Page 122 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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JOSEPH LOWIN
David. Grossman’s Useful Fictions
W
r i t i n g
s o m e
t h i r t y
years ago, the leading practitioner of
what the French then called the
nouveau roman,
Alain Robbe-
Grillet, published a book of essays on the nature of his craft.
What was innovative about the program outlined in
For a New
Novel
were not Robbe-Grillet’s repeated assertions about the in­
violability of art, on the order of: “if art is something, it is
ev­
e r y t h i n g
or, “art cannot be reduced to the status of a means
in the service of a cause which transcends it” (Robbe-Grillet,
p. 37). After all, at that time, “art for a rt’s sake” had existed
in France for over a hundred years.
What was interesting about Robbe-Grillet’s essays was that one
sensed a feeling of discomfort on the part of the essayist with
the notion of the “disengagement” of art from human concerns.
Robbe-Grillet hinted somewhat paradoxically that a work of art
that does not somehow serve human needs stands as little chance
of surviving the ages as does a work of propaganda — which
has only political goals. If the artist remains true to his calling
as an artist, then, almost magically, “by means of an obscure
and remote consequence,” the work of art will some day be
useful for something, “perhaps even the Revolution” (Robbe-
Grillet, p. 41).
Curiously, ten years later, American-Jewish novelist Cynthia
Ozick, in a paper delivered in Israel, outlined a program for
a
nouveau roman ju if,
a new Jewish novel in the Diaspora. She
herself called this novel not “
nouveau
” but “liturgical,” that is,
one that speaks with a Jewish communal voice, derives from
the Jewish textual tradition, and sings the song of Jewish values.
Like Robbe-Grillet, Ozick told her audience, she had once be­
lieved that either art is everything or it is nothing. Until very
1. Alain Robbe-Grillet.
For a New Novel.
New York: Grove Press, 1965, p. 43.
Originally published as
Pour un nouveau roman,
Editions de Minuit, 1963.
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