Robbe-Grillet, Alain

Tagged: Author

(1922-2008) French screenwriter, director and author not associated directly with sf – or with any other genre, including the noir thriller – except subversively, as his films and novels could plausibly be called Thought Experiments in narrative deconstruction, with every narrative convention deliberately eviscerated, laid out anaesthetized upon the table of the book. As the prime exponent of the nouveau roman, Robbe-Grillet could not be expected to fulfil any normal sf expectations in his readers. All the same, within the dégringolade of the exposed text, underlying ludic-fiction (see Johan Huizinga) manipulation of forms and expectations can – even if somewhat unsmilingly – associate a late tale like Djinn; un trou rouge entre les pavés disjoints (1981; trans Richard Howard as Djinn 1982) with works whose play with the tools of Fantastika is not only evident but declared; as a tale of Arabian Nightmare [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], Djinn is, all the same, not precisely sf, despite narrative hints of other Dimensions and Time Loops. But its playing with the engines of story, though abstracted, associates it with texts by authors as divergent as Tim Powers, or Jack Vance, or Kurt Vonnegut, or Gene Wolfe, though Robbe-Grillet can be seen as lacking one central element in the contemporary ludic: which is a narrative impulsion that can be understood as genial. This geniality, against the odds of the world, conspicuously infuses works by authors like Nick Harkaway or David Mitchell or China Miéville.

Some of Robbe-Grillet's other works variously contribute to a sense of his exemplary importance, including Dans le labyrinthe (1959; trans Richard Howard as In the Labyrinth 1960), which specifically evokes game theory and which may be the most Kafkaesque of his novels (see Franz Kafka), just as L'Homme qui ment ["The Man Who Lies"] (1958), which was shot in Prague, is the most Kafkaesque of his films; L'Année dernière à Marienbad: Ciné-roman (1961; trans Richard Howard as Last Year at Marienbad 1962; vt Last Year at Marienbad: A Ciné-Novel 1962), a joint project with the director of the film, Alain Resnais (1922-    ); and Projet pour le révolution à New York (1970; trans Richard Howard as Project for a Revolution in New York 1972), a meditation on the City, upon New York in particular, with hints of a Near Future setting. [JC]

Alain Robbe-Grillet

born Brest, France: 18 August 1922

died Caen, France: 18 February 2008

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