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  • Inventer le réel: le surréalisme et le roman, 1922–1950par Jacqueline Chénieux-Gendron
  • Elza Adamowicz
Inventer le réel: le surréalisme et le roman, 1922–1950. Par J acquelineC hénieux-G endron. ( Champion Classiques Essais, 21.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2014. 776 pp.

‘Comment décrire ce monstre informe, ce genre sans limite où aucun critique n’a vraiment tracé de voies claires?’, asks Robert Desnos in ‘Notes sur le roman’ ( Confluences, [End Page 267]21 – 24 (1943)). Jacqueline Chénieux-Gendron has risen to this challenge, giving form to the formless and clearly mapping tendencies in surrealist prose narrative, in this new edition of a text originally published in 1983, updated rather than ‘entièrement réécrit’ according to the publisher. Since 1983 the complete works of several surrealists have been published, broadening the field, while the availability of manuscripts has shed new light on a number of texts, for example, the influence of Rimbaud on an early text by Philippe Soupault. Chénieux-Gendron has defied André Breton’s virulent critique of the novel. Breton’s criticism was aimed in fact less at the novel as a genre than at the realist novel, in favour of alternative narrative discourses such as the gothic novel or roman noir, dream narratives, and, especially, the marvellous, seen by Breton in 1924 as ‘seul [. . .] capable de féconder des œuvres ressortissant à un genre inférieur tel que le roman’ ( Manifeste du surréalisme, in Œuvres complètes, I (Paris: Gallimard, Pléiade, 1988), p. 320). The book thus concentrates less on the novel as a genre than on the surrealist récit, included within the practice of ‘l’écriture poétique’ (p. 35). Chénieux-Gendron offers detailed readings of a diverse range of narrative texts extending beyond the boundaries of the novel, exploring its edges and excesses, in dream narratives, contes, or fables. Her corpus is drawn from works written during the ‘historical’ period of Surrealism, by authors both central and peripheral to the movement, ranging from Soupault or Michel Leiris to Julien Gracq and Raymond Queneau, with particularly illuminating analyses of Leonora Carrington and Georges Limbour. Chénieux-Gendron traces two tendencies in surrealist prose narrative. On the one hand the récit du réel isdefined by a transformation of reality through objective chance, the marvellous, or the fantastic, as in certain passages of Breton’s Nadjaor L’ Amour fou, or by the creation of a future or transcendent world in the form of the conte, ‘des contes à écrire pour les grandes personnes, des contes encore presque bleus’, in Breton’s words ( Manifeste du surréalisme, p. 321). The second tendency is based on jeux de langue, generated by language games, automatic writing, or dream accounts, as in Leiris’s Auroraor Desnos’s Deuil pour deuil, defined here as works of fiction. The textual analyses go beyond a simplified distinction between texts generated by metaphorical (Breton) and metonymical (Aragon) structures. This new edition, developing the link between rhetorical and psychoanalytical structures, gives a more central role to Guy Rosolato’s analysis of metaphor and metonymy ( La Relation d’inconnu(Paris: Gallimard, 1978)), not simply as two tropes but more importantly as two distinct mental processes linked to displacement and condensation, processes characteristic of dream images. As Chénieux-Gendron shows, it is the oscillation between the two that not only structures the surrealist prose text (as evidenced in her excellent analysis of Soupault’s Le Bon Apôtre), but that is also the source of the reader’s own ‘jubilation’ or aesthetic pleasure.

Elza Adamowicz
Queen Mary University of London


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pp. 267-268
Launched on MUSE
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