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For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction by Alain…
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For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction (1963)

by Alain Robbe-Grillet

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French novelist, essayist, filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922-2008) was a leading voice of the Nouveau Roman (New Novel) school back in the 1950s and 1960s, a man whose creative juices flowed in original and innovative ways, revolting against the old and fixed and thriving on the new and fresh, a man whose literary output reminds me of the avant-garde, experimental music of John Cage or the outlandish turn-the-art world-on-its head creations of Marcel Duchamp. Reflecting philosophically on the novel and its possibilities, Robbe-Grillet wrote these 12 insightful, provocative essays with such titles as: `A Future for the Novel', `On Several Obsolete Notions', `A Novel That Invents Itself' and `New Novel, New Man'.

From the titles of the essays, it’s abundantly clear the author was supremely serious about lighting a stick of dynamite in order to blow up well-worn novelistic forms in order to expand narrative boundaries and create new literary landscapes. KABOOM! To provide a modest taste of what a reader will find in these explosive essays, below are several quotes along with my brief comments.

‘New Novel’ is a convenient label applicable to all those seeking new forms for the novel, forms capable of expressing (or of creating) new relations between man and the world, to all those who have determined to invent the novel, in other words, to invent man.” ---------- Literary anarchy, anyone? When did you last read a novel that invented or, at the very least, creatively expanded what it means to be human?

"The art of the novel, however, has fallen into such a state of stagnation - a lassitude acknowledged and discussed by the whole of critical opinion - that it is hard to imagine such an art can survive for long without some radical change." ---------- Fortunately, the novel is alive and well today, sixty years after Robbe-Grillet penned this statement. And fortunately, the novel's many forms and shapes, ranging from ultra-traditional to hyper-radical, accommodate the tastes of millions of readers worldwide.

“Art is not a more or less brilliantly colored envelope intended to embellish the author’s “message,” a gilt paper around a package of cookies, a whitewash on a wall, a sauce that makes the fish go down easier.” ---------- By the author’s reckoning, if we as readers are looking for the author’s underlying message, we are betraying the novel as an art form; if a novelist writes a novel for the purpose of imparting a message (“In Dubious Battle” by John Steinbeck comes to mind), that novelist is likewise betraying the art of the novel.

"Each novelist, each novel must invent its own form. No recipe can replace this continual reflection. The book makes its own rules for itself, and for itself alone." --------- To underscore the truth of this statement, all one need do is read Robbe-Grillet's `The Erasers' or Raymond Queneau's `Exercises in Style', two novels a universe removed from any preset rules.

"A novel, for most readers - and critics - is primarily a "story." . . . To tell a story well is therefore to make what one writes resemble the prefabricated schemas people are used to, in other words, their ready-made idea of reality." ---------- Now, this is radical. Who doesn't like a good story? Well, according to Robbe-Grillet, the story can merely reinforce our small-minded view of the world. In a way, this can be the acid test for what it means for a novel to be great literature: does the novel we are reading challenge us to expand our vision, enabling us to see the world and language with fresh eyes?

"How much we've heard about the `character"! . . . It is a mummy now, but one still enthroned with the same - phony - majesty, among the values revered by traditional criticism. In fact, that is how this criticism recognizes the "true" novelist: "he creates characters" . . . " ---------- Again, truly radical. Who doesn't like a novel with strong, memorable characters? And, again, Robbe-Grillet challenges us to examine why character is so important. Do we want the men and women in the novels we read to underpin our precanned view of the possibilities of what it means to be human?

"Why seek to reconstruct the time of clocks in a narrative which is concerned only with human time? Is it not wiser to think of our own memory, which is never chronological? Why persist in discovering what an individual's name is in a novel which does not supply it? Every day we meet people whose names we do not know . . . " ---------- Ha! Vintage Robbe-Grillet. This is why I see the author's novels as the literary counterpart of the music of John Cage. Do we need conventional time and an individual's name to have a novel? Do we need a musician to play melody and rhythm to hear music? ( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
This is also an essay which is pretty interesting to me. In this essay, which was written in the early sixties, argues that every novel must be re-interpreted by every new generation. This is an interesting point to me for him to make because I have often thought this thought before, myself! when we read books in high-school or college such as "Catcher in the Rye" or even "Shakespeare," they are so long and boring, and often have little if any meaning to me or any of my peers in class. For example, when I read Shakespeare's "The Tempest," I wanted to throw myself out a glass window, to say the least. However, when we discuss the deeper meanings in class and what Shakespeare was really getting at, it has much more meaning.
When we read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," the generation who read it as the book came out, thought about the year 2000 and thought the world would be over or we would have flying cars and teleporting things, but they were far mistaken. They still compared it to cultural change and things of that nature, but differently to how we do today. Back then, their little mood organ could be compared to a phone or the news, nowadays, we directly think of facebook or myspace or anything of that nature. Even texting!
I liked this article and I loved how it was interdisciplinary. It is such a simple idea that I am sure everyone thinks about, but nobody addresses. I strongly recomend this essay for any reader because it is quick and to the point, just how I like it.
  watki108 | May 3, 2010 |
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Alain Robbe-Grilletprimary authorall editionscalculated
Howard, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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