Michel Butor Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although Michel Butor (bew-TOR) first gained literary recognition as a novelist—his fame outside France still rests chiefly upon his New Novels—he has explored and experimented with several other forms and has (beginning with Mobile: Étude pour une représentation des États-Unis in 1962; Mobile: Study for a Representation of the United States, 1963) gone well beyond the novel in his long narratives. Butor’s poetry, some of which dates from the 1940’s, has evolved from his “Homage à Max Ernst” of 1945 and his “irrationalistic” poetry through prose poems and essay poems such as La Rose des vents: 32 rhumbs pour Charles Fourier (1970) and Dialogue avec 33 variations de Ludwig van Beethoven sur une valse de Diabelli (1971) to his Don Juan poems of the mid-1970’s, a series of texts printed on punched cards that can be shuffled and then read in any sequence. Other principal collections of poetry include Travaux d’approche (1972) and the poems and graphics of Illustrations I-IV (1964-1976).

A prodigious essayist, Butor turned out several pieces every year. His first volume of essays, Le Génie du lieu (1958; The Spirit of Mediterranean Places, 1986), which could also be classified as an autobiographical prose poem on the order of Portrait de l’artiste en jeune singe: Capriccio (1967; Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ape: A Caprice, 1995), was...

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Michel Butor Achievements

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Michel Butor has won international recognition as a novelist, poet, essayist, and lecturer and as a bold and versatile experimenter with literary form. His reputation first rested upon and remains largely connected with his efforts of the 1950’s in the experimental novel, le nouveau roman, or New Novel. As early as 1960, Jean-Paul Sartre accorded him extraordinarily high praise: “There is today, in France, someone who has the ambition to become and every chance of becoming a great writer. The first since 1945: Butor.” More than twenty years later, Butor has validated Sartre’s judgment; by the time Sartre recognized Butor’s achievement and potential, Butor had already gained considerable notice. In 1957, he received the Prix Fénelon for Passing Time and the Prix Théophraste-Renaudot for A Change of Heart. In 1960, he received the Grand Prix de la Critique Littéraire for Répertoire, I. By the mid-1960’s, his novels were already included on reading lists in the undergraduate curricula of some American universities.

A prolific literary theorist and critic, Butor earned the doctorate in 1973 for his defense of his own critical work. He has lectured extensively throughout the world and has held a variety of academic positions in numerous institutions, including Bryn Mawr College, Middlebury College, the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of New Mexico, and the universities of Geneva (Switzerland), Manchester (England), Nice (France), and Vincennes (France). One measure of Butor’s literary achievement is the growing list of monographs and critical volumes and the increasingly large number of essays on his work included each year in the MLA International Bibliography.

Michel Butor Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Britton, Celia. “Opacity and Transparence: Conceptions of History and Cultural Difference in the Work of Michel Butor and Edouard Glissant.” French Studies 49 (July, 1995): 308-330. Examines the differing conceptions of history and culture in the two authors, arguing that both novelists perceive the individual as the product of historical forces.

Calle-Gruber, Mireille. “Michel Butor.” Sites: Journal of the Twentieth-Century/Contemporary French Studies 5, no. 1 (Spring, 2001): 5-13. Calle-Grube provides a profile of the writer, describing, among other topics, his approach to the novel, the “novelistic deconstruction” in his works, and his literary theories.

Duffy, Jean H. “Art, Architecture, and Catholicism in Michel Butor’s La Modification.” Modern Language Review 94, no. 1 (January, 1999): 46-60. Duffy examines how the presence of art, architecture, and Catholicism are reflected in La Modification. Explains the novel’s numerous allusions to Michelangelo and how Butor’s use of art and architecture serves to universalize the experiences of the protagonist.

Duffy, Jean H. Butor, “La Modification.” London: Grant and Cutler, 1990. Duffy, who has written extensively on Butor’s work, provides a reader’s guide to the novel that brought Butor into the public...

(The entire section is 575 words.)