GASTONTHE REJECTED EDITOR
by Raymond Federman
Oh you people want to know what happened when I went to Les Éditions de lAmour Fou to discuss my noodle novel with the sexy lady Chief Editor I meet last week at the luncheon chez Jean-Louis Laplume, you know, the famous French writer.
Well, two days after I left my manuscript with the receptionist, I got a message saying that madame Trucmuche, the Chief Editor, would like to see me in her office on Thursday at 9:00 A.M.
Thursday was yesterday.
You can imagine how nervous I was. Not only because Madame Trucmuche had read my novel, but because I was sure she was going to discuss a contract with me, and a huge advance. So already at 8:00 oclock, after four cups of coffee and three croissants at the corner bistro, I was pacing up and down in front of Les Éditions de lAmour Fou, and at 9:00 sharp I walked in.
Oui Monsieur, how may I help you, the fat four-eyed receptionist asked from behind her desk. She didnt seem to recognize me.
So trying to look relaxed, calm and cool, I told her Im the writer who left a manuscript with her a few days ago, and I have an appointment today with Madame Trucmuche to discuss the contract.
Oh Im terribly sorry Sir, but Madame Trucmuche isnt here today. She had to go out of town on an urgent matter.
Patatras! crash! plouff! I tumbled back into the obscurity of my unrecognized condition of a screwed-up writer. I knew it. I knew it. Never fails. You meet a charming lady editor, she flirts with you, she tells you shes dying to read your masterpiece, but when you show up to discuss the book, nobodys home. Madame is out of town.
Then when you leave, your tail between your legs, your soiled manuscript under your arm, you hear them snicker behind your back.
I suddenly felt a ferocious rush of rage through my body. I was ready to explode. The damn broad read my novel, she didnt like it, she may even have been offended by it, but she didnt have the guts to tell me to my face what she thought, she didnt have the courage to tell me in person that she couldnt publish my noodles. Screw her.
I was so enraged, I almost leaped on top of the receptionists desk to make her swallow her teeth with a good punch in the mouth. But then she said with her ultra-bright smile, Oh youre the gentleman who wrote that funny book full of noodles, we all laughed so much, yes its you, the author of the noodle novel.
The bastards, they all read my novel and laughed at my expense. Even that stupid receptionist wallowed in my noodles. I didnt know if I was supposed to be overjoyed or angry that everybody in that crummy joint had fondled my book with their filthy paws, but before I could decide where to direct my furor the chick said to me, Madame Trucmuche asks that you excuse her for not being able to discuss your book with you today, but her assistant, Monsieur Gaston, is going to do it for her. So if you dont mind waiting a moment, Ill inform Monsieur Gaston that you are here, and hell see you in his office in the basement as soon as he gets off the phone.
Suddenly I feel better, at least Monsieur Gaston read my novel, and we are going to discuss it. Personally, I dont care if I sign the contract with the sexy Chief Editor on the main floor or with Gaston in the basement, its all the same to me. I dont give a damn as long as my noodles are well taken care of and they give me a nice bundle of dough.
Still, the lady Chief Editor could have informed me herself that she couldnt see me, instead of leaving me in Monsieur Gastons hands. Besides, she was rather attractive, and who knows, maybe the sexy passages in my novel got her excited. Things like that happen. Well, I hope my noodles didnt give Gaston some weird ideas.
Thats what I am pondering while waiting for Gaston to get off the phone when a young man appears before me. I swallow hard when I see him. He looks like a little twerp in his wrinkled grey suit and his sad tie full of food stains. What the hell is that? Five foot four at most, no more than twenty-two years old, this is the assistant who is going to discuss my book with me. This skinny red-head with freckles all over his face and thick glasses on his nose is going to decide the future of my novel.
The near-sighted midget holds out his hand. I shake it without enthusiasm.
First impression rather negative. Not only the myopic twerps hand is limp and humid like a wet rag, but it feels as if Im squeezing a dead fish. Shit! An ugly sticky guy like that, with a fishy handshake, probably didnt react too favorably to my novel. Im sure he didnt get the symbolic subtlety of the noodles. A guy that short-sighted must be short-minded too.
So here we are now in his office, a tiny messy hole in the wall with yellowed newspapers and magazines all over the floor, books covered with dust, apparently never read, piled up on shelves, bits of manuscripts all over, and an awful smell of rotten paper in this tomb-like office without windows. Thats promising. Obviously Gaston is not at the top of the editorial board of this publishing house, just a mediocre worthless unimaginative myopic reader who blindly clears away the loads of manuscripts on his desk, a second-rate editor who goes through all the pseudo-literary bullshit waiting in line in front of his office door, a miserable manuscript-sweeper, and my great noodle novel instead of gently landing on Madame Trucmuches desk ended up in this little piece of shits shoddy office. Well thats one hell of a start. Suddenly I have a dark presentiment that my noodles may not have been as welcome as I thought. Oh well, its going to be quite a scene when Monsieur Gaston starts explaining why Les Éditions de lAmour Fou cannot publish my book.
She sure fucked me over the charming Chief Editor. She dumped me in the basement with this miserable half-blind reader. Doesnt matter because Im going to work over her little assistant, make him understand what laughterature is. How it laughs at all the constipated assholes of the world.
Please, have a seat Monsieur, says Gaston interrupting my interior monologue with a self-congratulatory smile that reveals rotten yellow teeth, as he leans back in his chair to appear important, taking the pose of someone who has the power to decide your fate in two minutes.
I dont say anything, I just sit on the rickety chair in front of his desk and cross my legs.
A moment of silence while Gaston casually flips over pages of my manuscript on his desk as if rehearsing mentally what hes is about to say. While glancing at the pages, he takes a pack of cigarettes out of the inside pocket of his jacket, Marlboros, and offers me one. Poor jerk, hes trying to impress me with his American cigarettes. I say, no, thank you, and take out my pack of Gauloises and light one.
I only smoke Gauloises sans filtre, I tell him. I smoke real cigarettes. Blond tobacco is for fairies. Gaston doesnt react, but I hope he got the message. If he got weird ideas reading my book he can shove them up his derrière.
Another moment of silence. Finally Gaston says, tipping his chair back on two legs, and letting the cigarette smoke out of his nose, trying to look professional and tough, Well, Monsieur, I read your novel with great interest. I must say that it is very amusing. Yes very funny, but ...
Ah, here comes the but, I knew it.
I was going to ask Gaston if the fact that he found my book amusing meant something positive or negative, if it was good news or bad news, but instead I give him a twisted smile and let him go on. I plant myself firmly in the wobbly chair, light another Gauloise, and wait for his monumental critique.
Gaston takes off his glasses and starts sucking one of the side tips, as if mulling over what he is going to say. Hes trying to look editorial. I notice that his eyes are tiny and oval.
The story you are recounting, he begins while putting his glasses back on his nose, the story of the young French Jew, survivor of what you call the Unforgivable Enormity -- a rather interesting expression to refer to ... well you know what I mean. Yes, the story of that young survivor who goes to America to become a jazz musician is certainly interesting and worth telling, but it is the way you tell it that presents a problem. You see, all those reflections about the creative process become irritating after a while. And that ... how shall I put it ... that triviality of the novelist within the novel who locks himself in a room and eats only noodles for an entire year in order to write the book we are reading, well this is not very convincing, nor plausible, or to put it more succinctly, your work is too ... if I may borrow an American term now in vogue ... too self-reflexive.
I dont say anything, I let him talk, but inside my guts I feel that all hell is about to break loose, especially when he gives me his self-reflexive shit to impress me with his knowledge of the English language. Just wait little Gaston, theres going be a heck of a storm in a moment. I feel it coming.
Scratching himself behind the ear, Gaston continues his rehearsed speech, telling me now that my novel is basically an autobiography, a barely disguised autobiography. The little asshole really wants to reduce me to nothing, Im starting to boil inside. Your novel, he goes on with an effeminate giggle, to put it differently is simply a somewhat narcissistic self-portrait done with some humor but lacking a coherent story-line, a plot.
That does it, I cannot contain myself any longer. Plots are for dead people, I say to the myopic twit as I stand up and lean over his desk to stare into in his pint-sized oval eyes. Then hitting his desk with my fist I shout, AUTO...BIO...GRAPHIC my novel, but tell me Monsieur Gaston what do you know about my life to say that my novel is autobiographical.
I sit back in the chair, and slowly, calmly, I hissss, a-narccccisssssisssssistic-sssself-portrait, hey monsieur léditeur, dont you understand that one must have the courage of ones narcissism if one wants to be a writer. But thats not the point, no, the point is, what the fuck do you know about my life, you little piece of shit, to conclude thatwhat Im writing is the story of my life. I can assure you that everything you read is pure invention. I made it up word by word, its all improvised.
Gaston looks shocked at my reaction to his prepared rejection speech. I dont suppose too many writers come into his office and call him a little shit.
He opens his mouth to say something, but I cut him off. Dont you know that everything that is written is fictitious. You see my Dear Gaston, I think you confuse life with writing. Writing is not, I insist, the mere repetition of life. Imagine how boring it would be to write the pathetic story of your life. It would be impossible to find words to match its mediocrity.
Its not because I followed a road somewhat parallel to that of my protagonist, that what I write is a photocopy of my life. No, my dear little man, I do not write to say what I was, nobody gives a shit about what I was. I write to find out what I should have written. Writing is not what you remember, but what has been forgotten. So Gaston you better think twice before throwing your narcissistic self-portrait imbecility in my face. Also think in that little bird-mind of yours what a self-portrait is, because you see a portrait, self or not-self, that shifts from the visible to the invisible, that detaches itself from life to become written or spoken language, that portrait always transforms itself into something else, because writing the self inevitably leads to the great ambiguity of self-reflection. Do you understand what Im saying, or is it too complicated for you.
I stand up again. Walk around his desk, put my hands on his shoulders and as I push him back in his chair, I say, Its obvious, you little cretin, that you dont understand that when the writer makes the transition from the visible to the invisible, as he plunges into the invisibility of language, he confronts the incapacity to seize the subject who writes, because no matter how hard one tries, the subject who writes will never be able to seize himself in what he writes, he will only seize the writing itself, which by definition excludes him. If this is too self-reflexive for you that shows that you dont understand a damn thing about literature, and that you should be doing something else than read manuscripts. Personally I think you would make a fine plumber. You have a plumbers hands, I tell Gaston pointing to his sweaty hands, but an editor, no way. Or maybe you could try the meat business. Yes, I can see you as a butcher or a charcutier.
I swear, thats exactly what I told him, and poor Gaston just sat there, completely flabbergasted, looking at me as if I was some kind of maniac, a runaway lunatic. Or else he must have thought I was a genius. But wait, thats not all, wait till you hear the rest of what I said to that idiot when suddenly he said, as if he hadnt heard me, as if everything I told him had passed above his head, because all he wanted was to finish his prepared speech, as if he absolutely had to recite the catechism of rejection he had learned by heart on his knees before the Saintly Chief Editor. It was obvious that he was merely repeating what she had told him to say in order to get rid of me before she took off.
This is what that dimwit tells me next.
You see, despite all its good aspects, we think that your novel ...
I immediately notice the we. Its clear that Assistant Gaston is only mouthing word for word what Madame Trucmuche whispered to him about my novel. The fucking bitch! And she was so pleasant during that lunch, so attentive. She even rubbed her knee against mine a couple times. What a hypocrite. Then she reads my stuff, finds it shocking and disgusting, and decides to throw my noodles into the trash. Wait till I run into that charming lady on the street one of these days. Its not my cock in her ass shell get, its my foot.
While I mentally settle the score with Madame Trucmuche, Gaston keeps on reciting his bullshit.
You see, we find your novel too postmodern. We believe that our readers will not be able to follow your postmodern detours and circumvolutions. Of course this doesnt mean your work is bad or has no literary value, but its too complicated, too cerebral for our readers. As such it has no commercial value. Thats the problem with the postmodern novel. Its not accessible to the general public. The reader who reads for fun cannot follow what is going on. He just wants to be told an entertaining straight-forward story.
I shake my head. I let him continue his booksellers speech. I decide to let him conclude before finishing him off.
While hes talking I play the soliloquy battle with myself. Its true that for years Ive been stuck in digressiveness, wandering endlessly in narrative detours, tumbling again and again into self-reflexiveness, and these old habits, so dear to the storyteller enamored of the interior mirrors of his fabulation, will indubitably prevent that wonderful book from being published here, that book which caused me so many sleepless nights, but thats the way it is, Im addicted to self-reflexiveness, I cannot write if I do not watch myself writing, to step out of my writing, to close my eyes on the writing process would reduce it to pathetic realism or romantic agony.
While I am self-reflecting, Gaston is going on spouting his absurdities of a publisher in search of bestsellers. Clearing his throat, he now explains, It is your reluctance to let the story be told that prevents your novel to be what it should be, a Bildungsroman.
Oh, very nice Gaston, Bildungsroman, did you hear that, unbelievable.
The twerp now wants to impress me with his Bildungsroman. Once again I stand up, lean towards him, both hands resting on his desk, my big nose almost touching his and I sputter in his face, In other words, if I understand correctly, you and your saintly Chief Editor find my novel too intelligent for your readers. In your opinion one should write dumb stories to please the dumb general public, one should tell them the same old stories which they already know, otherwise they dont understand anything. But you idiot, dont you know that its in the nothing that great stories take place, the truth hides in the nothing, behind the words, in the depth of words, in the white spaces between the words, in the vanishing point where trivial details become irrelevant, in the silences inside the story.
I pause a moment, and then as if talking to myself, It is in the shadow of the story, in that imperceptible moment when the story collapses into its own form beyond the lies of the fable that the truth is revealed, when like fire the writing delights in its own form, its own dance.
I go back to the chair, light a Gauloise, blow a puff of smoke towards Gaston, and continue.
Or better yet, imagine yourself in the reverse of farness beyond the artifice of a painting, inside the paint, where the geometry and coherence of the work of art is hidden ...
I was so worked up I was throwing all kinds of wordshit at him, saying whatever came to my mind, but Gaston is stubborn and ignores my beautiful tirade.
Well, there is also the problem of your style, your sentences, your syntax.
My sentences! My syntax! I dont allow him go on, I know what hes going to say. Gaston you understand absolutely nothing. Listen carefully, Im going to explain my style and syntax to you.
I pick up one of the pages of my manuscript and shove it in front of his face. you see there are people who speak and write in sentences, correct complete sentences punctuated according to the rules, and in neat paragraphs with the obligatory indentation at the beginning of each, well, look at this page, and what do you see, you see words that go in all directions, like macaroni inside a box, because, Gaston, I do not write normal regular syntax, I write crooked paginal syntax, I let the words wander on the page, I do not tell them where to go, I just write the words, I go from one word to the next, I word-word, or if you prefer, I do linguistic wordage using only the comma to shape my writing, get it, and thats my style, Take It or Leave It.
Satisfied with my explanation, I sit down again and light another Gauloise to calm myself. Those damn French cigarettes are going to kill.
Poor Gaston looks stupefied. He puts his head down on top of my noodle pack trying to pull himself together. I think this time he is convinced that the noodler is a genius.
But Im not done, I have to put him in his place regarding the postmodern question, exterminate him once and for all. There is no way I am going to let his postmodern remark go by without a rebuke.
So you find my noodle novel too postmodern. Wrong again Gaston, your arrived too late, we are already beyond postmodernism. Its dead, dead and gone, dont you know. Its been buried. Where have you been. And thats precisely the problem for literature today. Now that postmodernism is dead, writers dont know what to do, how to replace it. The disappearance of postmodernism was devastating for writers. But its not surprising. It was expected to happen for some time. The last gasp happened the day the great Samuel Beckett changed tense and joined the angels. I can give you the exact date. December 22nd, 1989. Postmodernism died because Godot never came.
Gaston looks as if he is on the verge of tears.
In a way my noodle novel circulates the death certificate of postmodernism. It warns those who are still stuck in the postmodern sack to get out before the banks repossess the houses and the cars and the washing machines and the televisions they bought on credit because their books didnt make the best-seller list.
Gaston tries to say something, but I tell him to shut-up and listen, Im not finished.
It was sad to see postmodernism disappear before we could explain it. I kind
of liked postmodernism. I was happy in the postmodern condition. As happy if not happier than in the previous condition. I dont remember what that was called, but I was glad to get out of it. And now here we are again faced with a dilemma, with a gap, a hole. A missing link. What shall we call the new thing towards which we are moving full speed? This new thing, I havent seen yet. Did you see it Gaston? What can we call it? Postpostmodernism seems a bit too clumsy, and Popomomo not serious enough. I thought of calling this new condition The Peoples Revolution Number Four, or The New Pot Revolution, but Im afraid that Gallimard or some other big bookseller has already these names under copyright. In any case, I think the name of this new condition thats about to descend upon us should have the word new in it. What do you think Gaston?
Gaston doesnt answer, he stares at me with a look of panic on his face, his mouth is half-open and his tiny oval eyes keep blinking hopelessly.
How about The New Novelty, I say to reassure him, or maybe The Post-Novelty, or better yet The New Post-Future Condition. Somebody suggested Avant-Pop. I find that too familiar. What do you think? You see the difficulty. If we must name that beast looming in front of us, I say pointing to my pack of noodles on his desk, then we better hurry, otherwise itll be too
late, and well already have reached the next new condition, the one that will follow what we are unable to name.
Hey, maybe you have a suggestion. After all youre an editor, its your job to name literary novelties. But you better think fast, Gaston, before that new thing disappears.
Gaston seems totally lost, he has closed his eyes, but suddenly he grabs his head and says with a pitiful look on his face, Does that mean that the novel is dead, that there isnt any hope for the novel.
Of course not, you imbecile, its not because the postmodern is dead that the novel is also dead. Dont worry, youre not going to lose your job, there are still loads of guys out there who write novels without paying attention to where and when they are, and have no idea why they do it, although as Roland Barthes once put it, The novel is always a death, its a death because it transforms life into a destiny, and memories into useless sentences. So you see, the one who writes his life is in fact writing his death, in that sense neither life nor writing are primary, neither of them can provide an understanding of why we are on this planet because neither of them are entities unto themselves. Thats more or less what Roland Barthes said regarding the futility of writing novels.
Dont you people think it was smart of me to quote Roland Barthes, but of course Gaston didnt understand that I made that detour in order to return full circle to his remark about my novel being nothing but a barely disguised autobiography. He didnt understand what I was trying to tell him, that between life and fiction there is no difference, that when life is at the center, fiction is at the circumference, and vice versa.
So to close the seminar, I said, taking on a professorial tone of voice, you see Gaston, if you really want to go on with your publishers job, you have to understand once and for all that not all those who write or pretend to write are writers, and not everything that is written echoes life.
To write is to create a new model that helps us better understand our life before dying.
In that case, Gaston says, bouncing his ass up and down on his chair, Are we right in saying that all writing is finally autobiographical, and so it goes for your novel.
Youre finally starting to understand, good for you, I tell him holding out my hand to congratulate him. Its so simple when you think of it. Your life is not the story you write. The story you write is your life. Got it?
Gaston obviously worn out couldnt take any more. He didnt even react to my last explanation. He just sat there crushed, but he did manage to mumble, Sir, if you would agree to write for us the story of that young French Jew who goes to America to seek his fortune, and leave out all the rest, all the self-reflexive stuff, well ...
I didnt let him finish, all that little jerk wants is a story the story of my life. He might even offer me a couple of thousand bucks for the story of my life. Hes not interested in the novel I improvised in sad laughter. No, he wants real life. How sad.
I had enough of that puny assitant. It was obvious that I was in the wrong place, the wrong publishing bordello, and that Gaston and his Madame Trucmuche would never understand that for me a novel is less the writing of an adventure than the adventure of writing.
So I took my manuscript from his desk, but before leaving Gastons cave I said, You want me to tell you something young man, even if you and your Chief Editor with the sexy ass were to offer me twenty grand for my novel right here and right now, I wouldnt give it to you, because youre nothing but fucked-up editors who dont know how to read, you might do better selling vegetables in a grocery store than getting mixed up with literature.
Thats what I told him, and I added, People like you suffer of intellectual atrophy, youre lost in the mercantile stampede, youre conditioned by false writing, cute writing, dumb writing, boring writing, shitty writing, non-writing, as I slammed the door behind me.
Thats how I finished him off.
In any case, I hope Gaston understood that even though postmodernism is dead, it doesnt mean that literature is done for. Literature wont end that way. It would be too easy, too much to hope for. It would be a fine death, the kind of death that keeps on going and going. No, literature is tough, itll die only when we humans disappear from this planet.
The fat receptionist, who was probably listening to the discussion behind the door, tells me with a sneer on her face, Good bye Monsieur, I hope well see you again.
When I heard that I stared at her and said, Hey you chubby, you want to know something, instead of sitting on your fat ass all day, you should try to hustle Rue Saint-Denis, that way youd lose weight fast, and Im sure youll make a better living than in this crummy joint.
Out in the street, I took a deep breath and burst into laughter. The Laugh that laughs at the laugh.
Well, you wanted to know what happened. Thats the whole story. What to do now with the noodle novel?
Maybe we can have it for dinner tonight.
at Spineless Books