Robert Pinget Pinget, Robert (Vol. 13) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Pinget, Robert 1919–

Pinget, a Swiss-French novelist, short story writer, playwright, and journalist, is also a painter. His work bears the influence of both the New Novel movement and the concepts of the theater of the absurd. Pinget's purpose is to expose the fragmented communication that characterizes contemporary life. This is reflected in prose lacking a coherent narrative structure, and in which language itself is fragmented. (See also CLC, Vol. 7.)

Marilyn Gaddis Rose

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Pinget's unillusioned tenderness towards the mixed creatures who inhabit his special French province makes him one of the most appealing of the Nouveaux Romanciers. Often compared to Beckett and Robbe-Grillet because of his stylistic demonstration of the inadequacy of language and the arbitrariness of narration, he departs from their examples by using anecdotes that are touching and unpretentious. Like Camus's Dr. Rieux, Pinget finds in man more to admire than condemn. (p. 182)

[Le Libera is an anti-novel,] set in the environs of Agapa like all his fiction and drama, including the fantasy pieces, and building on the same cast of characters…. The title, an echo from the Lord's Prayer ("Deliver us from evil") is introduced in the last five pages and modulates on the final page into the narrator's quasi-ironic prayer: "Libera me Domine … / De merda aeterna excusez le calembour." Resolute but alone, he faces his dilemma…. (pp. 182-82)

The conclusion, typographically like a Surrealist litany (and recalling the last lines of Beckett's Malone meurt), points to the emerging pattern of Pinget's fiction: a narrator, obsessed by an event, cannot get to the truth of it, but he is sufficiently playful, toughminded, and charitable to keep his subject from being unpleasant and his narration from being frustrating. (p. 183)

Marilyn Gaddis Rose, in The French Review (copyright 1970 by the American Association of Teachers of French), October, 1970.

Alfred Cismaru

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Passacaille is a little novel, and we don't just mean in size. Completed in 1968, the same year that saw the publication of Le Libera, but published a year later, the book makes us wonder why an author who has such few things to say, and knows so poorly how to say them, believes it necessary to see himself in print so often.

Not that Robert Pinget was always so devoid of inspiration. In the 1950's we admired somewhat Graal Flibuste, Le Fiston, the play La Manivelle; and even as late as 1961 Clope au dossier revealed an intriguing writer who had learned a great deal from Ionesco and Beckett, and who could be, almost, as exciting. But Autour de Mortin in 1965, Quelqu'un in the same year (is he too concerned with quantity?) and the already mentioned Le Libera, offered nothing but tedious repetitions woven into storiless stories and presented with conscious, calculated and therefore artificial disregard to syntax.

Passacaille is no exception…. There is … in the book the slightly efficacious monotony of certain reappearing phrases: le calme, le gris; des corbeaux ou des pies; quelque chose de cassé dans le mecanique; source d'information défaillante. If these are supposed to remind us how miserable and uncomprehensible and inimical life is, what a bore. If they are simply used as a refrain to the unheard music of the passacaille (an ancient dance of Spanish origin), then these phrases play a passable role.

All in all, the worst in Ionesco and Beckett is better than the best in Pinget, and the worst in the latter is better than what we find in Passacaille. (p. 183)

Alfred Cismaru, in The French Review (copyright 1970 by the American Association of Teachers of French), October, 1970.

Steven G. Kellman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Quelqu'un portrays and is itself a desperate attempt to create links between the narrator and the other characters and between the narrator and the reader, even if the universe which arises as a result is an infernal one. The title of the novel itself appears to demonstrate this awesome power of words. The word "quelqu'un" effectively emblematizes the major concerns of this work, as well as of Pinget's fiction in general….

[Very] little specific information is advanced about the narrator, and we never even learn his name. Instead, the title of the novel suggests that he is simply "Quelqu'un," someone but no one in particular.

It is easy to see this Someone as a type of the alienated contemporary anti-hero plagued with the usual problems. As such, his anonymity is both descriptive and functional. It indicates his mediocrity; and, while denying him status as a rounded, independent personality, the narrator's anonymity also emphasizes his role as surrogate for the reader, making Quelqu'un, if not a contemporary Everyman, at least a type of contemporary man imprisoned within the suburban limbo between city and country and doomed never to meet Rivoire, his neighbor. (p. 138)

This someone who could be anyone is anxious throughout the novel to demonstrate the universality of his own petty experience…. [But] the narrator is uncertain about the existence of an external world and can only hope that he is not alone.

If the alienated Quelqu'un does succeed in functioning as a species of Everyman, then a paradox has been realized. As a representative for all of us, he must communicate the fact that we are all separate and incapable of converging and communicating. (p. 139)

"Quelqu'un," someone, also suggests some one, emphasizing the feeling of solitude pervading the novel. The narrator can never escape the fact that he is one person alone, and we readers are perpetually aware of the fact that we are confined to the first person narrative of one mind which can do nothing...

(The entire section is 849 words.)

Robert Henkels, Jr.

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Words spill onto the white pages of Passacaille like the blood of a stricken animal staining the snow. Phrases and sentences flow from the pen of a narrator holed up behind the rough walls of a country house as winter winds cuff the building at nightfall. From outside press in on Mortin the fragments of a puzzle he has never managed to fit into a pattern he can understand: the hostility of his neighbors; the reasons for their comings and goings; the course of the seasons; the signs of approaching death. Something or someone is apparently bleeding to death out there in the dark, spilling life blood onto the manure pile. Meanwhile, the narrator slumps at his desk and stares vacantly from time to time at a clock whose hands he has torn off in despair. Mortin cannot put the cluttered house of his consciousness in order, unable as he is to sort out past and present, fact and fantasy. Pressures build up within the room and within the narrator. Loneliness, frustration, aggression drive him to the wall, to the window where he stands framed and pinned between alienation and disorder.

Mortin is a creature made of air. Breath rushing around his tongue and palate bring him into being. The Pingetian "I" discovers, creates and sustains its sense of identity by the hows and whats of saying. What we hear conditions who we are. We give ourselves away by speaking. The words which advance the line of print scanned by the reader's eye register the contours of pressures pushing at the chambers of Mortin's consciousness. The serpentine wall of letters marks the perimeter of the known and the unknown. It bends but never breaks. Passacaille grows from the kernel of the first sentence as page after page flows from the interplay of suggestion and association. The opening statement starts to set the tone. The tensions between syntax and sensibility, and reflection and observation fix the range and rhythm of the reactions of the speaking voice. (pp. 274-75)

Mortin seems to be telling a story at first, haltingly, sometimes incoherently, but doggedly. He speculates about the dead body, a broken-down tractor, the theft of change from a drawer, the movements around town of an outsider…. Mortin's words wall in nothing. The story lurches along like a child's Slinky Toy down a long stairway to nowhere. Each episode generates just enough momentum to keep it in motion. Pinget gives us not a plot but a "simulacre" or "sham" of one. Le Simulacre was his original idea for the title. The cadaver outside may be a...

(The entire section is 1042 words.)

Robert M. Henkels, Jr.

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Although it is not directly derivative, Cette Voix bears the stamp of much that was creative in experimental, surrealist writing of the twenties. Pinget's prose abounds in hilarious malapropisms, expresses a delightful taste for the incongruous and the unexpected, and unfolds through a process of automatic writing, disciplined and focused by exhaustive reworking. There is no plot in the novel. Nor are there well-defined characters. Rather a voice or a series of voices rambles on about a variety of subjects with no apparent orderly progression. As in the theories of transformational grammarians, a small number of generative sentences evolve into an ever-changing verbal flow that follows rhythms and patterns of its own…. What could have been a dry, stylistic exercise is brought to life by weaving in strands of speech patterns and observations of small town life picked up "sur le vif." (pp. 641-42)

The goal of Cette Voix is an anamnesis to be achieved through the act of writing…. Pinget suggests that it is through words that man holds at bay disorder, disintegration and the final silence of death. Like the characters whose names vary, the story whose outlines blur, and the repeated phrases that echo through the text and disappear from the slate, language and its speakers are caught up in relentless change…. The attempt to achieve that anamnesis in Cette Voix is nevertheless engrossing, amusing, and deeply moving…. (p. 642)

Robert M. Henkels, Jr., in The French Review (copyright 1976 by the American Association of Teachers of French), March, 1976.

Graham Martin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Recurrent Melody (Passacaille)] has precisely the qualities of solemnity, of circular advance towards and withdrawal from a dark centre, of a stately and ominous dance, suggested by that musical term. Out of obsessive and sinister images, a marsh, a scarecrow, red rags of blood, hints of sorcery, a clock with its hands removed, the author struggles, it seems, to build a narrative which will hang together. Towards the end, assisted by some brief touches of gloomy humour, he almost succeeds; and the narrative then collapses once more into funeral shreds. Little enough to engage one's interest, one might think. But torn from any context, arranged in shifting patterns, linked explicitly in different and contradictory ways with one another, the novel's malignant images attract the full weight of our attention: they exercise, in fact, considerable poetic power. (pp. 104-05)

Graham Martin, in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1976), June-July, 1976.