Le Syndrome du Prisonnier
There is something of the symptomatic in the Little Nothings. Something that belongs to the misery of contemporary creation among the former pioneers of the French-speaking alternative. In the case of Lewis Trondheim, the disappointement is all the greater, especially in the autobiography genre. Coming back to his first try at it, Approximativement, is remembering that he was striving for an authentic and fundamental introspection. An equivalent to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions or Michel Leiris’ L’Âge d’Homme, where the quest for identity came with a myriad of inventions to adapt language.
The cover, for instance, borders on genius. To the central question of “how to paint oneself ?”, Trondheim suggested a unique solution at the time, against the flow. He was piling in a single portrait dozens of avatars, each representing only an aspect of his personna, but where the whole constituted a complete autoportrait. Behind the grotesque, this drawing asserted a real vision for autobiography. For the first time, someone claimed the impossibility to reduce an individual to an icon, against the dominating currents of thought with Art Spiegelman and his mouse totem at the helm. Killofer would later recycle the idea, and expand it over the course of a book. A new language was born.
No remain of this past genius, or even its intentions, has survived in the Little Nothings. With time, the inventor of the 9th art has progressively turned into a soft and reassuring Philippe Delerm. What a fall from grace ! Therefore, those two extremities of the same body of work have nothing in common except that they inhabit, each in its own way, the mentality of their author at a given period. Approximativement is about counter-culture, the taste for artistic risk-taking (automatic writing), the torturing of narrative forms, the systematic use of graphical invention and distaste for all that relies on esthetic virtuosity. The Litle Nothings are about academism (a standardized form and a gimmick-based mise-en-scene), the praise of the empty and the anecdotal (“a book with a lot of nothing much” as is stated on the back cover) and the retreat into graphical prettiness (with the main objective of improving his watercolor technique). Producing something nice instead of something inventive, the bird has come full circle by putting out himself what he was despising ten years ago.
That the baby was thrown out with the bathwater, so be it. But it’s a bit much to be sitting on the tub and pretend nothing happened. Here is, precisely, the despicable symptom of Lewis Trondheim’s Little Nothings. To try and suggest, not unlike Guy Delisle with his Chroniques Birmanes, that they are still part of a continuity that, in reality, does not exist any more.
Obviously, the dialectic behind this turnabout is not very original. Because in order to cultivate an old audience to which there is nothing more to offer, the range of possibilities is limited. Remains the option to play out the card of connivance with the reader, the simplest and the basest of all. And in the autobiography genre, such effects have a tendancy to blow up. Formerly the object of a pertinent and sincere introspection, the bird has now turned into an empty puppet, a burned-out comedian playing again and again the expected jokes.
One then thinks back on Désœuvré the last fragment of a sincere confession where the desire to resist ease and notoriety was still burning. But this time seems now over. Even more that, it is now with some blatant cynicism that Trondheim is now heading towards the most commercial automatism (the confession in the title, on the back cover). And if some jokes are still working, heart and soul have both long deserted the building.