Project for a Revolution in New York

Project for a Revolution in New York

by Alain Robbe-Grillet

Following the logic of a movie half-glimpsed through a haze of drugs and alcohol, Project for a Revolution in New York is a Sadean reverie that bears an alarming resemblance to the New York, and the United States, that have actually come into being.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 3.83
  • Pages: 183
  • Publish Date: June 28th 1972 by Grove Press
  • Isbn10: 0394177681
  • Isbn13: 9780394177687

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A Three-Fold Revolution At a macro level, "Project" is about the fate of the city, the body and the novel. Over the course of the novel, all three are subjected to some form of revolution: destruction, break-down, fragmentation, disarticulation, dis-integration or deconstruction. Like a film, what is cut up is then re-assembled into a new whole, in this case, the novel. Why are our expectations of the novel different from those with respect to a film? What about a novel that mimics a film? Rape, Arson and Murder The political revolution has already occurred by the time the novel commences. Like detective novels, pulp fiction and B-movies, the subject matter of the novel, the immediate consequence of its revolution, is rape, arson and murder (a triad of crimes, this time). Rehearse/Repeat/Retake/Cut The novel is drenched in the language of film and theatre. If you want to question or overthrow the dominant gaze, then the revolution has to start in New York. The Novel The revolutionary violence in "Project" is not just its subject matter, but a description of the very process of writing itself. Robbe-Grillet's project was to overthrow narrative convention, the natural order of fiction. Discrete passages look like they could have appeared in crime fiction, but cut up and reassembled, they take on another form.

And like any detective story the novel hides a secret: I have now noticed, in skimming the novel, that of the three elements of the secret in the heroines keeping, one was known by the reader, the second by the narrator himself, and the third by the books author alone.

Robbe-Grillet at his most intense. At best, he maintains a kind of provacative tension across this point, but it's a balancing act he's managed much better elsewhere.

When a work of art or of culture more generally produces an effect I am prepared to attempt to look at why that effect was produced and consider the matter with adequate emotional sobriety. Or look at the fact that the French continue to give out a literary prize called the Prix Sade, one recent winner of which was Alain Guiraudie's NOW THE NIGHT BEGINS, a novel I read earlier this year and which is distinguished by the brazenness of its sundry (sometimes hilarious) provocations. We of course live in the time of #MeToo, a movement under the umbrella of which a new level of public attention has poised itself to reflect the ubiquity of gendered oppression and the predations of rape culture. While I largely support this general shift, I do not opt to discount or rebuke-as-an-automatic-matter-of-course "problematic" art or culture, still myself wholly primed to engage these things in the wild. Which brings me to Alain Robbe-Grillet's PROJECT FOR A REVOLUTION IN NEW YORK, a novel I love very, very much, which is deeply problematic, and by which I would absolutely defend anybody's right to be utterly appalled. His work is almost always on some level fundamentally sadomasochistic, novels and films in which schema of dominance and submission operate on a conditional, vibrating plane of desire. Having only previously read Robbe-Grillet novels of the 50s I cannot help but be powerfully struck by how much further he has gone in PROJECT FOR A REVOLUTION IN NEW YORK than I have seen him go previously as a novelist, though I do know that his cinema of the 70s was far more advanced and transgressive than were his earlier films, EDEN AND AFTER (1970) and SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE (1974) remaining by far my favourite of his cinematic works. The novel does indeed tie a number of tableaux and nebulous characters together through something like a ritualistic desiring-operation. Robbe-Grillet, on the other hand, traces is simply to desire. It is one of very few books which I feel obligated to compare to NAKED LUNCH, also a brutal societal novel of the libidinal, which just so happens to be the one that when I read it in my early teens sent me off benevolently down this road to ruin upon which I continue, having been singed awfully by the fires of Inferno, to merrily traipse.

And you have the feeling that while the formal experimentation is supposed to frustrate pleasure/easy consumption, the sex/torture scenes that are nevertheless recurrent and meticulously depicted are pornographic in nature. So the book reads to me like a very intellectual way to deconstruct a pulp fiction with an exaggeration of pornography and violence in it.

Robbe-Grillet has always had a misogynistic streak running through his work, but this amplifies the violence and powerlessness of the women.

In many respects it's almost 'academic' in its approach, and doesn't have the zest you get from other works that perform similar explorations of language, such as the Illuminatus Trilogy, a series of three novels by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson and published in 1975. And in comparison with other 'experimental' works published both before and since, it's maybe not the most accessible novel.

By the way, white heat or no, you will never know "just what in fuck is going on" in this novel unless you have the power to resurrect Robbe-Grillet and have him explain it to you by means of the slithering of his tongueless, lungless voice and even then I'd cock a wary eye at this postmortum confession.

l'uso gratuito della violenza (a tratti molto pesante: stiano lontani i troppo sensibili) si ripete continuamente, e sembra che la violenza sia alla fine l'unico vero scopo di molti personaggi; vista la continua presenza di torture su donne (o sempre sulla stessa?) mi domando se ci sia una certa misoginia di fondo o se invece robbe-grillet volesse portare in piena luce la misoginia di certo immaginario noir (forse non è un caso se una determinata scena si ripeta anche nella copertina di un giallo -immagino da rivista pulp- letto da una delle protagoniste) o ancora di più nella società che ci circonda (forse non è un caso se un'altra scena di violenza si ripeta in un cartellone pubblicitario).

Robbe-Grillet was elected a member of the Académie française on March 25, 2004, succeeding Maurice Rheims at seat #32. His first novel The Erasers (Les Gommes) was published in 1953, after which he dedicated himself full-time to his new occupation. Around the time of his second novel he became a literary advisor for Les Editions de Minuit and occupied this position from 1955 until 1985. After publishing four novels, in 1961 he worked with Alain Renais, writing the script for Last Year at Marienbad (L'Année Dernière à Marienbad), and subsequently wrote and directed his own films. In 1963, Robbe-Grillet published For a New Novel (Pour un Nouveau Roman), a collection of previous published theoretical writings concerning the novel.