First Fiction Fridays: The Thought House of Philippa by Suzanne Leblanc

June 5, 2015

A novel of many ideas, Avasilichioaei and Dick’s translation of Suzanne Leblanc's first novel keeps up with the original’s ambitious emotional and didactic flourishes, while discovering in the abstraction of "discourse” the most lovely music, making The Thought House of Philippa a singular, immersive, self-meditative experience.

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ThoughtHouse

What:

The Thought House of Philippa (BookThug, 2015)

Who:

Suzanne Leblanc holds two PhD degrees, in philosophy and in visual arts, and teaches at the School of Visual Arts at the University of Laval. Her research and creative work deal with philosophical forms inherent in artistic disciplines. She is currently leading a research-creation group on artistic strategies for the spatialization of knowledge.

The Thought House of Philippa was translated into English by Oana Avasilichioaei and Ingrid Pam Dick, both writers themselves. Avasilichioaei has previously translated Universal Bureau of Copyrights by Bertrand Laverdure (BookThug) and Occupational Sickness by Nichita Stanescu (BuschekBooks), and her poetry collections include We, Beasts and feria (Wolsak & Wynn). Ingrid Pam Dick is the author of Metaphysical Licks (BookThug) and Delinquent.

Why you need to read this now:

Where most novels tell stories through specifics (specific characters, specific plots, specific voices—a selective accumulation of specificities), Leblanc has created a novel of principles: a philosophical outlook couched in the form of a fictional biography/autobiography of a woman named P., or Philippa (“she who loves horses”).

Each self-contained section of the book is a stepping stone on P.’s journey toward self understanding. Each of these chapters are “set” in a particular room of the famous Haus Wittgenstein in Vienna, the impressive modernist townhouse designed by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein for his sister Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein and her family. As P. ambulates through the house, the motion of her thoughts parallels her movement through the physical space of the Haus Wittgenstein, through entrance halls to servants quarters to nurseries, to the garden and the terrace, and so on.

Leblanc sets P.’s philosophical biography inside the physical space designed by her hero and intellectual predecessor, Wittgenstein, who, though never explicitly named, serves as P.’s silent interlocutor throughout. “The house was a method,” writes P., “it issued from a life consecrated to the life of the mind ... It was a house of the mind in which my method lives.”
Leblanc’s linking of recollection to the physical architecture of an actual or imagined space is evocative of the ars memoriae, or art of memory—ancient mnemonic methods of organizing thoughts and memories according to the floor plan of an imagined space, usually an architectural one. For Philippa, her palace of memory is the house designed by “the philosopher” (Wittgenstein), whose “work was convincing” and “life admirable.”

As the novel’s translators, Avasilichioaei and Dick have brought out the pregnant beauty in Leblanc’s unapologetically intellectual narrative. A novel of many ideas, Avasilichioaei and Dick’s translation keeps up with Leblanc’s ambitious emotional and didactic flourishes, while discovering in the abstraction of "discourse” the most lovely music, making The Thought House of Philippa a singular, immersive, self-meditative experience.

What other people are saying about The Thought House of Philippa:

"A unique and brilliant approach to the self, and to the intimate, as it creates and balances its own architecture of knowledge and emotion." —Nicole Brossard

"... This is no mean feat. Same too for Dick and Avasilichioaei, the poet/translators of this edition, who deliver to English minds a text where (to enter squarely into Wittgenstein—if one dares to!) 'What can be said at all can be [and is] said clearly.' " —Michael Turner, author of Hard Core Logo

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Thank you to BookThug, and especially to Rick Meier, for sharing this thought provoking translated edition of Suzanne Leblanc's first novel.


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