The Electronic Labyrinth

The New Novel

The New Novel or Nouveau Roman refers to a movement in French literature that flourished in the mid-fifties and early sixties which called into question the traditional modes of literary realism. It is seen by some commentators as standing mid-way between modernism and postmodernism. Associated with the works of Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Michel Butor, Claude Simon, Phillipe Sollers, and Nathalie Sarraute, the new novel is characterized by an austere narrative tone which often eschews metaphor and simile in favour of precise physical descriptions, a heightened sense of ambiguity with regards to point of view, radical disjunctions of time and space, and self-reflexive commentary on the processes of literary composition.

In Pour un nouveau roman (1963), Robbe-Grillet argues that the traditional novel, with its dependence on an omniscient narrator, and adherence to the unities of time and place, creates an illusion of order and significance which is inconsistent with the radically discontinuous and aleatory nature of modern experience. The task of the new novel, as he presents it, is to foster change by dispensing with any technique which imposes a particular interpretation on events, or which organizes events in such a way as to endow them with a determinate meaning. The ambiguities of the New Novel situate the reader as the site of meaning and, as a model of what Barthes calls the writerly text, invite re-reading and re-interpretation.

Robbe-Grillet's In The Labyrinth (1957), for example, frustrates the desire for a stable and coherent world by presenting itself as a mise en abyme, a world within worlds, and stories within stories, in which it becomes increasingly difficult to determine which is "real" and which is "illusion." Characters from other novels (and films) re-appear in Robbe-Grillet's texts, further undermining any sense that his works correspond to some reality outside of the text but are rather a fictional universe in their own right, obeying only the associative logic of writing itself.

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
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