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Ghosts in the Mirror by Alain Robbe-Grillet
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Ghosts in the Mirror (1991)

by Alain Robbe-Grillet

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Part autobiography, part extended essay on literature, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s “Ghosts in the Mirror - a Romanesque” weaves family life and growing up in Brittany in the 1920s and 1930s with seasoned philosophic reflections on living and writing. Since there are only a few review posted here, I think it’s fair to say many readers have overlooked this fine book written by the foremost spokesperson of the French Nouveau Roman. Unlike his novels, which are challenging and require a bit of effort to penetrate, this short autobiography is straightforward and readily accessible. As a way of a sampling the various subjects covered, below are several quotes with my brief comments:

Personal
"I've never felt a murderous impulse toward or any sort of rivalry with the man who begot me, who nourished me, whose name I bear." ---------- The author is open and honest about his likes and dislikes, his affinities and differences, his loves and fears both as the boy he was and as the man he is. Anybody looking for the very human person behind the author and filmmaker will not be disappointed reading these pages.

Family
"My grandfather, an affectionate, kind, peaceable man with light blue eyes and a soft blond goatee, who sang "Cherry Blossom Time" in an emotional voice broken by emphysema, had spent all his active life on warships." ---------- We’re given a clear picture of the author's father, mother, grandparents and family friends, each having their respective influence on the formation of his character and creative imagination.

On His Own Writing
"I began writing novels to exorcise the ghosts I couldn't come to terms with and on the other hand, because it makes me see that the bias of fiction is, after all, much more personal than the so-called sincerity of confession." ---------- What makes this account so fascinating is the author’s linking his background, his dreams, his nightmares as well as his day-to-day living with his own writing and the writing of others.

On History and the Truth
“The sinister face of the established order comes from my German (Nazi occupation) experience."
"Truth, in the final analysis, has always and only served oppression. Too many hopes, wretched disappointments, and blood-soaked paradises teach us in any case to be wary of it."
"In particular, a respect for order at all cost now made me profoundly suspicious, to say the least. . . . And if we really have to choose between that and disorder, there's no doubt I would choose disorder." ---------- Reading these three statements, is it any wonder the author recoils at the suggestion novelists are bound by strict literary conventions or anything smacking of a fixed, "real" or "true" world?

On the Novel
"Characters in novels or films are also kinds of phantoms: you see them or hear them, you can never grasp them, if you try you pass right through them. Their existence is suspect, insistent, like that of the unquiet dead forced by some evil spell or divine vengeance to live the same scenes from their tragic destiny over and over again. . . . as if they were desperately trying to gain access to a fleshly existence that is denied them . . . attempting to drag the other, all the others, including the innocent reader, into their impossible quest." ---------- What a way to view the men and women we encounter in the pages of novels! To see them all, each and every one, as victims of a spell, forced to live their fleshless lives over and over again.

On Balzac
"With Balzac the coherence of the world and the narrator's authority are both pushed to a limit that has never been reached since. The “realist" ideology is born: the world, closed and complete in a definite, weighty, unequivocal rigidity, is entirely permeable to meaning, novelistic elements are classified and put into a hierarchy, the linear plot unfolds according to the reassuring laws of reason, and the characters become types - the miserly old man, the ambitious young man, the devoted mother, etc." ---------- Novelists of the New Novel unite, you have nothing to lose but the tyranny of tradition! Anybody familiar with the innovative Nouveau Roman will hear a familiar ring in this Robbe-Grillet quote.

On Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea-
"As for the philosopher figure in La Nausée, he himself admits that it's the aggressive, viscous contingency of the things that make up the external world, the moment you tear away the thin layer of "utility" (or merely of meaning) protecting us and hiding them, that is at once the source of his metaphysical-visceral unease, the object of his passionate fascination, and the initial incentive to keep a diary of "events" (in other words, of his relation with the world) and so produce a narrative." -------- Robbe-Grillet goes on to explain how this philosophical figure in Sartre’s La Nausée, a man by the name of Roquentin, relates and compares to specific characters in his own novels.

On Albert Camus's The Stranger
"And the book's power comes first of all from this amazing presence of the world through the words of a narrator who is outside himself, a tangible world in which we totally, unhesitatingly believe "as if we were there," or better still, so firmly that we can forget its lesson: the sudden, gratuitous appearance of things under the gaze of a blank consciousness strikes us with such crude violence that we hardly notice that it's the perfect, almost didactic representation of the phenomenological experience according to Husserl." ---------- This quote is part of an eight page critique of Camus's famous novel -- most insightful and provocative. Highly recommended for anybody interested in taking a deeper plunge into this classic of existentialism.
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  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
Accurately hidden and with micro images as elsewhere in his writings, the author asks for some understanding to sadistic fantasies.
  hbergander | Apr 4, 2011 |
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