Address to the New York University Conference

Article excerpt

I have not a great deal to add to the remarks I made at the Cerisy conference on the New Novel a few years ago, for I have always worked along the same lines. (These remarks, incidentally, were reprinted as a postface to the translation of one of my novels published here by Red Dust, The Libera Me Domine.) What I can do, though, is go into greater detail about the way I treat the material of my novels, and try to explain how I write them.

In fact, since what is still, I believe, called "The New Criticism"--an offshoot of the science of linguistics, with which it is even sometimes confused--since the New Criticism has seized on our work, it seems that we authors have no option but to take a stand on this discipline, whether it be to reject or to accept it. It has to some extent impugned the author, even going so far as to throw doubt on the importance of his role. These critics no longer talk of creation, they talk of production, which they see as something like the result of all the forces arising out of intertextuality as a generalized phenomenon.

The positive aspect of this way of envisaging literature is the importance the New Critics attach to the study of the text as such: that is to say, as the field of interaction of signifiers.

But the risk it runs, if I understand it aright, is that, if taken to extremes, any text by any writer would qualify as food for thought, as if all texts issued, and could only issue, from the same universal mechanism, and as if the only thing that mattered was to understand its functioning, without bothering any longer to ask ourselves either why, or with what aim, it functions. If that were the case, it would be the end of any scale of values.

Unless this criticism were to decide to confine its attentions to the texts of a few elite writers whose sole preoccupation was precisely to please it, and who refused themselves the flights of fancy arising, for example, from spontaneity--the bete noire of this criticism. In that case, however, it would have become too selective, and no longer have the audience which, after the improvement of its methods and the broadening of its views, it deserves to reach.

It would be logical, as things stand at the moment, for the authors who have wholeheartedly subscribed to the spirit of this discipline, to stop signing their texts, since they admit that they do not have exclusive rights to them. Yet they continue to sign them. This, then, is a phenomenon we should keep in mind.

So far as I personally am concerned, I have taken a great interest in the work of this new school because it has helped me to a better understanding of the movement of my texts, and to become aware of an element of their significance that is not negligible. But it is ideally impossible for me to exclude from my writings the totally subjective side they contain, and the light they throw on my most secret intentions. My work does not solely consist in discovering the functioning of the text on the page, but also in trying to discover where my choice of words comes from, and the relationship to my aspirations that they may signify.

What I call the tone of voice is nothing other than the deliberate choice of a certain vocabulary, and it is the sum total of this vocabulary that is alone responsible for breathing life into the text. This choice differs in each of my books, and is the result of a simple preoccupation with change and renewal. In the same way, it implies a different syntax from one book to the next.

This means that I only partially subscribe to the idea that a text is merely a production; in other words, a game deliberately played with the purely material interrelationship of signs. Even though, of course, my writings no longer contain any representation in the classical sense, they do still contain something eminently subjective, which is the search for a personal expression. It is just possible that my books may simply be exercises in the control of my creative faculty, of my sensations, of my memory. …