Exam List 4: Post-War Narrative Experimentation

The three decades following World War II saw a proliferation of alternatives to the narrative form of the traditional novel. An emphasis on abandoning, reinventing, or radicalizing the conventions that had so far defined the novel dominated the literary scene in France and Latin America. In France, beginning in the 1950’s, the Nouveau Roman generated a literature responsive to the radical discontinuities of human experience, marked in prose by disjunctions in time, space, and narrative point of view; phenomenological renderings of objects and physical states; metafictional self-reflection; and mise-en-abime. In the 1960, the foundation of the Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle appealed explicitly to mathematics in order to explore the limits and possibilities of literary form, drawing on combinatorics and writing under constraints to experiment systematically with new forms. In Latin America, under the names of Realismo Mágico, Lo Real Maravilloso, and the Boom, an integration of the fantastic with the conventions of realism accompanied a variety of formal innovations, most commonly the use of non-linear, often cyclical, narrative structures. These movements constitute a nexus of formal narrative experimentations which force to the foreground of criticism a question: “Is there a politics of narrative form?”

To an extent, the writers of the post-war period in France and Latin America carried over from their respective avant-garde movements an investment in newness as such. But for the literature of the Nouveau Roman, the Oulipo, and the Latin American Boom, experimentation took on the added sense of a systematic investigation of the constraints and consequences of the novel as such. Writers not only offered hypotheses about the political implications of traditional narrative form, but actively tested alternatives to such forms, at times in an almost systematic fashion. Formal narrative experimentation was thus presented, on the one hand, as a critique of the politics of the traditional novel: a disruption of an illusory mimesis; an attack on a linear, progressive model of history; and a dethroning of a subject capable of self-mastery. At the same time, the variety of new forms such experimentation produced testify to the emergence of new subjectivities and new models for the writing of history, and the displacement, yet persistence, of the question of mimesis.

This list will evaluate the politics of post-war formal narrative experimentation in France and Latin America as both a critique of and an alternative to the politics of the traditional novel. Looking at primary texts, programmatic statements by experimental authors, and contemporary critical reevaluations, I will attempt to determine the political potential of these works, the degree of their relative success, and the significance of frequent claims to their failure.

Primary Texts:

Latin America:

Arguedas, José María. El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo.

Borges, Jorge Luis. Ficciones.

Cabrera Infante, Guillermo. Tres Tristes Tigres.

Cortázar, Julio. Rayuela; Final del Juego; “El otro cielo,” “Las armas secretas,” “Las babas del Diablo.”

García Márquez, Gabriel. Cien años de soledad.

Piglia, Ricardo. Respiración Artificial.

Roa Bastos, Augusto. Yo el Supremo.

Rulfo, Juan. Pedro Páramo.

Saer, Juan Jose. Nadie Nada Nunca.

Vargas Llosa, Mario. La casa verde.


Butor, Michel. L’emploi du temps.

Duras, Marguerite. Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein.

Perec, Georges. La vie, mode d’emploi.

Queneau, Raymond. Exercices de Style.

Robbe-Grillet, Alain. Dans le labyrinthe.

Simon, Claude. La Route des Flandres.

Secondary Texts


Barthes, Roland. Essais Critiques (Vol. 1) (Selections).

Heath, Stephen. The Nouveau Roman: a Study in the Practice of Writing.

Motte, Warren F., Jr. Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature.

Ricardou, Jean. Pour une Théorie du Nouveau Roman.

Ricardou , Jean and Francoise van Rossum-Guyon, ed. Nouveau Roman: hier, aujourd’hui. (Selections)

Robbe-Grillet. Pour un nouveau roman. (Selections)

Latin America:

Avelar, Idelbar. The Untimely Present: Post-dictatorial Latin American Fiction and the
Task of Mourning

Cortázar, Julio. “Algunos aspectos del cuento.”

De Man, Paul. “A Modern Master: Jorge Luis Borges.” in Critical Writings 1953-1978.

Fuentes, Carlos. La nueva novela hispanoamericana.

González Echevarría, Roberto. Myth and Archive: A theory of Latin American narrative.

Lienhard, Martin. Selections from La voz y su huella: Escritura y conflicto étnico-social en América Latina, 1492-1988.

Miller, Yvette E. and Williams, Raymond Leslie. Latin American Literary Review: The Boom in Retrospect: A Reconsideration.

Moreiras, Alberto. Tercer Espacio: Literatura y duelo en América Latina; “The Villain at the Center: Infrapolitical Borges”
Rama, Ángel. Introduction to Transculturación Narrativa en América Latina; “El boom en perspectiva” in La critica de la cultural en América Latina; Selections from Más allá del boom: literatura y mercado.

Sommer, Doris. “Introduction” to Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America.

Tel Quel. Théorie d’ensemble.

Zamora, Lois and Wendy Faris. Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community.

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