“Van Cauwelaert’s Un aller simple as a Postmodern Rewriting of Gide's L’Immoraliste

130th Modern Language Association Annual Convention
January 8th-11th, 2015
Vancouver, British Columbia

This paper proposes a diegetic analysis of André Gide’s L’Immoraliste (1902) and Didier Van Cauwelaert’s Un aller simple (1994) based on shared thematics of travel, illness, self-discovery, self-actualization and transgression, which, however, take on different semiotic meanings in each text. I contend that Van Cauwelaert reverses Gide’s vision of self-actualization and transgression, rewriting L’Immoraliste from a postmodern perspective by highlighting characters on reverse trajectories. Whereas L’Immoraliste’s Michel regains his health and thrives by living out his new self-understanding, Jean-Pierre’s self-actualization ends in his own death. In addition, while Michel embraces a lifestyle that his contemporaries consider deviant, Aziz—the former transgressor—finds himself comfortably at home with Jean-Pierre’s conventional, middle-class family at story’s end.

Several conceptual frameworks elucidate the postmodern status of Un aller simple. First, Gide’s formal language contrasts with the linguistic variety that Van Cauwelaert includes in his text, ranging from a langage des Roms to a poetic, contemporary prose. According to Andreas Huyssen, this speaks to the blurred boundaries between the elite and the popular resulting from the mending of the Great Divide. Second, Jean-Pierre’s travel log first complements but later merges into Aziz’s narratorial commentary, with Aziz taking over Jean-Pierre’s persona following his death. This polyphony, per Linda Hutcheon, represents a privileged mode of narration in postmodern fiction; the blending of identities teeters close to Brian McHale’s postmodern ontological dominant. Moreover, the echoes of L’Immoraliste in Un aller simple partake of a subtle intertextuality that for Hutcheon (and others) characterizes postmodern literature and art. Finally, I will consider Hutcheon’s analysis of historiographic metafiction in conjunction with Jean-François Lyotard’s notion of “rewriting” modernity in order to demonstrate that Gide’s work continues to influence and inspire contemporary writers.