Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Alain Robbe-Grillet 1922-2008

Alain Robbe-Grillet, the master of the 'new novel' and key figure of the French avant garde of the 1960s has died at the age of 85. There are obituaries in The Times and by Douglas Johnson in The Guardian.
From the 1950s onwards, a group of French writers, including Claude Simon, Michel Butor and Nathalie Sarraute, challenged the historical idea of the novel. They were hardly in agreement with each other, and it was Robbe-Grillet who made the most explicit statement of what the new novel was about in an essay, Pour Un Nouveau Roman, published in 1963.

His argument was straightforward - that the time had passed for novels to be about characters and individuals. The idea of telling a story, the novel as a narration, was no longer relevant, and any ambition to write a novel that would support a cause or put forward an argument had become inappropriate. The individual no longer played a part in the world, and the rise and fall of men and women or the destiny of families, belonged to a previous time. It was only possible to write like Stendhal if you were actually writing in 1830, and if a modern composer wanted to produce music exactly like that of Beethoven, he would find that no one wanted to listen to it.

What counted was creation, according to Robbe-Grillet. A novel (or a film) should show imagination at work - it should create a mental world not to be confused with the real world.

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