The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

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Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
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  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
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  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
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  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
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  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
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Last Year at Marienbad

Marienbad

The case of Last Year at Marienbad is interesting for any reader of Bioy’s The Invention of Morel; it is also worthwhile for anyone interested in the relationship between movies and books.

Alain Robbe-Grillet declared that his movie was inspired by Bioy’s novel, but it isn’t simply an adaption of Bioy’s work into a film. Upon viewing the film, there is clearly a lot of thematic, and even plot-based, overlap between the two, but each is also clearly independent from the other.

In this way, I think Robbe-Grillet made a movie "based on a novel" in the sense that Viktor Shklovsky would have wanted to see it happen. In his long essay/short book Literature and Cinematography, Shklovsky decries the many book-to-film adaptations already available in the 1920s as being simply the plot of the book rendered on the screen.

What Shklovsky would have preferred to see were movies that explored the cinema’s unique capabilities for telling a story; what he got was Dickens acted out and filmed, more or less faithfully following the text.

Last Year at Marienbad is a story that I think could only be told cinematically. In Robbe-Grillet’s juxtaposition of certain scenes and images (jumping back and forth to suggest relationships, without ever making it precisely clear what he is jumping between); in his voiceovers that seem to narrate events being depicted on-screen even as we wonder what is the exactly relationship between each, and who is talking to whom; in these devices and others, I think Robbe-Grillet has made something that could not precisely, or even grossly, be recreated in another medium.

This much we know: in both Bioy and Robbe-Grillet there is a man who dearly wants to communicate with a woman; in both he is doomed to fail, but, perhaps through his failures achieve a kind of communication that one might say is the best any of us could hope for when trying to communicate with another person. The circumstances of the book and film, however, are vastly different.

So too are their styles. Although Bioy’s novel is surreal and satisfyingly innovative, he tells us a more or less straightforward story through the frame of a journal. Robbe-Grillet gives us an agglomeration of images that are fundamentally impenetrable as a narrative; we can make guesses as to the story that might be told from what we see on the screen, but there is no way any viewer can claim to have found the definitive narrative in the movie.

In a strange sort of way, the two deepen the experience of each without closing off any avenues. In my experience, there are points of intersection between the book and the movie, images, devices, dialog that could conceivable work well in both. I found these intersections to be like aids that encouraged me to consider both the book and the movie in new ways. But never did I feel like one of these clues had closed off a reading that I had previously entertained.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Sebald at Marienbad I have been in the midst of a long-overdue reading of Sebald’s novel Austerlitz, and now, about 2/3 of the way through, I am delighted...
  2. Alain Robbe Grillet Ruined Your Fiction I don’t quite agree with this post-mortem on Alain Robbe-Grillet. The "new novel" or "nouveau roman," as Robbe-Grillet defined and explained it in his famous...
  3. New Year's Resolution As New Year’s Resolutions go, this is a pretty good one. So, if you happen to be in the market for a resolution this New...
  4. Herzog v. Morris The Believer: WERNER HERZOG: Walking out of one of your films, I always had the feeling—the sense that I’ve seen a movie, that I’ve seen...
  5. Author Event: 4/12: David Thompson and Philip Lopate: American Movie Critics When it comes to film critics, David Thomson is about as big as they come. The author of the Biographical Dictionary of Film, as...

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6 comments to Last Year at Marienbad

  • Bill

    You seem to be under the impression that Alain Robbe-Grillet directed this film. He only wrote the screenplay; direction was by Alain Resnais.

  • One of my all-time favorite films–saw it two more times during its recent theatrical run here in NYC.
    But it was directed by Alain Resnais, not Robbe-Grillet!

  • I can’t find a way to search the blog, so.. have you read Robbe-Grillet at all? I’d be curious how you see his novels in relation to Marienbad and Morel. Say “Maison de Rendez-vous” or “Jalousie.”
    I think most of R-G’s novels resist any “definitive” narrative. There is so much repetition and variation it is impossible to clearly say.

  • Bill,
    Yes, I’m aware. Thanks.
    Derik,
    I have a copy of Jealousy. I hope to read it soon.

  • JPS

    As a long-time fan of Robbe-Grillet, I would recommend, and in this order, The Erasers (a metaphysical crime thriller), The Voyeur, Jealousy, and In the Labyrinth.
    The first will teach you how to read the others.

  • anon

    Does anyone know other novels/fiction in which Marienbad features? I know it is a setting in some of W.G. Sebald’s work (Austerlitz), and I think also of some of Nabokov’s.

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