A Mind's Eye View: Repetition, Obsession, and Jealousy in Robbe-Grillet's la Jalousie and Claude Chabrol's L'Enfer

By Polk, Randi | West Virginia University Philological Papers, May 2011 | Go to article overview

A Mind's Eye View: Repetition, Obsession, and Jealousy in Robbe-Grillet's la Jalousie and Claude Chabrol's L'Enfer


Polk, Randi, West Virginia University Philological Papers


Alain Robbe-Grillet's artistic endeavors have generated a great deal of discussion on the increasingly complex relationship between an image and a text. From his nouveaux romans to his provocative films to his controversial statements, Robbe-Grillet has challenged readers and spectators to see in a new way. Of course, he subsequently condemns these new ways of seeing by refuting their accuracy on the basis of the impossibility of a single vision. My project here is to relate image and text by establishing a system of comparison between La Jalousie and L'Enfer. These two works seem to be far removed from one another chronologically, as La Jalousie was published by Les Editions de Minuit in 1957 and L'Enfer was released in 1994. However, Claude Chabrol inherited the project from Henri-Georges Clouzot who began filming the movie in 1964. Thus, the genesis of both works came at a time when new novelists and New Wave filmmakers were challenging the traditions of their respective outlets for artistic expression. The strikingly similar images evoked in the two works are an important element overlooked heretofore. This visual dimension can be highlighted by focusing on verbal descriptions in La Jalousie as the ekphrastic equivalent of scenes in L'Enfer. Furthermore, through an analysis of the verbal text as a static image as opposed to the moving visual images that make up the film, one can see how perception is influenced by the medium through which the image is transmitted.

Robbe-Grillet most often disapproves of the "images" that are created to represent his texts. During a colloquium in 1979, organized around the topic of generative literature and generative art, Robbe-Grillet commented on his creative endeavors, speaking of the relation between text and image in a way that made the two seem like completely separate entities. He spoke of some of the misconstrued images that have been created from his texts, citing the floor plan printed in La Jalousie specifically. (1) Furthermore, Robbe-Grillet mocks the idea of La Jalousie's being worthy material for a film because the book is, in his words, a three hundred page description of a house. And, at the end of the novel, we still do not know what the house looks like. (2) Robbe-Grillet would never allow a simple solution to the textual labyrinth he has provided his reader, for this would nullify the goal of the "game," which is engaging actively in the reading process and attempting to decipher the text. Robbe-Grillet's oeuvre has challenged readers and spectators in many ways as he has worked in collaboration with artists and has challenged the traditional presentation of images through his films. He launched one of his first challenges to the interpreter of images in the scenario to Alain Resnais's L'Annee derniere a Marienbad and later worked in posthumous "collaboration" with Rene Magritte to publish an illustrated new novel, La belle captive (1975), which, incidentally, was later made into a film. Furthermore, Robbe-Grillet published Instantanes in 1962, a collection of verbal "photographs." Thus, by proposing puzzles to the reader or spectator, Robbe-Grillet destabilizes him or her and opens the text up to many interpretations. He creates a system of codes that is brought to life through the undeniably inseparable text/image dichotomy.

La Jalousie and L'Enfer are two works that require the reader/spectator to go beyond the text and interpret it without the expectation of a unique message. They necessitate an active participant in the reading/viewing of the text, thus enabling him or her to contribute to the production of meaning and not simply consuming it. Roland Barthes comments on the role of the reader: "the goal of a literary work (of literature as work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text" (S/Z 4). These remarks are particularly significant for readers of the new novel, but more importantly, for finding meaning in the text/image relationship, which is an important topic relating to twentieth century thought. …

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