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Critical Essays on Michel Butor’s «L’Emploi du temps»


Sudarsan Rangarajan

Michel Butor, one of the earliest exponents of the French New Novel, is known for experimenting with narrative voice (the second-person narration in La Modification), focalization (the changes in narrative perspective in Degrés), and the treatment of genres ( L’Emploi du temps).
L’Emploi du temps (1956) is a quintessential nouveau roman for it is about a novel within a novel. In Critical Essays on Michel Butor’s L’Emploi du temps, Sudarsan Rangarajan examines the different aspects of the novel from a postmodern perspective. Engaging contemporary theorists – Sartre, Foucault, de Man, and Prince among others – the essays encompass diverse areas: narratology, rhetoric, genre studies, existentialism, and postcolonialism. From the analysis of the beginnings and the function of narratees to the study of rhetoric, the journalistic discourse, the hybridization of the detective and the Gothic genres, the figure of the flâneur, and postcolonialist concepts (the elite and the subaltern), the essays provide new insights into one of the greatest twentieth-century novels.


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Introduction 1


Introduction ichel Butor, who belongs to the amorphous group of French New Novelists, wrote four novels: Passage de Milan (1954), L’Emploi du temps (1956), La Modification (1957) and Degrés (1960). A prolific writer, he has published numerous other works that often defy classification under any particular genre. Of his four novels, although La Modification is perhaps best-known because of its unusual second-person narrative technique, L’Emploi du temps, with its narrative complexity, intricate motifs, and gamut of discourse genres, embodies the nouveau roman. Readings of L’Emploi du temps and La Modification in a graduate course on post-World War II French literature served this writer as an introduction to Butor and his works. Later, his four novels were part of the doctoral dissertation, a comparative study of Butor and Gérard Bessette (a Québécois author). The dissertation exclusively focused on the authoritarian discourses in the novels of the two writers. 1 A few years later multiple readings of L’Emploi du temps followed revealing the intriguing composition and multifarious new aspects of the novel. Each reading of the novel led to a critical investigatation of a particular aspect. The eight essays in this book are the products of those critical investigations. 2 The first essay appositely examines beginnings of different kinds in L’Emploi du temps. The beginning of a narrative is not always and only represented by its first line(s) or page(s). Does L’Emploi du temps begin the day Revel arrives in Bleston (October 1) or the day...

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