Problematic Returns: On the Romanesque in Contemporary French Literature
English Language and Literature
Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures
This dissertation examines the discourse that emerged in the late 1980s positing a “retour du romanesque” in French literature. Through a survey of the scholarly work on the subject of contemporary literature and the romanesque, as well as a close analysis of three major authors associated with the “retour du romanesque”--Jean Echenoz, Jean Rouaud, and Antoine Volodine--this dissertation aims to provide a fuller account of the modalities, stakes and goals of the contemporary novel. In particular, it seeks to address the question of how the contemporary return to the romanesque contributes to defining the aesthetic postulates that underpin the last thirty years of French literary production. The broader aim of this study is to interrogate the theoretical positions that might justify alternative readings of a development that could otherwise be considered purely in terms of regression to conservative standards of literary quality. The three authors considered in this study are exemplary of the diverse understandings of the developments of 20th-century literature, and the ways in which these understandings influence decisions pertaining to literary kinship and filiation. Jean Echenoz riffs on the standards of conventional genre fiction, at once sabotaging and renewing its clichés. Jean Rouaud polemically refuses what he sees as a tradition of experimental fiction, and returns to the romanesque as a literature of slow contemplation and strong axiological positions. Antoine Volodine constructs violent alternate realities, as well as an entire fictional community, in an attempt to sever his literary works from any relation to literary past, present, or future. This dissertation finally argues that these writing projects all point to the need for a theoretical paradigm which would reconcile critical and naive, reflective and immersive reading practices.