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Nouveau Roman

Lifespan: 1957 (coined) - 1950s - 1960s

Related: fiction - French literature - nouvelle vague cinema - nouveau - roman

Authors: Alain Robbe-Grillet - Maurice Blanchot - Marguerite Duras

Despite the assertions of nouveauté, this vision of the novel can be construed as developing from earlier writers' suggestions and practice. Huysmans, ninety years before, had suggested how the novel might be depersonalised; more recently, Kafka had shown that conventional methods of depicting character were not essential; Joyce had done the same for plot; and absurdist writers had engaged with some of the themes which preoccupied writers of/on the nouveau roman. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nouveau_roman [Jun 2006]


Nouveau roman refers to certain 1950s French novels that diverged from classical literary genres. Literally translated, the phrase means "new novel." Émile Henriot coined the title in an article in the popular French newspaper Le Monde on May 22, 1957 to describe certain writers who experimented with style in each novel, creating an essentially new style each time. In contrast, modernist novelists each created a distinctive style for themselves which defined their works. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nouveau_roman [Mar 2005]

Literary influences on nouvelle vague cinema and cinematic influences on the nouveau roman

Alain Robbe-Grillet, one of the most important novelists of the nouveau roman has often been described as using a very 'cinematic' style. Since the nouvelle vague period coincided with the auteur theory, I would suppose that the nouvelle vague was a very 'literary' way of filmmaking, not in the sense that these films could be read as novels, but that they were conceived as novels.

A good deal of the [Hiroshima Mon Amour]'s modernist sensibility stems directly from the "nouveau roman" (Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean Cayrol, Raymond Queneau), a literary style that downplayed plot and action in favor of more reflexive meditations on the narrative process, language, temporality, memory, and subjectivity. --Hiroshima Mon Amour, Donato Totaro , August 31, 2003 via http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/new_offscreen/hiroshima.html

See also: auteur theory - nouveau roman - nouvelle vague - French culture

Nouveau Roman Fiction Theory and Politics (1992) - Celia Britton

Nouveau Roman Fiction Theory and Politics (1992) - Celia Britton [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

This text discusses Robbe-Grillet, Sarraute, Simon, Butor and Ricardou, analyzing both the interaction of their own theory and fiction, and their reactions to the work of Sartre, Barthes, Levi-Strauss, Sollers and Kristeva. The nouveau roman writers have been involved in the theory as well as the practice of fiction, participating in a series of debates on issues such as the political significance of literature, formalism and structuralism and the status of the author. The book is an introduction to the relationship between theory and practice. --via Amazon.co.uk

The Nouveau Roman and popular culture

As a literary movement, the nouveau roman belongs unambiguously to high culture. Far from aiming at a mass readership, it has always been defiantly elitist, setting out from the start to be "difficult" in the sense that it aims to challenge and disorientate the reader; but also in that it is, as an avant-garde movement, vigorously differentiating itself from traditional literature. This very attack, of course, assumes that the reader has an extensive familiarity with this earlier literature; in other words, the reader knows the conventions of nineteenth-century realism or of the modernist psychological novel of Proust, Joyce, or Virginia Woolf, for instance, and can therefore see how the nouveau roman is distancing itself from them. But it is nevertheless an attack on high culture of an established kind. --Celia Britton via http://elecpress.monash.edu.au/french/1998_1/britton.html [May 2005]

Popular culture
It is, however, undoubtedly Robbe-Grillet who, amo all the nouveaux romanciers, has made most use of popular culture and has integrated it most closely into his own texts. His first novel, Les Gommes, uses the detective story form just as Butor's L'Emploi du temps does, but in a very different way. What for Butor was a significant metaphor for the philosophical possibility of reaching the truth becomes in Robbe-Grillet's hands merely an object of parody. Juxtaposing the common thriller with Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, as the whole narrative structure of Les Gommes does, is a move towards deflating high culture, while simultaneously deflating the popular myth of the superhuman detective. Wallas, the detective/Oedipus figure, is also made to function--but again in a completely different way from that of Butor's figuring of the detective as Oedipus in L'Emploi du temps--as a parody, or at least a banalization, of the Freudian Oedipal hero. This can be seen as the beginning of an idea which Robbe-Grillet develops much more explicitly in his later work: that Freudian notions have become popularized and integrated into the general cultural text of the latter half of the twentieth century and that this process has important effects on both popular culture and on individual notions of selfhood. --Celia Britton via http://elecpress.monash.edu.au/french/1998_1/britton.html [May 2005]

Alain-Robbe Grillet
Or so one would have thought; but in fact Robbe-Grillet's explanations of what he is doing with them and why are rather contradictory. These contradictions become more and more important as the stereotypes in question are increasingly those of sadistic pornography. What is at issue here, in other words, is the way in which sexual fantasy is both codified and gratified in forms of popular culture, and what Robbe-Grillet's position on this really is. The problem arises because he is, on the one hand, often quite open about the fact that the fantasies staged in his texts are his fantasies as well; he claims that he is simply less hypocritical about them than most other writers of high culture. Interviewed in Le Monde, for instance, he says: "Mes fantasmes sado-érotiques, je n'en ai nullement honte, je les mets en scène: la vie fantasmatique est ce que l'être humain doit revendiquer le plus hautement". He also argues that popular culture is more honest and straightforward than high culture in its treatment of sexuality, and claims that he wants to associate himself with that--and by extension, to associate himself with "l'homme dans la rue". --Celia Britton via http://elecpress.monash.edu.au/french/1998_1/britton.html [May 2005]

Jean Duvignaud on the nouveau roman

Jean Duvignaud speculating on the filmic qualities of the nouveau roman:

Thus, contemporary literature is moving towards a representation of man based on the event, where the action described is more important than any commentary, and the instantaneous revelation of reality is more important than its description. Such an attempt must end with turning the novel into a screenplay for a film which will never be made and the cinema into an unfolding of an event which never actually occurs. --The Sociology of Art, 1967

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