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decadent, inhuman…

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Wow. A roundtable on the “Condition of the Novel” from a 1965 issue of NLR. I’ve only read the Robbe-Grillet contribution so far. He’s getting, here, a bit testy with the commies:

The comparison which has been made during this conference between the novelist and the airline pilot is no more than a joke. The novel is not a means of transport, it is not even a means of expression—by which I mean that it knows in advance the truths or the questions which it sets out to express. The novel, for us, means search which does not even know what it is searching. The pilot of course must know where his passengers are bound, and the shortest route; The writer by definition does not know where he is going. And so, if I had absolutely to answer the question of why I write, I would simply say: ‘I write to try to understand why I feel the desire to write.’

But what seems most scandalous to us, is to find the socialist camp sharing the illusions of the bourgeois world, about the political power of art, sharing the same cult of obsolete artistic forms, the same language in which to couch its criticism, and in the end the same values.

‘Decadent’ you say? In relation to what? ‘Inhuman’? Isn’t it rather your conception of man which needs revivifying? It is understandable that bourgeois critics in the West persist (although more timidly than you) in defending literary forms which embody for them the golden age of the novel and of the propertied class. But what we find bizarre is that you are fighting the same cause, and that you can talk about innocent and natural writing when Gustave Flaubert began to have doubts about this in 1848.

You accuse us of ‘formalism’, but it is the literary form that expresses a work’s true meaning; and we know precisely that the forms which you advocate are representative of a world which you are supposed to be fighting.

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December 14, 2006 at 8:25 am

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