Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Butor blends a wide variety of themes into the highly structured narrative he has called L’Emploi du temps. The title delineates the principal theme of temporality in several important respects. Translated as “passing time,” it could mean the passage of time, time’s flight, or killing time; it could also be translated as “the schedule,” clearly identifying the constraints of railway scheduling that begin the novel inauspiciously and end it abruptly. The structure of the work reinforces its title and the theme of time: It is divided into five parts, like the acts of classical French plays, each part corresponding to the month in which it is written. Begun on May 1, the diary’s subject for May is the preceding October. By June, Revel is writing about the events of November and also contemporaneous June events. July expands to include December, May, and July. In the final part, “Farewell,” he writes of September, February, March, July, and August and recalls every other month’s events as he reads the pages written since May, so that the year’s experience finds its iteration and culmination in September. This fluid process of moving back and forth across time follows a sometimes rigid and sometimes interrupted schedule of writing on most weeknights, so that each part is divided into five sections, each of about five days’ duration. Despite all the work’s infrastructure, Revel is frustrated by the nearly impossible task of telling his story,...

(The entire section is 581 words.)