Robbe-Grillet, Alain (Vol. 6)

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Last Updated on May 19, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4600

Robbe-Grillet, Alain 1922–

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A French novelist, screenwriter, essayist, and critic, Robbe-Grillet is a principal theoretician and practitioner of the "new novel." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

Robbe-Grillet [is] far more interested in than interesting about his inventions; [on the other hand, his] peculiar involvement in them, and the oddity of the inventions themselves, doesn't always leave one cold…. One can in fact find oneself positively choosing to fret about what's going on in these novels, wanting to ponder and plunder (as it were) their poverty, for signs, significantions, symbols, anything that might yield a mote of interest or a beam of light from the slit-like purview of their voids. And it's possible to come off not completely empty-handed. One could say, for example, that here is a writer who teaches us something about the fine art of literary boredom, the kind of anxiety it implies, and the latest twist to the psychopathology of everyday life—the novel, let's say, as Schadenfreudian slip. His best and weirdest novels, The Voyeur and Jealousy, might be seen as projections of a musclebound imagination whose psychic blots add up to a new kind of Rorschach test: there is a hole at the center of each of them, lurid, dim, amorphous, and from the changing shapes of that hole and what he is able to discern inside of it the reader constructs plot, counter-plot, actions, passions, motives, everything, in short, that humanly interests him. And this he must do if he is to make of these novels anything at all. The amount of fantasy generated will of course vary from reader to reader, but its variety is fairly circumscribed, for the real paradox of Robbe-Grillet is that he leaves very little to the imagination: the burden of his sense of mystery is heavily weighted on the sado-pornographic side…. [These] novels are as obsessive in their asceticism as in their solipsism, as assiduous to put things out of reach as to keep an eye on their surface and design. (pp. 27-8)

Gene Ballif, in Salmagundi (copyright © 1970 by Skidmore College), Spring, 1970.

The surface dislocations of the story in M. Robbe-Grillet's novels, as it is first launched and then frustrated, or led into casual contradiction of itself, are a distraction from the much jollier games being played beneath: there is a whole lot more to the antinovel as M. Robbe-Grillet continues to exploit it than the mere starvation of his audience's supposed craving for the solid and unequivocal. It is unexpected to find that this polemical man keeps his most sardonic effects in concealment, accessible only to advanced students of his methods who are prepared to work harder for their satisfactions.

Projet pour une révolution à New York is … every bit as caustic and ingenious as the earlier [novels], and it restates the familiar propositions of M. Robbe-Grillet's theory of fiction.

As good an image as any with which to inaugurate the decoding of a book which, read simply as it comes, is quite anarchic, is one introduced towards the end: of a greatly magnified electric iron on a street hoarding. The representation of this homely object is so large that it is described as "gros comme une locomotive", and the lecteur who ingests a Robbe-Grillet novel without gagging on its similes or metaphors is less than fully averti, he is passing up both the clues and the jokes. The giant iron, so helpfully likened to a means of propulsion, is in fact one of the proliferating stand-ins, in the text itself, for M. Robbe-Grillet's notorious conception of the novel form: as a deranged inflation and betrayal of reality.

The iron in question is only one term in a lengthy metallic series generated on the first page of Projet pour une révolution à New York . Here, the eye of the narrator is solicited by...

(The entire section contains 4600 words.)

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