Robbe-Grillet, Alain (Vol. 1)

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Last Updated on May 19, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4628

Robbe-Grillet, Alain 1922–

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A French novelist and critic, Robbe-Grillet is associated with the New Novelists and is the author of The Voyeur, In the Labyrinth, and Last Year at Marienbad. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-10.)

Robbe-Grillet's narrative technique, which focuses on a description of objects in space, has frequently provoked hostility and incomprehension in readers and critics. Abstract, geometric descriptions, however, represent an oblique authorial intrusion into a narrative from which the author seems to have been refined out of existence. The intent of geometric and arithmetic descriptions, then, is to communicate distance—that necessary "distance" between man and Nature—whereas the more conventional descriptions (there are gradations) are to communicate the type and intensity of a particular character's "complicity." Robbe-Grillet has, therefore, written novels from which he, as an author, appears to be absent (insomuch as he does not openly intrude to comment on the story as so many traditional novelists would) but which, nevertheless, communicate his point of view. Almost everything "seen" in the novel depends on the particular selectivity of the protagonist's eye. This selectivity communicates his psychological state of mind which is not analysed—Robbe-Grillet rejects this kind of authorial intrusion—but seen. Robbe-Grillet has, therefore, masterfully combined Editorial Omniscience (the author's oblique comment) and Selective Omniscience (what the main character sees) into one simultaneous narrative technique—a new and important artistic achievement. (pp. xvi-xvii)

Robbe-Grillet's novels, though they might seem antipodal to Sarraute's, also reveal an extreme fascination and preoccupation with the workings of the mind and the subconscious…. Thus Robbe-Grillet in Le Voyeur will describe bits of string, a rusty piton, figure eight shapes, and a very young girl as seen through the eyes of the watch salesman, Mathias. These apparently unconnected objects will, in the course of the novel, reveal Mathias' sexuality and the nature of his crime. (p. 10)

Robbe-Grillet traces the inner psychological world of his protagonists as it registers on environmental objects and stimuli. Here is manifest on Robbe-Grillet … the influence of the movies…. Flashbacks in his novels have the same function and are described in the same way that a flashback occurs on the screen: it is seen in the present and the viewer or reader reacts to the film on the screen or to the "inner film" of the protagonist's memory (when it is being described) as though it were happening now rather than in the past or in an imaginary future. The identity [of] technique between Last Year at Marienbad and his novels is evident. This emphasis on events occurring in the present is, along with the limitation of the point of view, the most interesting phenomenon of the "new novel." (pp. 11-12)

[Robbe-Grillet] can write what seem to be "technique" novels and at the same time make a significant statement about the human situation. His novels are not pure form, as many critics affirm, but the perfect artistic fusion of content and meaning which is its form. This is no small achievement and I would venture to say that Robbe-Grillet is one of the most important French novelists since Camus. (p. 15)

Though Robbe-Grillet's technique as a novelist differs from Sartre's it is, nevertheless, strongly dependent on his thought as philosopher and theoretician. Robbe-Grillet admits that he was never able to finish or understand L'Etre et le néant (Being and Nothingness), yet his novels, by stressing the distance between man and things, suggest the void, the "nothingness," which is the basis for so much of Sartre's theoretical writing. (pp. 30-1)

There are virtually no tactile or...

(The entire section contains 4628 words.)

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