Monday, August 24, 2009


Having read the first two books of Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, I find the work tedious, monotonous, redundant, tiresome, boring, soporific, get the picture.

There are brief passages of genius, truly inventive and outrageous comic scenes (the journey into Pantagruel’s mouth stands out), but these joyous moments are, to coin a phrase, few and far between. Even if we consider ‘Master Alcofribas’ (a name that makes me think of alcohol and freebase and Richard Pryor aflame) the most unreliable narrator of all time and the book a massive deconstruction of itself, the text does not become a bit more interesting. This is a book made to be skimmed, scanned, skipped-through, sampled, sipped, tasted, tested, tippled, tinkled-upon, etc, etc, etc,...

One non-comic aspect of the book that does interest me is the way that some elements of Rabelais' style analogize with contemporary trends in the visual arts. Rabelais’ sartorially detailed descriptions of clothing and nauseatingly clinical depictions of wounds (this last surely a comic device meant to satirize the goreless slaughters of medieval romance) can be seen as analogous to the trompe l’oeil, photographically exquisite details of Mannerist painting (the draperies in Bronzino’s portraits, for example). Like all books, G&P is of its moment, an artifact of the first half of the 1500's in France, the Mannerist Fontainebleau era.

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