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The Worldly Savages ˸ Novels of Urban Formation in the Twentieth Century (Proust, Lins, Naipaul, Oates, Bolaño)


Written with the vague memory of the novels of formation of the beginning of the industrial era, the novels of Marcel Proust, Osman Lins, Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, Joyce Carol Oates and Roberto Bolaño return with melancholy to a question that has marked modernity: how do we record the story of the arrival in a big city? In Search of Lost Time and Blonde examine the worldly rituals at the heart of the capitals transformed by war. The absence of order produces enigmatic forms: in the image of the kaleidoscope, the spiral, the labyrinth and the city of sand, these forms arrange the writing of the urban space and the narrative that leads into it. The Enigma of Arrival links those processes to the problematics of migration, global language and the multicultural empire that has taken shape during the second half of the twentieth century. The work of Lins brings together urbanity, esoterism and elements of intellectual worldliness: imitation, quotation, bibliography. The urban becomes a satire in Bolaño: his arrivistes and his careerists, who are poets and teachers of literature, belong to the family of mass murderers. The novel of urban formation, now available only as a lost object, a target for nostalgia under the sign of regret, merits thorough reevaluation. Seeing that the vegetal metaphor points to stylistic processes of decomposition that bring together de-urbanization and the emergence of the life of the mind, the writing of plants may lead to new possibilities of individuation, less motivated by the worldly pulsion that characterizes capitalistic narratives, and bearing more discreet traces of the non-instrumental and involuntary, more violent inscription into nature.

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