The French New Autobiographies: Sarraute, Duras, and Robbe Grillet

The French New Autobiographies: Sarraute, Duras, and Robbe Grillet

The French New Autobiographies: Sarraute, Duras, and Robbe Grillet

The French New Autobiographies: Sarraute, Duras, and Robbe Grillet

Synopsis

"Adds significant new insights into the mental, psychological, and rhetorical laboratory of three major contemporary French novelists.... Its rigorous focus on autofictional narratives also reflects the widening of the scope of contemporary critical theory and practice."--Raymond Gay-Crosier, University of Florida
Raylene Ramsay explores the significance of the new autobiographical genre--the "autofictions"--that emerged from the nouveau roman in the 1980s in France. She focuses on the work of Nathalie Sarraute, Marguerite Duras, and Alain Robbe-Grillet, major figures of French avant-garde writing whose complex autobiographies slide between true and false memories and between fact and fiction, examining the limits imposed by the conventions of the traditional autobiography.
While she questions the ability of memory to capture the past and the ability of language to record the experience of an ever-elusive self, Ramsay grounds the three authors in their particular historical, political, and sexual context. In this light she reads Sarraute's negative portrait of her mother, Duras' lyrical evocations of the intensity and pain of desire, and Robbe-Grillet's pirouetting "confession" of his family's anti-Semitism and pro-German feeling during World War II as deriving from the individuated (the "auto" and the "bios") rather than from the collective (the "graphy"), the forms of a shared language.
In the final instance, Ramsay claims, the new autobiography, seeking individuated truths, offers the power to rewrite inner life--for example, Sarraute comes to identify with the "feminine" in the self; Duras casts the writing of her relationship with her Chinese lover as a form of liberation; even Robbe-Grillet, staging his predilection for young girls as the most banal of stereotyped sexual impulses, comes closer to self-knowing. She broadens the scope of her study by showing how this new kind of writing reflects contemporary critical movements, such as postmodernism and the scientific theory of "complementarity," as it telescopes the private and the public, the past experience and the present writing.
Raylene Ramsay is professor of French at Auckland University in New Zealand. She is the author of Robbe-Grillet and Modernity: Science, Sexuality, and Subversion (UPF, 1992) and of many articles in journals such as French Review, College Literature, Language Quarterly, European Studies Journal, and Literature and History.

Excerpt

The Crosscurrents Series is designed to foreground comparative studies in European art and thought, particularly the intersections of literature and philosophy, aesthetics and culture. Without abandoning traditional comparative methodology, the series is receptive to the latest currents in critical, comparative, and performative theory, especially that generated by the renewed intellectual energy in post-Marxist Europe. It will as well take full cognizance of the cultural and political realignments of what for the better part of the twentieth century have been two separated and isolated Europes. While Western Europe is now moving aggressively toward unification in the European Community, with the breakup of the twentieth century's last colonial empire, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe is subdividing into nationalistic and religious enclaves with the collapse of the Communist hegemony. The intellectual, cultural, and literary significance of such profound restructuring, how history will finally rewrite itself, is difficult to anticipate. Having had a fertile period of modernism snuffed out in an ideological coup not long after the 1917 revolution, the nations of the former Soviet Union have, for instance, been denied (or spared) the age of Freud, most modernist experiments, and post- modern fragmentation. While Western Europe continues reaching beyond Modernism, Eastern Europe may be struggling to reclaim it. Whether a new art can emerge in the absence--or from the absence--of such forces as shaped Modernism is one of the intriguing questions of post-Cold War aesthetics.

The series follows Michel Butor's intellectual biography, Transformation in Writing, with another examination of writing (and so genre) in transformation, writing reaching beyond the teleology of Modernism, Raylene Ramsay's The French New Autobiographies: Sarraute, Duras, and Robbe-Grillet. Ramsay focuses on six "intergeneric rewritings": Nathalie Sarraute's Enfance (Childhood) and Tu ne t'aimes pas (You Lack Self-Love), Marguerite Duras' Emily L. and L'Amant de la Chine du nord, and Alain Robbe-Grillet's Le Miroir qui revient (The Returning Mirror) and Angélique ou l'enchantement. These post- modern writers, for whom the Second World War is "the central historical . . .

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