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May 29, 2006



Early in the novel, the narrator wonders whether the reader has ever watched television, and I was enthralled by the naive, absurd honesty of that voice. Toussaint's narrator struck me as a less narcissistic, more charming version of Moravia's self-delusional Molteni character.

Building on your comments about the presence of television providing unity, I think what made the novel for me was that it avoids 'easy' assumptions about television. As I read, I was impressed at how television's significance became (for me, anyway) just one of many mediators between experience and imagination. As the narrator procrastinates, he insists that swimming, walking, etc. are interchangeable with actually writing, and in the museum he comes to new realizations about the paintings he observes via security monitor reproductions. Even flying over Berlin he averts his gaze from the city itself--and the experience of flying--to instead think about the Mona Lisa. So I was delighted at how complicated the narrator's rejection of television became throughout his always-mediated experiences, and how television itself seemed either less anomalous or so deeply engrained in contemporary experience as to be unavoidable even while absent.

Thanks for sharing this book, Derik--I'm looking forward to reading more of Toussaint.


Wow, Steve. That is excellent. I hadn't given the other forms of mediation much thought, though in the case of the security monitors that is really just another television, one more example of his being unable to avoid the tv even in the world of fine art.

If you're looking for more Toussaint I'd recommend Making Love (I forget who did the english translation right now).

Dan Wickett

I hadn't given that much thought either Steve, but think you've hit upon something to think about. Though, must admit, I thought the same thing as Derik with the security monitors - just another television.

Rebecca Jane

On the topic of other forms of mediation, I'd like to add that I thought the fact that the narrator was working on a monograph about a painter to be an effective touch up to all the paradox. I especially liked the funny bit about Titan Vecellio (T.V.) dropping his brush and Charles V bending to pick it up. At one potent moment, the narrator acts out this scene with his son. The narrator, bringing up this father/son matrix while trying to figure out whether politics paid deference to art in sixteenth century Italy, made me start to ponder more complicated ways that television mediates relationships: politicians and artists; lenses and cameramen; fathers and sons, etc. Then the lyrical descriptions of the narrator's pregnant wife swimming only made me want to skinny dip in the Mediterranean with my husband. Thanks for recommending this book!


It's true the monitors are another television, but I think Toussaint complicates that similarity. Throughout the novel there are degrees of distance between what the narrator is experiencing internally v. externally. The monitors offer a real-time viewing of what is occuring in an adjacent space, which seems more like the windows through which he observes his neighbors and later the massed viewers of Baywatch (what a great image that is!). The microfiche reader with which he connects to the classics while in the library, also a screen, creates a greater distance in some ways, as do the second- and third-hand routes he takes to Titian through other texts, and the narrator's reference to swimming as 'my work' while he should be writing.

I wouldn't say that the novel champions television, but those variable distances kept surprising and challenging me as I read, which made was a pleasure.


I didn't see the security cameras as just another television (though obviously they are). Like Steve, I saw them as a different viewing mechanism for the painting. Like watching people watch tv, he's watching people look at paintings.
I had assumed that the book would take the stance that narrator realizes how full his life is without television, but it's much more nuanced than that and it made for a much better book I think.


Considering all this mediation, I'm trying to come up with times when the narrator is not having his experience mediated, when he is not doing one thing and thinking another, so to speak. The first I can think of is the rather funny scene in the park where on his way to take a swim in the nude he runs into one of his grant benefactors and author Cees Nooteboom (who I recently read a novel by). That encounter breaks him out of his observations for a moment.

The narrator is often found observing others. Even when he's not watching tv, he still goes about life watching.

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