- Un aventurier de l’écriture: entretiens avec Jean Ricardou par Amir Biglari
Jean Ricardou (1932–2016) is best known not only as an experimental novelist of extraordinary ingenuity, the author of such pioneering texts as La Prise de Constantinople (1965) (which, if one turned the — unpaginated — book over, revealed itself to have the duplicate self-mirroring title: La Prose de Constantinople), but also as an uncompromising and controversial literary theorist. After resigning or being removed in 1971, for political reasons, from the editorial committee of the journal Tel Quel, he virtually single-handedly transformed the nouveau roman of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Claude Simon, Robert Pinget, Claude Ollier, and Nathalie Sarraute into a rigorously formalist body of work which, in a series of influential theoretical interventions, he proposed calling the nouveau nouveau roman. By the late 1970s, as this initiative lost momentum, and as the writers involved developed narrative strategies less to his taste, Ricardou retreated from his own novel-writing to concentrate on shorter fictional texts and theoretical work of an increasingly pedagogical nature. This led him to embark on a second (or third) career as programme and publications advisor for the Centre culturel international de Cerisy, where, from 1989 on, he co-ordinated an annual seminar devoted to the newly devised discipline of ‘textique’. In these interviews with Amir Biglari, Ricardou touches on various aspects of this work, but does so only in disappointingly general terms. Students of the nouveau roman of the 1960s and 1970s will, as a result, find little here that is at all unfamiliar. Progress on the volume was admittedly cut short by Ricardou’s sudden death from a heart attack, with the effect that the planned exchange dealing with the aims and objectives of ‘textics’ had to be replaced by three preliminary, but no less dense, earlier position papers, written, like much of Ricardou’s output, in a sometimes bewildering mixture of preciosity and [End Page 483] jargonese. Those interested in exploring Ricardou’s trajectory in more detail would no doubt be better advised to turn to his collected Cerisy conference papers, Du nouveau roman à la textique: pratique, pédagogie et théorie de l’écriture (ed. Édith Heurgon (Paris: Hermann, 2018)), or to the ‘Intégrale Ricardou’ currently being issued by the enterprising Belgian press Les Impressions nouvelles (four out of a projected ten volumes have so far been published). In answering Biglari’s rather bland questioning, Ricardou does nevertheless take the opportunity to settle accounts with his nouveaux romanciers peers, who, he complains, were not always up to the job of even understanding their own writing, and in later years displayed a distinct lack of moral fibre in allowing themselves to be co-opted by the literary establishment by their use of autobiographical material (Ollier) or liking for fantasy (Pinget), or by accepting republication in the Pléiade (Sarraute) or the award of the Nobel Prize as well (Simon), not to mention election to the Académie française (Robbe-Grillet). It is however noticeable that Ricardou never pauses to question the mechanistic assumptions behind his own dogged, dogmatic attachment to an outdated neo-formalism solely committed to subverting ‘representation’, a task formulated almost exclusively in terms of the reductive opposition between the referential and the literal.