February 18, 2008

Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1922 - 2008.

Alain Robbe-Grillet
Alain Robbe-Grillet, the French writer who pioneered the so-called "new novel" genre in the 1950s, died Monday at the age of 85, the Academie Francaise (French Academy) said.... In a series of essays published in 1963 Robbe-Grillet developed the theory of the "new novel" which sought to overturn conventional ideas on fiction-writing....

He was also associated with the "New Wave" of French filmmaking, writing the screenplay for Alain Resnais's L'Annee Derniere a Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad) and making several films under his own name.

The AFP.

Updated through 2/25.

See also: Books and Writers, Mark Hamstra (Scriptorium), Mike at Esotika Erotica Psychotica on Slow Slidings of Pleasure, Thomas McGonigle (interview for Bookforum, 2003) and Wikipedia.

Online listening tip. Robbe-Grillet reads "Jealousy" (1957) at Ubuweb.

Updates: "Were Robbe-Grillet's convoluted narrative strategies merely subterfuges to excuse what the literary critic Roger Sale called (when writing of another controversial novelist, John Hawkes) a 'vile imagination'?" A must-read entry, top to bottom, from Glenn Kenny.

Kimberly Lindbergs recommends Robert Monell's entry on Robbe-Grillet's films and a bibliography.

Mike at EEP: "His work has forced me to think about narrative in a way that I undoubtedly would have taken a longer time to come across; and his visual-textual collaborations have been particularly pertinent to the development of my own work."

Liberation: Robbe-Grillet Updates, 2/19: "It was Robbe-Grillet's example that taught me, more than either Burroughs or Ballard, that a novel can be a psychological playground where the narrative possibilities are limited only by the author's own imagination and capacity for candor," writes Tim Lucas. "The emphasis placed by Robbe-Grillet's films on nudity, sadomasochism, fetishism, ghosts and vampires have led them to be included in written overviews of Eurohorror such as Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs' Immoral Tales - an identification that the filmmaker resented and resisted.... He also insisted throughout his career that there was no psychological content in his objectivist fiction, stories that were allegedly about places and things rather than people. But, as his fan Vladimir Nabokov happily brayed in response, 'Robbe-Grillet's claims are preposterous!' - their entire substance is psychological, in the best possible tradition."

In his autobiographical trilogy, "he restates, more moderately this time, his youthful grievances about realism in fiction and the cinema, but concedes that the imagination has its virtues, that it is not going to wither away in favor of science," writes John Sturrock in the Independent. "Indeed he now claimed that fantasising in novels or in films is good, if it stops us acting out our fantasies in life itself."

"The turn to autobiographical writing was a polemical gesture aimed at keeping the spirit of controversy and invention alive, and in Robbe-Grillet's hands this shows as a mix of frank confession, half truths, fiction and overt fantasy," adds the London Times.

"[A]s Roland Barthes perceived so early on in the author's career, Robbe-Grillet is a visual novelist for whom perception is intrinsically fascinating but fraught with uncertainty," observes the Telegraph. "In the course of his career he collaborated with numerous artists and photographers, amongst them Magritte, Rauschenberg, David Hamilton and Irina Ionesco. His films contained the same themes as his books: camp eroticism, violence and self-deluding quests through labyrinthine cityscapes. His most popular film was The Trans-Europ-Express (1966), a pseudo-Hitchcockian whodunnit comedy that parodied detective films and international thrillers."

These last three are all via the Literary Saloon, which is also collecting remembrances in French and German.

Updates, 2/20:"When I was in college, Robbe-Grillet's early novels and the essays that comprised For a New Novel were, for all their severity, extremely seductive texts." And Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay recalls meeting him, too.

Mubarak Ali posts an excerpt from The Erotic Dream Machine: Interviews With Alain Robbe-Grillet on His Films and comments on Eden and After, "a film that contains some of the most striking images of all within this catalogue of seductive, haunting, mind-boggling imagery constituting his cinema."

Update, 2/23: "Whatever the qualities of McEwan, the Smiths Zadie and Ali, and any other contemporary English-language writer one cares to cite, can it honestly be said of them that they have reinvented the novel?" asks Gilbert Adair in the Guardian. "Even when, in the decades following the nouveau roman, novels of formal experimentation have been published - Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller (a novel about what it actually means to read a novel), Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars (a novel in the form of a dictionary), Walter Abish's Alphabetical Africa (a novel in alphabetical order), John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman (a novel which came complete with its own critical apparatus) - they have tended to be received, generally well, as eccentric one-offs with no significant bearing on the future of the genre. On the whole, the British literary establishment is indifferent, when not downright hostile, to authentically innovatory fiction."

Update, 2/25: "His attempts to wrest fiction free from 19th-century constraints like plot and character, and to wrest objects free from imposed meaning, were never entirely popular with readers but had a decisive influence on critical theory and on the art of the novel, as well as on film, art and even psychology," writes Rachel Donadio in the New York Times.

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Posted by dwhudson at February 18, 2008 8:21 AM