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Published in , as the nouveau roman was rising on the Parisian literary scene, Alain Robbe-Grillet's novel La Jalousie [ Jealousy ] produced in many of its first readers a reaction of puzzlement and consternation. One critic from the newspaper Le Monde believed that "he had surely received a copy whose pages had been mixed up by the printer, that it was a jumbled mess" qtd. La Jalousie , in many ways, can be said to illustrate Robbe-Grillet's modernist, if not postmodernist, bias against classical realism and narration, 1 his view that "tell[ing] a story has become strictly impossible [ raconter est devenu proprement impossible ]" Making these remarks in an article aptly entitled "On Several Obsolete Notions," published the same year as La Jalousie and republished a few years later in his influential manifesto For a New Novel , Robbe-Grillet made clear his intention to renovate both the novel form and the critical reading practices used in approaching the genre as a whole.
Few readers answered Robbe-Grillet's call for a radicalization of the novel, however, and the question of how one can or should read La Jalousie 's unruliness, its intentional challenge to hermeneutical containment and cognitive mastery, still remains open. The question of how to respond to La Jalousie —a question that the novel itself allegorizes or stages in several key scenes—is not just an intellectual or epistemological challenge but also an ethical one.
The following pages re-examine the reception [End Page 13] of Robbe-Grillet's work from such a perspective, identifying the forms of readerly responsibility that the novel stages and elicits, as well as evaluating the very possibility of meeting the text's ethical and interpretive demands in such a way.
Confronted with La Jalousie 's unruliness, some critics in effect ignored it, proceeding with well-established modes of inquiry in an attempt to impose a fixed meaning on the text. In his work The Novels of Robbe-Grillet , Bruce Morrissette offered the first systematic and explanatory study of the novel, basing his reading in part on the authority of its jacket blurb, which he faithfully paraphrased as follows:.
The story with its three characters—the husband, the wife, the presumed lover—is "narrated" by the husband, a tropical planter who, from the vantage points in his banana plantation house, surrounded on three sides by its wide veranda, suspiciously keeps watch over his wife. According to Morrissette, two chronologies control the novel's action: an external chronology which is impossible to determine and a chronology of the husband's psychological states.
The novel's disconcerting chronological impasses can be explained as symptoms of the inner psychic unity governing the order of the novel's events. La Jalousie 's initial disturbing effects are thus eliminated through a critical re-reading, one which restores the comforting sense of comprehension and mastery.
Prioritizing referential interpretation does not necessarily lead to a psychological reading of La Jalousie , however. In his Lecture politique du roman [ Political Reading of the Novel ], Jacques Leenhardt proposed a compelling sociological analysis of the novel, unsettling Morrissette's influential contention that La Jalousie is about erotic jealousy and, more specifically, about the psychic reality of a jealous husband.
Leenhardt's reading purports to make visible what in Frederic Jameson's terms can be described as La Jalousie 's "material and referential preconditions " , emphasis original.
Privileging the social, in turn, enables the reader to escape the all-too-common psychologization of the husband in order to better attest to his ideological subject position. Leenhardt reads the novel [End Page 14] allegorically as a textual site of tension between two competing colonial models: the husband, who stands for the old racist French empire, and the new, more utilitarian, neocolonial model, allegorized in the figure of Franck 25— On Leenhardt's account, the motor of the story is not erotic jealousy per se , but the husband's fear of losing his material possessions and patriarchal privilege.
The narrator's obsessive, depersonalized gaze, for instance, is not merely an index of the husband's isolated pathology; rather, it reflects the anxieties of late French colonialism on the eve of the accessions to independence in West Africa. Leenhardt historicizes the Cartesian subject and its desire for control, situating this subject embodied here by the husband in the early moments of decolonization, an era that confirmed the death of a traditional French imperialism based on territorial conquest and control, while also witnessing a rise in neocolonial capitalist systems of domination.
For Leenhardt, neither La Jalousie 's textual self-reflexivity nor its psychological realism should blind the reader to the novel's historical context or its ideological content. Accordingly, La Jalousie 's realism, or its epistemological claims about the referential world, lies not so much in the evocation of the narrator's psychic reality than in the novel's representation of a colonial mentality, or more precisely, in its staging of the ideological tension inherent in the devolution and devaluation of Western colonialism.
Already in , however, literary critic and novelist Maurice Blanchot was warning against such an ideological and neo-referential reading of the novel; that is, a reading in which the primary goal is to explicate and domesticate Robbe-Grillet's unruly narration by imposing a hermeneutical order, an attempt at mastery that raises both aesthetic and ethical questions.
In The Book to Come , Blanchot not only questions the primacy of [End Page 15] the husband's jealousy, but also problematizes the very existence of such a central character. Taking objection, in particular, to the jacket blurb's characterization of the narrator as a jealous husband, Blanchot underscores the novel's radical alterity, its irreducibility to a thematic analysis and its departure from pre-existing literary models.
More importantly, noting the "powerful absence [at] the center of the plot and of the narration," he reminds the reader that no character is ever in fact named as the narrator and that what we have instead is an absent I :. According to the critics, we are to understand that what is speaking in this absence is the very character of the jealous one, the husband who watches over his wife.
I think this misunderstands the authentic reality of this narrative as the reader is invited to approach it. The reader indeed feels that something is missing; he has the premonition that it is this lack that allows everything to be said and everything to be seen—but how could this lack be identified with someone? How could there still be a name and an identity there? It is nameless, faceless; it is pure anonymous presence. For Blanchot, the anonymity of the narrative voice reflects the demands of writing and crystallizes the singular experience of literature, that is, literature's resistance to readerly cognitive demands: "The essence of literature is precisely to escape any essential determination, any assertion that stabilizes it or even realizes it: it is never already there, it always has to be rediscovered or reinvented" The event of literature not only frustrates comprehension, but also alters and dispossesses its readers: "it is what divests me of myself and of any being, just as it makes language no longer what speaks but what is; language becomes the idle profundity of being, the domain where the word becomes being but does not signify and does not reveal" In The Thought from Outside , Michel Foucault similarly underscores the non-instrumentality of literary language, the way that modernist literature.
And the subject that speaks is less the responsible agent of a discourse what holds it, [End Page 16] what uses it to assert and judge, what sometimes represents itself by means of a grammatical form designed to have that effect than a non-existence in whose emptiness the unending outpouring of language uninterruptedly continues. The event of literature is an exposure to the outside, to the raw being of language, the experience of language as a dissolution: "the being of language only appears for itself with the disappearance of the subject" La Jalousie likewise allegorizes this Blanchotian experience: the challenge to decipher and displace the authorial, masterful "I" with the anonymity of language.
During a conference on the status of the nouveau roman in the fall of at New York University, Robbe-Grillet responded directly to Blanchot's concerns about the jacket blurb, as well as the type of readings that it authorizes:. Blanchot was right. I wrote to him that he was right, but that it was I who had written this blurb and that, in fact, it was not intended for him, but for those hurried critics who do not have time to read the books they have to write about in papers.
The blurb was, of course, not addressed to Maurice Blanchot who, in the cell of his tower, actually reads books. Those who actually read the book, moving beyond the jacket to the text itself, immediately encounter its narrative unruliness, an unruliness that raises a number of perplexing questions: How does one perform a reading of, or a commentary on, La Jalousie without, at the same time, assimilating it to an economy of the Same?
If the ethical relation with the other is fundamentally irreducible to a relation of knowledge in which the other becomes merely an object of contemplation or comprehension , 3 how does one think La Jalousie 's realism otherwise than being? What the face of the other does is interrupt the self's habitual economy, the self's tendency to reduce otherness to the order of the Same.
Faced with La Jalousie 's unruliness, the reader confronts a "double bind," a hermeneutical hesitation between two conflicting injunctions: the simultaneous thematization of and recognition of textual opacity. It is precisely in this productive tension, however, that an alternative reading—or an "ethics of reading"—can begin to emerge. While ethics and literature have long enjoyed a complementary relation among critics in the Aristotelian tradition, such as Wayne Booth and Martha Nussbaum, 4 since the late twentieth century there has been an attempt to think of the relation between ethics and literature differently, to take up an ethical approach that would recognize the specificity or "singularity of literature," to borrow Derek Attridge's suggestive formulation.
Attridge contends that "to find oneself reading an inventive work is to find oneself subject to certain obligations—to respect its otherness, to respond to its singularity, to avoid reducing it to the familiar and the utilitarian even while attempting to comprehend by relating it to these" Unlike a readerly text—a text that "can be read, but not written"—a writerly text transforms its reader into a partner or coauthor 4. An inventive work clearly shares the writerly text's inexhaustibility, 5 as well as its resistance to the reader's voracious appetite or " comfortable practice of reading" , in the way that it confounds readerly expectations Pleasure But an inventive work does not privilege hermeneutical agency, which risks glorifying the reader as a producer of meaning.
Nor does it indulge the reader's eroticized fantasies: "the text is a fetish object, and this fetish desires me ," writes Barthes in The Pleasure of the Text Unlike the writerly text, which pleases the reader by submitting to his or her desires "What I enjoy in a narrative is not directly its content or even its structure," contends Barthes, "but rather the abrasions I [End Page 18] impose upon the fine surface: I read on, I skip, I look up, I dip in again" , the inventive work elicits an ethical response It calls upon the reader not only to produce and delight in potentially endless interpretations of the text, but also to respect its otherness, to sustain its singularity, and to resist the narcissistic assumption that it exists purely for oneself.
Such an ethics is no longer limited to the interpretation of a novel's content what it teaches us through examples and counter-examples , nor even to its context.
Rather, it pertains fundamentally to receptivity, to the ways in which the reader listens to the text's demands and responds to its Saying le Dire , attending to that which resists and interrupts the determination of meaning, disrupting any given horizon of intelligibility, the Said le Dit of literary criticism.
At the heart of the controversy surrounding the reception of La Jalousie lies the perception of its mimetic intent, since its "retrievability" or recuperability depends on the extent to which one views it as inviting or refusing referential interpretation.
Historically speaking, La Jalousie belongs to the first wave of the nouveau roman , in which mimetic or realist concerns were not a priori ruled out. Indeed, first-wave writers tended to privilege a phenomenological relation to the external world.
Speaking for the new novelists, Robbe-Grillet vacillates between and conflates two versions of realism: an objective realism which accords primacy to objects and a subjective one stressing the primacy of perception. At times, he considers the anthropomorphization of the world an anathema to the aesthetics of the nouveau roman.
Yearning to escape from nineteenth-century Balzacian realism and its "tyranny" of signification, he underscores in categorical terms the neutrality of the external world: "[T]he world is neither [End Page 19] significant nor absurd. It is , quite simply. Man looks at the world, and the world does not look back at him" For a New Novel 19, Barthes, commenting on Robbe-Grillet's cinematic realism, notes: "The author's entire art is to give the object a Dasein , a 'being-there,' and to strip it of a 'being-something'" Critical Essays Man is present on every page, in every line, in every word.
Even if many objects are presented and are described with great care, there is always, and especially, the eye which sees them, the thought which examines them, the passion which distorts them.
The objects in our novels never have a presence outside human perception, real or imaginary. In our books,. And the book reports nothing but his experience, limited and uncertain as it is. It is a man here, now, who is his own narrator, finally. Both versions of realism are noticeably manifest in La Jalousie , from the husband's camera-like recording of events to his unreliable, hallucinatory recollections.
These multiple ways of enacting realism are so pervasive that they have led one critic to ask: "[A]re the construction of the novel and the description of objects and events to be read as signs of a deforming vision, or as objective representations of a material and non-signifying world?
Later novels by Robbe-Grillet and other New Novelists conform more or less to Ricardou's formalist, aesthetic sensibility, ostensibly doing away with mimetic concerns in favor of postmodern anti-realism. Robbe-Grillet's preoccupation with a purely self-reflexive textuality is already apparent in La Jalousie , however. The most obvious example is the word jalousie , which in French signifies both "jealousy" and "Venetian blind.
Yet by choosing this ambiguous, multivalent title, Robbe Grillet twists meanings and destabilizes representations, implicitly cautioning [End Page 20] his readers against subscribing to any one totalizing approach—be it mimetic or self-reflexive.
Through the process of what Kaja Silverman calls "heteropathic identification," which enacts "an ethical or nonviolent relation to the other" by simultaneously soliciting and blocking empathic identification, Robbe-Grillet's novel creates the possibility of a referential reading that is otherwise than being 23, 3. Respecting La Jalousie 's inventiveness, sustaining its generic unruliness, requires, then, an interpretive oscillation between mimetic and self-reflexive modes of interpretation.
Morrissette's analysis, which pathologizes the husband's narrative, does not account for the interpretive hesitation elicited by the text, nor how such a hesitation works to safeguard the uniqueness and otherness of the narrative voice rather than foreclosing our exposure to it. Fearing the narrative's contaminating potential, Morrissette warns against the reader's passive fusion with the narrator, his or her desire to "coincide" with the husband's consciousness.
He encourages his readers to re-impose textual mastery over the narrative by differentiating themselves from the jealous husband:. We must constantly separate ourselves from this jealous husband that we become as we read, whose tormenting emotion we share, whose perceptions and ideas haunt us, who drags us with him into his eternal cycle of obsessive visions that annihilates all chronology.
It becomes necessary, in a word, for the reader, having become a man sick with jealousy, to be cured of his disease, to be brought back to normal. Morrissette's ideal reader is one who renounces or overcomes the identification with the husband-narrator. Yet this abjection still does not reflect an ethical sensibility, only a defensive strategy—one originating from the desire to safeguard the autonomy and sovereignty of the reader's ego from the text's pathological discourse, its threat of displacement.
On this account, for the reader to be cured of such contamination, he or she would [End Page 21] have to separate facts from fiction, perception from imagination, unproblematically. Even if Morrissette acknowledges the difficulty or impossibility of this interpretive task, the imperative to normalize, which is synonymous with the pursuit of intelligibility, itself distorts the text with its demands for clarity: "To salvage and place, with any degree of exactitude, the 'facts' of the plot of Jealousy in chronological order, it becomes necessary to clarify the images seen in the distorting mirror of the husband's vision, in which events and objects are caught and reflected" This jealousy thus becomes a purely psychological matter, something to elucidate, contain, and correct in order for genuine acts of comprehension to take place.
However, jealousy in this text is an ontological experience, not simply a psychological one; it is an uncanny event that radically disturbs the narrator's memory and narrative, altering his perception and relation to the external world, an experience akin to Blanchot's notion of fascination, which is foremost a challenge to the autonomy of consciousness. In The Space of Literature , Blanchot argues, "What fascinates us robs us of our power to give sense. It abandons its 'sensory' nature, abandons the world, draws back from the world, and draws us along.
It no longer reveals itself to us, yet it affirms itself in a presence foreign to the temporal present and to presence in space" Regaining in La Jalousie the strong etymological sense of "charm" or "enchantment," fascination renders problematic the classic Cartesian opposition of subject and object, as well as models of perception based on a clear separation between the two.
The fascinated subject par excellence is, of course, the writer. He or she is obsessed with and overwhelmed by language, for "to write is to let fascination rule language" Far from upholding the romantic view of the author as demiurge, the absolute source of meaning, Blanchot repeatedly points to the disempowerment of the literary process:. The writer's mastery is not in the hand that writes, the "sick" hand that never lets the pencil go—that can't let go because what it holds it doesn't really hold;.
ISBN 13: 9781138147522
The French title: "la jalousie" is a play on words that can be translated as "jealousy", but also as "the jalousie window ". The jealous husband in the novel spies on his wife through the Venetian blind -like slats of the jalousie windows of their home. La Jalousie is one of critics' and literary theorists' main examples of Robbe-Grillet's demonstrations of his concept of the nouveau roman , for which he later explicitly advocated in his Pour un nouveau roman For a New Novel. Robbe-Grillet argued that the novel was constructed along the lines of an "absent" third-person narrator. In that account of the novel the narrator, a jealous husband, silently observes the interactions of his wife referred to only as "A
Jalousie by Alain Robbe Grillet
The full French text is accompanied by French-English vocabulary. Notes and a detailed introduction in English put the work in its social and historical context. Convert currency. Add to Basket. Book Description Routledge,
Barnett Richard L. Robbe-Grillet's La plage : a critical reading. Lectures au labyrinthe. Mais on sait qu'elle est, par nature, simplificatrice et qu'elle adore les clas-. Waltham, Mass. As such, it repels attempts at universal synthesis or summary judgments.