As everyone who cares surely knows by now, Facebook has elmininated the "is." I'm one of the people that likes this, and I now offer friends and family long, active, vaguely 19th C descriptions of my life and times. Indeed, almost all of my status updates include dated cliches.
Which brings me to Luc Sante, in the NYRB, away back in the October 25 issue. On the publication, in English, of the collected faits-divers of anarchist and writer Félix Fénéon.
This biographical review is lovely. When Mr. Sante compares the pre-Fénéon items in Le Matin
with the the author's, I actually get it.
"'In Brignoles, Mme. S., who had recently given birth, killed herself yesterday by jumping out a window, during a bout of fever.'
The inertness and complacency of these sentences is immediately evident when they are compared to Fénéon's:
'Again and again Mme Couderc, of Saint-Ouen, was prevented from hanging herself from her window bolt. Exasperated, she fled across the fields.'"
But what does it all mean?
"If each item is a miniature clockwork of language and event, the full thousand-and-some put together make a mosaic panorama. They represent the year 1906 in France, and they are charged with the essence of that time and place in a way that is routinely available to artifacts and impersonal documents while often remaining outside the grasp of literature. They testify to the growing importance and menace of the automobile, the medieval conditions that still prevailed in agriculture and country life, the often fortunate inefficiency of firearms, the vulnerability of rural populations to epidemic disease, the unflagging pomposity of the military establishment, the mutual suspicion and profound lack of understanding between the French and their colonial subjects, the increasing number of strikes and the unchangingly brutal state of factory labor, the continuing panic over the threat of anarchist bombs (twelve years of relative calm had gone by, while the next wave of anarchist violence, spearheaded by the Bonnot gang, lay five years in the future)."
Sante makes no mention of the relevance of this kind of writing to the, um, poetics of new media. But it's all there for the taking, subtle, dark, perfect.