Jean-Philippe Toussaint

Portrait Jean-Philippe Toussaint
© privat

Jean-Philippe Toussaint was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1957.  He spent a large part of his youth in Paris, where later he studied Politics and Modern History.  From 1982 to 1984 he taught French in Algeria, where he started writing.  Incidentally, his first book ‘La salle de bain’ (1985; Engl: The Bathroom, 1989) attracted the attention of Jérôme Lindon, head of the Paris based publishing house Éditions de Minuit, which had published the most important writers of the “nouveau roman” in the 1950’s, and he decided spontaneously to bring out the book. After all, in this story of a man who in his quest for an “abstract life” turns his bathroom into his living room, Toussaint employs several narrative elements reminiscent of the “nouveau roman’s” aesthetics.  For example, he abstains from any psychological rendering of his characters, but instead he maintains a detached perspective of the minutiae. Critics regard him as an exponents of the “nouveau nouveau roman”. His minimalist style, which seems to linger in phenomenological precision, always corresponds with a subjacent layer: “Just as my books are void of sociology and politics, philosophy and metaphysics are always apparent, even if not explicitly named. They are always a reflection on time and death.” In his novels ‘Monsieur’ (1986; Engl: Monsieur, 1991) and ‘L’appareil-photo’ (1989; Engl: The Camera) the focus is on melancholic protagonists who try to evade life’s demands by passivity. During a scholarship in Berlin Toussaint wrote ‘La télévision’ (1997; Engl: The TV).  In the text, the first-person narrator decides to abstain from watching TV and spends the time saved in the swimming pool, in the museum and on small trips. The loss of immediate perception is rendered in a subtle and ironic manner. The essay ‘La mélancholie de Zidane’ (2006; Engl: Zidane’s Melancholy) was recently published, as well as ‘Fuir’ (2005; Engl: Escape), which won the renowned French literary award Prix Médici. This novel was designed as sequel to ‘Faire l’amour’ (2002; Engl: To Make Love). In that one a French couple on a trip to Japan is not only confronted with being alien in another culture, but also with a deep estrangement in their relationship. Toussaint manages to find impressive images for the interior emotional states. In ‘Fuir’ the protagonists not only have to escape Peking’s policemen, but also constantly try to run from each other, since they lead a relationship they can neither bear nor end.  Jean-Philippe Toussaint alternately lives in Corsica and Brussels.

© international literature festival berlin