Posts Tagged Michel Butor
On n'est pas le même partout. L'équilibre entre 2 villes ; deux pôles ; et ce qui les relie : un fil de la vierge léger léger : le trajet en train. Il y a longtemps que cette vieille édition rose de 1994 (achetée sur conseil : "tu aimes le train, c'est un roman à lire dans le train, d'autant que tu prends souvent cette ligne" (fut un temps avec arrêt à Firenze, ville non mentionnée il me semble dans le roman)) passe d'étagère en étagère.
LES GRANDS TRAITS DU PROJET « BUTORIEN » de retranscription du monde. Comme le dit M. Spencer, le projet de Michel Butor est de « transformer la façon dont nous voyons et racontons le monde ». Par ailleurs, Michel Butor entretient une relation particulière avec la planète, relation qu’il imaginerait volontiers holistique : « […] tous les textes de Butor procèdent de la même passion méthodiquement assumée : celle de devenir son propre contemporain ou, ce qui revient au même, citoyen du monde à part entière.
When I started this blog, part of my motivation was to enthuse, if I could, other readers about Michel Butor, and about this novel in particular. The publication of Sebald’s poems which reveal his indebtedness to Butor has helped my cause because there are more people out there reading Sebald than there are reading Butor, and my exploration of the connections between the two writers has intrigued at least one fellow blogger sufficiently to inspire him to read Passing Time. I reblogged earlier this week his reactions to the novel, and promised to post my own response here.
I’ve been lost in this book for years now. I feel as much trapped in it as Revel is in Bleston – of course, I could turn my attention to another of Butor’s many fascinating works, just as Revel could at any point take a train away from Bleston at least for a break. But somehow I always find myself back in the city again, traipsing, as Decayetude has it, around those miserable streets, searching for the dark heart of Bleston. As he says, ‘we are subjects, held prisoner in the book/narrative as Revel is in his own story’.
Exasperating, yes, and rewarding. Irritating, yes, and wonderful. Not quite a masterpiece as set against Sebald’s prose work and Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled? I can’t say – but I would maintain that this is one of the great novels of the mid-twentieth century, one of the richest, most intriguing novels I have read, and one whose interest I cannot seem to exhaust.
To pick up on a few specific observations:
- We’ve discussed the impossibility of actually writing contrapuntally or fugually in relation to an earlier blog post – and I agree, that we cannot in a written work actually hear the different melodies/voices at the same time. But Butor’s sentences echo each other and create an impression of layering, an illusion of polyphony. I want to explore this in much more depth at some future point.
- The musical structure is described as ‘quasi-mathematical’, and indeed one of the many contradictory things about Butor is that he does use mathematical grids and so forth to structure his writing, but that as intellectual, as erudite as his work is, it is always at the same time warm, passionate, idealistic. It never reads like an exercise.
- Revel feels he has blood on his hands. But so does almost everyone – or rather everyone, at least momentarily, seems guilty or dangerous. Horace Buck is almost certainly responsible for some of the fires that are Bleston’s plague. Burton himself writes murders, if he does not commit them. Richard Tenn may possibly be the model for Burton’s fictional fratricide. Jenkins not only comes under suspicion from Revel but suspects himself after a homicidal dream. Even the Bailey women suddenly appear in a sinister light when Revel tells them that he knows the pseudonymous author of the detective novel, so much so that he feels he has betrayed his friend and even endangered his life. In Bleston suspicion and betrayal are in the air.
Decayetude says that there is also ‘in the last pages, a darkness I cannot quite get to the heart of ‘. This is the quintessential experience of the reader of Passing Time. This is what nags at one, that feeling that there is something we’re missing, something at the centre of the labyrinth.
Some critics became quite tetchy in response. W M Frohock, reviewing the novel in 1959, said that ‘the hero… is not completely plausible, psychologically. After all, it is one thing to experience a kind of depression in a city like Bleston, and a different one to stay, month after month, at the bottom of the slough. Even in Bleston, Jacques Revel should really find his situation less grim on some days than he does on others’ (p. 60). Which sounds rather like an exhortation to ‘pull yourself together, Jacques’ .
These responses suggest attempts to read Passing Time as a realistic account of a year in a northern city – understandable, since we begin with what seems to be just that, and since the account is anchored in bus times and street names and the mundane detail of city life. But from the start, from the first page, that terror is present, and it and myriad references on every page tell us that 1950s Manchester is onlyone source for Bleston.
That Manchester at that time should have triggered such an intense response is something I’ve looked at elsewhere. (Aside from anything else, the extremity of the climactic conditions linked to industrial pollution was extraordinary - J B Howitt has talked of the ‘terrifying Manchester fogs … when the phenomenon of temperature-inversion produced near darkness and zero visibility around the clock for days on end’ (p. 54).)
And yet, and yet, there is more than this, and I think there are answers to be had. You just might have to wander those rain-drenched fog-bound mean streets for a long time to find the heart of that darkness….
Frohock, W M, ‘Introduction to Butor’, YFS, 24 (1959), 54-61
Howitt, J B, ‘England and the English in the Novels of Michel Butor’, MA thesis, University of Manchester, April 1972
__, ‘Michel Butor and Manchester’, Nottingham French Studies, 12 (1973), 74-85
MICHEL BUTOR: COMMENTS ON "L'EMPLOI DU TEMPS"("PASSING TIME"), 1957,TRANS JEAN STEWART:"THE NOVEL DECONSTRUCTS BEFORE OUR EYES:BUTOR'S LABYRINTH OF TIME AND MEMORY". BY STEVEN BENSON
I found this novel both exasperating and rewarding. It is the ultimate in self-reflexive, self-aware, postmodernist writing. I do not want to perpetuate that further by writing in a labarynthine, periphrastic style(heaven forfend!), in an attempt at a further layer of self-reflective exegesis, but just to "bulletpoint" some main themes/concerns:
1.TIME: it is contrapuntal(or an attempt thereat) and circular, traipsing(it FEELS like traipsing!) back and forth laboriously, BETWEEN times- in a vain attempt of the narrator, Jacques Revel, to catch up on himself and his year in this alien town, Bleston.
Les éditions invenit,
avec L’Odyssée – Médiathèque de Lomme
vous invitent à rencontrer
Michel Butor autour de son livre : “Dirk Bouts, Le Chemin du ciel et La Chute des damnés” dans la collection Ekphrasis
le samedi 19 mai à 16h00
Dans le hall d’entrée de l’Odyssée, jusqu’au 19 mai,
venez découvrir une sélection de livres, d’objets et de photos liés à Michel Butor et son travail, qui montrent le poète dans son cadre quotidien de création entouré d’amis et d’artistes.
Possibilité de s’inscrire à des ateliers d’écriture autour de la peinture, dont le premier se tiendra à 15h00, avant la lecture.
Inscription obligatoire auprès de l’Odyssée, places limitées.
L’Odyssée (Auditorium) 794, avenue de Dunkerque, Lomme
03 20 17 27 40
Michel Butor découvre l’iPad, une grande première à l’occasion de sa venue dans sa ville natale (Mons-en-Baroeul), une autre grande première au bout de 84 ans, le samedi 5 mars 2011. Une approche nouvelle pour cet immense écrivain et poète, créateur de livre objet.
Soirée Documentary about French writer Michel Butor with the director
A movie about French writer Michel Butor
Friday April 27th at 6:30 pm at the Alliance
Free for members $5.00 for non members
In Partnership with the French American Cultural Society
The director, Blandine Armand, will be present to answer questions and discuss the movie. Author Michel Butor is best known as a leading proponent of “Le Nouveau Roman,” a post-World War II French literary movement that departed from classical genres.
Butor has authored Passage de Milan (1954), L’emploi du temps [Passing Time] (1956), La modification [Second Thoughts] (1957), and Degrés (1960), among other works. Butor’s novels, poems, and essays demonstrate how a place can influence and inform a way of thinking.
Blandine Armand est une réalisatrice française dont l’axe principal de recherche s’articule autour des processus de création artistique. Pour Arte, elle a réalisé plusieurs documentaires sur des metteurs en scène : « Poésie de l’Ordinaire » qui éclaire le travail de Joël Pommerat lors de la création de sa pièce Les Marchands, « Voyage Immobile » sur la pièce Hanjo d’après Mishima mise en scène par Julie Brochen, « Faire bouger le monde » à propos du travail de Guy Alloucherie et « Raconter l’indicible réalité » qui accompagne la création de Pinocchio de Joël Pommerat,
Elle travaille également comme vidéaste. Elle a ainsi réalisé des vidéos de création pour différents lieux de théâtre ou compagnies comme la Chartreuse de Villeneuve-les-Avignon (Centre National des Ecritures du Spectacle), le collectif F7 ou encore Julie Brochen pour son spectacle « Variations ».
Blandine Armand vient de réaliser un portrait de l’écrivain Michel Butor diffusé sur France 5 ainsi qu’un documentaire sur la création de Dom Juan par Julie Brochen au Théâtre National de Strasbourg.
1345 Bush St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
See below for details of a new Butor exhibition/event at MUAC, Mexico City:
The MUAC, through the Arkheia Documentation Center will present an exhibition on the french writer Michel Butor’s (France, 1926) file, including some of his works and books about artists and contemporary art.
Michel Butor has over 1500 publications covering various fields such as music, science, philosophy, literature and the arts. He is known in the field of French literature, mainly due to his most famous novel The Amendment, considered one of the pillars of what is known as the new novel (Nouveau Roman) written from start to finish in second person singular, the spanish equivalent to “thou”.
This novel was adapted by Michel Worms into a film in 1970 with the same title. After posting grades in 1960, Michel Butor stopped writing novels and by 1991 he abandoned teaching and retired to a village in the Haute Savoie. Since 1986 he has worked with over two hundred painters, sculptors, printmakers and photographers from different nationalities and published with them essays and books.
As part of this exhibition, a group of Mexican intellectuals close to Butor, undertake a series of conversations to be held in the auditorium of the MUAC.
‘Quand ta voix s’envolera
dans le battement des langues
les anciennes dissonances
fleuriront en harmonies’
(‘Le jardin des ages’, Michel Butor par Michel Butor)
It might seem odd to call Passing Time a musical novel. After all, music is conspicuous by its absence in Bleston. As Brunel says, ‘rich in references to the art of the stained-glass window, the tapestries, and even the cinema, the text of L’Emploi du Temps is poverty-stricken with regard to musical references’ (Brunel, p. 143). On the other hand, it is Brunel who calls the book ‘a musical novel’ (p. 17).
In the fog of Bleston, music can’t find a place. Revel sees in the stained glass windows of the Old Cathedral the ancestors of industry and music but in contemporary Bleston, ‘city of weavers and metal workers’, he asks ‘what has become of your musicians?’ (p. 73). Later, he describes how in these same windows, ‘everything was taking place in silence … the looms wove in silence, the hammers forged in silence, the musicians mimed their sounds in silence’. The silence is broken, as his earlier revery is, by mechanical noise, the screech and then the siren of a police car. Music in Bleston is stifled – lost in the labyrinth-city which makes Revel mute, and the woman he loves deaf to him – and the only real music Revel hears in the city is Horace Buck’s harmonica, plaintively recalling long-ago voyages in distant lands, music which unequivocally does not belong there.
The structure of the novel is based on the musical canon, ‘one of the fundamental structures of polyphony, … with reversals, with mirrors … These are the fundamental structures of our perception of time.’ (Curriculum Vitae, p. 74), or perhaps the more complex structure of the fugue, which allows more possibilities for variation. In Passing Time there are five parts, or voices. The twelve months of Revel’s stay in Bleston form our scale, and each of the five sections (each of which is also subdivided into five), move up and down this scale. In part 1 Revel starts writing in May to describe the events of October, in part 2, he’s writing in June, weaving together memories of November with events in June, and so on, as in each part a new voice joins in, until in the final part, we have his contemporary account interwoven with memories of five other months. As Mary Lydon suggests, Passing Time illustrates Bergson‘s ‘melodic concept of duration’: ‘the indivisible and indestructible continuity of a melody where the past comes into the present and forms with it a whole undivided and even indivisible, despite what is added to it at each instant, or rather, thanks to what is added to it’ (Lydon, p. 94).
These musical structures are potentially infinite and so the endings are in a sense arbitrary, as in the novel. As Wilfred Mellers has said of Messiaen’s harmonically centred, static technique, which ‘evades the concept of beginning, middle and end’, ‘there is no reason why [these pieces] – any more than a Gothic motet or the improvisation of an Indian vina player – should ever stop’. When Revel leaves Bleston, he leaves us with the lacunae in his story unfilled, the mysteries unresolved, the book ends as the train pulls out of the station, just as it began with the train’s arrival. If Revel’s writing has saved him, therefore, it’s the act, the process, rather than what he has written. ‘Writing in the labyrinth is … the only true way to try to recover the lost music’ (Brunel, 144), to achieve ‘new harmonic days’. Revel’s journal creates ‘a whole series of resonances of varying intensity separated by broad intervals of silence, like the harmonics into which the timbre of a sound is broken up’ (p. 281).
So, despite the failure of his quest (he loses the women he loves, and he leaves with his narrative unfinished), he has restored Bleston’s lost music, by triggering these harmonics. For Revel, and for Butor, to write is to live, so Revel predicts for Bleston that ‘my silent words may begin to echo through all your rafters, so that your own silent words may at last achieve passionate utterance’ (p. 260).
For Butor music represents the aim of all the arts. It’s ‘not an idle diversion, … music is indispensable to our life, to all our lives… it teaches us, even at its haughtiest, its most apparently detached, something about the world, that musical grammar is a grammar of the real, that songs transform life’ (‘La Musique, Art Realiste’).
Subsequent blogs will explore Butor’s relationship with music more fully, in relation to his other works, and I’ll also return to the Butor-Sebald connection in this context. More, much more, to follow….
Michel Butor, ”La Musique, Art Realiste’, Répertoire (Minuit, 1960)
- Curriculum vitae: entretiens avec André Clavel (Paris: Plon, 1996)
Pierre Brunel, Butor: ‘L’Emploi du temps’. Le texte et le labyrinthe (Paris: PUF, 1995)
Wilfred Mellers, Caliban Reborn: Renewal in Twentieth-century Music (London: Victor Gollancz, 1968)