Saturday, January 31, 2009

JEALOUSY by Alain Robbe-Grillet

Just 12 pages into Robbe-Grillet's Jealousy, I can already project a strategy for deconstructing it. The novel's illusion of objectivity depends upon the narrator's rhetorical self-effacement, sometimes at the expense of obviously artificial circumlocutions. The objectivity is thus undermined by the very rhetoric used to construct it, rhetoric that points ineluctably toward subjectivity, the narrator's too-obviously masked presence. The next step is to understand that this subjectivity depends upon the same rhetorical devices and is thus in its turn as compromised as the illusion of objectivity, which it creates... We end, as in all deconstructive readings, in an indeterminate oscillation of meanings, understanding objectivity and subjectivity as constructions or 'side effects' of language not referable to any extralinguistic 'reality.' (Um, with Robbe-Grillet's novels in print since the 1950s, can someone explain to me why we needed Paul de Man??) If Paul de Man had not existed, Robbe-Grillet would have been forced to invent him--and probably did.

Upon finishing the book I find that there's some very good stuff in Jealousy. I was impressed by the way the reader's narrative expectations are co-opted and deployed in support of the narrator's paranoia, implying that narrative itself is a paranoid construction projected upon random events that only achieve significance in terms of the projected, paranoid, jealous narrative. (Note to self: must re-read Freud's essay on jealousy, paranoia and homosexuality.) Some of the book's descriptions, such as the passage describing A's hair in labyrinthine terms, are marvelous. Other passages are, however, eminently skippable (e.g. the notorious tree-counting scene). But it's a very good, excitingly original book overall. The theme of narrative paranoia, or narrative as paranoia, seems like a missing link between Proust and Pynchon. (Whaddya know!) That said, while I appreciate Robbe-Grillet, I certainly don't want to write books like his. He is very not me.

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