Monday, August 18, 2008

venetian blinds

I won’t go in to extraordinary detail when describing Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy because if you’ve read it, you’ll understand my reluctance to reread it for deconstruction’s sake. If you haven’t read it, I’ll try and give you a reason to.
Jealousy, published in 1957, is defined as a “Nouveau Roman” (New Novel) or “antinovel” which is defined by my trusty Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms as “A type of contemporary fiction that attempts to present the reader with experience itself, unfiltered by metaphor or other vehicles of authorial interpretation...Confusion is an intended result of the narrative experiments [antinovelists] perform that typically involve fragmentation and dislocation.” I can’t think of any antinovelists off the top of my brain other than Robbe-Grillet, but they’re out there.
The very nature of an antinovel is pretty damn hard to achieve, and after reading Jealousy, I objected to Robbe-Grillet’s success. I take it back now because I’ve realized that completely avoiding the various elements of fiction is, frankly, impossible. An author can have a settingless story, but that leaves a lot to depend on character which can’t be even lightly developed in terms of an antinovel. Barring setting and character, featureless characters can maintain dialogue and move a story along, but dialogue will indirectly reveal characters by simply speaking. Plot can be avoided, as it is in Jealousy, but a theme cannot because inevitable symbolism may be interpreted in everything from objects to language to sentence structure and related to a point to the story. Soooo, I think Robbe-Grillet did a fine job, considering so many wicked elements working against him.
The story is set on a banana plantation and is simply the repetitive and objective telling of a woman, A, and her neighbor Franck’s interactions by a third unnamed narrator, recurrently from behind a venetian-blind vantage point.
Though many have described Jealousy as a detached description of events by an unseen third person, I feel quite comfortable calling that unseen person “the husband” and the novel an embodiment of his irrational jealousy over his wife’s ambiguous intimacy with Franck. The at times painful repetition of description is an obvious obsession and over analysis of the woman’s actions. The continuous counting of three place settings at dinner and afternoon refreshments indicates an obsession over his wife’s seemingly over-hospitability toward their always nearby neighbor Franck. The narrator is constantly thinking, thinking, thinking, counting banana trees to relieve his mind when he’s not internally measuring the distance between his seated wife’s hand and their seated neighbor’s.
If the antinovel’s repetition does not become a clear vehicle of expressive emotion, the original French title should: La Jalousie, which dually means both venetian blinds and jealousy.
Voilà.

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