To View or Not to View? Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s Televisual Imaginary

Auteur / Author: 
Arcana ALBRIGHT (Albright College, États-Unis)
Mardi 23 Août 2011 - 15:15


Television is at once one of the most vilified and most used objects of everyday life. The condemnations are varied yet nearly uniform in message: television is a menace to individuals, democratic society, and culture more generally. In particular, it is viewed as a threat to book culture, and to literature specifically. But how do novelists imagine this (supposed) rival?

Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s novel La Télévision (1997) offers a partial answer, staging the rivalry between television and books in all its ambiguities. The novel suggests that the threat to book culture that television represents is not new but instead constitutes a postmodern incarnation of the age-old problem of divertissement. As much as critics such as Bourdieu perceive television as a problem, Toussaint demonstrates that it is also rich with possibility. His novel uses television to bring into focus the specificity of literature as well as, paradoxically, to make a convincing argument for the viability of the novel as cultural form especially in a world in which the image dominates the cultural horizon. As much as it critiques television, the novel celebrates what Toussaint calls the infinitésimal, at once the infinitely small and the infinite, the mundane and the metaphysical, the supposedly uninteresting details of everyday life and the Big Questions. Ultimately the novel shows that the question is not whether or not to view television but, rather, how to view the everyday.