Critical Context

Passing Time, his second novel, gained for Butor national recognition in France in the form of the Fenelon Prize in 1957. During the same year, he published and won the Theophraste-Renaudot Prize for La Modification (1957; A Change of Heart, 1959). Firmly established in the avant-garde as an advocate for and writer of the “New Novel” of the 1950’s and 1960’s, Butor experimented with the structure of the novel as well as the presentation of characters and the interiorizing of action. Like his first novel, Passage de Milan (1954), Passing Time is a work of extraordinary technical virtuosity that foreshadows his later and bolder experiments with form in Reseau aerien: Texte radiophonique (1962) and in the long narratives variously called postnovels or novels, Mobile: Etude pour une representation des Etats-Unis (1962; Mobile: Study for the Representation of the United States, 1963), 6,810,000 Litres d’eau par seconde: Etude stereophonique (1965; Niagara: A Stereophonic Novel, 1969), and Boomerang (1978).

Passing Time, experimental though it is, falls recognizably within the category of the novel. Butor’s later writings seek to transcend the form in such a way as to become “open” works, susceptible to a variety of readings, not confined to the printed page but aspiring to the condition of music. His diverse poetry, his operatic work with Henri Pousseur in producing Votre Faust: Fantaisie variable genre Opera (1962), his travelogues as novels, his essays, and his continuing work as a writer and lecturer place him among the few great literary figures of the last half of the twentieth century.