Writing on the Ruins in Les Derniers Jours de Corinthe From Reassemblage to Reassessment

Writing on the Ruins in Les Derniers Jours de Corinthe: From Reassemblage to Reassessment in Robbe-Grillet Author(s): Raylene Ramsay Source: The French Review, Vol. 70, No. 2 (Dec., 1996), pp. 231-244 Published by: American Association of Teachers of French Stable URL: . Accessed: 10/06/2013 14:30 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . . J
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  Writing on the Ruins in Les Derniers Jours de Corinthe: From Reassemblage to Reassessmentin Robbe-GrilletAuthor(s): Raylene RamsaySource: The French Review, Vol. 70, No. 2 (Dec., 1996), pp. 231-244Published by: American Association of Teachers of French Stable URL: . Accessed: 10/06/2013 14:30 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  .  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  .  American Association of Teachers of French  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extendaccess to The French Review. This content downloaded from on Mon, 10 Jun 2013 14:30:09 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  THE FRENCH REVIEW, Vol. 70, No. 2, December 1996 Printed in U.S.A. Writing on the Ruins in Les Derniers Jours de Corinthe: From Reassemblage to Reassessment in Robbe-Grillet by Raylene Ramsay Nous &crivons, disormais, joyeux, sur des ruines -Alain Robbe-Grillet, Les Derniers Jours de Corinthe, 1994. IN THIS NEW AUTOBIOGRAPHY, a writing of the self characterized by self- consciousness about the impossibility f any such definitive self-recon- stitution, according to Robbe-Grillet, he reader is embarked, once again, on a ludic, intertextual journey through the ruins of humanist enlighten- ment, of tragedy, and of autobiography. Guided/lured by the pure and false Ariadne (alternatively, Mina, Marianic and Marie-Ange) along now familiar passageways strewn with the debris of Western culture and Robbe-Grillet's wn earlier texts, the reader stumbles across artefacts n- spired by images of cruelty in Lautreamont or Delacroix or decadent refinement in Moreau, or again, by flat material objects of the everyday represented in the paintings of Jasper Johns or the sculptures of George Segal. Enchanted by an intoxicated story-telling ( la folie fabulante 30), we follow the narrator via the disconnected pages of his singular history ( ces feuillets decousus de souvenirs 55) to investigate the secret rooms of a cliched, yet particularized ado-erotic imagination. The text sets out to consciously stage, deconstruct, ndeed to ruin, ' both its own genera- tive mechanisms and the monsters and the sirens lurking in the writer's subconscious. The artefacts that serve in the re-constitution of underground stories and memories, the bloodstained high-heeled shoe, the entwining sea- weed as feminine hair and the devouring sea as female vulva, the pro- vocative, punished child-woman, like the fairy-tale search for the foun- 231 This content downloaded from on Mon, 10 Jun 2013 14:30:09 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  232 FRENCH REVIEW tain of youth, bring together both ready-made collective myths and their self-conscious personal reference. The blue shoe, a variant of Cinderella's fur/glass slipper, used in the film Glissements progressifs du plaisir, for example, is conspicuously showcased in the living room of Robbe- Grillet's Paris apartment.2 Tales of the fear and fascination of drowning that is also a stereotyped Freudian metaphor for fear of being con- sumed/castrated by the mother/the feminine, proliferate in realistic and precise detail in this third set of autobiographical memories. The inci- dent at Le Minou [ Pussy ] in Brittany where the young child is car- ried off by a freak wave (another of those stories not remembered di- rectly but perhaps recounted by his parents, notes the narrator), or the accident in Martinique where the young agronomist working on the dis- eases of banana plants capsizes while out sailing, appear to observe the conventions of autobiographical truth telling. Yet, such anecdotes are also clearly ironic as they invert, for example, the traditional autobio- graphical use of the present to mark the time of the narration and of the past to indicate the event narrated: Je vois deja ma fin venue, ce que je trouve bate par un si beau temps, avec encore toute mon ceuvre a faire (12). This passage makes an indirect comment on the arbitrariness and artifice of autobiographical conventions: their double perspective pre- sented as unified (the mature self in the present and the child it claims to have been) and their pretence at recapture of the past. For, any capture can only be effected in the present and the perception of the past is neces- sarily modified by what has happened in the intervening period. The apparently real or lived memories recall figures from Robbe-Grillet's ear- lier fictional texts, the sailor lost at sea (peri en mer/mere), whose por- trait appears in the novel Djinn (1981) and the fear of being caught and enveloped by the rising tide on childhood beaches in the short story Le Chemin du retour (Instantands 1962). The other face of this fear of drowning or of the feminine sea/mother (mere/mer), and of the lure of the song of the very young sirens, that is, the numerous fantasies of cap- ture of the seductive and dangerous child-woman present throughout Robbe-Grillet's work, is related by the writer to a description of his first encounter and subsequent imaginative relation with his ice-cream eating Lolita wife, Catherine, a still present and very real companion despite some complicated sexual arrangements in the intervening years, but seen as his little girl or child. In the course of iterative journeys through the underground passage- ways of the dungeons of the Breton cliff fortress that echo the fantasy of the return through the inner organs to the womb, we encounter Henri de Corinthe, also a product of history and story, of the past and of the pres- ent, of text and experience and an avatar of the writer since the first vol- ume of this autobiographical trilogy.3 This fictional character and figure of the autobiographical writer, alone in the writing cell with the disor- dered pages of his manuscript, is a prey to the anxiety that his third per- This content downloaded from on Mon, 10 Jun 2013 14:30:09 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  WRITING ON THE RUINS IN LES DERNIERS JOURS DE CORINTHE 233 son narrative concerns some distant person who is not himself. Indeed, on the South American frontier between Brasilia and Uruguay, another Henri de Corinthe, insinuating himself into the plot at every opportunity, finds a further double sitting in his chair in the exotic beach cafe already described in earlier texts. This imposter is concealing his erotic interest in the ball-game of a young adolescent girl, spying from behind the mobile screen and alibi of the newspaper, Le Globe, familiar from Souvenirs du Triangle d'or (1978) where it recounts a sexual crime. Other curiously rec- ognizable encounters follow between this proliferating hero-villain and his accusers-or are they perhaps his accomplices in crime? He is interro- gated by the Professor of parapsychology, Van der Reeves, father or manager of the seductive very young call-girl Marie-Ange who offers his daughter for Corinthe's suspect purposes and by a quixotic and comic police Inspector. Both of these male characters figured in the film, La Belle Captive. The reader is lead to dance light-heartedly on the ruins of earlier char- acters and texts, uncertain memories, and pseudo-confessions. She/he is asked to negotiate the truths behind the fictionality of familiar yet new re-tellings of fragmented tales of wild adolescent gangs and their acts of sexual enslavement and cruel punishment of their more beautiful cap- tives during a conflict to the death with the army. The soldiers, more bru- tal even than the adolescents, intern their victims in the Lyric Theater, transformed to a prison, where the criminal passions of the austere rul- ing class (magistrates, police, archbishops, business men and women) find a secret outlet. These violent futuristic scenarios recall both the sto- ries of Robbe-Grillet's assemblage novels, Topologie d'une cite fant6me and Souvenirs, and the hypothesis of hidden passions beneath the surface of civilization exploited in the popular holocaust or catastrophe genre- comparable to the cruelty, and orgiastic freedom of certain Fellini films, City of Women, for example, or even feminist fables of the will to power over others such as Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. However, power over the threat of feminine seduction and disorder in Robbe-Grillet's stories is not exerted through the more standard methods of ritualized insemina- tion and the control of reproduction as in Margaret Atwood's feminist critique of power struggles latent in society. Rather, order is reestab- lished through the specialized and less generally practised sexual con- trol manifested in the bondage, torture, and suppression of the feminine body or through female pain and domination in a game of master and slave, defined as pleasure. The twelve young girls in various stages of filmy white (un)dress for their first communion, mannequins that Robbe-Grillet claims to have seen in a shop-window in General Franco's very Catholic Spain before they found their way into Souvenirs, may conceal-reveal a sexual symbol- ism as the writer suggests. Their self-giving as brides of Christ can be read in terms of a certain form of feminine ecstasy experienced in self- This content downloaded from on Mon, 10 Jun 2013 14:30:09 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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