Journey through falsehoodby Wendell Steavenson / March 24, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
How to Talk about Places You’ve Never Been is the second book in a trilogy by Pierre Bayard. “I like trilogies,” he told me when we met for coffee, smiling a little at this misdirection. Bayard does not write novels; he is an academic, a professor of French literature at the University of Paris 8. He has written 19 books on literature and other cultural loiterings, several of them triplets. Bayard is also a psychoanalyst. This is a dangerous mix. Fact, fiction, criticism, literary theory and the musings of kaleidoscopic perception. I had read his book over the weekend. It was like reading a painting by Wassily Kandinsky. I ordered a fizzy mineral water to clear my head and asked him an ordinary question.
“What will the next book in this series be about?” Bayard would not tell me. The first was entitled, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. Naturally I haven’t read it, but nonetheless I found it an interesting discourse on the discourse of discourse.
We met at the Café Beaubourg, a modern restaurant-cafe opposite the Centre Pompidou inexplicably popular with Parisian intellectuals. Bayard is small, slight and has the generous bouffant hair of a young John Travolta.
“I hope I have invented a new kind of writing,” he told me, insouciant. “My essays have always had a fictional part.”
He is their author, he explained, but not their narrator. This device, he pointed out, is often employed in literature. In the genre of acade…