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November 22, 1964 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 1964-11-22
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.. .what appeal to the student?

A New Form in French Fiction Fights
To Preserve Human Language

(Continued from page two)
to see? They have had some pretty bad
stuff there already this year, and for all
we know, it may be as bad as that free
show, Metropolis.' Metropolis' was fun
in a way, but you can't watch TV-Jeebees
more than once a month." So, very few
customers showed up at the Cinema Guild
to see one of the best films to come to
town this fall.
The Cinema Guild is not dancing in a
rain of gold this year and it is not going
broke either. But expenses are being
pared down wherever possible. The
crowds are not attending the student-run
movie emporeum. The fall program is
better than it has been in several years,
but the students are finding it worth their
while, when they do have the time, to at-
tend lectures given by people with more
familiar names, such as Robert Frost (a
few years ago) and Alain Robbes-Grillet
(recently-and he gave the lecture in
W HENHALF OF the students in a re-
cent survey indicated that social life,
athletics and extra-curricular activities
were more important to them than aca-
demics, we begin to acquire a factual
basis on which to press the question of
the existence of a younger generation
really interested in the motion picture.
More evidence is added when we realize
there are pitifully few courses in the art
of the film offered on campuses in the
United States. Other nations have their
own schools and academies usually on a
state-supported basis, which teach the
interested and aspiring addicts of the
film the proper way to make a motion
picture; the United States has few. This
University offers exactly one course,
cinematography, -to its students. It is
given only one semester a year to twelve
students at a time. Twelve students out
of a campus population of 29,040 is a
sorry figure, even if there were any real

student interest in the motion picture.
It is a sorry figure to have to present
to those surveyors of the national scene
in twentieth century America who point
out that the motion picture is the seventh
of the "lively arts" and of equal rank
with the other performing arts.
Most students will tell you that they
can't afford to take a course in cinema-
tography or take the time to attend the
films that come to town-that a bad re-
view turned them sour on the movie, that
they couldn't get a date to see it with or
that it just didn't seem very interesting.
They offer a myriad of other excuses. The
student at the university is not interest-
ed in the motion picture.
HERE ARE SEVERAL other reasons
for the misconception that students
are interested in the motion picture. It
is thought that the usual collegiate and
youthful enthusiasm and idealism car-
ries over into the movies. Because the
film does break tradition and goes against
the usual art forms of the last thousand
years, and because it is a new and mod-
ern form of expressing ideas and emotion,
people assume that the college student
will embrace the motion picture as his
primary mouthpiece.
But he has not embraced it, he has not
spoken through it, because it is unique
in one unfortunate way-it is very ex-
pensive. Thousands of dollars worth of
equipment and material are needed to
make a motion picture, and assistants,
trained in operating the equipment, must
be hired. This is in sharp contrast to the
other arts where canvas, paint and
brush or pencil and paper are all that
is needed to aspire toward artistic ends.
The price of cinematic equipment is
dropping, but as Jean Cocteau has said,
perhaps ironically, "Movies won't be an
art until the materials are as inexpensive
as paper and pencil."
It is also thought that a clearly cut is-

sue has been presented to the young per-
son interested in the cinema: Here
stands Hollywood and all the crass com-
mercialism that it represents and there
stand foreign countries and some inde-
pendent film-makers from the United
States; here stands the old order in the
cinema and there stands the exuberant
rising generation.
This conception is far from accurate.
The young person watches the motion
pictures of the time because they are a
fine form of escapism from reality in
our "Age of Anxiety" (according to Time
magazine), not because he is an enthus-
iastic member of a new film-conscious
generation. The motion picture can re-
create reality according to our own de-
sires, and that is why Hollywood is so
popular-it panders to just these wishes.
THE MOTION PICTURE made its mark
in society before our parents even
started going to school. Today, we may
ridicule them for having enjoyed their
past entertainment in the form of Bette
Davis, Janet Gaynor and the younger
version of Clark Gable. We may ridicule
them for not realizing the "artistic
values" inherent in the film-priceless
values that were not upheld by the "in-
dustry" that still feeds the world its
weekly ration of celluloid at the corner
Bijou. We may ridicule them today for
swooning over the old movies on the late,
late show every night while ignoring the
current "8%Z" or "Aparajito" at the local
'art house."
We have every right to berate them-
for the same reason we castigate them for
leaving us "not the best of all possible
world," as Bunuel calls it. And in twenty
or thirty years, we will feel the same sting
of contemporary identification with cer-
tain films or maybe some early television
program when our children take over and
ask us why we did not do a better job
in cleaning up the mess.


...the character is only the shadow of, himself'

velopment in French literature is the
nouveau roman (new novel). The noveau
roman is not really a school or even a
movement in the usual meaning of the
term; the term is a sort of trade mark
which was first used by journalists to
describe a certain number of individual
efforts by various writers who share a
total refusal of conventional novelistic
forms. French critics love to classify
and label everything; to chris en some-
thing unknown and disturbing is to give
it a new, reassuring existence. This is
what happened to the nouveau roman.
Around 1953, nobody suspected a "new
novel" was about to be revealed. An un-
known young agricultural engineer named
Robbe-Grillet had just published his first
book: "The Erasers". What a title! The
puzzled critics did not know quite what
to say. The following year another young
man, Michel Butor, published his first
novel: "Passage de Milan." A critic was
impressed by a few similarities between
the two novels and, in a moment of in-
spiration, wrote that a new kind of
realism had just been born. A few weeks
later a famous and controversial essayist,
Roland Barthes, published a long article
which was to be the cornerstone of all
future scholarship on thesubject. The
nouveau roman was born.
It was easy to discover other writers
belonging to the same family: Nathalie
Sarraute had already published three
books: "Martereau" in 1953, "Portrait of a
Man Unknown" in 1947 (for which Sar-
tre had written a penetrating foreword,
qualifying it as "anti-novel") and another
one, "Tropisma" in 1939; Claude Simon
had just published "Le Sacre du Prin-
temps," an awkward but promising book;
another young Swiss writer had,written
a strange book, "Mahu ou le materiau."
Even Beckett, famous for the world suc-
cess of his play "Waiting for Godot,"
had published similar novels: "Molloy"
in 1947, "Malone Dies" in 1951 and re-
cently "Unnamable" in 1953. A whole
family was discovered.
For about six years it was a con-
troversial family; every critic, every news-
paper took a stand for or against-most
of the time against. The public could
not have ignored these new writers if
it had wanted to! Butor was rewarded
one of the most important literary prizes
(the Prix Renaudot) for "A Change
of Heart." But this was only a tactical
maneuver by the "literary establish-
ment": il faut diviser pour regner. Butor
seemed salvageable; "A Change of
Heart" was after all a sort of psychologi-
cal novel. Why not use him to discredit
his radical colleague Robbe-Grillet? The
scheme did not work; Butor's next work
was even less conventional than the first
two! By 1960-61, even the most reaction-
ary critic had to admit that Butor's
"Degrees," Robbe-Grillet's "Jealousy" and
"In the Labyrinth" and Claude Simon's
"Flanders Road" were, if not truly good
literature, at least a new kind of litera-
ture. The nouveau roman became a little
more respectable.
By 1962, it was obvious to all young
writers that to be "in," one had to write
nouveaux romans, and they jumped onto
the bandwagon, then rolling very fast,
Suddenly everybody was writing nouveaux
romans and will probably continue to do
so until some young Turk rebels against
them as old fashioned. The success of
"Last Year in Marienbad," a film written
by Robbe-Grillet, dramatizes this evolu-
tion; the new novelist is no longer an
unknown rebel, he is an accepted fashion-
able intellectual.
What does this all mean? Is it only
a literary fashion, a short-lived infatua-
tion with a new toy? Or is it a deep
trend, well rooted in contemporary
society? While the enemies of the new
novelists (there are still quite a few)
claim that they succeed because they
know how to sell their products and
have excellent public relations, their
friends affirm that they are successful
because their books fill a basic need in
the contemporary scene. The controversy

is an interesting one. Perhaps we may
best examine it by first discovering the
nature of the nouveau roman.
r rO DEFINE the nouveau roman seems
relatively easy, since at least three
of the new novelists have extensively
written on the problems of the novel:
Nathalie Sarraute in "Age of Suspicion"
Robbe-Grillet in "Pour un Nouveau Ro-
man," Butor in "Repertoire." These writ-
ers know contemporary li .erature well;


selves have ceased to believe. The
character novel belongs very well to
the past. It characterizes an epoch;
that which marked the zenith of the
It is this double refusal of character
and plot which is the first distinctive
feature of the nouveau roman. And it
is precisely because these young writers
refuse to use the traditional form of the
novel that they have been accused of
"formalism" (a grave accusation in

what he calls "I
of the object" i:
tions. The objec
a function nor
classical object
Robbe-Grille's o
nature and an
bination of spa
essay on "Natui
edy," Robbe-G:
key notions: tb
at the surface o:
of mystical or a:
and corresponde
"la profondeur'
In this respect
nouveau roman
existentialism: t
tre in "Nausea'
in his "Phenom
The existenti
everything of
mediately and
them, to philoso
to analyze, but
exists and, in
distinguish what
has created, to
the universe an
ence in it. TI
Malraux, Sartre
of a radical di
the world; this
ABSURD of our
The pages in
hero Roquentin
of the thing qu
nut tree root,
"The Stranger"
sault describes t
pages in which
and the world
have strongly i
But he has gone
Camus: their a
not completely
they repose c
morphic metapl
linked to man
What Robbe-
novelists emphal
dimension of
Robbe-Grillet, a
Sartre and C
("Nausea") and
where Roquenti
fought their des
absurd, in quit
young man wae
Day beaches in
really understan
He knows that
against it? He
his life (his aes
on this premise.
coupled with
the classical nc
"psychological a
people to believe
is a sort of
produced by con
extreme view is
nouveau roman,
"characters" in
the word, still
Any kind of
author or by th
from the nouves
novels are psych
Change of Heart
trip from Paris
the protagonist c
of leaving his wi
beginning of his
go back to her wv
"Jealousy" is the
band; but inste
Proust does in '
Grillet simply de
husband sees it,
ing a feeling. T
with a puzzle wi
Indeed, a nou
in it something o
it is the task
the mystery or t
of the protagon

(Continued from page three)
that one can say the nouveau roman is an
"objective" novel. Indeed one wonders
at times if these young writers have not
simply applied what Maupassant says in
his preface to "Pierre and Jean": "Psy-
chology must be hidden in the novel
like it is hidden in life, under the events
of every day." Instead of explaining the
state of mind of his characters, the "ob-
jective" novelist presents the action or
gesture which, in a specific situation, the
protagonist's state of mind leads him to
perform. This extreme objectivity is ac-
tually subjective. Robbe-Grillet insists,
and Sarraute agrees with him, that,
The subjectivity is even greater than
that of the traditional novel where
the narrator most often seems ex-
terior to the story he is telling,
exterior to the world itself. This sub-
jectivity is, I believe, the essential
characteristic of the nouveau roman.
The new novelist in his attempt to be
"scientific" and to involve the reader has
abandoned classical psychological anal-
ysis (Proust is the last great French
novelist to use it) in favor of a method
characteristic of Kafka or Faulkner, who
are the acknowledged masters of Robbe-
Grillet and Claude Simon.
In this respect we can say, with Na-
thalie Sarraute, that the nouveau roman
is the literary equivalent of modern non-
objective painting. The novelist is like
"the modern painter who tears off the
object from the world of the spectator
and deforms it in order to isolate its
pictorial value." No wonder that many
of the criticisms formulated against the
nouveau roman are similiar to those
directed at nonobjective painting, espe-
cially the charge that the world created
by these artists is a barren desert,
emptied of all human values. To this
criticism the new novelist answers that
the novel he wants to write, far from
being "dehumanized," has no other sub-
ject than man and his situation in the

world. Robbe-Grillet says:
Man is present, in each page, each
line, each word. Even if one finds
many objects carefully described, one
finds always and first of all the look
which sees them, the thought which
evokes them, the passion which de-
forms them. The objects in our novels
have never any presence outside of
human perception.
These lines could have been written by
Sartre who, in his famous attack on the
omniscient author formula, argued that
an existentialist writer must limit the
content of the novel to what actually
"exists," that is, to what the characters
perceive through their own consciousness,
from the framework of their individual
situation. All new novelists are very con-
scious of the importance of "the point
of view" and show extreme care and con-
sistency in dealing with it. They are first
of all dedicated craftsmen, lucidly prac-
ticing their craft and always trying to
improve it. Far from being, as are the
surrealists, in favor of spontaneous ex-
pression of "6criture automatique," they
always limit their freedom of expression
by imposing very strict rules on them-
selves. Indeed they are very much like
the writers of 1660: three centuries later
they are the artisans of a new classicism.
The importance given to technical details,
the conscious, lucid, deliberate aspect of
their works give a lot of readers, used
to more naive and romantic enthusiasm,
the feeling that the new novelists are
nothing more than literary technologists,
uninterested in humanity.
W HAT HAS HAPPENED in the nouveau
roman is that the level of humaniza-
tion has shifted: the reader has become
one of the characters in the novel. In
the classical novel, the reader played no
part whatever; he was simply a passive
audience for the storyteller, so passive
indeed that the author frequently felt
the need to wake him up by addressing
him directly. In the modern novel the

reader has been more and more obliged
to collaborate with the author in order
to understand the novel. Sartre has gone
so far as to say that no literary work
exists without the active collaboration
of the reader; the act of reading is a
creative act which the author merely
directs. The nouveau roman is systema-
tically built on this assumption. Reading
it often seems difficult because the reader
has to find his own way in the book,
indeed he has to create his own novel.
The title of Robbe-Grillet's last novel,
"In the Labyrinth," is in itself symbolic:
all these novels are for the reader a
labyrinth. Many readers who have no
Ariane to help them are afraid of the
Minotaur! Butor has built his three
major novels on a subtle game involving
author, character and reader. He has
gone as far as writing an opera libretto
on "Faust" in which there is no set
order of scenes, but a multiple choice of
possibilities. The reaction of the public
will decide at each performance how the
drama is going to evolve; perhaps no
one will ever see the same opera twice!
This opera has not yet been performed;
seeing it should be in eresting.
ALL THESE generalities may hint that
the nouveau roman is not merely a
new literary fad, but is truly, in the
complete sense of the word, an aesthetic
revolution. An excerpt from Claude
Simon's latest novel "The Palace," in
which he talks about the novelist, sup-
ports this belief:
But for some time he has concerned
himself with something entirely dif-
ferent, or else it is something en-
tirely different that occupies him;
wondering what it is that pushes a
man to tell a story 'or to tell it to
himself, he thought; the only dif-
ference is that now he does it out
loud.') that is, to reorganize, to
reconstruct by means of verbal
equivalents something that he has
done or seen, as if he were not able

to admit that what he has done or
seen has not left more of a mark
than a dream, thinking: 'Unless it
is the contrary, unless he hopes that
once told, once put into the form of
words, all that begins to exist all
alone, no longer needing someone to
sustain it, that is, to supply itself
with its meager forces, its feeble
coolies' skelton as support: as if he
were trying to tear from himself that
violence, that thing which has chosen
him as its domicile, using, possessing,
consuming him . ..'
Like any other being, the novelist is the
"support" of a certain reality; but one
day this reality invests him, possesses
him and he tries to get rid of it through
language, either by speaking or writing.
This act of writing is a delivrance; it
is not enough to write, it is necessary
to communicate in order to transfer to
others (the readers) the weight of reality.
For him, the truth can only be the total,
perfect correlation of his reality and
of the words he uses. This may have
always been true for the novelist, but
most of the time he has been only
vaguely aware of it. For the new novelist,
this is THE essential truth. There is no
possible compromise; the relationship be-
tween reality and the word is con-
sidered absolute. Therefore the novelist
will not try to imitate, to approximate
reality; he will try to fix it forever, to
maintain it in an eternal present. And
the reader is not invited to dream or to
escape into an imaginary world; he is
required to carry, in his turn, the reality
the novelist has transmitted to him
through language.
The ambition of the new novelists may
always have been the supreme ambition
of all poets. But their stubborn struggle
today is more important than ever if
literature is to survive in an age of mass
communications with all their impreci-
sions. The new novelists are fighting to
preserve human language; they are the
true defenders of our culture.

they have learned the lessons of Kafka,
Joyce, Faulkner and Sartre. They refuse
the classical concept of the Balzacian
novel which depends on plot and char-
acter. The plot of the "well made" novel
has been obsolete for quite a long time;
who can talk of a plot in "Remembrance
of Things Past," "Ulysses" or "The
Castle?" As for characters, they are slowly
dying. To be sure, many novelists still
write classical Balzacian novels with well
rounded, recognizable characters. Like an
architect who would keep building gothic
cathedrals today, they do it, but don't
really believe in it. Says Nathalie Sar-
Today the character is only the sha-
dow of himself. It is with reluctance
that the novelist grants him that
which is able to make him too easily
discoverable; the physical appear-
ance, gestures, actions, sensations,
current sentiments known and stud-
ied for a long time, which together
give him a readily recognizable life-
like appearance and provide the
reader a convenient handle. Even
the name with which it is necessary
to dress him is troublesome to the
Echoes Robbe-Grillet:
In fact, the creators of characters
in the traditional sense no longer
succeed in presenting us anything
but marionettes in which they them-

France). This accusation is absurd since,
far from codifying a new form, they are
trying to discover one:
We don't know what a novel must
be, a true novel; we only know that
today's novel will be what we make it
today, and that we must not cultivate
a resemblance to what it was yester-
day, but it is up to us to further
advance it, (Robbe-Grillet).
Therefore, the new novelists are essen-
tially pioneers in search of new concepts
of the novel. This is the common ground
which unifies their works. Whatever their
differences, and they are numerous, they
all present the same deliberately experi-
mental aspect; the reader always has
the feeling he is journeying into virgin
lands (often barren) for his greatest
pleasure or discomfort. To read a nouveau
roman is a genuine adventure: one never
knows what will happen, or if anything
actually will happen.
THIS SEARCH is first characterized by
the style the author uses in describ-
ing the world as objectively as possible.
For this reason the terms "objective
novel" or "new realism" are sometimes
used to describe these works. In an in-
terview, Robbe-Grillet said that "scien-
tific observation consists of describing
without ever interpreting-never giving
a meaning to the objects." Roland
Barthes was the first critic to point to

Poge Six


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