I cannot think of any other writer whose work, taken as a whole, is as strange and hermetic and gloriously, hilariously, painfully appropriate to the unparalleled shittiness of our times as that of Antoine Volodine. Or, I should say, of Volodine and his familiars, the multifold mad, hunted, imprisoned, tortured, dreaming, doomed, dying, and frequently dead writers who appear in the pages of his books and who count him among their number, a narrator no more or less fictional than any other.
His confederates include Maria Henkel, author of A Very, Very Artificial Insemination and The Right to Worms, among others; Irina Kobayashi, author of On the Correct Use of the Guillotine at Sunset; Elli Kronauer, who penned Call for a Widespread Revolt and Nothing Else; Manuela Draeger, author of Sleeping Sickness and The Second Mickey; and the prolific Lutz Bassmann, whose many titles include Will Share Soviets With Mummies or More if Agreed, Marmot on Sofa, and A Hilarious Variety of Atomic Wars. Most of these authors appear in Volodine’s books as characters or occasional narrators. Which would all be simply funny, except that Volodine’s heteronyms also intrude into our putatively nonfictive world. Kronauer has published five books in France under her own name; you can find them there in bookshops, shelved with the Ks. Thirteen of Draeger’s short, whimsical works have so far made the transition into materiality. Three were collected in the United States in 2011, in Brian Evenson’s translation, under the title In the Time of the Blue Ball. And four of Bassmann’s books have seen print in France. One of them, We Monks & Soldiers, made the crossing into English with the help of translator Jordan Stump. The spine of last year’s Post-Exoticism in 10 Lessons, Lesson 11 bears only Volodine’s name. Its title page, though, lists seven other authors, Bassmann among them. And if Bardo or Not Bardo, Volodine’s latest creation to be published stateside, appears to have been written solely by its actual author, keep in mind that he is, as he insists in interviews, a mere “spokesperson” for his various doubles.
Welcome to post-exoticism, the literary movement founded by Volodine’s small army of avatars, defined by one of them (Bassmann again) as “a literature coming from elsewhere and going elsewhere, an alien literature.” The most elegant of its oddities to appear in English so far is surely Minor Angels, which is not to be confused with the foundational post-exotic text of the same name written by one Maria Clementi, who in this Minor Angels—the one you can hold in your hands—appears as a very old woman who has dreamed every year for 1,111 years that she is a man named Will Scheidmann. Scheidmann, for his part, is at once a narrator of the text and a pivotal character in it, spinning off the stories we’re reading while bound to a post and awaiting execution for the crime of reestablishing capitalism on a wasted and largely depopulated planet that in many respects resembles our own. (In case you wondered, Maria Clementi’s Minor Angels, as yet unpublished in our particular corner of the multiverse, follows “Moyocoatzin and Mlatelpopec, two beings with the appearance of grotesque birds,” who live in relative harmony in “an eternally burning shopping mall” until Gardel, an imprisoned revolutionary, immolates himself in his cell and enters the mall by way of their dreams.) Such is the landscape of post-exoticism: surreal, apocalyptic, tragically post-revolutionary, at once mournful and absurd, refracted through a dizzying network of accordioned narrations—and all of it perhaps a dream, or a dream of someone else’s dream.