Introduction

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Pinget, Robert 1919–

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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

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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

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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

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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 but circle around itself. The title Quelqu'un thus supports the intolerable sense of separation and imprisonment within the trivial existence of some one. (p. 140)

In Quelqu'un, although Rivoire's manuscript explains how to live happily alone, it is left as a legacy to someone else, and, although the narrator withdraws within himself, it is ironically in reaction to others and in the hope that by doing so he might possibly reach others.

Clearly, the narrator as "quelqu'un," some one, is not enough. He needs someone else. Within the fictional world, this explains his obsession with meeting and communicating with his neighbor, even if he has to talk about scarecrows, weather vanes, or garbage pails to do so….

In addition, the narrative itself represents a desperate reaching out for "quelqu'un." The reference of the title thus shifts from the first person to the second person, from narrator to reader; we become the someone capable of breaking the circle of the writer's isolation. (p. 141)

Quelqu'un as direct address to "quelqu'un" is thus related to the epistolary nature of both Baga and Graal Flibuste. The king-narrator conceives of his narrative as, in effect, a series of letters to his nephews, thus placing it within the tradition of aids to the education of royal heirs. The sterile king, of course, has no children of his own and no prospects for any, but even the existence of any nephews soon becomes very questionable…. (pp. 141-42)

Like Baga and like Quelqu'un, Graal Flibuste is an attempt to recover a lost communion, an attempt which illuminates its own futility. It is the dry angel of letters with wings of paper who destroys the form of communication counted on by the drunkard. (p. 142)

Ultimately, the perfect reader, the final "quelqu'un," becomes God. There are some twenty occurrences of the word "Dieu" and many others of such words as "Seigneur" and "le ciel" in the ostensibly incongruous context of this novel. Yet, among others things, Quelqu'un is a novel of frustrated mysticism. (p. 143)

As the title Baga might emphasize, Pinget's narrators are and are concerned with "bagatelles." Through the power of their language, their "bagou," they must attempt to overcome this; those brief moments which present some glimmer of success have the mystical quality of genuine divine possession…. Pinget's narrators are in some sense vatic, transmitting through their words all of the power necessary to hold and convert us as someone else. But what their words do is essentially depict their pettiness. (pp. 143-44)

In a way, Quelqu'un is a solitary pilgrim, a devoted contemplative retreating to the suburbs from the sinfulness of the world, but the narrative also makes it clear that he is a terrified and isolated little man. He is some one cut off from someone; he inhabits a world irrevocably divorced from the divine and must cultivate a garden made barren by factory soot. Solitary, he can only begin, with no hope of consummation…. (p. 144)

Steven G. Kellman, in MOSAIC: A Journal for the Study of Literature and Ideas (copyright © 1972 by the University of Manitoba Press; acknowledgment of previous publication is herewith made), Vol. V, No. 3 (Spring, 1972).

Robert Henkels, Jr.

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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 scarecrow, the "simulacrum" of a man, a cow, the postman, a child, or none of the above. The repetition and movement of words replaces the things described at the center of our attention as in a Marx brothers' comic monologue.

Pinget relaxed while writing the récit by listening to music by Bach. He treats words in the novel like semi-plastic objects, repeating them in a fugal manner, whence the title "Passacaille" ("passacaglia"). The recurrence of "to fall", "descend", "cold", "gray", "night" evokes the chilling world of Mortin's mind on which Death is closing in. Longer phrases come back again and again as asides while Mortin groans about the difficulties of writing. The comments of the self-conscious author-protagonist appear more frequently or the straw stuffing shows through the scarecrow plot. They slowly reveal the novel's real subject, the frustration of the attempt to make order, in this case to write Passacaille. The reader must come to terms with what Pinget calls "the speaking voice" just as Mortin must struggle to explore mysteries outside and inside himself.

Mortin's voice calls out to an understanding listener in Le Libéra, the book which preceded Passacaille. He reaches out to caress a world of gossip and misunderstanding with playful diminutives. The earlier novel extends an invitation to enter the kitchen of the author's world and poke around, like a screen door left ajar in summer. The windows of the house in Le Libéra open onto Pinget's work. You can make out the towers of the Chateau de Broy and the steeple in Fantoine on the horizon. Mortin's voice changes in Passacaille. The words put barriers in the reader's way. Uncertainty dictates the novel's syntax. Repeated phrases show language turning upon itself. Mortin closes the windows and bolts the shutters againt the wind. (pp. 275-76)

The voice in Passacaille says almost nothing to us we can "understand," if understanding means to extract its content and fit it into a logically consistent whole. It "simply burns," consuming anecdotal fragments like so many wood chips. Strangely enough, Mortin's strategic retreat does not put a frog into his throat. His voice rings out with increasing clarity. Pinget even pins down the spot from which Mortin writes at Sirancy, and he has quite obviously drawn its description from his farmhouse in Tourraine. He has woven Real and Imaginary, Development and Invention into the novel.

Nowhere does Pinget give us so sharp a sense of time and space. The depiction of winter's lifelessness chills the reader. The body or its "simulacre" lies bony and irreducible on the hard ground throughout the novel. Contradictory meanings and values attach themselves to it like the image of the drowned boy in Bergman's "Hour of the Wolf." Pinget walks around the corpse of spent desires, passions and dreams. He pokes at the embodiment of repressed sexuality, checked violence and strangled justifications talking to us as he goes. He stares at himself unblinkingly as dead, and sees his work mutilated and incomplete.

The "new novelists" avoid the furbelows of "beautiful" prose. It would be difficult, however, to find a more movingly honest piece of contemporary writing than what the author gives us in Passacaille. The words describe the cadaver without and the loneliness within without overstatement, understatement or the slightest note of self-indulgence of any kind. The voice's very tremblings make it strong. Life and death embrace on the manure pile. The study of wintry death, and the breaking of silence gives life to the spirit, and to Pinget's expression of it. (p. 277)

Robert Henkels, Jr., "The New Novel: Self-Analysis," in Novel: A Forum on Fiction (copyright © Novel Corp., 1972), Spring, 1972, pp. 274-77.

Robert M. Henkels, Jr.

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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

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[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.

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