Butor, Michel (Vol. 15)
Butor, Michel 1926–
Butor is a French novelist, essayist, philosopher, translator, editor, and author of children's books. Numbered among the New Novelists, Butor defies true literary classification in his disregard for traditional forms. In an attempt to give his reader new tools for examining reality, Butor combines elements of poetry and philosophy with innovative structural ideas. He experiments with interior monologue, surreal imagery, and a shifting time factor to create a complex and highly original fictive language. The influences of Proust, Kafka, Faulkner, and Joyce can be felt in his work. Butor has also made a number of interdisciplinary artistic contributions, working with serialist composer Henri Pousseur to create the opera Votre Faust, supplying a text to the photographs of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston in Illustrations I, and working as both writer and illustrator with Gregory Masurovky on a 1976 issue of Obliques. He has also collaborated with Maria Grazia Oltolenghi on Tout d'oeuvre, and is the author of numerous essays on music and painting. Butor received the Prix Renaudot for La Modification in 1957. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 8, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
John K. Simon
The difficulty in summarizing La Modification, like Butor's other novels, comes not from an excess or an absence of "content" as such, but from the insistent dualism, the simultaneous presence of inner and outer worlds.
The basic analogy that governs the novel is the funambulist figure of the motionless traveler. (p. 174)
[The passenger] Léon Delmont sees simultaneously the reflection of his own face [in the train window] and, juxtaposed, the familiar scenery where he loses himself, through which other trains run, crossing his, transformed into the trains he has taken on other trips at other times.
The idea of a glass separating the individual from experience, the consciousness from act, has become a commonplace of the modern scene. Butor seeks not to give in to either side of an antinomy between the distortions that might be induced from the surface of the glass itself (Robbe-Grillet) and the outside pull of its transparence (Simon). He tries rather to maintain a simultaneous double perspective, the monologue intérieur recording outside movement and the fixity of a personal point of view. (p. 175)
[Butor's realism] consists of a constant, respectful deference to the framework which guides his narrative. His constraining time-spans … and the corollary attitude toward space exemplified by the compartment on rails are elements of a new classicism…. [These] new...
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Jennifer R. Waelti-Walters
Michel Butor sees history as a dynamic force which plays a vital role in the shaping of the present. In his works he sets out to challenge the prevalent assumption of stasis and to teach us … how to recognize the patterns which render comprehensible the evolving body of complex material at our disposal….
[One] of the central motifs in Butor's world is that of the museum or art gallery. For Butor … a collection is not a body of petrified works from another age; it is, rather a power source where the past crosses into the present. If we consider a selection of his writings we shall quickly become aware of the importance of the museum as a pivotal structure in every aspect of his work; it is to be found in his criticism, his poetic texts, his fiction, and his drama. Not only does Butor incorporate existing galleries into his texts, but he creates different kinds of museums for himself all the time. (p. 62)
If we concern ourselves … with the usual sort of gallery—that which contains work by artists and artisans—we find that Butor offers us three distinct kinds in his work, plus a discussion of the concept of the museum as he sees it. First, and most obviously, there is the presentation within a piece of fiction of an apparently ordinary museum—a building containing artworks and artifacts: Bleston Museum in L'Emploi du temps and the castles in Portrait de l'artiste en jeune singe are the most...
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Michel Butor's explicit re-working of dreams began with Matière de rêves. That has now become the general title, and Second sous-sol is Volume 2. But it is more than a matter of arithmetic. If there are, once again, five dreams with a common formal structure, and even deliberate echoes of the first collection, it is soon apparent that here we are to be plunged much deeper into the stuff of dreams. Where, before, there was an "I" to whom things occurred—adventures, memories, fears, desires—"I" now is simply the name of that which moves through continual, rapid and total change; identity is as far away at the end as at the beginning. Where, in the first series, the private world of family recurred as a reassuringly secure base, it too is now no more than names attached to uncertain presences which flit erratically through the pages.
There can, one might say, be a strong and a weak reason for a shift of this order. According to the strong, M Butor would, both as dreamer and as author, be free to explore these wild and whirling worlds in the certain expectation of an "I": he has, after all, dreamt—and survived the experience; he is a writer with a family; and he can count on his readers' consent. Moreover, on this reckoning, his attempt to find a formal equivalent for the early, chaotic stages of dream-work would be bold and admirable.
The weak reason runs very differently. This way round, M Butor...
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Butor's narratives characteristically begin with the isolation of his protagonist in one of two ways. The main character is most often cut off from his native milieu and set adrift in a foreign culture (L'Emploi du temps, La Modification, Portrait d'artiste en jeune singe, Mobile, 6.810.000 litres d'eau par seconde). In other instances, he is cut off within his own society by social stigma (Passage de Milan) or by the pressures of his work as a writer (Degrés). Separation prepares Butor's protagonists for the "initiatory ordeal par excellence": the descent into the underworld. This trial, seen most clearly in the references to Theseus, Orpheus, Aeneas, and the Egyptian Book of the Dead in the novels, is endured, either literally or metaphorically, by all of Butor's heroes. (p. 7)
The models which all Butor's protagonists seek to emulate are Aeneas, Léon Delmont's hero in La Modification, and Adoniram, the Nervalian figure who appears in Butor's Beethoven Dialogue. These mythic champions descend to the center of the earth to meet their ancestors and learn from them the secrets of the past and the future. Butor's characters seek that visionary moment when chronology is broken and time becomes spatial: significant but forgotten moments are juxtaposed, and their relationship to each other and the present is understood….
It is in the context of this ritual pattern of...
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Michel Butor, in his skillfully written Matière de rêves III, carefully constructs content and form. But here, much more than [in the two previous volumes of the series], he proves himself the master of minute realism as well as of burgeoning fantasy. His work suggests qualities of painting and music. He composes a gigantic canvas on which distant horizons rapidly alternate with the tiniest of shapes, and analogies to reality succeed images of fantasy. In fuguelike counterpoint, philosophical contemplation follows stark satire, the birth of constellations in the night sky comes after the disgusting observation of putrified matter. Yet beyond such polarities lies original unity; death and decomposition are seen within the universal order of life. There is no longer a break between opposites, as in his early works, but a perception of the cyclical nature of matter and man. (p. 70)
Although Butor divides the book into five dreams, which have a certain topical coherence, innumerable threads run through the whole fictional fabric. Intertextuality prevails, as it did in earlier works. Changing perspectives, moods and stylistic and structural devices, repeated thematic fragments and evocative words appear in all five dreams. Words such as germinate, grow, become, burn and decompose reveal the life-death cycle. Echoing Heraclitus. Butor perceives the universe in constant flux. It is change and multiplicity that he wishes...
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