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

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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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7 The Flâneur and the Ontic City 129

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7 The Flâneur and the Ontic City he redemptive power of writing in Jacques Revel‘s battle for survival against the hostile city of Bleston is indisputable. Yet, reading the city-text plays an equally, if not more, important role in the novel. According to Philippe Sellier, Revel survives ―par un effort obstiné de pénétration, de lucidité, de déchiffrement qui rappelle à la fois la libération de l‘écrivain par l‘écriture et la cure psychanalytique. (121). Patrick Sultan observes that Revel ―incarne une profonde dimension: celle de l‘homme en proie à la déshumanisation humaine, de la personne en lutte contre ‗impersonnalisation‘ de la ville‖ (56), and concludes that Revel survives by reading the city and writing about it (58). While concurring with these observations, this essay investigates the neglected role of the protagonist as flâneur, and flânerie as the principal mode of reading the city in L’Emploi du temps. Like a flâneur, Revel attempts to ―recenser [la ville de Bleston] et la voir entière‖ (105), and provide a ―description exploratrice‖ (264) of the city. Bleston, like any metropolis, would be a dormant monster, a being without consciousness, but for the flâneur‘s intense scrutiny. Transforming the city into a self-conscious being is the sine qua non for vanquishing it. Bleston acquires a face and a voice, that is, emerges as an ontic entity as a result of Revel‘s flânerie. Furthermore, subsumed in flânerie are his scriptural activity...

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