"Adds significant new insights into the mental, psychological, and rhetorical laboratory of three major contemporary French novelists. . . . Its rigorous focus on autofictional narratives also reflects the widening of the scope of contemporary critical theory and practice."--Raymond Gay-Crosier, University of Florida
Raylene Ramsay explores the significance of the new autobiographical genre--the "autofictions"--that emerged from the nouveau roman in the 1980s in France. She focuses on the work of Nathalie Sarraute, Marguerite Duras, and Alain Robbe-Grillet, major figures of French avant-garde writing whose complex autobiographies slide between true and false memories and between fact and fiction, examining the limits imposed by the conventions of the traditional autobiography.
While she questions the ability of memory to capture the past and the ability of language to record the experience of an ever-elusive self, Ramsay grounds the three authors in their particular historical, political, and sexual context. In this light she reads Sarraute's negative portrait of her mother, Duras' lyrical evocations of the intensity and pain of desire, and Robbe-Grillet's pirouetting "confession" of his family's anti-Semitism and pro-German feeling during World War II as deriving from the individuated (the "auto" and the "bios") rather than from the collective (the "graphy"), the forms of a shared language.
In the final instance, Ramsay claims, the new autobiography, seeking individuated truths, offers the power to rewrite inner life--for example, Sarraute comes to identify with the "feminine" in the self; Duras casts the writing of her relationship with her Chinese lover as a form of liberation; even Robbe-Grillet, staging his predilection for young girls as the most banal of stereotyped sexual impulses, comes closer to self-knowing. She broadens the scope of her study by showing how this new kind of writing reflects contemporary critical movements, such as postmodernism and the scientific theory of "complementarity," as it telescopes the private and the public, the past experience and the present writing.
Raylene Ramsay is professor of French at Auckland University in New Zealand. She is the author of Robbe-Grillet and Modernity: Science, Sexuality, and Subversion (UPF, 1992) and of many articles in journals such as French Review, College Literature, Language Quarterly, European Studies Journal, and Literature and History.
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"Well written and clearly developed, it provides a sophisticated and theoretically informed treatment of its subject" "a laudable attempt to place the recent works by French new novelists in their full social, political, and historical context."
--International Fiction Review
"This is a doughty work, if not entirely easy of access. . . . However, it is well worth battling with, not only for the light it sheds on the three writers on whom it focuses, but for the way in which "ideas [. . . ] in the contemporary air" (p.8) are closely examined, and a counter provided to their potentiality for a kind of nihilism, especially in the sphere of language."
--New Zealand Journal of French Studies
"Ramsay's book is a subtle and finely tuned examination of writers whose works, from the nouveau roman to the 'new autobiiographies,' span the second half of the twentieth century."
--South Atlantic Review