Virginie Iché, L’esthétique du jeu dans les Alice de Lewis Carroll, préface de Jean-Jacques Lecercle
Virginie Iché, L’esthétique du jeu dans les Alice de Lewis Carroll, préface de Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Paris: L’Harmattan, coll. ‘Critiques littéraires’, 2015, 254 p. ISBN: 978-2-343-07927-1
1As one would expect, many studies have already been written about Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass but Virginie Iché’s has quite an original approach to them. L’esthétique du jeu dans les Alice de Lewis Carroll is indeed focused on the study of play and game(s) in the two Alice books, as an element of the stories but also in Carroll’s writing and style. This angle is particularly relevant in a work in which games play a significant, albeit manifold, role, and it helps Iché deliver an innovative and multi-faceted reading of it.
2As Virginie Iché remarks in her introduction, Carroll’s love of games and wordplays is well known. As a boy he frequently entertained his siblings with games of logic, puzzles, tricks, riddles, and as an adult he devised a number of games. The Alice books themselves are full of references to games, from chess and croquet, whose appearance can be attributed to Carroll’s own interest and participation in these activities, to imaginary games like the Caucus race. His characters, too, are fond of all kinds of wordplay: they relish puns, riddles, playing with homophones, polysemy and any type of linguistic ambiguity, be it lexical, semantic or syntactic. True to the spirit of literary nonsense, which does not mean lack of sense but lack of an expected (good or common) sense, the narrator himself also enjoys playing with the reader and his expectations. This is why the key chosen by Iché to analyse the Alice books enables her to yield an all-encompassing interpretation: in them, games are at the same time diegetic, narratological, stylistic and linguistic.
3The first part of the book is entitled ‘Les dispositifs ludiques’. It is intended as a study of game as a structural element in the story, and how it structures the story itself. Its first goal is to make an unprecedented attempt at describing and listing all the games and toys present in the Alice books and, doing so, to uncover the true nature of game(s) in Carroll’s books. In this part, Iché combines many different theories and approaches to game(s), Roger Caillois’s, which is central, but also Colas Duflo’s, Johan Huizinga’s or Emile Benveniste’s. They enable her to identify how Carrollian game(s) truly works. Duflo’s concept of ‘légaliberté’, ‘legafreedom’, is particularly instrumental in bringing to light the tension and subversion at work in Carroll’s universe between liberty and rules, or to use Caillois’s words, paidia, rule-free, instinctive playing, and ludus, rule-governed playing. This part then goes on to study the links between Wonderland and the Looking-Glass world and Mikhaïl Bakthine’s conception of the carnivalesque, particularly when it comes to power and authority.
4In the second part, ‘L’invitation à jouer’, the study of game(s) turns to the structure of the books themselves: how they are organized, how the story is told. ‘Legafreedom’, which has been studied as an organizing principle inside the world of the two Alice books, is now seen as a key feature of Carroll’s story-telling. Virginie Iché, through a meticulous analysis of both macro- and micro-structures shows how Carroll plays with the expectations of the reader at every level of the textual structure, from sentence to chapter. This part is really about the essence of literary nonsense. Therefore, it includes a chapter about wordplay and how it constitutes a subtle attempt at disrupting common sense, and about intertextuality in the two books.
5Last but not least, the third and last part, ‘Du lecteur joué au lecteur jouant’, revolves around the role and place of the reader in the Alice books. It begins as an attempt at determining whether the reader is invited to a playful and active reading or, as Iché’s previous analysis of intertextuality would suggest at first, if he or she is confined to a rather limited playing field. The answer, which relies on a very relevant opposition between Wolfgang Iser’s and Umberto Eco’s conception of the textual ‘blanks’ to be filled by the reader, is contrasted. The reader is indeed given a place in the story as he or she is promoted to a role of virtual reader seemingly invited to ‘fill in the blanks’, that is play and interact with the story. However, Iché shows this role is at the same time circumscribed by the very economy of the text which invites him or her to play. The textual blanks that the virtual reader has to fill are not spaces of liberty but the ‘already said’ which has been erased. The Carrollian reader is thus him- or herself caught in a paradoxical position reminiscent of the ‘legafreedom’ at work in the story. However, this reflection on the role of the virtual reader and the Model Reader does not stop here and is coupled with a reflection on the real reader, inspired by Althusser and Butler’s conceptions of interpellation and subjectification. And this is where all the pieces of Iché’s analytical puzzle come together: the real reader, who is interpellated by the texts, can counter-interpellate them. He or she is thus made a subject, at the same time subjected and subjectified, and it is through this process of subjectification that he or she really becomes a playing reader.
6This conclusion is why Virginie Iché’s study of the Alice books is truly original: the dialectic of freedom and constraint, of ‘legafreedom’, echoes the dialectic of interpellation, which at the same time subjects the reader and makes it possible for him or her to become a subject, just as the rules make the game possible but also limit the player’s freedom. In the end, this double dialectic turns out to be the key to understanding not only how the story works, but also Carroll’s aesthetics of play and the formation of subjects (readers, characters and authors alike) in the Alice books.
Pour citer cet article
Célia Schneebeli, « Virginie Iché, L’esthétique du jeu dans les Alice de Lewis Carroll, préface de Jean-Jacques Lecercle », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 83 Printemps | 2016, mis en ligne le 13 mai 2016, consulté le 23 mars 2017. URL : http://cve.revues.org/2660Haut de page
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