‘Project for a Revolution in New York is Robbe-Grillet’s fifth novel. He has been on the scene nearly 20 years and has established himself as the major representative of the new school through his novels, his essays (which are as clear and coherent as his fiction is jumbled), and his films. The first and best known of the films is an elegant and often beautiful puzzler called Last Year at Marienbad. After seeing it, you think you dreamed it.
‘What is new in Robbe-Grillet (or rather what would be new without the precedent of Francis Ponge), is the concrete character of the images, whether they are caught by a glance or seen again in the darkroom of the mind. He deliberately uses in his novels the revealing difference mentioned by him between reality and its cinematographic representation. It is then not only his heroes but their creator himself who makes movies—avant-garde movies and novels.
‘No doubt Robbe-Grillet is a pioneer. It is possible that he has found a way out of the impasse which the most advanced literature had reached—so that it was no longer advancing…. By grasping objects visually without judging them, being satisfied to take them without wanting to understand, Alain Robbe-Grillet escapes perhaps, and perhaps makes literature escape inanity. This fictional study of phenomena is itself misleading, but it is capable of giving an illusion some of the time, thus making possible works that will be something more than proof of impotence or madness.
‘There is a universal principle at work here and in many similar novels. I can describe it best as rhyme. Painters rhyme shapes and colors. Poets rhyme terminal syllables, sometimes moods. Robbe-Grillet rhymes events themselves—fits them inside or outside one another like Chinese boxes, like sounds heard in a whispering gallery. In Project for a Revolution in New York one character or another is shown time after time doing almost the same thing: coming up stairs to find Laura, climbing down a fire-escape in a fire. The repeated subway sequences of pursuer and pursued turn endlessly into themselves like kaleidoscopic images.
‘Furthermore, the rat and the railing in the subway tunnel rhyme with the rat and the railing in the house where Laura is held (and is not held) a prisoner. The house, or its fictional image, rhymes with the blown-up picture of that house on a huge advertisement—on which the representation of a door turns out to be a real door through which people walk and through whose keyhole the locksmith peeks. And so on. Poets, from Hugo to Valéry to Frost, tell us that rhyme is not an obstacle to composition but a mechanism inducing invention. It takes a little readjustment of one’s literary sights to follow and appreciate, not a story line but a story rhyme.
‘Robbe-Grillet pushes language, farther than Sartre or Camus, toward a certain line of artistic “insignificance.” We defeat him by forcing upon his structures familiar closure or extrinsic meanings—jealousy, paranoia, colonialism, etc.—and by denying him the patience he labors to earn from his readers. His art may not refute the possibility of art in the future. His perspective, nonetheless, is posthumanist, anticipating a change in the structure of consciousness, and helping to effectuate that change by means of new fictions.’ — collaged
Alain Robbe-Grillet Resource Page
Audio: A R-G reads from ‘Jealousy’ @ Ubuweb
‘Abscond From Your Prudish Mind’: Alain Robbe-Grillet @ mubi
‘Understanding Robbe-Grillet: PfaRiNY’
‘Robbe-Grillet ‘PfaRiNY: Hegelian Dialectics as Generator of Revolution’
Robbe-Grillet Criticism Vol. 2 @ enotes
‘From the Comic to the Ludic’
The Paris Review Interview: Alain Robbe-Grillet
‘ The Boy and the Soldier, Companions in Robbe- Grillet’
Bruce Russell’s ‘Project For A Revolution In New York’ (Siltbreeze)
Gregory Chatonsky’s ‘Revolution in New York’‘Project for a Revolution in New York’ @ Matthew Marks Gallery
Buy ‘PfaRiNY’ @ Dalkey Archive
A R-G’s lecture @ San Francisco University, part 1 (1989)
Alain Robbe-Grillet Exhibition at the Cafesjian Center for the Arts
Alain ROBBE GRILLET Le roman
Excerpt: ‘Alain Robbe-Grillet, entretiens avec Benoît Peeters’
Nabokov vs. Robbe-Grillet vs. Nabokov
from Some Came Running
‘The best French writer is Robbe-Grillet whom we met in Paris… ‘
— Vladimir Nabokov, letter to Edmund Wilson, January 19, 1960
‘There is no question, as we have seen, of establishing a theory, a pre-existing mold into which to pour the books of the future. Each novelist, each novel must invent its own form.’
— Alain Robbe-Grillet, “The Use of Theory,” 1955-1963
Do you think Robbe-Grillet’s novels are as free of ‘psychology’ as he claims?
‘Robbe-Grillet’s claims are preposterous. Those manifestations, those dodoes, die with the dadas. His fiction is magnificently poetical and original, and the shifts of levels, the interpenetration of successive impressions and so forth belong of course to psychology—psychology at its best.’
— VN, spring 1967
‘In March [of 1962] he saw one of the very few movies he sought out in the nearly twenty years of his final European period: Robbe-Grillet’s L’Année derniere a Marienbad, a film that delighted him not so much by its labyrinthine compulsiveness as by its originality and its romanticism.”
— Brian Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov, The American Years, Princeton, 1991
‘The French New Novel does not really exist apart from a little heap of dust and fluff in a fouled pigeonhole.’
— VN, spring 1971
‘In fact there would be someone, both different and the same, the destroyer and the keeper of order, the narrating presence and the traveler…elegant solution to the never-to-be-solved problem: who is speaking here, now? The old words always already spoken repeat themselves, always telling the same old story from age to age, repeated once again, and always new… ‘
— A R-G, Repetition, Grove Press, 2003
‘I […] adore the work of Alban Berg; I adore the music in Wozzeck or Lulu, but I am incapable of deconstructing it. This is true even for Wagner’s music […] [i]t does not prevent me at all from enjoying it. The decoding of the structure is a supplementary pleasure for someone who is capable of doing it, no more than that.’
— A R-G, interview, 1992
‘Criticism is a difficult thing, much more so than art, in a sense. Whereas the novelist, for example, can rely on his sensibility alone, without always trying to understand its options, and while the mere reader is satisfied to know whether or not he is affected by the book, whether or not the book interests him, whether or not he likes it, whether or not it offers him something, the critic, on the other hand, is supposed to give the reasons for all this: he must account for what the book gives, say why he likes it, offer absolute value judgments.’
— A R-G, “Time And Description In Fiction Today,” 1963
A R-G on PfaRiNY
click for clarity
PfaRiNY manuscript page
from Senses of Cinema
Back in 1958 Roland Barthes wrote that “there is no Robbe-Grillet school”. Decades on, aside from the nouveau roman, can you see a traceable influence of your work on the contemporary novel?
There is no such thing as a Robbe-Grillet school of thought! Barthes, in his articles on me, reduced my first two novels into something fascinating, but something which was closer to his train of thought than to mine. In his articles, one on The Erasers and the other on The Voyeur, he emphasised the projection onto the object, thus creating a paradox around the concept of objectivity. In this way he completely ignored the phantasms which were already playing such an important part in the works, and thus he ignored the projection onto the outside world of the personal inner world. He interpreted these two novels as representative of a literary statement, where objects were viewed purely as they were and nothing else. Barthes viewed my work from a very subjective point of view and projected his own value system in his interpretation, which, when all is said and done, he was perfectly entitled to do as a critic.
From my point of view, there never was a school; when I gathered around me a number of writers like Claude Simon, Nathalie Sarraute, and later Marguerite Duras, there was never any intention of gathering people whose outlook was the same, and whose research aimed at the same objective. What in fact brought us together was that the same criticism was leveled at all of us, namely that we did not write like Balzac. Consequently, sharing the same criticism, we all made up the nouveau roman, or New Novel, as compared to the traditional style of writing. Each one of us had to strive in the direction each of us had chosen for himself or herself. I have always fought against the normalisation, the standardisation, of the New Novel — this is one of the reasons why I found myself in opposition to a younger generation of theoreticians who tried to structure the concept of the New Novel and excluded Marguerite Duras from the movement, for instance.
When we meet we are aware of a certain solidarity amongst ourselves, a type of brotherhood. During the last big gathering in New York we realized that we had a common language. For instance, when we talk about the notion of consciousness — the ‘Balzacian Conscience’, the 19th century concept of writing is a totalitarian concept, it is all comprehensive, inside man, it englobes everything, it is whole and stable, whereas in the New Novel we deal with a consciousness which is outward looking, as defined by the philosopher Edmund Husserl, in other words, a consciousness of something — a fragmented mobile consciousness.
Because the outside world is fragmented, consciousness must also be so, and this way it looses the overall coherence which it had a hundred and fifty years ago, and at the same time this consciousness is constantly changing, constantly struggling against itself, forever creating new images — Sartre called it “freedom”.
In its earlier development the nouveau roman was called many things — objective literature, école du regard, phenomenological novel, etc. — in hindsight do any of these descriptions seem more accurate than others?
When critics used the term “phenomenology”, they had no idea of what it could be. They liked the word, but when one looks closely at what they wrote one gets the impression that phenomena are external to man, fulfilling its own life independently from man — this is not what Husserl meant by phenomenology. He meant a moving consciousness, projected outward towards the phenomenon, this very phenomenon exists because of this projection outside myself. It is in this movement outside of me towards an object that the phenomenon appears. Phenomenology does not exclude man, as critics seem to imply. Already, you can see a different sort of consciousness appear in Albert Camus’ The Outsider, particularly in the first part of the novel.
Critical analysis has emphasised the role played by “the eye” in my novel Jealousy, but I would say that “the ear” plays an equally important part in it. As for the word “objectif” critics have made numerous mistakes. Barthes launched the concept but gave it a thwarted meaning. Barthes always liked controversy and enjoyed using words in a context other than the one usually used or understood. In his article on The Erasers he described the work as “objective literature”, and he immediately defined this adjective by referring to the dictionary and thus giving it the meaning of “projection towards the object”. As for the traditional school of criticism, they stupidly omitted Barthes’ definition of “objective” and described my work as objective in the sense of meaning that the subject had completely disappeared.
I would describe the type of literature I write as a subjective type of writing, but geared to the idea of “projected towards the object”.
When critics looked at what I was writing, which emphasized the subject, the subjectivity of a theme, they said that I was attempting to be objective but failed. They ended up with a complete contradiction of the original intention.
From the period of the film Last Year at Marienbad critics started to speak about the concept of surrealism, of phantasmagory. They spoke about the cinema of phantasms. There had been no change in my work, but the approaches to my work were divided, sometimes emphasising the subjective element, and at other times the objective element. Barthes even speaks about Robbe-Grillet No. 1, No. 2, No. 3; yet when one becomes aware of the symbols of Last Year at Marienbad, one should re-read my earlier novels and one would realize that the symbols were already there.
What do you think is the current state of the nouveau roman?
To understand a new form of literature is a difficult thing for people. For instance, I would say that Flaubert is better understood today than he was in his own time, during the period he was writing Madame Bovary. There have been profound changes in the world, and consequently in the outlook of readers.
The New Novel is doing well, better than ever, because now it has a lot of readers. Not only do books sell, but they are better read and understood. For instance, with the last of Marguerite Duras’ books, The Lover, I had the impression that the book had become “visible” (popular) yet it is as complex as her previous work. But it was better understood because these concepts had made their way.
Given the gradual dissemination of Barthes’ idea of “ecriture” over the course of time, do you think that the nouveau roman has lost some of its autonomy from other kinds of novelistic practices? Has it become more elusive to define or recognize?
No, I don’t think so, because Barthes has disappeared from the New Novel. He was connected to the idea of the New Novel, but during the fifties and sixties. Since Jealousy, In the Labyrinth and Last Year at Marienbad, Barthes distanced himself from the movement.
Barthes really has not had much effect on the New Novel. There were moments when our outlooks coincided and other moments when they did not. What harmed the New Novel was not Barthes’ views, but the simplification of what he had said, which reduced the whole impact to a bland, neutral, factual type of writing.
I address these questions in my latest book, Le miroir qui revient.
Could you comment on this quotation from Umberto Eco: “But the moment comes when the avant-garde (the modern) can go no further, because it has produced a metalanguage that speaks of its impossible texts (conceptual art). The postmodern reply to the modern consists of recognizing the past, since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to silence, must be revisited; but with irony, not innocently.’
I am interested in your thoughts on the debate between modernism and postmodernism, and their relation to your work.
I never spoke of destroying the past. Flaubert has been my inspiration. As for Umberto Eco, he is a dual character. He was at the vanguard of the modernist movement, but he is now writing populist novels. He was the theoretician of the avant-garde movement, but he has come back to the past. He speaks in this quotation about himself.
The idea that the avant-garde has failed and that one must back track is absurd. The avant-garde must by definition fail, because each writer must go to the ultimate conclusion of his or her ideas. Each writer must continue to progress in his/her chosen direction.
As for Postmodernism, it is a bad description. It was created as a specific concept, situated in a precise context — that of German architecture. It means a reaction against the utilitarianism of the Bauhaus type of architecture. It was used in literature in the seventies, especially in American criticism. It was misunderstood and misapplied. I have not understood either, all the more that in some articles I was viewed as a postmodernist and in others I was viewed as a modernist. I do not like this word as its use is pretty much impossible.
Alain Robbe-Grillet Project for a Revolution in New York
‘Part prophecy and part erotic fantasy, this classic tale of otherworldly depravity features New York itself—or a foreigner’s nightmare of New York—as its true protagonist. Set in the towers and tunnels of the quintessential American city, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novel turns this urban space into a maze where politics bleeds into perversion, revolution into sadism, activist into criminal, vice into art—and back again. Following the logic of a movie half-glimpsed through a haze of drugs and alcohol, Project for a Revolution in New York is a Sadean reverie that bears an alarming resemblance to the New York, and the United States, that have actually come into being.’ — Dalkey Archive
The first scene goes very fast. Evidently it has already been rehearsed several times: everyone knows his part by heart. Words and gestures follow each other in a relaxed, continuous manner, the links as imperceptible as the necessary elements of some properly lubricated machinery.
Then there is a gap, a blank space, a pause of indeterminate length during which nothing happens, not even the anticipation of what will come next.
And suddenly the action resumes, without warning, and the same scene occurs again…But which scene? I am closing the door behind me, a heavy wooden door with a tiny oblong window near the top, its pane protected by a cast-iron grille (clumsily imitating wrought iron) which almost entirely covers it. The interlacing spirals, thickened by successive layers of black paint, are so close together, and there is so little light from the other side of the door, that nothing can be seen of what might or might not be inside.
“I remember that in the station corridors, there was the big poster for the new Johnson detergent.”
“The one of the girl covered with her own blood, in the middle of the rug in a modern living room furnished in white vinyl?”
“Yes, that’s the one. Should I describe the arrangement of the body? The knives, the cords, and all the rest?”
“No, you’ve already done that about ten times. Just the text.”
“The text says: ‘Yesterday, it was a tragedy…Today, a pinch of Johnson enzymic detergent and your carpet comes out like new.’ Above it, someone had written with a felt marker: ‘And tomorrow the revolution.’ ”
“Fine…I’d like to know what need there is to take care of a girl your age as if she was a baby.”
“If you hadn’t come, I would have set fire to the apartment. I had already prepared the can of gasoline and the pile of sheets.”
The young woman shrugs her shoulders and says: “Don’t you go to school?”
“No. Why should I?”
“Oh, to learn something.”
“What a job!” JR thinks, as she walks back and forth in the room. She approaches the large bay window, raises the curtain, returns to the prone body which now rolls across the red carpet as if it were suffering from epileptic convulsions. She feels like giving it a good kick.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she says, “variable equations, or the captital of Maryland…”
“Annapolis!” the little girl shrieks. “That’s too easy. Ask another question.”
“Who killed Lincoln?”
“John Wilkes Booth.”
“How many seconds are there in a day?”
“Eighty-six thousand four hundred and twenty.”
“What’s an ulva?”
“A genus of green seaweed.”
“What do little girls dream of?”
“Where are the women we love?”
“In the grave.”
“How old are you?”
“Thirteen and a half.”
“What do you see from the windows of this apartment?”
(That’s what it had looked like to me.)
“Is this part of it lit?”
“Yes, dimly… There’s a streetlamp.”
“And what can be seen near the streetlamp?”
“Of which sex?”
“Two men, a woman… She’s wearing pants and a cap, but you can see her breasts under her sweater.”
“What is this lady’s name?”
“Her name–or at least what they call her– is Joan Robeson, or sometimes Robertson too.”
“What does she do?”
“She’s one of the fake nurses who works for Doctor Morgan, the psychoanalyst whose office is in the Forty-second Street subway station. The other nurses are blond, and…”
“But what is she doing here, now in the bushes bordering the park, with those two men. And who are those two men?”
“That’s easy: one is Ben-Saïd, the other is the narrator.
And now there has just appeared a “cat” somewhere in the sentence, apropos of Sarah the half-caste: a deaf man and a cat. The deaf man, I’m convinced, is the trumpet player at “Old Joe’s.” But the cat has not yet played any part here, to my knowledge; so that can only be a mistake…
Again the image of the eggs comes back, and the rapid sound of footsteps giving the impression of hampered, discontinuous flight; the shape and material of the three shells reproduce the model exactly, indeed the only thing that might arouse suspicion is their excessive perfection; but even so they are very lifelike eggs, hardly any bigger than real ones. Then a fresh figure in the ballet-fight emerges on the cross-ruled sheet with the simplified strictness of a diagram.
The image of the eggs yet again….And immediately afterwards comes the explosion, looking in the dazzling white light like a radiant, frozen sun behind the trees.
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Tim Hunter, director of ‘River’s Edge’, arguably the greatest American ‘teen movie’ ever made! Luke Magnotta is getting married? Have you ever seen any of his porn? He has to be one of the least sexy and charismatic porn actors ever. Anyway … Everyone, the infamous Canadian ex-porn ‘star’ and cannibal killer Luke Magnotta is getting married, and here’s a thing about that courtesy of MR. E if you’re curious. ** Thomas Moronic. Hi, Thomas! Wow, awfully good to see you, man. It feels like it has been forever. I’m good, close to finishing the edit of Zac’s and my film and very happy with it, and otherwise good plus secondarily busy with other projects and stuff. When a weird love-type situation ends but lingers, it can be, I don’t know, meaningful? I’ve gotten a lot of poems out situations like that, which may be too cut-throat a way to think about it. I don’t know. You sound good, in any case. New novel, yes! Superb news: that, obviously! And you’ll be here in Paris! I think I should be here. I don’t have any get away plans for late that month, I don’t think. It sure would be ultra-great to see you! When are you here exactly, do you know? Bundles of love coming your way from me! ** Steevee, Hi. I understand. I didn’t mean to imply that my way of doing things in that regard is the right away. I’ve paid in ways for that approach too, both personally and in my resulting reputation as some kind of sicko, etc. You should approach that issue in precisely the way that you feel comfortable with, obviously. Perhaps limiting the viewership is the way to go. Yeah, I can see that. Combined with sending out those targeted alerts you mentioned. I don’t know of that film you reviewed, but I’ll read your take. Everyone, Why not read Steevee’s review of Ana Lily Amirpour’s new film THE BAD BATCH right here. Your comment/rant about the current intersection of politics and culture on social media is really great and wise. I saw something about the S. Coppola/Bechdel contention thing on FB, and I did think that controversy was some new kind level of jaw-droppingly mindless and absurd. It’s so nuts out there. It’ll evolve/pass/implode like these things do, but … yeah, the hair triggers on people’s needs to accuse and denounce artists right now are a scary thing. I find it quite scary. ** Bill, Hey! Are there wrong reasons to be a Matt Dillon fan, I wonder? ‘Crash’ is dreadful and misery incarnate. I do not recommend it whatsoever. Nope. Well, now that ‘Jerk’ is alive again, maybe it will get back to the States. We’ve never had our works performed in San Francisco and those environs. We’ve tried, but there has never been a venue there that either could afford to book one of our pieces or wanted to. I’ll talk to Gisele and see what’s up. ‘Jerk’ is our least expensive piece to import by a long shot. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Greetings to Knoydart, but mostly to you! That all sounds lovely, ‘bad’ weather notwithstanding. And cool that your DJing went so well, not to mention that we can listen in. Everyone, _Black_Acrylic DJed at a wedding reception in a pretty sounding place called Knoydart, and it was/is an Italo playlist, which is a very good thing, need I say, and you can jolt your day with some tasty energy by putting yourself in its audience, and you can do that extremely simply clicking this and then poking the sideways arrow in the orange circle, so do that. Safe trip back home if you’re not already there. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! I’m glad you liked the MD post. The was the first time when someone fainted at ‘Jerk’ but wasn’t taken out of the theater, so I think it’s the first time that the show has had to stop. But it gets intense reactions. It totally traumatized Bjork when she saw it, and she freaked out and started crying, and she really hated it. So, yeah. My weekend wasn’t too, too eventful. I saw my friends Bernard and Diarmuid for a coffee. I had a nice visit with the American critic/scholar Leora Lev who’s in Paris for the summer teaching. I avoided the Gay Pride parade fairly successfully, ha ha. The weather was okay-ish, but the temperature went back up and was unpleasant last night. Supposedly it won’t get scary hot again for a while though. God, I hope not. This morning Zac and I show our producer the almost finished film, which I’m very nervous about, and then we’ll continue editing. How was your day, pal? ** Jamie, And good morning to you, my favorite of the Jamies. I’m good. Oh, you’re in the packing phase. Yeah, gotcha big time. So good that your new flat has passed the greatness test, and, you know, the downsizing will somehow incorporate itself into that greatness, I bet. Save your books. I purged on a bunch of mine during a move lots of years ago, and I still go to my shelves looking for things with unsuccessfully crossed fingers. Yes, it ended working out splendidly with the editor. I was a worry wart. Our big hope is that, given her involvement, our producer, for whom we’re screening the near-finished edit this morning, will grant it legitimacy thereby. We have to finish editing by a week from today because our time in the editing room will be up then, and we think we’ll have the edit polished off by tomorrow at the latest, but that depends on the producer giving our edit his okay, which he really should given its wonderfulness, but his head is not ours, and we’ll see. Yes, I do recommend you give Costa’s stuff a spin. So when are you actually carting your stuff into the new? Don’t throw your backs out or anything. Good luck with everything today, and let me know, buddy. Smooth sailing love, Dennis. ** Misanthrope, Hey, G. Well, yeah, interesting comparison. Makes a certain sense. I’m not entirely sure what the exact hierarchy is with our producer. Our film isn’t in debt because the financing was all via requirement-free grants, as you mentioned, so there’s not the pressure to make something that will earn anything back. I think it’s probably more that he sees himself, rightfully, I’m sure, as being a wise overlord of the films he’s responsible for, and that he has opinions as to what is ‘successful’ based on his experiences and taste. Or something. Ours is an odd and oddly made film, and, in this case, he needs to access his sense of adventure, and hopefully he will. I hate this stuff. So, anyway, by the time I see you tomorrow I should be either relieved and happy or frustrated and pissed or something. Have an excellent Monday, sir. Wow, have you or has anyone heard anything of or from JW Veldhoen in the last few years? ** Right. I haven’t devoted a post to the work of one of my very, very favorite writers aka Alain Robbe-Grillet in a long time, so I did, and I chose his excellent novel ‘Project for a Revolution in New York’ as the example at hand. See you tomorrow.