The coloured world of Alain Robbe-Grillet : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in French at Massey University

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This thesis is the result of a close examination of the functions of colour in the works of Alain Robbe-Grillet, undertaken in the expectation that the careful study of this limited element would reveal the finer details of some of the important characteristics of his novels and films. The Nouveau Roman and the works of Robbe-Grillet originate in a desire to produce creative literary forms which are a better representation of man's situation in the modern world of disorder and uncertainty, than the narrative forms of the traditional nineteenth century novel. An integral part of this search for new forms is the deliberate designation and subversion of the traditional conventions which Robbe-Grillet wishes to expose as neither natural nor necessary. Thus many of the colour terms in his works are used in ironic games with these traditional forms. The illusion of realism is ironically subverted by colour and lighting references, which "foreground" the text as a fabrication of words, and also reveal that perception of reality is a subjective function and then of only one among many "realities" possible. His works therefore constitute their own reality, without necessary reference to any world "out there". However they are "realist" in that they are constrained by the laws of physical nature, e.g. description is elaborated only with illumination. Traditional colour symbols are degraded by colour, as is the convention of character, as Robbe-Grillet shows that situation and clothing do not necessarily define character or function. Ficticious characters are not "real" people but constructions of the text. The traditional anthropomorphic relationship between man and the world is thus destroyed. A related convention subverted is "le petit détail qui fait vrai", which false colour details show to be largely meaningless. Robbe-Grillet's other important subversive use for colour is to reveal the limitations of our linguistic structures; our ability to perceive colour is not matched by our ability to describe it. Colour thus plays a significant subversive role in Robbe-Grillet's works. However, to replace the traditional narrative forms, Robbe-Grillet uses colour constructively in several ways, it becomes dynamic rather than descriptive. Colour terms, at both the level of the signifier and signified, are manipulated in games with meaning to construct new texts. Traditional colour symbols are replaced with colours which become "symbolic" only in the context of a particular novel, as each now constitutes its own reality. Changing colours show the shifting focus of a narrative and create the personality of a character, while colour oppositions give movement and rhythm to texts. Specific colours generate texts through their metaphorical associations, and metaphor itself, after initial rejection, becomes a dynamic element. Colour produces many constructive forms to replace those of the traditional novel, to thus create a new "écriture romanesque". The obvious dual subversive-constructive function of colour indicates a constant tension within Robbe-Grillet's works, a tension which is perhaps the conflict basic to all literature. The many different functions of colour suggest that Robbe-Grillet's works contain an inherent multiplicity, functioning on several levels of meaning. And the changing functions of colour through the various works point to a continual evolution in Robbe-Grillet's creative production. Thus the Nouveau Roman of Robbe-Grillet is created through multiplicity, tension and evolution.
Some French language throughout.
Robbe-Grillet, Alain 1922-, Color