Pinget, Robert 1919–
Pinget, a French novelist and dramatist, is an exponent of the "new novel."
Pinget exhibited in his first works a gratuitous fantasy taking the form of comic parodies and allegories. One finds everything from Ubuesque inventions to shaggy dog stories, the sort of thing that would delight critics bent on liquidating the conventional novel. They have jubilantly hailed Pinget as one who has turned the old novel inside out, destroyed its characters, language, and plot. However that may be, in 1958, with Le Fiston (Monsieur Levert), Pinget definitely joined the ranks of the new novelists. Leaving off his loony antics, he tells the story of a man working every night on a letter to his son. We soon lose all foothold in reality as we enter the troubled universe of this father whose son has gone away. When did he actually leave, when is he coming back, will he ever return? We cannot trust the father's account, for it is obviously all mixed up, yet it is our only source of information. We try to infer what the facts of the story are but our view is so hampered by the obscurity and confusion of his vision that we give up and just listen with hypnotized attention. (p. 107)
Pinget's work joins the others, particularly Butor's and Ollier's, as the account of a futile attempt to capture reality and make sense of experience. (p. 108)
Laurent LeSage, "Robert Pinget," in The French New Novel: An Introduction and a Sampler (copyright © 1962 by The Pennsylvania State University), The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, 1962, pp. 107-12.
In a novel like Ulysses, the prose must slide about slip out of place all the time turn up at the edges you catch your feet in them, because Ulysses is a most deliberate study of the vagaries and peculiar associations of human thought. But M. Pinget's novel [The Inquisitory] is only a deliberate struggle—maintained with incredible stamina—to ride a one-wheeled bicycle for 399 miles. It is hardly surprising, then, that the total effect is immensely involved, generally unreadable, and appallingly boring. (p. 12)
Nigel Dennis, in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1967 NYREV, Inc.), March 23, 1967.
Last summer Robert Pinget took part in the colloquies devoted to the new novel at Cérisy-la Salle. Yet his work differs from that of such authors as Michel Butor and Robbe-Grillet, practitioners of the new-novel technique. Pinget's way is far more personal. His search consists mainly in discovering the right tone (tonality or voice) of his novels' narrators. Only after this initial task has been accomplished can he (author-narrator) really be himself and so express the feelings, ideas and atmosphere of his contemporaries and the world in which they live. Pinget is not interested in the symbolism involved or in the psychology of his characters or even in the themes or deeper meanings of their discourses which are never clearly delineated, certainly not in Fable.
Pinget's Fable is his most lyrical work, save for Graal Flibuste (1956). The reader is ushered into a fantasy-filled domain of heteroclite colors, disparate images ranging from sun-drenched delphiniums to heads rotting on the ground. The medley of inner rhythms which emerges from his sentence structure encourages the reader to feel his way or to intuit his path into Pinget's maze-like volume. (p. 438)
Bettina L. Knapp, in Books Abroad (copyright 1972 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 46, No. 3, Summer, 1972.
In the massive novel L'Inquisitoire (1962) Pinget fuses his work as a dramatist and as a novelist: it is in the form of questions and answers, a long and mysterious examination and cross-examination. Here the Theatre of the Absurd coalesces with the nouveau roman. (p. 231)
Martin Esslin, in his The Theatre of the Absurd (first published by The Overlook Press, Woodstock, N.Y. 12498; copyright © 1961, 1968, 1969 by Martin Esslin), revised edition, Overlook Press, 1973.
The French nouveau roman has a pronounced self-destructive urge. It puts the novel on trial, denies its own innocence, exposes the novelist himself as the chief suspect, incriminates him in his inadequate and self-contradictory evidence, and condemns the two of them together to a life sentence of fruitless forced labors.
Passacaille … is a fascinating piece of testimony. One cannot be sure of the events which it is struggling to piece together. All is supposition and hypothesis…. The reader hovers on the fringe of what might have been, or is due to be, an event, but an event which never takes shape to form a reassuring anecdote. At no point does a literary overseer emerge to establish some logic, make links, or provide explanatory commentary.
The characters involved are equally nebulous. People appear and disappear as if they had no proper existence…. Characters between whom one cannot see the connection loom into focus and fade away, their role strangely undetermined. Substitutions are made, gratuitously, it seems—at one moment the teacher could be a sorcerer, then the woman with the goats; at one moment it is the postman in the ditch, then the delivery man—and one suspects that these different figures might be one and the same, so much do they overlap and intermingle. A person called Rodolphe becomes Edouard and Edmond, perhaps by an accident of memory, but one wonders in the end if he ever existed, or at least in what form and under what name. The characters are, in fact, curiously "verbal." One cannot even be sure of the voice that speaks or the pen that writes. Is there a centralizing narrative mind at all and who is performing the literary task?… Characterization becomes a kind of "space to let," a central vacuum to be tried by anybody. Various persons, some known by name, others unknown, float towards it. But no one fits or seems to find it livable.
It has been suggested that the nouveau roman is the detective novel taken seriously. If by "taken seriously" one means not glibly wrapped up in a false but convincing story form, then Passacaille is a kind of detective novel. It has many of the features of the "whodunit," but with the one outstanding question: what is it, and who is who? (pp. 135-36)
The writer's great stumbling blocks are time and words. These are, paradoxically, the two elements that prevent a story from materializing. If one could solve the question of the clock—one could possibly solve everything. At one moment the clock's hands mark the time, at another some malicious person has moved them round, at another they have disappeared from the clock face completely. (p. 136)
Words are no less intractable—they are redundant fragments without an owner or a theme, whirling round to make their own provisional patterns. (pp. 136-37)
All the things which make a novel—a story, a character, a time sequence, and a control over words and their progression—are missing from Passacaille. But perhaps, in damning itself as a novel, it resurrects itself as a form of poetry…. Certainly, the great themes of poetry (time and memory, nature and the seasons, solitude and death) seep through the verbal fissures. Little touches of human emotion, all the more poignant because of their spasmodic appearance in a framework of absence and erosion, remind one of Reverdy's world. Pinget's technique, which juxtaposes images but states nothing, creates a play of suggestion. Above all, the work has the densely patterned structure of a poem, within which repetitions act as refrains, changes of tempo set up waves of rhythm, and words, no longer subservient to plot or ideas, enjoy the greatest creative autonomy. The prose poem has gained respectability as a "genre." Passacaille could well be a major development in a poem-novel. (p. 138)
Peter Broome, "Notes and Reviews: Robert Pinget's 'Passacaille'," in The International Fiction Review, July, 1974, pp. 135-38.
[Since Pinget's] first book, a collection of stories entitled Entre Fantoine et Agapa, Pinget's fiction has explored an imaginary provincial region between Fantoine and Agapa, a Gallic Yoknapatawpha County—an "absurd suburb of reality," in Robbe-Grillet's phrase. Certainly The Inquisitory, which won the Prix des Critiques, abounds with circumstantial information. Thirty pages are devoted to a description, shop by shop, of the main square of the village of Sirancy; the street geography of the town of Agapa is exhaustively examined; eleven pages call the roll of furnishings in the drawing room of a château, which is eventually inventoried from cellar to attic; and an attentive reader with pencil in hand could probably draw, from the various textual indications, a map of the entire region. Now, such feats of particularization demand more patience than passion from writer and reader alike, but the end result is the kind of trustworthiness absent, for different reasons, from both [Robbe-Grillet's] La Maison de Rendez-Vous and [Genet's] Miracle of the Rose. The Inquisitory is of the three by far the best novel, if by novel we understand an imitation of reality rather than a spurning of it.
Not that Pinget is old-fashioned; he has put himself to school with Robbe-Grillet and Beckett. The novel's premise is a Beckettian stripped situation: an infinitely garrulous old château servant is being quizzed by an infinitely curious investigator. Both are nameless. Punctuation marks are abjured. A shadowy secretary is in the room, typing up all three hundred and ninety-nine pages of meandering testimony. The object of the investigation—the disappearance of the château secretary—is never clarified. The dialogue, initially full to bursting of visual measurement and quidditas, ebbs into a fatigued exchange, laconic and baffled.
All this circumstantiality protests against circumstantiality, both as an adjunct of the novel and as the illusory stuff of life…. The investigator is in a sense the all too ideal reader, asking again and again, "Go on."… And the answerer … is the aboriginal storyteller, whose enterprise is essentially one of understanding. (pp. 362-63)
Pinget's very avant-garde novel of the absurd incorporates the full French novelistic tradition. Like Proust, he has a curé who dabbles in the etymology of place names; like Balzac, he avidly traces the fortunes of little provincial shops through all the ups and downs that gossip traces. The number of anecdotes, of miniature novels, caught in his nets of description cannot be counted; presumably some are expanded elsewhere in Pinget's oeuvre…. [By] the novel's end this district, into which enough historical allusion has been insinuated to render it an analogue of France, serves as a model of the world, with all human possibilities somewhere touched upon…. Pinget's work … seems not only highly accomplished but thoroughly masculine, quite without the eunuchoid air of distress with which too much modern fiction confronts its bride the world. (pp. 363-64)
John Updike, "Grove Is My Press, and Avant My Garde" (originally published in The New Yorker), in his Picked-Up Pieces (copyright © 1967, 1973, 1974, 1975 by John Updike; reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.), Knopf, 1976, pp. 352-65.