Tuesday, February 19, 2008

ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET EST MORT AND THE LIFE OF RILEY

ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET EST MORT.


The headline and front page on the two major French newspapers, Le Monde and Le Figaro.

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Five years ago I interviewed Robbe-Grillet in Paris. I brought along my friend David Powis who has been living in Paris for almost thirty years and who in his spare time has been translating Celine's great comic BAGATELLES POUR UN MASSACRE for people like myself who do not have a full access to this great literary work, this one book that will never be published (who really knows) in English because it is more shocking, more scandalous than anything that De Sade ever wrote and at one time De Sade was the standard against which all such books were measured. I am not going to tell you what makes Celine's great book unpublishable... but it is equal to Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal...

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You can read my interview in Bookforum (Spring 2003). I was criticized for supposedly mis-spelling Julian Green's name though it was the copy editors at Bookforum who added an e to his surname, and for mentioning the fact that my daughter was studying at a Sacred Heart boarding school in Nantes... for reasons of space the editors at Bookforum cut the complete exchange with Robbe-Grillet which had elaborated on my experience of taking my daughter out to the boarding school in Nantes and how the conversation with the head-mistress of the school had turned to Mr Robbe-Grillet and though she herself had never read Robbe-Grillet she was sure his books were in the school library, where indeed they were, with their pages un-cut and as innocent then of grubby fingers as on the day they arrived at the school, their purchase subsidized by the French state.

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Much more of the conversation with Robbe-Grillet was taken up with the simple fact that while his name is known he does not exist as a read author but as name on a list of modern novelists and without the academics he would have no audience... Robbe-Grillet both understood this but was still proud of the moneyhis books earned in the over-seas markets and was doubly pleased with the chateau where his papers were being stored and how he had gotten the French state to set up this permanent reminder of his stalking the planet.

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The interview had a ritualistic sneer from Robbe-Grillet against Chirac and Bush--- but that is almost required-- he probably imagined, if you wanted to maintain a revenue stream from American academics... and Robbe-Grillet was no dummy when it came to cultivating American revenue streams as he had long watched hucksters like Derrida, Kristeva and all those other French intellectuals con American academics out of big bucks for doing very little actual work... as do the Irish poets and novelists... it is always a delight to hear them go on about the sinking American dollar and how they grub about to be paid in Euros

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Also, the interview as published couldn't go into the detailed pleasure that Robbe-Grillet took in his sharing of the young girls who has wife would bring back to their luxurious house to satisfy her sexual needs and then as part of the marriage bargain she would pass them along to her husband... and while he was telling this--- I thought this the height of French... do I dare use the word sophistication--- he was also leafing through the pages of novels by the Argentinian novelist Juan Jose Saer to show us how Saer had marked certain passages that were written in homage to the style of Robbe-Grillet and Robbe-Grillet had slipped into talking about himself in the third person which is a particular gift.

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Some months later, Robbe-Grillet showed up at NYU and my wife went along to a public talk and after, she went up to him and a little flustered introduced herself in English and Robbe-Grillet brushed her aside claiming he would not speak English at which point Anna switched to her very good French and was talking about her husband who had just interviewed you in Paris but she was quickly cut off by, as Anna said, "this stocky old cunt who must have been his NYU handler." By chance she had touched Robbe-Grillet's elbow and Anna said,it reminded her of a skinny chicken bone with loose skin...

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I tried to console Anna by reminding her that the French department at NYU used to be or for all I know was still run by a guy who named his dog Beckett and who fancies himself a reader of modern literature. That department at NYU is a genuine killing field of literature, of sensitivity, of culture: I once suggested to this guy that they offer a course on the two great mountains of modern French literature Proust and Celine.. and the howl of derision was satisfying--- the only department more fraudulent than the French department might be the German Department or could it be the Dance Department... the choices are endless when it comes to NYU.

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The most controversial part of the interview was Robbe-Grillet's dismissal of Richard Howard as a translator because of his homosexuality and as a result of how awful are his translations of Baudelaire and other French writers.

I have long suspected that Richard Howard is not that good of a translator and one only has to compare his translation of IN THE LABYRINTH with Christine Brooke- Rose's to see the difference or one can compare Howard's translations of Claude Simon with Helen Lane's versions--- Howard from Cincinnati has a provincial's understanding of French... and while he has been prolific he does not have access to the whole orchestra of the French language... one would almost say he has a limited vocabulary or at least he has access to a smaller vocabulary than did Helen Lane or Christine Brooke-Rose.

However he has been hard working and we have to be grateful in some way for even his imperfect versions of so many French works of literature but it must also be remarked that his very presence--- coupled with publisher's laziness--- discouraged others from competing for the work and of course he had personal financial resources not available to many another translator


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I shall think of Alain Robbe-Grillet when later today I watch his LA BELLE CAPTIVE. It is truly awful and does feature artwork by Magritte which was on display in his house when David and I went to see him now five years ago.

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NO, I will not watch the movie. I looked at the trailer... it is too awful... wooden acting, even in those seconds: splattered blood, young female breasts, leering old men, a girl on a motorcycle...

What a revolting development, as Riley would say.

7 comments:

Lloyd Mintern said...

Life of Riley? Have a little respect, man--so what if you interviewed Robbe-Grillet? He was one the most original authors of the century; whose work is innovative, impeccable, and incomparable. Are you are just making your own resume with these peculiar observations? Reading what you write one has to wonder if you aren't just jealous, and ghoulishly grinning over another modern master's death.

Anonymous said...

Robbe-Grillet conned a succession of moneybags and government slush funds to make atrocious movies based upon a reputation for having written one very good film, but remember that was directed by Alain Resnais.

As Loyola so wonderfully pointed out it is for a survivor to always gloat---ever so temporarily--- over the recent dead

Lloyd Mintern said...

We are talking about Robbe-Grillets books, obviously, Mr. Anonymous. Is that the same Loyola that John Donne sent to the moon?

Anonymous said...

Out of the expected and familiar sense of self-respect I shall forgo the contrasting of logical and illogical absurdities.

Lloyd Mintern said...

In other words, yes.

Anonymous said...

Mr.ABC, was it the copy editor at Bookforum who added an "e" to Julian Green's last name, the one who added an "e" to mort in the title of this post of yours?

Anonymous said...

it has been fixed for electronic posterity... unlike the fixity of printed posterity... thank you for pointing this out