Alain Robbe-Grillet

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Alain Robbe-Grillet (French pronounced [alɛ̃ ʁɔb gʁiˈje]) (August 18, 1922 – February 18, 2008), was a French writer and filmmaker. He was, along with Nathalie Sarraute, Michel Butor and Claude Simon, one of the figures most associated with the Nouveau Roman trend. Alain Robbe-Grillet was elected a member of the Académie française on March 25, 2004, succeeding Maurice Rheims at seat No. 32. He was married to Catherine Robbe-Grillet (née Rstakian).


[edit] Life

Alain Robbe-Grillet was born in Brest, (Finistère, France) to a family of engineers and scientists. He was trained as an agricultural engineer. During the years 1943 and 1944, Robbe-Grillet participated in compulsory labor in Nuremberg, where he worked as a machinist. The initial few months were seen by Robbe-Grillet as something of a holiday, since, in-between the very rudimentary training he was given to operate the machinery, he had free time to go to the theatre and the opera. In 1945, Robbe-Grillet completed his diploma at the National Institute of Agronomy. Later, his work as an agronomist took him to Martinique, French Guinea, Guadeloupe, and Morocco. He died in Caen after succumbing to heart problems.[1]

[edit] Work

Robbe-Grillet's first novel, The Erasers (Les Gommes), was published in 1953, after which he dedicated himself full-time to his new occupation. His early work was praised by eminent critics, such as Roland Barthes and Maurice Blanchot. Around the time of his second novel, he became a literary advisor for Les Editions de Minuit and occupied this position from 1955 until 1985. After publishing four novels, in 1961, he worked with Alain Resnais, writing the script for Last Year at Marienbad (L'Année dernière à Marienbad), and he subsequently wrote and directed his own films.

In 1963, Robbe-Grillet published For a New Novel (Pour un Nouveau Roman), a collection of previously-published theoretical writings concerning the novel. From 1966 to 1968, he was a member of the High Committee for the Defense and Expansion of French (Haut comité pour la défense et l´expansion de la langue française). In addition, Robbe-Grillet also led the Centre for Sociology of Literature (Centre de sociologie de la littérature) at the university of Bruxelles from 1980 to 1988. From 1971 to 1995, Robbe-Grillet was a professor at New York University, lecturing on his own novels.

In 2004 Robbe-Grillet was elected to the Académie française, but was never actually formally received by the Académie because of disputes regarding the Académie's reception procedures. Robbe-Grillet both refused to prepare and submit a welcome speech in advance, preferring to improvise his speech, as well as refusing to purchase and wear the Académie's famous green tails (habit vert) and sabre, which he considered outdated.

[edit] Style

His writing style has been described as "realist" or "phenomenological" (in the Heideggerian sense) or "a theory of pure surface." Methodical, geometric, and often repetitive descriptions of objects replace the psychology and interiority of the character. Instead, one slowly pieces together the story and the emotional experience of jealousy in the repetition of descriptions, the attention to odd details, and the breaks in repetitions. Ironically, this method resembles the experience of psychoanalysis in which the deeper unconscious meanings are contained in the flow and disruptions of free associations. Timelines and plots are fractured and the resulting novel resembles the literary equivalent of a cubist painting. Yet his work is ultimately characterised by its ability to mean many things to many different people[2].

[edit] Novels

Robbe-Grillet wrote his first novel A Regicide (Un Régicide) in 1949, but it was rejected by Gallimard, a major French publishing house, and only later published with 'minor corrections' by his life-long publisher Les Editions de Minuit in 1978. His first published novel was The Erasers (Les Gommes), in 1953. It has been argued that the novel superficially resembles a detective novel, but contains within it a deeper structure based on the story of Oedipus. The detective is seeking the assassin in a murder that has not yet occurred, only to discover that it is his destiny to become that assassin.

His next and most acclaimed novel is The Voyeur (Le Voyeur), first published in French in 1955 and translated into English in 1958 by Richard Howard. The Voyeur relates the story of Mathias, a travelling watch salesman who returns to the island of his youth with a desperate objective. As with many of his novels, The Voyeur revolves around an apparent murder: throughout the novel, Mathias unfolds a newspaper clipping about the details of a young girl's murder and the discovery of her body among the seaside rocks. Mathias' relationship with a dead girl, possibly that hinted at in the story, is obliquely revealed in the course of the novel so that we are never actually sure if Mathias is a killer or simply a person who fantasizes about killing. Importantly, the 'actual murder', if such a thing exists, is absent from the text. The narration contains little dialogue, and an ambiguous timeline of events. Indeed, the novel's opening line is indicative of the novel's tone: "It was as if no one had heard." The Voyeur was awarded the Prix des Critiques.

Next, he wrote La Jalousie in 1957, one of his only novels to be set in a non-urban location, in this instance a banana plantation. In the first year of publication only 746 copies were sold, despite the popularity of The Voyeur. Robbe-Grillet argued that the novel was constructed along the lines of an absent third-person narrator. In Robbe-Grillet's account of the novel the absent narrator, a jealous husband, silently observes the interactions of his wife (referred to only as "A...") and a neighbour, Franck. The silent narrator who never names himself (his presence is merely inferred, e.g. by the number of place settings at the dinner table or deck chairs on the verandah) is extremely suspicious that A... is having an affair with Franck. Throughout the novel, the absent narrator continually replays his observations and suspicions (that is, created scenarios about A... and Franck) so much so that it becomes impossible to distinguish between 'observed' moments or 'suspicious' moments.

[edit] Films

Robbe-Grillet also wrote screenplays, notably for Alain Resnais' 1961 film Last Year at Marienbad, a critical success considered to be one of the finest French films of the 1960s. It was followed by a number of films written and directed by Robbe-Grillet himself: Trans-Europ-Express (1966), his two French-Slovak films L'homme qui ment/Muž, ktorý luže (The Man Who Lies) (1968), L'Eden et après/Eden a potom (Eden and After) (1970), Glissements progressifs du plaisir (The Slow Slidings of Pleasure) (1974), Le jeu avec le feu (Playing with Fire) (1975), La belle captive (The Beautiful Captive) (1986) and many others.

[edit] Cultural references

The Australian composer Lindsay Vickery has written an opera based on the novel Djinn. Frédéric Beigbeder refers to Robbe-Grillet in his novel Windows On the World. In the movie Sideways, Miles (Paul Giamatti) explains to Maya (Virginia Madsen) that his unpublished novel "evolves - or devolves - into a kind of a Robbe-Grillet mystery - but (with) no real resolution."

In the commentary section of the Sideways DVD, Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church discuss the Robbe-Grillet reference during the scene when Miles is explaining his novel to Maya in (what Church dubs) the "lair of the white grape." When the line is mentioned Church says: "I love that--Robbe-Grillet. That gets a very good laugh." Paul Giamatti chimes in with: "What the hell?!" Church adds, "it's the height of ostentation." To which Giamatti agrees: "Nothing could be more pretentious." Then he disparages his own character stating: "What a jackass!"

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] Novels

[edit] A Short story collection

[edit] Essays

[edit] "Romanesques"

[edit] Filmworks

[edit] "Cine-novels"

[edit] Filmography

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Alain Robbe-Grillet obituary". The Guardian. 2008-02-19.,,2257878,00.html. 
  2. ^ Remembering Alain Robbe-Grillet, the French Writer and Intellectual - New York Times
  3. ^ Robbe-Grillet repeatedly referred to this book in interviews as not belonging to his literary work. For example on Ce soir (ou jamais !) on the 24 October 2007. He is reported to have declined an invitation to read extracts from the novel at a literary festival by saying, 'Parce que ce n'est pas de la littérature, c'est de la masturbation!' Les Inrockuptibles numéro 639, 26 février.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Further reading

Preceded by
Maurice Rheims
Seat 32
Académie française
Succeeded by
François Weyergans
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