Bruce Morrissette

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1638

From the outset, the proliferation of game structures in the works of Alain Robbe-Grillet identifies this writer as a notable example of artifex ludens. Almost all the tendencies that were later to be termed "aspects ludiques" in his novels and films may be uncovered by careful scrutiny of his earliest productions. It is even possible to reduce the numerous game structures to a few basic models, such as the circular or winding path of individual cases or rectangles (like those usually found on board games played with dice), the maze or labyrinth, and the multiple-solution type of game, such as Clue, in which shuffling the cards representing characters and places allows each separate partie, although created out of identical elements, to lead to a totally different outcome.

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The conception of a fundamentally game-like structure of the novel would make of specific games mentioned in the works, or played by the characters therein, examples of interior duplication, functioning with respect to the over-all structure in somewhat the same way as an "inner novel" (cf. Jealousy) or play (cf. Last Year at Marienbad) that duplicates, at the level of the characters, and within the fictional field, the general pattern of the novel or film. This integrative principle constitutes one type of "justification" of an actual game (as in Marienbad) as coherently incorporated into the esthetic structure. The literal game may be minimized, or may not appear at all; but the "metaphysical" aspect of general game structure cannot, since it is part of the novelistic technique, be avoided. It is in turn this metaphysical implication that protects the work from falling into the gratuity of a neo-Kantian "free play of the faculties" conception of fictional art which might, if pushed to the limit, reduce the creative process to a kind of esthetic billard game or acrobatic display. It is also evident that the problem of formalism in the use of game structures in novels and films has its parallels in painting (from abstract expressionism to Pop Art) and the other arts, especially contemporary music. (pp. 159-60)

In The Erasers (1953) Robbe-Grillet employs myth as hidden structure and establishes ingenious correspondences between myth and the semi-occult "game" of Tarot cards. Neither the myth (that of Oedipus) nor the Tarot cards are specifically mentioned in the text, and the general recognition now of their presence may be attributed to the publication of various critical essays, beginning with my own. It is now possible here to reinforce and extend my original findings, thanks to the unexpected and welcome collaboration of the distinguished surrealist critic Jacques Brunius. I had limited myself to studying more or less separately the systematic correspondences between the Oedipus myth and the plot of The Erasers (in which the protagonist seeks a murderer only to become that murderer in the end), reflected in references to an abandoned child, Thebes, the riddle of the Sphynx, Apollo's oracle, Laïus' chariot, and the like, and to parallels between traditional reading of certain Tarot cards and the fictional situations in which they occur (in hidden form) in the novel. (p. 162)

What Jacques Brunius has proposed to me … is the possibility of discerning in the novel certain cross-correspondences between the Oedipus Myth and the Tarot pack which would "bring out a troubling parallelism between the two perspectives on Destiny represented by Oedipus and the Tarot." The effect of these would be to further integrate the "game" aspect of the Tarot into the novel's total structure…. These findings do indeed create a new parallelism within the novel, and they demonstrate conclusively that the notion of game, in the sense of purely formal diversion, carries with it implications reaching all the way into the...

(The entire section contains 8875 words.)

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