Froth on the Daydream – Boris Vian (1947, Tr. 1967)
Vian’s best known work is the finest example of what does it mean for a novel to confirm that something exists without neither material nor spiritual proof
First, a couple of explanatory sentences. Every now and then comes a time when one simply knows the end is near. The curtain falls. But before it does, there need to be something left behind. It is an obligation which rejects any doubt as to the necessity of its happening. The last chef d’oeuvre, the swan song – no, wait! – the swan opera. The following text is the first “installment” or – if we follow the trail commenced by the crucial term above – the “overture” of my farewell. So buckle up or sprawl on your couch, if you like. The ugly duckling has finally metamorphosed. And it sings…
Angel made in heaven
All I want is your love
Gimme some of the action, reaction
The Litera(p)ture of Ontological Enchantment
In 1988, my favorite philosopher of late – Gilles Deleuze – published one of the most intellectually enthralling books I have ever read: The Fold. Leibniz and the Baroque. This brilliant lecture not only on notions of Baroque traits and characteristics as an epoch in general, not only on marvelous audacity and holistic tenacity of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s thought, but also a splendid example of Deleuze’s own interpreting prowess, with a prominent allegory of the Baroque House at the forefront – an ample approximation of how human being functions as a Monad – the key concept of Leibniz’s philosophy. This and many more scintillating profundities left me in a state of titillating rapture. I, being a bookworm par excellence, smitten by explosiveness of ruminations, with which The Fold… filled me to the brim, suddenly felt the inexplicable surge in infatuation towards literature, which was even more intense than my usual outbursts of tenderness towards it. So strong was the said affinity it resembled almost some kind of premonition. I just knew something was in store for me. All I had to do was keep my eyes open. So I kept them open. And then it hit me like a stray, flamboyant meteorite, propelled by Deleuze’s high-octane book and my ongoing rapture. The litera(p)ture…
Taking a simultaneous ride on the Ferris wheel of pondering and the roller coaster of excitation, I began mulling over the imaginary endeavor – to take Deleuzian allegory and “redecorate” it with the newly coined term as a heavenly guideline. The problem was I didn’t have any “materials”. Nevertheless, being a firm believer in serendipity, I wasn’t to be left at the mercy of chance. I quickly recalled I had had spectacular (mis)adventures with Nabokov’s Pale Fire which I happened to mention back in the day on one occasion, which have recently been somehow rejuvenated by yet another novel. Both of them, on a completely compossible plain or, rather, fold of perception, escorted me to a path, which in turn led me to the right confluence, allowing me to pick up the best novels along the way and compose my grandest literary ornament so far. The first of the books in question – the “overture” of my farewell opera – is Boris Vian’s 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream.
Entering the Baroque House
I have never shunned from my irrational fascination for metaphysics. The surreal depth of thought it offers, when favorable mental conditions meet appropriate stimuli of questions, always bedazzles, befuddles and bamboozles me thoroughly. Because of it, oftentimes I am hot under the collar, have ants in my pants. I exude overeagerness to ask further questions, to speculate boldly and without an ounce of hesitation, and extend my chain of thoughts via the wild new variety of unpredictable associations. However, the best, the icing-on-a-cake type of sensation I get out of metaphysics is during those rare moments when I see something completely unexpected somewhere where there was no telling in doing so whatsoever. When all the ensuing jumble of jubilation makes me jump out of my bed, for I always read in horizontal position. That was the case with The Fold… It cast a spell on me. It teleported me before the Baroque House itself. I stood in front of it, among the shrubs sheared with pious pruning passion of Edward Scissorhands. I regarded the edifice of the House. Its first floor wide, spacious, with several windows up front, some of them claustrophobically tiny, others gargantuan in size. The second floor, strangely soaring, skyscraper-ish, windowless. It resembled a body of an old overgrown smock mill without the sails. I was enchanted. Breaking off from the mesmerizing stupor, though only slightly, I set my eyes on the main door. The double rectangle of old oak wood pulsed and breathed. Videodrome style. It summoned me. And I stepped inside…
The best and most vivid representation of this rather anthropomorphic yet, on the other hand, simple entrance to the Baroque House of Litera(p)ture is Froth on the Daydream. Vian’s best known work is the finest example of what does it mean for a novel to confirm that something exists without neither material nor spiritual proof (let alone diligently discarding necessity to justify a “taking-it-for-granted” mode of existence). The book doesn’t have to do anything. It just is. Its qualities are pure. The story the Frenchman subjects us to (here, without the nasty connotation the “subject someone to” expression entails by default) is even purer, yet it makes us wander among thoughts and wonder on the fringes of imagination. The Lewis Carroll-ish language conjures up the Wonderland-like world with remarkable ease and without much ado (eels living in sewers being caught using pineapples, ice rink commuters stretching out due to velocities attained on ice, pianocktail concocting fancy cocktails out of fine tunes and even finer spirits, junctiquitarian forced to overbid due to customer’s munificence when bargaining, snow-moles with marmalade furs and noisy dispositions snooping around, rozza-erasers being pulled on rozzers, etc.) – as well as paints hearty, honest, oftentimes absurd exchanges between characters. But this is only the beginning.
There is this oldie with Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak entitled Strangers When We Meet which tells a story of a love affair between two married neighbors. And… that’s it. There’s nothing more. The movie consists only of the said fornication. Of course, there are some additional events within the story which lead to its melodramatic end, some qualities (like wooden acting on Novak’s part) constituting the “meat” of the movie, however they somehow disappear, as if gobbled up by the wholeness and simplicity of the main idea – the love affair in itself. In the same vein, Froth on the Daydream is the story of falling in love and nothing else (notwithstanding the fact, that, in truth, there is more to it than meets the eye). This paradox of having and not having anything else is the main latch on the entrance door to the enchantment. It is, in turn, the first of the openings to our redecorated Baroque House.
The Litera(p)turous interior
The unfolding of love in Froth on the Daydream composes the vestibule of our inflected lathery den. It is reciprocated, the love, free from the deathly torments of its murky, gloomy, unrequited opposite. Wholeheartedness, honesty, exultation, elation, delight – these are the words that come to mind when we recall the suave and chic fondling of reality procured by Colin and Chick – our two main male characters. The willingness, eagerness, the sheer hankering for love exhibited by the former, and the ongoing double limerence of the latter toward Lisa – his girlfriend – and Jean Pulse Hearte’s (sic! [if I may throw in a multi-faceted pun – almost noseating 😉 ) literary and philosophical output – are not only as straight as an arrow, but also surprisingly tender. Suddenly, we are beginning to pine for something similar for us to happen. Colin’s conjugation of the verb “to wish” at the beginning of the chapter X seems almost like a prayer or a chant, which is only one vowel and consonant away from our crucial verb “to enchant”… Not too many pages later do we realize we have already fallen under the spell of the novel, lithely, along a new fold…
Long story short, the characters are purely positive. Even when they do questionable or outright malevolent deeds, they are momentarily and miraculously excused. Vian achieved something truly remarkable – he created dramatis personae lacking in qualitative spectrum yet being able to shine bright with integrity exempt from the one-dimensional naivety and symbolism of fable heroes and heroines. Colin, Chick, Chloe, Nicolas, Lisa and Isis neither fumble with nor fume at themselves, neither forbid themselves, nor resort to pretentious altercations within confines of their psyche, yet they are solidified, far from paper-thin, trite literary machinations a certified bungler would pen. They invoke one charming association – a soft focus photography. The colors of sensations Froth on the Daydream invokes are pastel-like, bland, almost bleached, yet their atmosphere is dreamy, slightly shifted, as if expectant. Why is it so?
The geometry within the Mansion of Litera(p)ture
The end (taken literally here) justifies the means. Thus, I am going to quote Deleuze verbatim in order to show you the “point of departure” of my redecoration of the Baroque House:
Yet the Baroque trait twists and turns its folds, pushing them to infinity, fold over fold, one upon the other. The Baroque fold unfurls all the way to infinity. First, the Baroque differentiates its folds in two ways, by moving along two infinities, as if infinity were composed of two stages or floors: the pleats of matter, and the folds in the soul. Below, matter is amassed according to a first type of fold, and then organized according to a second type, to the extent its part constitutes organs that are “differently folded and more or less developed.'” Above, the soul sings of the glory of God inasmuch as it follows its own folds, but without succeeding in entirely developing them, since “this communication stretches out indefinitely”.
All we need to do is shift the allegory, push and shove it into something more… seductive. The Baroque House ceases to be the allegory of monadic human being. With all of its intricacies and generalizations, nuances and totalities, fluxes and influxes, flexibility and rigidity, redundancies and quintessences, modes of repetitiveness and one-time ingenuity, etc., ad infinitum, the Baroque House turns into a Mansion of Litera(p)ture. Our senses do not unfurl to infinities, swirling and swinging along right to the top room of the soul floor, do not occupy the interior of the first floor. Their motion of riding the wave, trailing along the ever-infinite folds, is overtaken by the geometry of literary intensity.
A cavalcade of immediate questions comes tumbling down on us. What does this new geometry look like? What is it based on? Does it have preferable shapes? What kind of topology of the ontology of letters is permissible here, on the premises? Is it dual? Does the Mansion retain two storys? Why is it based on intensity? Imagine a flicker in the eye casting a smoldering glance, just like the one in the Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s painting The Love Letter, or the other, half-coyly half-blatantly peering from behind a slit in a wavy blonde curtain of a peekaboo hair of Hollywood’s Golden Age star Veronica Lake. Imagine the alluring light of its sparks, the immediacy of shadows permeating your retinas, flirting with an opacity of their possible reciprocation, and their raucous triumph, thundering silently somewhere else, where prepositions give birth to the next generation of word allocations – a grand yet straightforward spaces of sentences to be, to denote, to invoke, to delineate, to subvert, to encrypt, to celebrate, to joke, to multiply, etc. Imagine the geometry of longing for the plausible beginnings of whatever you wished them to begin, as enchanted as Colin was when he danced with Chloe for the first time, as enchanted as I was “enliteraptured” while reading Froth on the Daydream, as enchanted as I wish you truly were at least once in a lifetime. I know you can sense what it all looks like, but are unable to describe it using mere hackneyed words of old. Lucky for us, the true enchantment hates descriptions and loves turning into mutual desire. It craves, covets, yearns to do so with every fiber, every fold of its post-infinity. So keep your eyes open. The Vestibule, the Overture ends here, but the desire that follows is nearer than you think…