Against shit fetishism

jerome by Jean-Pierre Martinet is an unrecognized classic of French literature, a monster novel that we must constantly rediscover.

A century apart from the great movements of the literary avant-garde, the idea of ​​an art of shock has fizzled out. Since the 1990s, Cornelius Castoriadis has even evoked a withdrawal into “generalized conformism” that the new literary season will try, as best they can, to contest. One hundred years after the golden age of an art whose mission was to shock in order to emancipate, what remains of this founding gesture and its acuteness? What place for the shock in a society which increases the control of its speech while seeking new forms of politicization? The major work of Jean-Pierre Martinet, the novel jeromewhich went unnoticed when it was published in 1978 and reissued in 2018, tries to ward off this generalized conformism in a surge of violence that questions the limits of artistic subversion.

Comic horror and outrageous sordidness

In his confession, Jérôme Bauche goes to great lengths to exasperate his reader with the meticulous description of the atrocities he commits, almost systematically flouting all the rules of the moral order. His insistence invites us to ask ourselves: why such relentlessness in showing oneself in its worst light? Why such a display of evidence of his guilt, when it would seem more natural to try to attract the sympathy of a public inclined to be moved?

Undeniably, Jerome has some wrongdoings to blame himself for. The hero chosen by Jean-Pierre Martinet is a 150 kilo giant evoking in the first person three days and two nights of his sordid life. At 42, he is unemployed and lives with his mother pretending to be an idiot. If that’s not enough to make him a culprit, it’s enough to make him a suspect. The novel opens with a scene in which a mythomaniac and condescending philanthropist lectures the lazy obese to convince him to go and make crepe paper flowers in an institute. It’s a French-style Ignatius J. Reilly, a little more glaucous. For the rest, Jérôme’s existence is divided between the vinaigrette snout and the little girls he pays to fiddle with them after school in a urinal that looks like Dantesque hell. We also learn that he beats his mother and at the end of the second chapter, he becomes a murderer by suffocating his benefactor, Mr. Cloret, who cuts his tongue in a deluge of blood. Jérôme’s mother returns at this moment drunk from her round of bistros and invectives him in an incoherent logorrhea where anti-Semitic remarks mingle with the hatred she has for her own son. She reproaches him for his impotence and the smallness of his penis, while taking an unhealthy pleasure in describing to him the overflowing sexual appetite of her late husband, with whom she had a turbulent sexuality.

To read also, Jérôme Leroy: The funk of summer

Meanwhile, seated in the living room, Jerome wonders if the still warm corpse, with its mouth dripping with hemoglobin, will sit upright in its chair and not attract the attention of the alcoholic mother. He tries to solve this thorny problem by nailing the dead man’s feet to the floor. The excess of the sordid smacks of the comic and the complacent accumulation of horrors give the novel the look of a grand puppet. But what remains of jerome once past these macabre excesses? Something emerges from the mire and we must listen to the end of the disturbing confession of this monster of 150 kilos and almost 500 pages to understand the deep malaise that he tries to exhume from our society.

the jerome by Jean-Pierre Martinet undeniably has a social dimension. He anticipates the failings of a society in a state of economic crisis by depicting the misery that threatens it. But beyond socio-economic considerations, the grotesque escalation of atrocities has another meaning. Jérôme Bauche hides behind his stupidity, he hides an artistic ambition and a certain sense of aesthetics that an event silenced by his narration has discouraged. He quotes his literary references, more or less implicitly, by putting them in the mouths of the characters he meets.

Are mentioned Faulkner, Joyce, Melville or Dante. His former teacher, whom he met during his journey, remembers a brilliant student and passionate about art. Jérôme gives the ultimate clue to this project in the last pages where he qualifies his own work as a novel. As a result, he inscribes his text both in the field of fiction and aesthetics and excludes it from that of memoirs. Jérôme Bauche is therefore not just a madman lost in the depths of an asylum, but a creative and imaginative writer. This is also indicated by its name, whose homonym with the Dutch painter Jérôme Bosch highlights the aesthetic ambition of the book. So should we consider him as the last of the cursed poets, as an eternal misunderstood facing a society deaf to his avant-garde delirium, or is it something else? Wouldn’t it rather be the scarecrow of an art condemned to be reduced to its own caricature? What if he rolled around in the mire the better to make fun of himself? The figure of the accursed poet, of the artist misunderstood and destroyed by overly rigid social norms haunts the novel. If only through this posture of abandoning letters characteristic of modernism. With the difference that here the renunciation is made in favor of chosen stupidity. Jean-Pierre Martinet pushes this figure to its limits and confronts it with its most extreme contradictions in a sort of comic parody. This literary cliché has indeed had a relationship with evil since its Baudelairean foundation.

The hero of the novel as an ideal foil

This is the whole meaning of the construction of the character of Jérôme who combines in a caricatural way all the tinsel of modern evil to form an ideal foil. Pedophilia, incest, rape, murder, everything goes. At this point, another element of context is important to remember. In the period when the book appears, the social sciences have carried out a reversal in which the figure of the marginal replaces that of the proletarian in his role of directing the ideological orientation of society towards freedom. But Jérôme represents a borderline and fundamentally dangerous case of transgression of the norm. Far from the romantic young hitchhiker leaving home to freely travel the roads of America introduced by Kerouac, the social rupture evoked by Jérôme is of another order. He is a disoriented murderer and rapist in a dense and hallucinated urban fabric between Paris and St Petersburg. Jerome is a scarecrow, and whether the misdeeds he tells are true or false, they have another aim.

jerome would thus be read more like a poet’s joke addressed to the world. It is a staging of the aesthetics of shock confronted with its own contradictions. The character of Jérôme embodies the existential limit of the figure of the accursed poet or the avant-garde marginal. His grotesque excess allows him to show, by way of one-upmanship, the degradation to which an art is condemned, the beauty of which is judged by its capacity to shock the bourgeois. An art whose originally emancipatory articulation with evil has become an absurd and alienating, even dangerous repetition. In this way, Jean-Pierre Martinet discovers a hitherto unexplored side of our world. Kitsch as Hermann Broch defined it consists in reducing beauty to a process. Milan Kundera says more prosaically that it is the negation of shit. Both identify it as a danger since it reduces art to beautiful effect, cutting it off from its cognitive dimension. gold in jerome, we are facing an inverse configuration that we could define as an overexposure of the shit. Jean-Pierre Martinet reveals a surprising characteristic of our modernity. If there is a kitsch of negation, there might be one of shit fetishism. Jérôme wallows in it to show us, once and for all, that at the end of this road there is nothing. Art and literature can only be a demolition enterprise at the risk of cutting themselves off from the world they seek to understand and enlighten. However, they should not be neutral. So how, while denouncing this failing, does Jean-Pierre Martinet achieve beauty? It is precisely because there is no fetishism in Martinet’s writing but a deep sincerity, coupled with a fierce irony that does not however manage to hide the extent of his despair.


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Against shit fetishism