The Cinematography of Chaos: Literature Reinvented by the Reader in Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy

© Henri Matisse, The Conversation, oil on canvas, 1908–1912

The literary movement, the Nouveau Roman, emerged in the 1950s in France. The New Novelists reject the traditional author-oriented sensorial syncretism. Being one of the most influential pioneers in the movement, Alain Robbe-Grillet, as both an author and filmmaker, writes Jealousy (1957) using the cinematographic approach of POV (point of view). With the effect of camera-panning and the unruliness of sequence, the voice of the narrative remains voiceless and faceless. The anonymity of the narrator, if any, and the scrambled chronology reject the common perception of literature as the author’s medium of event-telling but a product reinvented by the reader.


© Calder Publications

The chaotic narrative appears to be as incomprehensible as the banana plantation in the novel. However, if it is read in the ‘chronology’ of the consciousness of the nameless narrator, who is probably the jealous husband of A…, it can be interpreted as a hybrid of his imagination and flashbacks. To decipher the narrative, the reader must be aware that the narrator’s jealous mind is anti-hermeneutic. In another word, instead of reading a story composed by the author, the reader must apply his own interpretation to the comprehension of the “actual” events. One of the most significant and repeated scenes is the one in which the centipede gets crushed by Franck. The image of the crushed centipede reoccurs more and more frequently as the narrative continues, the centipede transforms from an “average size” to an “enormous” one that is “the largest to be found in this climate.” If the narrative can reflect the real events without inaccuracy, the centipede should remain the same size throughout the whole narrative. In this notion, the centipede can be seen as a representation of the distorted state of images in the narrator’s jealous mind. The inconsistency in the repeated centipede episodes reflects that human cannot perceive any real form as our emotions create an indeterminate ‘reality’. This justifies the reason why Robbe-Grillet uses the cinematographic approach of POV – he attempts to return the right of the composition of a story to the reader as the reader’s perception decides what the novel is.


Instead of composing a sequential narrative, Robbe-Grillet creates a chaotic narrative to criticise the author-oriented conventions of existing literature. From the narrator’s failure in finding consistent geometric symmetries, especially the shape of the centipede, it can be concluded that all the objects in a narrative always have a biased-human perception behind. This elaborates his idea that there is always an eye behind the narrative and its emotions always distort the images it perceives. Therefore, by rejecting to describe events in his ‘chronological’ sequence, Jealousy is a work that invites the reader to be the cameraman and the director of the whole picture.

By Chan Tsz Yan Audrey

Categories: Books, Modernism and Postmodernism

Tags: , , , ,

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