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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Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

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

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


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  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
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  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
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  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
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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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