France Literature 01

According to Shopareview, the most conspicuous and most significant phenomenon in French literature of the last fifteen years is undoubtedly the “nouvelle critique”. Not only has literary criticism as never before enjoyed a robust and aggressive health as in this period, but it has managed to condition or bring out with more incisive evidence the metamorphoses and a new concept of literature, with essential modifications of terms, structures, expression. It is the criticism above all that in the 1960s becomes clearly aware of the radical transformations of society and therefore of culture after the Second World War, and draws all the due consequences, invading and undermining the other literary domains as well, attenuating the distinction between the various ” generates “, and hoping if ever a re-foundation, placing itself on the same level of creativity and invention of literature. The phenomenon is certainly neither entirely new, nor limited to France. The critique of restless identification of a Rivière, or of approximation of a Du Bos, the already more problematic and conscious approach of a Raymond and a Béguin – De Baudelaire au Surréalisme (1933) by the former and L’âme romantique et le rêve (1937) of the second are two capital and founding works of the new critical research -, they already attest to a rather clear divergence from traditional criticism, and from the mechanistic “Lansonism” of many disciples – and followers – of the great historian of French literature. But it is in the immediate postwar period that the most decisive premises of that upheaval arise, that the concept of literature changes and evolves to the point of denying itself and returning to itself in very different forms. The great fracture of war, of resistance, of collaborationism involves literature in a vast ideological debate, raising a series of pressing questions, of political and moral solicitations. Think above all of Sartre’s essay Qu’est – ce que la littérature ? (1947), not so much for the proposals it formulates, of a literature in close connection with history, and which acts on history, but for the stimulating questions it poses and poses itself, on the quality, on the destiny, on the tools of literature. And Barthes’ first book, Le degré zéro de l’écriture (1953) is a few years later, which while it seems in some respects to overturn and overcome Sartrian postulations, marks the beginning of modernity from the search for an impossible literature (from Flaubert onwards), as the awareness of a state of dramatic contrast between the desire to “create” a neutral or white writing, rarefied in an empty space, free from social complexes, and the constraints of a traditional language, the clichés verbal of bourgeois society: the “zero degree” is therefore that of the writing of an absence, or the absence of a true writing, which can only be had in an “absolutely homogeneous state of society”. This mise en question of literature already involves a new critical awareness in the same period, with new hypotheses and proposals, which shift the attention from the contents, from the expression, to the language, to the “writing”, or assume the contents in a new relationship with the text, with the literary work, both as regards the relationship between the critic and the author (reading-writing), and for the tools with which those same contents are analyzed, or re-created, by the critic, with an impact now no longer misunderstood or ignored by the new currents of thought, and by the human sciences. Marxism, existentialism, Freudism, eroticism, linguistics, anthropology now help or determine the critical approach, in a much more complex vision of literary facts, no longer attacked.

Here it is necessary to recall first of all the critical work of M. Blanchot (see in this App.), From Comment la littérature est – elle possible ? (1942) up to Le livre à venir (1959), which expresses the tragic awareness of a literature as a pure creation of language, that is, as the destruction of the object, as death and silence; and that of G. Picon (see in this App.), who while not denying the need to relocate the literary fact in its historical context, focuses his attention on the text itself, as an autonomous value and original structure (L’écrivain et son shadows, 1953). Nor should we neglect the impact that the publication of Contre Sainte had on these discussions and their further developments – Beuve by Proust (written around 1908, published only in 1954), which credits the work of art as the product of an ego other than the merely “biographical” one, and in a different time and space. And it is with these new trends that the so-called “école de Genève” accords and coincides in some respects, which recognizes in the two Swiss critics already cited, Raymond and Béguin, its most direct masters, and which in its general characteristics presents itself as a reaction to the “Lansonist school”, in the predilection of the research of the fundamental “themes” of a work, and inherent to the work itself, and of the open form of the “essay”: we refer naturally to J. Ronsset, to G. Poulet, to J.-P. Richard, to J. Starobinski (for all these, see in this App.).

France Literature 01