- Michel Butor, rencontre avec Roger-Michel Allemand
Prolific, inventive, and polymorphous Michel Butor presents an exceptional challenge to the critic who would engage him in a discussion of the entirety of his work. Among the several remarkable attempts to render the rich constellation of Butor's oeuvre, two recent volumes emerge from events in 2006 celebrating Butor's eightieth birthday: Michel Butor, l'écriture nomade, from an exhibit at the Pompidou Center organized by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and, from an October symposium, Michel Butor, Déménagements de la littérature, edited by Mireille Calle-Gruber. Roger-Michel Allemand's captivating book of conversations with Butor at home in Lucinges on France's border with Switzerland can rightfully claim a place of distinction among these recent collaborations and will undoubtedly be considered essential reading for the scholar or the non-specialist who values a reliable, engaging, and thoroughly informed canvas of Butor's world.
Organized into five chapters along loosely chronological and thematic lines, the book benefits from Allemand's extensive knowledge of the nouveau roman (he has written widely on Robbe-Grillet and is the editor of the series Le Nouveau Roman en questions) and, especially [End Page 141] his thorough preparation, his profound understanding of Butor's work, and the verve and intelligence he brings to this task. The atmosphere of comfortable collaboration between Butor and Allemand helps draw the reader into the multifaceted world of one of the most audacious and fecund writers of our time. With the interview largely on one page and relevant excerpts from Butor's writings on the facing page, the book invites a composite reading—the excerpts and interview can be read in tandem or sequentially, or the excerpted material can be consulted as desired for clarification or context. The written text is accompanied on every page with postage-size photographic vignettes representing the significant and the anecdotal, from pertinent book covers (Butor's and others), and Butor's notable postcard collages, to Butor at work in Lucinges wearing his fabled "salopette." Reproductions of handwritten notes by Butor, several pages of previously unpublished material, full-page photos, short representative excerpts from the critical commentary on Butor's work, a selected bibliography of the most widely available Butor writings, a bibliography of Allemand's publications, and a thorough index all richly complete this enlightening book. A film by Francois Flohic, Michel Butor, à l'écart, is available on DVD from the publisher. With its color images the film complements the book whose illustrations are entirely in black and white.
An early chapter revisits influences on Butor with interesting results. Butor explains, for example, that his openness to what he calls "la parole silencieuse" (41), a third path between voice and silence, is grounded in his childhood experience with his mother's deafness. We learn as well that the "beauté cristalline" (63) of mathematics moved him to write a thesis on mathematics with Bachelard and that he now sees the crystal as "une clé" (63) for his own refraction of the voices of other cultures. Exploring the implications of such prismatic imagery for Butor's relation to the world, Allemand elicits a discussion on the dilemma faced by the writer who must work in isolation to address the contradictions of the world. Butor explains that "l'écriture vous permet de résoudre en partie ces contradictions, mais elle vous éloigne aussi des autres" (65). In the final chapter, Allemand explores with Butor the idea that art is "une tentation surmontée du suicide" (169) and the latter's long-range anticipation that art, like a beacon, will help us move beyond the absurdities and contradictions of society so that we may "disparaître, non plus dans le malheur, mais dans le [End Page 142] bonheur d'autrui" (171). "Voyageur insatiable, polygraphe insaisissable," as Allemand calls him, Butor allows that he may be searching for "un hyper-lieu." Declaring his desire to be "à la fois ici et là, un pied de chaque côté de toutes les...