Instead of this universe of “signification” (psychological, social, Freudian), we must try, then, to construct a world both more solid and more immediate. Let it be first of all by their presence that objects and gestures establish themselves, and let this presence continue to prevail over whatever explanatory theory that may try to enclose them in a system of references, whether emotional, sociological, Freudian or metaphysical.
In this future universe of the novel, gestures and objects be there before something; and they will still be there afterwards, hard, unalterable, eternally present, mocking their own “Meaning,” that meaning which vainly tries to reduce them to the role of precarious tools, of a temporary and shameful fabric woven elusively — and deliberately — by the superior human truth expressed in it, only to cast out this awkward auxiliary into the immediate oblivious and darkness.
Henceforth, on the contrary, objects will gradually lose their instability and their secrets, will renounce their pseudo-mystery, that suspect interiority which Roland Barthes has called “the romantic heart of things.” No longer will objects be merely the vague reflection of the hero’s vague soul, the image of his torments, the shadow of his desires. Or rather, if objects still afford a momentary prop to human passions, they will do so only provisionally, and will accept the tyranny of significations only in appearance — derisively, one might say — the better to show how alien they remain to man.
As for the novel’s characters, they may themselves suggest many possible interpretations; they may, according to the preoccupations of each reader, accommodate all kinds of comment — psychological, psychiatric, religious, or political — yet their indifference to these “potentialities” will soon be apparent. Whereas the traditional hero is constantly solicited, caught up, destroyed by these interpretations of the author’s, ceaselessly projected into the immaterial and unstable elsewhere, always more remote and blurred, the future hero will remain, on the contrary, there. It is the commentaries that will be left elsewhere; in the face of his irrefutable presence, they will seem useless, superfluous, even improper.
A Future for the Novel, 1956, Alain Robbe-Grillet, p.21-22.
Will the literature of the fantastic be possible in the twenty-first century, with the growing inflation of prefabricated images? Two paths seem to be open from now on. (1) We could recycle used images in a new context that changes their meaning. Post-modernism may be seen as the tendency to make ironic use of the stock images of the mass media, or to inject the taste for the marvelous inherited from literary traditions into narrative mechanisms that accentuate its alienation. (2) We could wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Samuel Beckett has obtained the most extraordinary results by reducing visual and linguistic elements to a minimum, as if in a world after the end of the world.
Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino, p.95.
“DW:This brings us quite neatly around to a question with which we could ‘close’ this discussion, if only by opening it onto others. Let’s say that, as ever, literature’s death looks a little exaggerated. If this is so, I’m with you in ardently wanting not to ‘have done with’ the modernist impulse, in the way we’ve sought to describe it.
“How then might writing return to the problems that modernism presents? Or rather, how will writing refuse to delude itself that it’s rid of those problems? And can it still do so while ‘making it new,’ that is, without lapsing into pastiche, or fetishising a ‘period’ that’s part of the past?
“For the record, one literary form I do think is ‘dead’ is the novel of ideas. I’m a cultural pessimist insofar as I can’t see our future producing another Mann, a Goethe, a Sartre. But nor would I want it to. I’d say the days of the great, stately ‘philosophical’ novel are gone, and they’re gone for a reason. Put bluntly, I think it’s no longer enough for writing to ‘thematise’ its conjuncture. Today, treating modernity as a theme has become one more way of turning away from it.
“You mention Bernhard in the same breath as Lydia Davis, which I think is fruitful. What I mean here is that I read Bernhard for the same reasons I read some recent American writers. I want to say that I read for the style, but I don’t mean ‘style’ in the ‘superficial’ sense you astutely describe. In the work of the writers I most admire, a style is always also a stance. That is, for them, a way of arranging words on the page is also a way of reaching a view of the world.
“I don’t want to go on and on, so all I’ll say is this: if modernism persists, it surely doesn’t do so as a disembodied idea. Instead, it’s deeply embedded inside the stylistic stances of writers who might not think of themselves as ‘modernists,’ but whose writing itself somehow can’t help but be modern.”
The breaking up of the grand Narratives …leads to what some authors analyze in terms of the dissolution of the social bond and the disintegration of social aggregates into a mass of individual atoms thrown into the absurdity of Brownian motion. Nothing of the kind is happening: this point of view, it seems to me, is haunted by the paradisaic representation of a lost “organic” society.
— Lyotard, The Post Modern Condition, p.15
This morning these were the first words Jenny sent to me via Google Talk.