Archives for posts with tag: semiotics

The Obituary book cover, Emily M Keeler, bookside tableThe Obiturary is a fantastic book, but it’s hard to describe. Gail Scott has written, even at times somehow overwritten and underwritten, this rolling novel that looks at life, history, sex, love, and two-tongued Montreal through a fractured lens. The main character, if you’d even call her that, is Rosine.

Sometimes the text reflects the rhythm of her thoughts, of her memories, but sometimes the words you’re reading are coming out of a photograph, or a fly. Sometimes they come through the walls. Scott plays with the phonetic quality of letters and words, in both English and French, to great effect. It’s an unconventional novel, though it is deeply (even lyrically) sensual, evoking the sharp clean smell of oysters and approaching the use of language as if hoping to encourage a synesthetic experience. This story has a complex structure, and some of its hypertext takes the form of heart–rather than foot–notes. The heart notes offer more information, more context, and tie the strange interior life of Rosine and the fly on the hotel wall to something more conventional, like a book about a dark history. But even in the heart notes there are subtle revisions and perversions that maintain a sense of particularity rather than detached objectivity. Even the fly on the wall only sees what it sees not from above, but from the very front lines of life.

The Obituary is much richer than I’m making it seem; it is so much more than an engaging experiment with form. Or maybe, that’s not quite right either. More likely, the form this novel takes comes directly from it’s content, with its grammatical omissions and contradictions. The book weaves around the idea of intersectionality, and what it means to have so many stories contained in a person, and how those stories crash up against each other, and how they run smack into the other stories in the world. Films, books, photographs, and other records that come to be a framing device for the morphological process of talking about what a life is, or what it can be.

The novel poses the question: “Reader, you may be forgiven for asking here what is a novel life?” Scott doesn’t have an answer, but  The Obiturary gives you a few clues, describing always “what is alive + speaking within us” even as it traverses over the dead, buried, as they are, in the past.



An autobiography written by the author of “the Death of the Author”? Who could resist? Not this nerdy-bird.

Barthes built a playground out of language, and never so much as in this text, a playground out of his own body, his corpus, his work.  Evading the prison of the self, this ramshackle autobiography celebrates instead the pleasures of liberal subjectivity, while at the same time shyly implicating itself in the closed and alienated world of a classed jargon.

My favorite passages are those that stem from the pleasure of praxis: Barthes evokes beautifully the joy of painting, of being an amateur, of hobbies (rather than occupations).

In a number of the fragments, Barthes plays a small joke on the reader, giving scraps of detail from his life, conventionally laying out his likes and dislikes, his memories of a street he walked down in childhood, driving through the country, and then suddenly annihilates those details, revokes the meaning from supposedly meaningful things, and shows us the raw face of the text instead.

All in all there underlies a passion and a hunger for more, for the beauties of experience to be caressed by the elegant hands of the text.