This is not normally how I do things but it’s been busy at work and I thought it might be fun to share some quotes. So today I’m going to broadly recommend the work of one Mr. Alain Robbe-Grillet. No, I haven’t read all of this work. Yes, I’ve very much liked what I’ve read. Yes, I have seen "Marienbad", and yes, I did LOL at Perec’s commentary on it.[1]

As I may have mentioned elsewhere, after reading Everyday Reading (HA!), I started keeping a "scrapbook" of quotes and things. Suffice to say, Robbe-Grillet features heavily. Largely because of these gems from For a New Novel:

If the reader sometimes has difficulty getting his bearings in the modern novel, it is in the same way that he loses them in the very world where he lives, when everything in the old structures and the old norms around him is giving way.

— For a New Novel

But we’ll get there.

The novels first. I read Jealousy & In the Labyrinth and liked them both very much, but I though Jealousy was legitimately a masterpiece. The things he manages to do with such small (prose) movements were really amazing. He manages this with repetitions, in a way that is certainly reminiscent of "Last Year at Marienbad" but rendered in prose it is (I think) much more pleasing. It all comes down to the sentences. Here is an example (from the version translated by Richard Howard):

Suddenly the creature hunches its body and begins descending diagonally toward the ground as fast as its long legs can go, while the wadded napkin falls on it, faster still.

The hand with the tapering fingers has clenched around the knife handle; but the features of the face have lost none of their rigidity. Franck lifts the napkin away from the wall and with his food continues to squash something on the tiles, against the baseboard.

About a yard higher, the paint is marked with a dark shape, a tiny arc twisted into a question mark, blurred on one side, in places surrounded by more tenuous signs, from which A…​ has still not taken her eyes.

In the Labyrinth was also good (though apparently I did not write down any quotes in it), and felt like a long, slippery digression on ekphrasis. There are layers and cut-backs and well…​ it’s a labyrinth. It also builds by repetition, but for my money, the greater number of set pieces and characters (as compared to Jealousy) dilutes the effect somewhat. That said, it’s an excellent case study if you’re looking for mirroring techniques; the whole thing (arguably) is sort of just about what goes on in this painting, a Russian-doll kind of story wherein the ground of each scene always seems to be slipping.

It in a way reminds me of one of the later story’s in John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse in which he does this super-hard-to-track thing with embedded quotations, but in a less typographically visual way.

Oh, and did I mention there is always an "I" embedded in these otherwise third-person styled narratives?[2] Fucking rad.

Then to the theory. For a New Novel. Still feels pretty fucking fresh. I’ll let it speak for itself:

The height of the ["majestic"] mountain assumes, willy-nilly, a moral value; the heat of the ["pitiless"] sun becomes the result of an intention…​In almost the whole of our contemporary literature, these anthropomorphic analogies are repeated too insistently, too coherently not to reveal an entire metaphysical system.

— Nature, Humanism, Tragedy,
from For a New Novel

Metaphor, which is supposed to express only a comparison, without any particular motive, actually introduces a subterranean communication, a movement of sympathy (or of antipathy) which is its true raison d’ĂȘtre. For, as comparison, metaphor is almost always a useless comparison which contributes nothing new to the description. What would the village lose by being merely "situated" in the valley? The word "huddled" gives us no complementary information. On the other hand it transports the reader (in the author’s wake) into the imagined soul of the village; if I accept the word "huddled," I am no longer entirely a spectator; I myself become the village, for the duration of a sentence, and the valley functions as a cavity into which I aspire to disappear.

— On Several Obsolete Notions,
from For a New Novel

Let us, then, restore to the notion of commitment the only meaning it can have for us. Instead of being of a political nature, commitment is, for the writer, the full awareness of the present problems of his own language, the conviction of their extreme importance, the desire to solve them from within. Here, for him, is the only chance of remaining an artist and, doubtless too, by means of an obscure and remote consequence, of some day serving something—​perhaps even the Revolution.

— On Several Obsolete Notions,
from For a New Novel

As we have already had occasion to specify in the course of this work, the novel is not a tool at all. It is not conceived with a view to a task defined in advance. It does not serve to set forth, to translate things existing before it, outside it. It does not express, it explores, and what it explores is itself.

— From Realism to Reality,
For a New Novel

Pretty neat stuff. Anyway, happy Wednesday.

1. "They did not lack taste. They were highly suspicious of so-called art movies, with the result that when this term was not enough to spoil a film for them, they would find it even more beautiful (but they would say — quite rightly — that Marienbad was "all the same just a load of crap!")"
2. Yes, I’m aware this applies much more to In the Labyrinth than Jealousy whose "I" is more important, but still--