Alain Robbe-Grillet

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Summarize Robbe-Grillet’s goal in his theory of New Novelism. Explain how the New Novel, surprisingly, may actually fulfill the oldest purpose of literature, which is what the ancient Greeks called mimesis, the imitation of nature. Discuss a reason why many readers may find Robbe-Grillet’s work to be less satisfying than a traditional story.

The goal behind Robbe-Grillet’s theory of the New Novel is to write with an eye towards representing inanimate objects in the world, thereby subordinating an old-fashioned focus on plot, action, and character. Instead, his theory of the novel focused on objects: the ideal Nouveau Roman would be an individual version or vision of things, resisting traditional Aristotelian notions of human plots and characters in favor of an objective worldview, as in a landscape painting rather than a self-portrait.

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Alain Robbe-Grillet, a twentieth-century French author and filmmaker, is the chief inventor of the 1950s and 1960s literary style or genre known as the New Novel” (Nouveau Roman). The purpose of the artistic movement was to redefine the aesthetic of a literary work of art by shifting away from traditional mimesis or representation. Robbe-Grillet’s goal throughout his oeuvre is to enliven reader responses by allowing audiences to interpret things for themselves.

Robbe-Grillet’s work is challenging, if not downright off-putting to some readers. Methodical, detailed, and often repetitive descriptive accounts of objects replace (and often reveal) the psychology of his human characters. When reading a New Novel, one must slowly assemble the narrative events or plot. The new novelists’ techniques resemble the experience of psychoanalysis, in which deeper unconscious meanings are uncovered in the flow and disruptions of free associations. Timelines and plots are fractured, and the resulting novel resembles the literary equivalent of a cubist painting.

Ultimately, Robbe-Grillet’s work is characterized by its tendency to mean many different things to many different people. In this way, his approach to mimesis is fundamentally different from Aristotle’s, which was to focus on aspects of thought, character, and narrative to tell stories. The New Novel insists that humanity is merely one part of a large, diverse, and at times mysterious world.

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