Shifting Ground

https://pixabay.com/fr/vectors/moustache-guidon-hommes-cheveux-473661/

A fundamental belief about time is that the future is open while the past is set. But in Emmanuel Carrère’s 1986 novel La Moustache, the main character shaves off his mustache one day only to find that his wife and coworkers don’t react: Reality has twisted so that he has never had a mustache.

As the novel continues, other pieces of his personal history change one by one, as if his life is being replaced by another one. Finally even facts that have been described in earlier chapters begin to change. The hero flees to Macao, where he knows no one and has no history. But his wife is in the room there, and she shows no surprise at seeing him.

“This suggests that the hero has not been taken to Macao by the events reported in the preceding chapters,” writes Marie-Laure Ryan, “but that he is there as a tourist on a completely normal family vacation. At this point the novel becomes a self-destructing artifact that denies what is generally considered to be the main function of narrative: its ability to tell about and to preserve the past.”

(Marie-Laure Ryan, “Impossible Worlds and Aesthetic Illusion,” in Werner Wolf, et al., Immersion and Distance: Aesthetic Illusion in Literature and Other Media, 2013.)

Books

fc books

Just a reminder — Futility Closet books make great gifts for people who are impossible to buy gifts for. Both contain hundreds of hand-picked favorites from our archive of curiosities. Some reviews:

“A wild, wonderful, and educational romp through history, science, zany patents, math puzzles, wonderful words (like boanthropy, hallelujatic, and andabatarian), the Devil’s Game, self-contradicting words, and so much more. Buy this book and feed your mind!” — Clifford A. Pickover, author of The Mathematics Devotional

“Futility Closet delivers concentrated doses of weird, wonderful, brain-stimulating ideas and anecdotes, curated mainly from forgotten old books. I’m hooked — there’s nothing quite like it!” — Mark Frauenfelder, founder, Boing Boing

“Meant to be read in pieces, but impossible to put down.” — Gary Antonick, editor, New York Times Numberplay blog

“Futility Closet is a dusty museum back room where one can spend minutes or hours among seldom-seen curiosities, and feel that none of the time was wasted.” — Alan Bellows, DamnInteresting.com

Both books are available now on Amazon. Thanks for your support!

Help!

Futility Closet is supported entirely by its readers. If you value this site, please consider making a contribution to help keep it going.

You can make a one-time donation on our Support Us page, or you can pledge a monthly contribution to get bonus posts and other rewards. You choose the amount to contribute, and you can change or cancel it at any time.

Thanks for your support, and thanks for reading!

Greg

Sale!

fc store

Today and tomorrow, get 20% off everything in the Futility Closet store — shirts, mugs, phone cases, and more. Just use coupon code ANY20. Thanks for your support!