“The Cloud Chamber”, by Eric Chevillard, Minuit, 208 p., €18, digital €13.
THE QUESTION OF THE SUBJECT
This is not the first time that Eric Chevillard has made his title rhyme with his name. Before The cloud chamberthere was Demolish Nisard (Minuit, 2006), which featured a forgotten literary critic from the 19e century – Désiré Nisard –, a failed writer with a style as emphatic as it was empty, which a monomaniac narrator undertook to execute with sarcasm and hyperbole. In an ironic reversal, Chevillard placed on the horizon of his book a “become Nisard” of any writer: putting on the costume of his scapegoat, the narrator noted with a sort of feigned sadness that he seemed cut out for him.
In The cloud chamber, Nisard seems to be back, in the person of a completely crazy, obsessed, paranoid and conceited antihero. This character, who merges here with the narrator, academic or writer, is in search of his subject. When he thinks he has him, he sequesters him in the cellar, protects him jealously, sacrificing his wife, his son, his house to him. At the end, he closes the lid on him so that he can die – several episodes of the book take up the stages of the survival and then the death of Gregor Samsa in Metamorphosisby Kafka (1915) – and “It’s over, it doesn’t seem like it anymore, everything is back to how it was, we forget, we change the subject, I can’t say anything yet, but this time I think I’ve got something.”
All of this is, as the title suggests, perfectly nebulous. Searching the Internet for a cloud chamber, invented by Scottish physicist Charles Wilson in 1911, does not shed any particular light, except that it is the work of a cloud enthusiast who reconstructs them in the laboratory. in order to make visible the trajectory of the elementary particles. The meeting of the poetry of the cloudy sky (Baudelaire makes an appearance at the end of the volume) and the physics of particles nevertheless sets the fiction in motion by the suggestive and polysemous power of words. There are many ways to be in the fog, the confusion of feelings, the boiling brain, the worried groping, the incomprehension, all this applying as well to the character as to the one who reads his adventure . Brilliant ironist, Eric Chevillard turns every statement into a double-bottomed machine.
The text begins on the hats of wheels: one enters a novel of criminals, which stages kinds of nickel-plated feet to which all would succeed; it continues with a long flashback to the mad scientist’s life in search of his subject, before returning to where he started, the nickel-plated super-foot having managed to grab the loot (namely the subject) and having shipped it to his friend the narrator in a heavy wooden crate. In turn, he deploys tricks and ruses to get his hands on it, in defiance of all respect and all morality. The real is completely turned upside down and the world turned upside down. The contrast between the evanescence of the subject, of which one never knows if it is a laboratory experiment, an animal, a parasite, a subject of a novel or nothing at all, and the dramatic consequences that its interest provokes is both funny and poignant. The character’s stupidity coupled with vanity becomes that of everyone grappling with a concern or an obsession, and above all a second-degree reflection on literature and the writer’s impotence.
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