Renaud Camus's
Roman Columns

By Lawrence R. Schehr

Nouveau venu, qui cherches Rome en Rome
Et rien de Rome en Rome n'apperçois . . .
Rome de Rome est le seul monument,
Et Rome a vaincu seulement.
Du Bellay

The work to date of the contemporary French author Renaud Camus, best known for the work Tricks, consists of about a dozen volumes that can be separated into three categories. First there is a series of semi-fictional prose, including Passages and Églogues, literary by virtue of a complicated mise-en-texte of imbrications, framings, and high degrees of self-reflexivity and self-consciousness. The second group consists of a pair of historical novels, Roman roi and Roman furieux, the second of which was written contemporaneously with Journal romain. The third group of texts includes essays, observations, notes, and autobiographical pieces that are acute observations of life, and often subtle and wry commentaries on a specific subculture of homosexuality. These works include Buena Vista Park, Notes achriennes, and Journal d'un Voyage en France. They form a corpus of a moraliste - in the best French sense of someone who does not moralize but observes morals and mores. Two more texts are works sui generis: Tricks and the Journal romain. Tricks is a series of short narratives about encounters between the author and various other men. What sets this work apart within the confessional genre is that it lacks the posturing of John Rechy's Numbers, the narcissism of pornography in general, the politics of betrayal of Jean Genet, and even the confessional mode of Proust or Gide. Tricks tells tales, both matter-of-factly and with stylistic élan; unlike other works of this genre, it never disguises its own comfortable amorality with any sort of rhetoric: Tricks is a text pleased with itself.

The Roman Experience

The more recent Journal romain, published in 1987, followed two years later by its companion piece, Vigiles, is a lengthy diary of a two-year stay in Rome. While seeming at first to be no more than the Italian continuation of Journal d'un voyage en France, Journal romain is distinct from the earlier work in several ways. Journal romain intertwines and brings into question three strains of discourse: that of history (the writing of Rome itself), that of power (here relating to homosexuality), and the personal discourse of the writing ego. Journal romain is both the display of the writer's consciousness of his craft and an autocritique of a discourse that has never before questioned its own means of production or its powers, which may not be sufficient for describing Rome.

Awarded the "Prix de Rome," Renaud Camus comes to Rome for a two-year stay in the Villa Médicis in 1985 where he completes a novel, Roman furieux - ostensibly his main work while in Rome (JR 165) and the continuation of an earlier novel entitled Roman roi. The books are an engaging and well-written pair of historical novels dealing with the last scion of a fictional East European monarchy set in a Romania-like place called Carinthia. However, since Roman furieux is a continuation of a narrative model obeying rules other than those of Rome, I will focus here on the Roman text of the Journal romain, which is initially presented as a product of the author's own graphomania, and secondary to the project of writing the novel.

The Journal romain is neither a marginal text nor a parasitic one; in its own right, and more strongly than any of the author's other works, it engages the problematic of discourse. Part of the reason for this engagement is situational: Journal romain starts out as a column for the French weekly magazine Gai Pied, a publication geared toward an engaged, leftist, middle-class male homosexual readership. This is a relatively affluent group - recently nicknamed "Guppies" in the United States - whose members use the Minitel, have white-collar jobs, and are presumably well-disposed to the belles-lettres of a writer like Camus. As a running column for Gai Pied, Journal romain has a public face as a travelogue and guidebook to Rome as accurate as (and often more perceptive than) a Guide Bleu or a Guide Michelin. Given the special interests of the readership, there is another aspect to this public face: it is a diary-like record of cultural, social, and sexual activity. But there is a private face to the work as well: it is a very personal and subjective record of a consciousness trying to write in and about Rome. For this writer and his readership, homosexuality, if personal, is neither shameful, hidden, nor marginalized; the struggles of a writer, however, are perhaps all of these.

If the book were merely the transcription of a set of weekly columns for a French journal, it would still be interesting for the perspicacity of its observations and the "pleasures of its style." But the book's entries continues long after the editor of Gai Pied writes Camus that the weekly chronicle is to be discontinued. Mention of the letter is made on page 146 of a book that continues for another three hundred pages or so. Freed from the exigencies of immediate marketing, the text becomes both more revealing and more complicated. In its state of minimal censorship, in its active exploration of a consciousness writing in and about Rome, it is the record of a conflict and conjunction of discourses with which Camus must come to terms. There is a pre-existing discourse that is the textuality of Rome; there is also a personal and sociological discourse of homosexuality.

The Discourse of Rome

Camus's discourse on Rome has, of course, literary and historical antecedents, from Stendhal's Italian disease to Freud's urban geography at the beginning of Civilization and Its Discontents, from Madame de Staël's novel-tourbook, Corinne, to the other illness that Edith Wharton calls "Roman Fever." Despite the fact that Rome has served as the touchstone for innumerable texts and that any author approaching it risks repeating past writing, the singularity of the Eternal City is necessary for Renaud Camus. No other spot, not even Paris, will allow for such probing of the act of inscription; no other spot will test his power as an author quite so exigently.

It has long been a literary commonplace to be disappointed in one's visit to Rome. Of the Sistine Chapel, Camus says: "I never penetrated it without having a disappointed feeling" (JR 154). The traveler seeking "the grandeur that was Rome" is faced with a mass of ruins, dilapidated old neighborhoods, and fragments of former luxury, but few signs of the grandeur he hoped to find. The few intact monuments, signs of Rome's own glory, are most often of Christian, not classical Rome. Edifices from the Renaissance such as St. Peter's or Santa Maria Maggiore are obtrusively present unto themselves, and marked with an auto-reflexivity that calls attention to their own wonder and monumentality. They do not merely indicate a religion whose glory they celebrate, but also a semiocentrism that indicates the work of art as a glory unto itself.

The sign in Rome indicates itself, what it signifies, and what it once signified. Roman churches signal a phantom classical Rome now found only in the texts of that period. The visitor to Rome is both delighted and frustrated by the juxtaposition of the two Romes: the fragments of classical ruins, and the plenitudes of the Renaissance. This juxtaposition undercuts any enduring concept of the sublime by the evidence of the whole to an order of temporality and change in which the sublime has no place. This juxtaposition has also given rise to a set of literary texts that consist of diagrams of walks, maps, layers, puzzles, solutions. Rome is viewed as a text to be decrypted, sign by sign, bit by bit; strange juxtapositions are the "proper" figures of Rome, its metaphors and metonymies being the very stuff of which Rome as a text is woven. Its truth is not in a Greek temple of beauty and knowledge, but in a map that is never quite readable. To come to Rome prepared to write is to come prepared to assimilate what one has read, and to add another layer to the bibliographic map of the Eternal City.

Irony and the Discourse of Homosexuality

Up to the Journal romain, Camus had viewed homosexuality rather idealistically. He had seen it as neither a problem nor as part of a binary opposition to heterosexuality, in which homosexuality would be an acceptable alternative to the dominant mode of sexual orientation. For such an "acceptable" alternative would place homosexuality in a position secondary to an institution and its power. And Camus's idealism does not accept being a second-best:

"It will have become clear: I am pro-integration. Homosexual, for example, I am in no way attached to any marginality for homosexuality, which seems both masochistic and mystical, completely religious in spirit. I rise neither against society nor against morality, but on the contrary, I rely on them, ideally, to criticize society and morality where they stand." (NMT 104)

Thus homosexuality is not or should not be subject to a power system that Michel Foucault, for example, has discussed in relation to various discursive practices, including writing about sexuality. In fact, Camus's consistent critique of heterosexual power uses the very structures of that power for a differential critique. [1] Camus does not accept the possibility of a discourse that establishes (properly or improperly) its own domain. Even if there is an undeniable semiotics of homosexuality, for Camus, it is subject to its own undoing.

Camus refuses an essence to the discourse of homosexuality; he promulgates a tropics of irony to undo any conscious or unconscious reassertion of inherent power, validity, or propriety in the discourse of another. While not marginalizing his discourse as such, he stresses the natural impropriety of a discourse of homosexuality, the recognition of which is its center and its right:

"The note, the fragment, the contradiction, the repetition, the "novelistic," the autobiographical, the subjective, the quotation, the nuance: thus homosexuality cannot pin itself down in discourse, in a doctrine, in the allusion of the exhaustive or the definitive. Since it is existence before it is essence, it is invented anew for each person, meeting, or word."

"On the other hand, one could also play on words and say that "homosexuality" is only discourse, and from that, very identifiable, easily determined, and historically and geographically fixed (from the appearance of the term itself in 1869)." (NA 26)

Thus if the discourse is marked by a dominant other, this is only within the terms of the discourse of power that "thinks" the term by starting with its own false propriety. Within its own discourse, homosexuality undercuts its own position by remarking the fictions of its own semiotics. Hence for Camus, homosexuality has its own inherent trope of irony in every situation: to be homosexual or to talk about homosexuality is necessarily to be ironic.

Irony and "Bathmology"

The discourse of the author conscious of this game of propriety also uses a subtle tropics of irony, by which, for example, homosexuality is both a discourse and its fragments, fictionalization, or misappropriation. This irony is itself the subject matter of Buena Vista Park, in which Camus has assembled a miscellany of observations of human behavior from a "bathmological" point of view. Following Roland Barthes, Camus uses the word "bathmology"to indicate a set of behaviors and reactions graduated by degrees of magnitude, irony, and/or reflexivity:

"If you use the exception to the rule, most people will think you don't know the rule. If you use the exception to the exception to the rule, which most of the time, consists of a return to the norm, most people will think you don't known the exception to the exception." (BVP 24)

Thus Camus would seem to be well-armed for his writing of Rome: he has the knowledge necessary for seeing "Rome in Rome," the comprehension for understanding Renaissance Rome as a self-proclaiming sign of itself, urbi et orbi. This flexibility comes from a bathmological reintegration of his own marginalized discourse of homosexuality, returned not to a center, but to a decentered discursive grid, deprived of any pre-standing power. And finally - for in this idealized universe there still must be some laws - Camus returns repeatedly to a law of mutual understanding, tolerance, freedom, politeness - in short, civilization. And this, by and large, is reflected in the book as a whole.

In Search of a Semiotics of Roman Civility

As a project then, the Journal romain becomes the personal semiotics of Camus's stay in Rome, measured by a theoretical discourse, a modifying praxis, backed by knowledge and filtered through a consciousness that distills its observations into an ordered text. And in the first part of the book, from the beginning through the termination of the writing contract with Gai Pied, there is a set of thoughts about the Eternal City in which Camus attempts to fix a certain vision of Rome. As if he were a scion of Henry James, Camus reflectively reads the city that once gave the world a set of words that define both Rome and the world: city, civilization, civility. These are the words that should help define and redefine a semiotics of civility in Rome.

Camus starts out, almost despite himself, in search of a new set of definitions. The rules by which he has lived and the modes of producing discourse have become so banal that all subtlety and difference have fallen by the wayside. According to Camus, even in Paris there has been a misguided zeal that sees democratization as equalization instead of as plurality; what passes for civilization has for Camus become lamentably disappointing. As he ironically notes,

"Sincerity, frankness, the "natural" being supreme values, nothing is more praiseworthy than having only one language and speaking the same way to anyone in any situation." (JR 26)

Yet Camus does not turn to Rome with some false hope of Romantic renewal: he is aware of the limitations of a view of Rome. He also knows that Rome will not provide a permanent answer to what he would consider the decline of Western civilization. Rome cannot be seen before it is read through the words of another. Even if Camus chooses the Spartacus guide (a gay guidebook) instead of a Baedeker (55), Rome still must be read in someone else's words before one's own apply. If the Spartacus signals the Monte Caprino instead of the Janiculum as being "worth the detour," this new sort of guidebook still must be read before difference can be determined. So as one might suspect, Roman semiotics becomes a reading of signs of others who have already read Rome.

Stendhal as a Point of Reference

In addition to Spartacus, there is another textual vade mecum, literary in nature: Stendhal's Promenades dans Rome. Stendhal functions as a pretext and as a point de repère for Camus in literature. As is well-known from his autobiographical writings, Stendhal made much of his amorous conquests in Italy. Stendhal's success figures as a literary pretext for what Camus hopes will be his own success both in writing and in sex, his own Roman antics. [2] Yet when Camus reaches an impasse in both areas, not even Stendhal can provide much help; Camus notes that he has been reading Stendhal for over two months and has not read a quarter of the work (165). Even the non-reading of Stendhal becomes significant for Camus, as a sign of his own impasse. Later, when Camus is beginning to see his way around this impasse, Stendhal's text again serves as an index. This time, however, it is as the substrate for the text of another: Camus comments on del Litto's edition of Stendhal where, through copious notes, del Litto corrects Stendhal's exaggerations and tells the reader where Stendhal might be lying.

Stendhal serves as a sort of talisman for Camus. In having been edited (even badly), Stendhal is a successful author who has been published. Despite Camus's previous successes and his current graphomania, he seems to fear the possibility of a non-continuation of his text - of this text. Hence, he underlines overcoming the impasse with redoubled references to Stendhal. Stendhal's text does not give the answers, but serves to reassure: another littéraire has conquered the slippery heterogeneity of the Roman semiotics of text and of sex. With that assurance, Camus can forge ahead.

Personal Discourse

Camus tells us that the point at which the ego inserts its own text is a point like Barthes's punctum: the point in the photo that piques my interest, that points to me. [3] The fixed point of Roman semiotics is as yet undiscovered for Camus, though one suspects that he believes for a while that this defining punctum will be found in the ludic sexuality of the Monte Caprino, where free-play defines both the personal and geographic systems. Yet the Monte Caprino turns into stylized patterns of disengagement - hardly the needed point of reflection. At times it would seem that there is no point that can encompass a view of Rome and a definition of self: "Rome is all askew [de guingois]. Symmetries are rare and perspectives are constantly cut off" (43).

What seems to fill this absence is not any real point, but an artificially determined one, a fetish invested with the desire that there be a point. The fetish would encompass the fragment or ruin whose whole comes from the investment of desire and vision. It would include the essential figure of the Baroque, Rome's own style - the detail separate from the whole. Because he can determine neither heart nor essential point, Camus is willing to allow the fetish to substitute for the missing point from which he might say that he sees a symmetry. The fetish becomes the focal point, though by its nature it refuses focus in perspective.

In fetishizing Rome or, metonymically, the body parts and appearances of its citizens, Camus can still operate a bathmological reversal: the detail can be substituted for some perfect but unreachable perspective in which self and other are seen. This bathmological reversal is necessary to the validity of the fetish. But Rome does not permit such a reversal to occur; in fact, there is a refusal at every level of the possibility of reversal. Within fetishism, there is an ideal that may be theoretically attained, though with difficulty:

"The taste for fetishism is not easy to satisfy fully. First you must find the object of the fetish in question and that is not always so easy. Then the possessor of this object-fetish must not only be willing to let you enjoy it, but also, and this is the best of all, he must seem to find as much pleasure as you in your use of it." (67)

Yet the manners of Rome allow neither this reciprocity nor any symmetry whatever; even in the realm of the sexual, Rome stays resolutely de guingois:

"Nothing is more opposed to the homosexuality I like, homosexuality in a strict, full sense, all symmetrical, than these one-way cruisings, like those one usually sees addressed to women." (63)

One can infer then that the problem of Roman semiotics - sexual here, but eventually general - is that the sign is both the mark of the thing and its opposite or its past; it is the figure of a paradox but with a complete absence of irony: "The paradox is that this attitude of an untouchable virgin, to be seduced, seems to be considered virility here" (63). Strangely then for Camus, the semiotics of Roman homosexuality reproduces the improprieties of an official discourse and enthroned power that are eternally proclaiming their own innocence. The third position, the one that perceives symmetry, is not absent, for it too is transformed, but at a price; instead of the sublime point of realization of self and other, there is a parasitic system of one-way streets, power differentials, and systematized abuses:

"Cruising here works by low masses, small messages to be sent, interventions of a third party, with eyelids lowered. It's The Barber of Seville. All these Roman gays who think of themselves as so virile and dignified in their sad, vulgarly petty bourgeois standoffishness [quant-à-soi] are just so many Rosines, false ingenues dreaming of becoming countesses." (65) [4]

Having a parasitic message system is anathema to Camus because it both distorts any free-play of the subject and eliminates the possibility of his language ever being anything but an acquiescence, an opposition, or at worst, a part of the improper system of discourse. Camus's Baedeker has led him to discover a Rome that should be his, but the semiotics of Roman homosexuality seem to form an unchangeable block that prevents the author from realizing the pleasure of finding his Roman discourse, his own combination of fragments and autoreflexivity in his Roman columns.

The Semiotics of Roman Homosexuality

With the excuse for writing - i.e., the material base for writing - having disappeared, it is as if, at the level of semiotics, Camus were now able to reform his view of Rome unhampered by an attachment to the materiality of the sign. Since nothing justifies these pages except a will to write, it becomes clear to Camus that there is perhaps no material base to a semiotics of Roman homosexuality. In that case, the punctum would be the disappearance of Rome itself as a transcendental value conferred by the reader (Camus) on the system. Almost despite himself, Camus realizes that there is no justifiable reason for insisting that Roman semiotics be grounded in some transcendentally valued vision of Rome. Though this realization is never announced as such, within twenty pages after the announcement of the discontinuation of the columns for Gai Pied, Camus discovers an arbitrary nature to the sign in Rome that is conveyed in some telling comments. He realizes for example that "the ideal of the Italian homosexual, or, in any case, the Roman, is to be invisible" (146). It is already clear to the attentive reader of Journal romain that the Roman would willingly exempt himself from being read, and thus, from having a significance in the eyes of the other that is not determined by his own stereotyped sign system. But it is only at this point that Camus seems to become aware of it himself.

Yet he is still unwilling to accept that this sexuality refuses to be an engaged discourse for itself or a visible and comprehensible semiotic object for another. These qualities, present in Florence and Milan, seem to disappear when the invisible line is crossed between Tuscany and Latium. And it is unacceptable that meaningfulness should have disappeared from Rome, of all places, even if this meaningfulness has disappeared in a theatricalization of communication elsewhere. (Camus notes with displeasure (145) that the entertainment industry in Paris has become affected by an autoreflexivity that he sees as an impasse.) Paris may fail him, but Rome should not. Again, in Paris, he deplores the constant misuse of language; it is not that he seeks an absolute meaning, but he sees in the misuse a negative of the possibility of meaning: "The relation of the adjective to the noun it modifies is more and more vague" (181). So Camus is not holding up French meaning, logic, or clarity as a model, against which the will to invisibility or the parasitic nature of the Roman system is to be measured, disparagingly. For the autoreflexivity of one part of the French system is just as parasitic - in the form of hollow, self-destructive feedback - as the system of Roman homosexuality. It is rather that Camus cannot accept this sterility in a domain in which he least expected it. If it has appeared in institutionalized communication, the vulgar use of language, or even current social manners, he can accept it by writing against it. But in the matter of sexuality, writing itself serves no purpose.

 As opposed to meaning, meaningfulness is the possibility of meaning(s), the potential for sense, the plurality of possibilities. Meaningfulness results from the constraints inherent in a semiotic system confronted by - and acting together with - the freeplay of the signifier. [5] Meaningfulness is not the one-to-one correspondence of signifier and signified nor is it even the range of connotations offered within a standard encoding. Meaningfulness depends on the undeniable point of subjectivity, the punctum in the photo, or the jouissance in the text, that Camus's teacher Roland Barthes endlessly underscored in all of his writing. So if Camus objects to a perverse flattening out of language or manners, it is because such an action reduces the plurality within meaningfulness:

"The deplorable state of manners is seen everywhere in Paris these days. I fully believe that it comes from ignorance and from the breakdown of social codes, that is to say, languages." (181)

As an author, Camus can fight this breakdown of language with language: he can do his work, he can write his novel Roman furieux (165). But he cannot use language to combat the flattening out of a sexual semiotics that turns the meaningfulness of sexuality into a theatricalized version of male and female signs, with no play (free- or fore-) whatsoever.

Erotomania and Graphomania

And yet this insistence on sexuality, even as it reaches impasse after impasse, does not disappear, but finds its way into this text as fuel for Camus's writing. Repressed within the main writing (Roman furieux is perhaps the most chaste of the author's books up to that point), this sexuality becomes part of the writing. In fact the very criticism of the writing of Journal romain threatens to consume the project since Camus's erotomania and graphomania have become linked:

"Almost six o'clock in the evening; it's dark outside and I haven't gotten back to Furious. It is I who is furious, at myself. It is necessary to reserve for the true work, the novel, the whole afternoon, from two to eight, and only give the Journal what other time that can be found in the morning or evening. This rule will also combat my bio-graphomania a bit." (188).

Thus the true work for Camus is the novel, the work about an imaginary country in which he can control the semiotics in which he is immersed. And yet the Journal romain is not marginal; its passion tends to invade the space of literary production; frustrated with la dolce vita, Camus fills his text with the sexuality refused in a more carnal sense. (Oddly enough then, the Romans become correct in their perception of the dangers of sexuality, for it threatens to consume Camus's text.)

By this point, Camus has at least sorted out affairs: if we read Journal romain as the record of a consciousness coming to terms with its actions and frustrations, we are aware of the moment when Camus consciously figures out the distributions of functions and signs in the various realms of writing and sexuality. We now know in detail why the Journal romain is far more than an unmediated diary of a two-year stay in Rome, though it is certainly a record of that stay. And it is more than a traditional recounting of coming to terms with Rome by writing yet one more commentary on certain cultural aspects of the Eternal City. Nor is it only a realization of what the author perceives as sociopathic behavior - whether in the sterility of the French mass media, the vulgarization of linguistic and behavioral codes in Paris, or the perverseness of the semiotics of Roman homosexuality. The Journal romain is all of these, but also the record of their realization; it is this record that provides a theory of textuality for those behaviors. For it is only when Camus has realized what drives him to write that he is able to come to terms with the foibles of Roman homosexuality. When he realizes that the failure to enjoy the system is itself an erotic drive, he turns this eroto-criticism into text as his pen finally becomes his phallus: "I pushed a table in front of the large French doors that face the city. So I have all of Rome at the tip of my pen" (227).

Able to frame his renewed concept of Roman homosexuality, Camus can determine the elements of Roman sexology. This Rome steadfastly refuses to present an objective system of laws; it proffers instead a series of one-way streets endlessly violated by the Romans themselves. If the rule seems to be one of invisibility, Camus respects it until a Roman violates it; this is all the more problematic since for once the Roman code and Camus's own code seemed initially to jive: "[h]is only error was . . . to have asked me to suck him, something which is not asked for in my own personal code" (217). Even when he understands the code, it seems to disappear before his eyes in a paradox of endlessly self-violating laws by which, for example, it is wrong to show one's desire, even narcissistically, except when one wants to show one's desire.

What seems to irk Camus beyond measure is an inconsistency in the system, a caprice that seems so un-Roman as to put the very Roman-ness of the Romans in doubt: "Oddly enough for these supposed heirs of the Romans, Italians have no true sense of the law" (248).

Looking for a law that will be applicable, Camus does not yet seem to realize that the space of the law is a negative one. Instead of being an organic or logical continuity, the paradigms and rules of the various discourses (including Rome itself as the sum of these discourses) endlessly give way to their own negation. The space of the law in Rome is precisely that space from which the law is endlessly retreating, to become wholly absent. And thus a discourse like that of Roman sexuality can have only two forms, neither of which corresponds to Camus's idealistic and idealized polysemy: the channels of communication and the retreat from engagement. There are channels that are unavoidably present: even on a one-way street one can go only one wrong way. So in terms of the channels of homosexual communication, "all these Italians are terribly genito-anal: hand jobs, blow jobs, fingers in the ass, and attempts to bugger [enculage]; outside [sortis] of that, they are neither very knowledgeable nor very curious" (263).

No possibility of free-play appears. For Camus, free-play normally takes two forms, but both of them seem to be absent from Roman consciousness. First of all, there is the polysemy, the free-play of signs within a system. Accepting a series of channels, Camus seeks to explore all their ramifications as well as the unchanneled spaces they define. To this end, he would provide a renewed code of behavior that determines the rules of the game but not the actions of the players; his would be a game that allows for polysemy: "I should perhaps put together a written chart of the tolerated, in the realm of the flesh" (254). Along with the free-play is what one might call the supplement to Camus's system, its Witz, that remains for Camus something that is far from gratuitous:

"Italians never stop asking me, in sexual situations, why I am smiling, which seems to preoccupy them quite a bit. For them, making love is something completely serious - for me too, but not in the same way - and even a bit "dramatic," where any bit of humor can only be out of place." (277)

Thus Camus has established what he perceives to be the possible bases for action or discourse, be it his or that of the Romans. But it never happens in Rome; it exists elsewhere (Paris, Florence) and in his books. Despite his evident frustration with the situation, he can still continue with his real work, since sexual activity was after all a supplement to the writing. And we would continue to presume that the real work is the writing of the novel. Yet just as he is realizing how free-play and supplements are not acceptable in the Roman system, he makes a remark that comes as a surprise to the reader:

"Is this an intimate journal? No. Its particular nature is due to the circumstances of its launching. In front of the jury of the Academy of France, I had agreed to keep a "Roman journal." Then I published extracts each week in Gai Pied." (273)

The reader initially believed that Camus's work for the "Prix de Rome" was the novel, and that the Journal romain was a marginal text for a review; it was only the writer's own admitted biographomania that let him continue to write these pages after the contractual excuse was no longer present. But now the reader finds that it is this Journal romain itself, a series of fragments and necessarily a self-referential work, that is the texte de base of the enterprise.

The Text as Literary Object

Within the literary artifact there is finally a statement that, even taken as a fragment or as a mark of autoreflexivity, allows the reader to assemble the various strands that are simultaneously process and reflection, activity and discourse, action and critique: Rome, homosexuality, the meaningfulness of text, and writing itself. And this is accomplished without having to rely on the fiction of a unified ego that writes. For traditionally, the coherence of an autobiographical text comes from the presumed integral nature of the writing subject. Even if a theoretical critique makes evident the faults of the subject, even if a split in the subject is seen, the text itself is read as a suture of that split. But in any case, the fundamentally referential nature of the text is never seriously put in doubt.

Yet this suturing is a fiction; when examined critically the referentiality seems doubtful. Certainly, Renaud Camus is a real person (though with varying noms de plume); [6] his self-identity as an author is less clear. Each new text changes the quondam definition of the author; each new reading modifies the polysemy of the whole. Hence, the suturing by text is itself an act of fiction and Journal romain no longer appears to be simply a diary whose backbone comes from the physical reality of Renaud Camus, the civil identity of the same individual with a carte d'identité, or even some Kantian categories of space (Rome) and time (1985-86).

Camus states that "it was then decided to publish it in a volume rather quickly" (273). But despite such disclaimers that invoke a minimum of reflexivity, the identity of the author of the text comes from the polysemy of every aspect of the text itself. This includes not only the strands that Camus has consciously determined: a logology of fetishism, a grammar of Roman homosexuality, a personal Baedeker, a diary of the production of a novel, and a reflection of a two-year stay in Rome. It also includes the double act of fragmentation and autoreflexivity that comes from a juxtaposition of these strands in and as text, unsupported by the pre-existing excuses of identity and contracts.

If then the text is a literary object and not an explication, even when it tells the truth, it is literary by virtue of the fact that its multiple discourses are marked with the desire to tell themselves, to seek their own object of knowledge, and to describe that object fully. Instead of a certainty enunciated without rhetoric, there is a degree of recursion of the text on itself that is the sign of its own literarity. The infolding of the text at the point that the author has assented to the unfoundedness of his own position is the reflection of the message given to him by Rome: no position is that of the truth or of the whole. And not coincidentally, this infolding corresponds to the author's own infolding as a human subject:

"The clearest effect of Italy on me, aside from Italophobia, will have been to put me back in a habit almost completely neglected for twenty years, masturbation. What an amazing number of babies from the Auvergne can get lost among the floor boards, under my desk, in my house in the woods." (297)

This sexual response then is not only the soothing of Camus's frustrated desires, but also the mark in the text of the infolding of his work back on itself and himself. This act is both autoreflexive and fragmentary, since it is incomplete and replete with lost "babies from the Auvergne." The ultimate masturbatory status of the text is reflected in the theory of textual production that could not be arrived at or deduced from an irresolutely French logic.

There is a negation at the point of the observer caught in the unsolvable nexus of flight and negation. On the one hand, "this city's ´syntax,' use, mode d'emploi, continue to escape me" (333). On the other, the ideal of invisibility has announced its true colors. It is no longer a question of appearing or not appearing but of both at the same time: the Italian homosexual's ideal "is to force the other to express his desire, without showing any himself" (362). Meaningfulness is not merely a game of the author but an effect of the text produced. Thus one finds that the Journal romain has turned itself into a text that resembles the contradictory discourse of Rome itself, endlessly fragmentary and autoreflexive but never integrally whole. Even the author's own reading of his novel seems to reflect this as he realizes that his writing experience in Rome is not the closure of his two-volume historical novel, but the imperfect openness, meaningfulness without meaning, of his Roman columns:

"This afternoon I finished writing Roman furieux. Good, something done. But when I've had to reread certain passages recently, they sometimes seemed to me to be presentable and other times mediocre or worse. . . . My opinion depended on the time of day, my mood, the light, my tiredness, and on the kind of reader I imagined in my stead." (415)

So the truth of Camus's literature depends not on the permanence of past text but on the absent point, the negativity that has come to replace the Baedekers, the Spartacus, Stendhal, or Camus's own texts, fictions, and being.

The final strength of Camus's Journal romain is that it provides the reader with a new version of intertextuality in the world of the maps, guides, and endless texts on both the ruins and monuments of Rome: the function of the intertext is to disappear and enable an absence. It is only then that a new text can come in its stead. It is no wonder then, that in the book published after Journal romain and Roman furieux, entitled Elegies pour quelques-uns, which, not coincidentally, is made up of earlier texts only now put together, edited, done, and redone, the author finally notes the absence: "books always refer to other books, absent; words to other sentences; illusions to other hopes, and blanks on a page to other silences, other dreams; misunderstandings, to God" (EPQ 80).

It remains to be seen how the documenter of Tricks, who is also the author of Journal romain, builds on this new-found but frightening negativity. For the moment, the most recent publication does not show that Camus has conquered this negativity. In Esthétique de la solitude, he seems to be branching out into new territory: that of the writer alone with his thoughts. Since sexual and social dimensions are almost completely absent, there are fewer cavils than before. Alone with his thoughts, he is less of a renaudeur (ES 218), more of a meditator. Camus without sex is something new; one can only wait to see where this new chastity leads.

University of South Alabama


The following abbreviations are used for Renaud Camus's works.

BVP Buena Vista Park. Paris: Hachette, P.O.L., 1980.

CA Chroniques achriennes. Paris: P.O.L., 1984.

EPQ Elégies pour quelques-uns. Paris: P.O.L., 1988.

ES Esthétique de la solitude. Paris: P.O.L., 1990.

JR Journal romain. Paris: P.O.L., 1987.

NA Notes achriennes. Paris: Hachette/P.O.L., 1982.

NMT Notes sur les manières du temps. Paris: P.O.L., 1985.

RF Roman furieux. Paris: P.O.L., 1987.

RR Roman roi. Paris: P.O.L., 1983.


1. In Histoire de la sexualité, 3 vols. (Paris, Gallimard, 1976-84), Michel Foucault makes the point that throughout the past 150 years or so, the quantity of discourse on sexuality has increased enormously, a fact that allowed for "the solidification and implantation of a whole set of sexual disparities" (1:71). But the power of scientificity and categorization that Foucault touts instead of the repression of sexuality (and I think Foucault may willfully be confusing discourse with behavior) is still anathema to Renaud Camus, who prefers the non-separation of Deleuze and Guattari's desiring machines to Foucault's classification of sexual disparities.

2. Camus's choice of the very heterosexual Stendhal is indicative of the way Camus refuses to divide the world into separate but equal (or unequal) sexual realms.

3. Roland Barthes, La Chambre claire. Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma (Gallimard Seuil), 1980. Pp. 48ff.

4. The comparison is perhaps not the best, since the Rosine of The Barber of Seville thinks nothing of the sort and seeks love with Lindoro, whom she believes to be a poor student; she also seeks freedom from an abusive system. Adele in Die Fledermaus might have been a better comparison.

5. I am giving the opposition a somewhat different definition than that provided by Ross Chambers in his article "Meaning and Meaningfulness," in his book of the same name. Chambers writes: ". . . the meaning which is the product of a text's semantic and formal structures is not identifiable with the meaningfulness the same text derives from its being apprehended in a context" (Lexington, Ky.: French Forum, 1979, p. 135).

6. Camus varies the "author's names" of his books; thus Roman furieux is by "Jean-Renaud Camus" and Roman roi is by "Renaud Camus."