing by in this loop of infinite replay and [reuse] them in an act of creative recycling” (p. 187), rather than indulging in self-pity on the brink of nothingness, should be considered a “strategy for managing the void” (p. 186). This brilliant book, which itself involves creative reiterations, casts light on Banville’s mature treatment of exquisitely recycled literary concerns in his more recent fiction, urging the reader to delve further into his work and again admire its beautifully crafted simulacra.

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Référence papier

Julie Lecas, « Hedda Friberg-Harnesk, Reading John Banville through Jean Baudrillard », Études irlandaises, 44-1 | 2019, 157-159.

Référence électronique

Julie Lecas, « Hedda Friberg-Harnesk, Reading John Banville through Jean Baudrillard », Études irlandaises [En ligne], 44-1 | 2019, mis en ligne le 14 novembre 2019, consulté le 14 décembre 2019. URL :

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