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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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8 A Postcolonial Reading: The Elite and the Subaltern 147

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8 A Postcolonial Reading The Elite and the Subaltern orace Buck, the African character in L’Emploi du temps, has not received much critical attention. This essay focuses on and examines his relationship with the other characters, mainly the protagonist, Jacques Revel, from a postcolonial perspective. Revel and Buck belong to different classes. Revel, a translator by profession, an amateur detective, and a writer, is a bourgeois from France, while Buck is an African immigrant, works in a textile mill, and belongs to the proletariat. However, the two characters are related, for Revel produces a text, and etymologically the words text and textile are derived from the latin texere. As foreigners, both are disgruntled with their lives in Bleston and feel alienated. After his first meeting with Buck, Revel says: ―[Buck] avait senti en moi, nouveau venu, étranger, un blanc capable de…partager [sa] haine [contre Bleston]‖ (31). Both have a certain rebellious character somewhat like Cain who is represented in the stained-glass windows at the Old Cathedral. Buck apparently is responsible for the fire that destroys the amusement arcade. As for Revel, he symbolically destroys the city by burning the city map and a ticket to the Plaisance Gardens. He also betrays the detective novelist, George William Burton, when he unmasks the writer‘s secret identity. Both Buck and Revel have problems in romance. Although Buck has no difficulty courting women, eventually they all leave him. Revel, who loves the Bailey sisters unbeknownst to them, sees his hopes of seducing...

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