Bertrand Laverdure - Funny and sardonic, whimsical and tragic, this postmodern novel with touches of David Foster Wallace and Raymond Queneau portrays the global village of readers that the Internet created, even before the 2.0 revolution
Bertrand Laverdure, Readopolis, Trans. by Oana Avasilichioaei, BookThug, 2017.
It's 2006 and down-and-out protagonist Ghislain works as a reader for a publishing house in Montreal. He's bored with all the wannabe writers who are determined to leave a trace of their passage on earth with their feeble attempts at literary arts. Obsessed by literature and its future (or lack thereof), he reads everything he can in order to translate reality into the literary delirium that is READOPOLIS—a world imagined out of Chicago and Montreal, with few inhabitants, a convenience store, a parrot, and all kinds of dialogues running amok: cinematic, epistolary, theatrical, and Socratic. In the pages of READOPOLIS (Lectodôme in the original French), Laverdure playfully examines the idea that human beings are more connected by their reading abilities than by anything else. Funny and sardonic, whimsical and tragic, this postmodern novel with touches of David Foster Wallace and Raymond Queneau portrays the global village of readers that the Internet created, even before the 2.0 revolution.
"Brilliant, playful, perfectly convincing, READOPOLIS has everything to place Laverdure in the ranks of the 'sickest literary greats.'" —Le Devoir
"An intensely unapologetic hybrid work--zigzagging between a story within a story, epistolary novel, screenplay, and more--Lectodôme is delightfully intelligent and fantastical." --Voir
Bertrand Laverdure, Universal Bureau of Copyrights, Trans. by Oana Avasilichioaei, BookThug, 2014.
From celebrated Quebecois author Bertrand Laverdure comes Universal Bureau of Copyrights , a bold, strange and addictive story that envisions a world where free will doesn't exist, and an enigmatic global corporation buys and sells the copyrights for all things on Earth, including real and fictional characters. Through this novel, which is part poetic narrative, part sci-fi-dystopian fantasy, readers become acquainted with the main character, a man who deconstructs himself as he navigates the mystifying passages of the story. Having no control over his environment, time continuum, or body, he is a puppet on strings, an icon in a video game and, as he eventually discovers within the bowels of the Universal Bureau of Copyrights, the object of countless copyrights. With touches of Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions and Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Universal Bureau of Copyrights packs a multitude of modern cultural references into an audacious exploration of identity and one's place in the world.
Laverdure’s clever commentary on identity, ownership and control keep us guessing right up until the end. -The Times Literary Supplement
Much like the viewer of the experimental film, I’m far from certain what it all means…. But the best books aren’t always the easiest ones.— Ambos Journal of Quebec Literature in Translation
In many ways, Universal Bureau of Copyrights is the poetic, minimalist brother to Trifonova’s Rewrite.— Andrew Wilmot
“Universal Bureau of Copyrights” is the first work of Quebecois writer Bertrand Laverdure’s to be translated in English – in this case, masterfully so by Montreal poet Oana Avasilichioaei. That this is actually Laverdure’s fourth novel says more about the divide between anglo and francophone literary culture in Canada than it does about the work of the poet-novelist Laverdure, who has established himself as a significant presence in Quebecois letters with his award winning work and with his blog Technicien Coffeur. Jay MillAR’s imprint BookThug, with its mandate of “extending the tradition of experimental literature,” is one of a few select publishers here in Canada with the vision to currently narrow this divide, providing a writer of Laverdure’s talent with the opportunity for a readership his work richly deserves.
“Universal Bureau of Copyrights,” billed as “part poetic narrative, part sci-fi dystopian fantasy,” has Laverdure mining a vein of storytelling that reaches back beyond sci-fi to the works of Rabelais and Sterne, in which the narrative is foregrounded as a performance. Laverdure defamiliarizes the banal with his startling imagery and an assured touch with similitude, while he takes abrupt detours from the plot points that would lead to any conventional attempt at dramatic focus.
Laverdure’s unnamed protagonist goes from one absurd, puzzling encounter to another as his body undergoes a series of unsettling transformations. In one chapter he is in Montreal, having a prosthetic leg fitted after a vicious squirrel attack, and in the next he is inexplicably in Brussels, at a bar with a young woman discussing the work of the performance artist Valie Export – while a “charming blue mascot,” Jokey Smurf, lurks nearby. Similar to an early Murakami novel like “The Wild Sheep Chase,” there is a noir-ish sense of menace developed through this series of misadventures, because we soon realize that what is occurring is part of a spectacle carried out for the amusement of others:
“I see the exhaustion return to my host’s eyes. Again feel fatigue in my jaws. Not a good sign. I’m stressed out. Then I regain my self-control. These utilitarian characters, these video game clowns don’t deserve for us to dwell on them too much…”
Beyond what plot there is, the “video game clowns” in Laverdure’s world are also being put to use in the service of allegory and social satire, betraying a trenchant critique of our current cultural moment.
As the title suggests, that critique concerns authenticity and identity in a world where there is a distinct sense of cultural exhaustion, as the rapacious big data overlords at the Universal Bureau seek out the intellectual property rights of “every earthly grain of sand.”
“Our shareholders – the Temp.Cop in our jargon – are the initiators of our gestures, behaviours and actions … To be in possession of oneself is impossible because several people buy stock options on our destiny right from our conception.”
The character is finally decapitated, but authenticity, and actual agency over one’s fate are the ultimate casualties in the world of the “Universal Bureau of Copyrights.” Laverdure’s Swiftian eye for the savage ironies revealed in the amusement addictions of the Hive Mind provokes a new kind of laughter in the dark.- John Delacourt
Universal Bureau of Copyrights is a surreal-poetic novel. The narrator moves between some real places -- Brussels and Canada -- but much of his journey is in the very unreal -- compounded by the fact that he finds himself drifting: "From delirium to delirium", blacking out repeatedly along the ways. Among the few recurring characters is 'Jokey Smurf', with his dependable red-ribbon-wrapped exploding box. The cartoon character fits with much of the action, which involves sequences that are far more dream- or cartoon-like than real -- the progressive loss of body-parts by the narrator, for one.
How fictional is this world ? The narrator isn't entirely sure, only slowly seeming to understand that he's a player in it, and that he's being played.
There's literal detachment (and not just of digits and limbs). There's a group of 'literary tourists' who appear:
For the first time, all the members of the gang, who haven't necessarily read the book but who have followed, with guide and road maps, our hero's adventures, show up on the scene.
The narrator begins to understand -- or think he understands -- and come to terms with his situation:
Through careful consideration, I have calmly learned how to become a character. It demands constant application. I wasn't a character at the beginning of this book, but I have become one.
The explanation behind much of this is already hinted at in the title, but the eponymous institution is only revealed and described deep into the story. It is an inspired idea:
To summarize, every word, every material, every object, every letter, every spark of life, every idea, every character, has their copyright.
And the Universal Bureau of Copyrights controls these. Here, hence: "Nature and culture are no longer separate; they are merged". Which is a pretty mind-blowing concept -- as also reflected in the narrator's account, which suggests his mind repeatedly being blown. Informed that: "You have no ownership over what constitutes you" isn't what precipitated his existential crisis, but that knowledge certainly offers only limited comfort.
Universal Bureau of Copyrights is a sort of science-fiction thought experiment, spun out in surrealest form. Just as the narrator has little to hold onto (especially given the repeated lost of limbs ...), so the reader is in many ways left at sea. Laverdure playfully pushes boundaries of inaccessibility -- the closing chapter is in Mandarin (though a translation is provided in the notes) -- and the novel's final word is a parenthetical "etc.", suggesting anything but closure.
This sort of thing isn't everyone's kind of fun but, aside from an over-reliance on characters losing consciousness in one way or another (always a cheap way out), Laverdure shows a nice touch to his bizarre fictional world. He doesn't try to explain too much, which might frustrate those who prefer their science fiction more traditional, but the way he gives readers so much space to imagine for themselves works quite well -- especially with the creepy foundational institution of the titular Universal Bureau of Copyrights, suggesting as it does a lack of the possibility of free will not just for the characters presented in these pages but to the entire world beyond as well, including the reader.
The elegant English translation of Bertrand Laverdure’s novel, Universal Bureau of Copyrights (Oana Avasilichioaei, 2014), pivots on the contradictory premise that when imagination becomes reality and wild thoughts materialize, free will is lost rather than celebrated.
In an alternate world, “every word, every material, every object, every letter, every spark of life, every idea, every character, has their copyright” (103), implying that “you have no ownership over what constitutes you” (105). You imagine something and it happens to you; a stranger imagines something and it happens to you. As the term “Copyright” suggests, both in the original and the translation, the legal authority for one party to reproduce is simultaneously the prohibition for another party to do the same. Creativity is institutionalized to be a safe place, yet reveals itself as a house of horrors.
In the novel’s metafictional reality, the unnamed protagonist is subjected to imagination. In a picaresque sequence of events, he is systematically maimed, losing a leg, first his little fingers, then both his arms; his clothes disappear and, in a gesture of lost self-worth, he considers wearing a random sweater drenched in vomit. Metamorphosing through subtraction, loss of physicality becomes symbolic of his establishment as a character rather than as an independent human being. He is passively written, rather than writing himself. Being written means submitting to the whim of the writer, to imagination, to a future already copyrighted for him. He does not necessarily benefit from the writing, victimized by haphazard brutality: “I’m sure the main character’s stump should have grown back […] but you can bet your ass there’s some negligence in the writing of this scene” (45).
Injury is consistently positioned as the concluding act of a chapter. If violence is the final thought in a world where imagination reigns and the character is conscious of the fact that he is being created by the writer, then Laverdure is passing harsh judgment on the creative process. In a peek “behind the scenes of the book” (64), imagination is posited as disease.
Metafiction exposes the author’s craft and attempts to destabilize the power dynamic in favour of writer over written. Comically, a character costumed as Jokey Smurf recurs throughout as prankster and terrorist, sadistically offering an explosive gift box to unwitting targets. His character simultaneously stands for free will and fate, spontaneity and premeditation, independent individual and author’s pawn. Considering the Smurf costume, the protagonist asks: “Who takes the time to don the garb of Jokey Smurf? On the contrary, one would have thought Smurfs to be empty entities, remotely operated and inflated by a deus ex machina author” (64). And in the world of Universal Bureau of Copyrights he is correct. Jokey isn’t a one-dimensional addition to the novel. Rather, by wearing a costume, a character submits to playing a part in the narrative Laverdure creates while Laverdure questions the possibility of equality between author and character. - Klara du Plessis
Bertrand Laverdure has no fear when it comes to pulling from a variety of genres to create something new, unsettling and innovative. Newly translated into English by Oana Avasilichioaei, Bertrand's Universal Bureau of Copyrights (BookThug) is part sci-fi dystopia, part social commentary and all addictive storytelling. It imagines a world where free will is non-existent and copyrights to all things are bought and sold by the government — including copyrights for people.
Today Bertrand joins us to take on the Proust Questionnaire, where in his trademark, candid voice, he tells us about the writer who gets it all, the literary death he envies and what's in the microwave.
The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.
What is your dream of happiness?
Teleportation on a daily basis.
What is your idea of misery?
Be stuck in a bucket of wet concrete that never solidifies, and be ignorant of philosophy.
Where would you like to live?
On a stage, in front of more than 8000 people that want my art and treat me like a prince.
What qualities do you admire most in a man?
What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
What is your chief characteristic?
What is your principal fault?
What is your greatest extravagance?
I speak to robots, like in the movie I'm a Cyborg and That's Okay.
What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Slip on the law (Breaking a rule? Bending the rules? Plus idiomatiques).
What do you value most about your friends?
What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Trojan horse friendship, faking kindness to get what you want from me.
What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
I’m too much into self-promotion, I would have liked more to be the Salinger type.
What is your favourite virtue?
Loyalty, is there seriously any other real virtue?
What is your favourite occupation?
What would you like to be?
A writer on a stage, in front of a large audience, with dolby surrounding system in a kind of opera theatre.
What is your favourite colour?
What is your favourite flower?
Orchid, like in the movie.
What is your favourite bird?
Junco, a black and white bird, neo-gothic, existentialist, Bergmanesque bird.
What historical figure do you admire the most?
Joyce (he gets it all).
What character in history do you most dislike?
Ford (he invented blind consumerism being a crypto-nazi).
Who are your favourite prose authors?
David Foster Wallace, Thomas Berhnard, Michael Delisle, Carlos Liscano, Julien Blanc-Gras, Marcel Proust, Gaëtan Brulotte, Pierre Michon, Richard Millet, Kerouac, Georges Perec.
Who are your favourite poets?
Jack Spicer, Ginsberg, Bukowski, Brautigan, William Carlos William, George Oppen, Christophe Tarkos, Charles Pennequin, Jacques Roubaud, Jacques Dupin, Ungarreti, Dickinson.
Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Le perroquet Laverdure in Zazie Dans le Métro (Zazie in the subway) by Raymond Queneau, for obvious reasons.
Who are your heroes in real life?
All the doctors who practice their craft in a war zone or in a serious epidemic situation, like Ebola. They are the epitomes of human being. Great courage, great dedication.
Who is your favourite painter?
The artist collective that do mural art: EN MASSE.
Who is your favourite musician?
The Handsome family.
What is your favourite food?
What is your favourite drink?
Chablis, Sauvignon or IPA beer.
What are your favourite names?
Iphigénie, Northrop, Anasthasie, Eudor, Philomène and Mercurio.
What is it you most dislike?
What natural talent would you most like to possess?
To play piano like a jazz superstar and compose as well.
How do you want to die?
In a revolution, shot by a military that defend the status quo, in a kind of Gavroche death in Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.
What is your current state of mind?
Right now, I’m waiting for my cabbage soup to heat in the microwave.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
To be a good writer.
What is your motto?
If you can say "good morning", you are most able to have the talent to say "good night" or "have a nice sleep". Talents are concomitant. - www.openbooktoronto.com/news/proust_questionnaire_with_bertrand_laverdure
Bertrand Laverdure is an award-winning poet, novelist, literary performer, and blogger. His poetry publications include Rires (2004) and Sept et demi (2007). He has written four well-received novels, Gomme de xanthane (2006), Lectodôme (2008), J’invente la piscine (2010), Bureau universel des copyrights (2011). Lettres crues, a book of literary correspondence with Quebecois author Pierre Samson, was published in the fall of 2012. Most recently, he published a YA poetry collection, Cascadeuse (2013). Awards include the Joseph S. Stauffer Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts (1999), and the Rina-Lasnier Award for Poetry for Les forêts (2003). Les forêts was also nominated for the Emile-Nelligan Award for Poetry (2000), while Audioguide was nominated for the Grand Prix du Festival International de Poésie de Trois-Rivières (2003), and Lectodôme for the Grand Prix littéraire Archambault (2009). Find Laverdure on his blog, http://technicien-coffeur.blogspot.ca/, follow him on Twitter @lectodome, or connect with him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/bertrand.laverdure.