Diary of an Innocent

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Publication: Review of Contemporary Fiction
Author: DeMarco, Amanda
Date published: July 1, 2011

Tony Ouvert. Diary of an Innocent. Trans. Bruce Benderson. Semiotext(e), 2010.240pp. Paper: $17.95.

Like his 1973 Prix Médicis-winning Strange Landscape, Tony Duvert's 1976 Diary of an Innocent is mainly composed of vividly pornographic scenes involving young boys. Unlike Strange Landscape, Diary of an Innocent doesn't couch its pedophilia in a hazy, violent dream-world, but in the straightforward account of a rather active Mediterranean pederast. It may not be a roman à clef, but it's not avant-garde phantasmagoria either; some passages are little more than distillations from Duvert's critical work Good Sex Illustrated, a lively condemnation of the family's subsumption of child sexuality, and the adjective troubling would criminally understate this novel's relationship to reality. Shock value aside, the book is intelligent to its core. Duvert's style is consummate, his devices elegant, his methods seductive; Bruce Benderson's translation is clear and stately. Ouvert eviscerates Western society with the patience of the hopeless, a disappointed demi-hermit whose only social contact is the embrace of one of its starkest taboos, "a maniac who reproduces his actions and cravings, a sexual retard, an unmarried man who'd rather fondle brats than father any, a blind person who has never known the beauty of breasts, beards, homelands, factories." In his introduction, Benderson formulates Ouverts claim: "our intimate and private lives are just as wicked- indeed more so, because of their hypocrisy - than the disturbing descriptions in this book." Ouvert is unapologetic as Rousseau, and his project is in some senses similar to the Confessions. Duvert's exceptionalism is a reflection on the norm, his self-hatred a rejection of the culture that produced him, his pedophilia the only legitimate form of human interaction. Ouvert fell out of favor in the 1980s and died in total seclusion in 2008. Semiotext(e)'s translations of Diary and Good Sex Illustrated, along with a 2010 French biography, denote a resurgence of interest. [Amanda DeMarco]

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