French Literature since 1945 Part I

According to the structure of French linguistic history, a distinction is made between Old French (9th – 14th centuries), Middle French (14th – 16th centuries) and, since the 16th century, New French literature.

The lyric

After 1945, poetry initially took up the inspiration of Dadaism and Surrealism: the »Lettrisme« was experimentally oriented, a kind of concrete poetry that came closer to the visual arts through the independence of phonetic and graphic elements (I. Isou), and the »Spatialisme «(P. Garnier), which is characterized by a similarly playful use of language. F. Le Lionnais and R. Queneau founded the movement “Oulipo” (“Ouvroir de la littérature potentialielle”, workshop for potential literature) in 1960, which set itself the goal of placing poetry on a basis of generally comprehensible processes (mostly simple rules from mathematics and set theory), and with it to democratize. The group that still exists today included G. Perec, J. Roubaud, J. Bens, M. Benabou, H. Mathews, Michèle Métail (* 1950) on; The Italian author I. Calvino, who lived temporarily in Paris, was a member of the »Oulipo«, which left traces in his work. The poetry – in the form of deliberate anti-poetry – in connection with the student revolt of 1968 and the political and social criticism it articulated became an expression of the protest. Poetry in the context of more recent literary critical approaches (D. Roche, J. Roubaud, J. Réda) shows the problematization of linguistic expressiveness. Reflection on language as poetry and epistemology also connects the poetry of Michaux, Char, Y. Bonnefoy and Ponge. In Michaux ‘ In meditative poetry, philosophical-mystical traits are intertwined with elements of the magical and the fantastic. The hermetic lyric poetry of Chars and Bonnefoys is also characterized by an increasingly philosophical orientation. Ponge influenced the narrative techniques of the Nouveau Roman with his phenomenological-descriptive poetry. Compared to this esoteric lyric poetry, the literary chanson (J. Prévert, G. Brassens, J. Brel) achieved a wide impact. Check to see more about France and other countries in the world.

The drama

In terms of drama, two opposing tendencies were to be distinguished after 1945: On the one hand, the pieces that followed traditional patterns, including the dramas from the context of existentialism and the dramatic works of J. Anouilh. The theater of the absurd, on the other hand, embarked on completely new paths. It showed – as a dramatic parable of the absurdity of (human) existence – ideal references to existentialism, but did not want to convey a message and thus clearly distanced itself from the »littérature engagée«. Not oriented towards reality, it refers to corresponding approaches at Jarry by renouncing the aesthetic principle of imitationand the surrealists. The events on the stage take the traditional plot and the laws of logic ad absurdum; the meaningless language of interchangeable figures serves to express the lack of communication and absurdity par excellence. The most important representatives of the theater of the absurd are E. Ionesco, who a.o. linguistic mechanisms reflected (»La cantatrice chauve«, 1953, German »Die kahle Sängerin«; »Les rhinocéros«, 1959, German »Die Nashörner«), and S. Beckett, whose dramas focus on the increasing reduction of all representational means and an eschatological perspective are coined (»En attendant Godot«, 1952, German »Waiting for Godot«). Also J. Genet (“Les bonnes”, 1948; German “Die Zofen”) and F. Arrabal whose dramas are often designed as ritual plays, as well as J. Tardieu, G. Schehadé, J. Audiberti and A. Adamov belong – at least with some of their plays – to the theater of the absurd.

Since the 1960s, the absurd drama has opened up to some extent to social and political reality (especially the events of 1968), particularly through B. Brecht’s reception in France. Dramas with clearly politically and socially critical intentions wrote, among others. A. Gatti, the later Adamov and partly Arrabal. The “Théâtre du soleil” (with the director Ariane Mnouchkine) tried out new, “collective” forms of representation involving the audience – partly based on Brecht and the Living Theater) with the aim of providing impetus for a critical understanding of social structures and a politically committed attitude. In the 1980s, the pieces by B.-M. Koltès (»Quai Ouest«, 1985; German »Quai West«) and Michel Vinaver (* 1927;»Portrait d’une femme«, 1984, German »Portrait of a woman«).

The novel

Like the theater of the absurd, the Nouveau Roman also called the coherence of the world into question, which was reflected in novel narrative techniques. Instead of a coherent action, there is a complex network of references. Traditional fictional characters only appear marginally. A purely descriptive technique (stimulated, among other things, by the phenomenological method) is constitutive for the representation; the surface-adhesive-registering description does not reveal any interpretations and meanings in the conventional sense; Faced with a reality that is perceived as unmanageable, the narrator is also given up as a representational element that creates order and relationships. Important theoretical contributions to the Nouveau Roman were made by v. a. Nathalie Sarraute (“L’ère du soupçon”, 1956; German inter alia. “Age of distrust”) and A. Robbe-Grillet (“Pour un nouveau roman”, 1963; German-language selection under the title “Arguments for a new novel”). Often the theoretical discussion about the possibilities of writing is integrated into the novel and the reflection on the novel on the subject of the novel itself. This shifts the focus from the subject to the form of presentation. The novel is increasingly in productive competition with other media, especially with film (Robbe-Grillet’s “Last Year in Marienbad”, 1961; Marguerite Duras’ “Hiroshima, mon amour”, 1959). In addition to Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, M. Butor, C. Simonand Marguerite Duras, among others, will follow this direction. Attributed to R. Pinget, C. Ollier, C. Mauriac and J. Ricardou; Nouveau Roman narrative techniques used inter alia. also J. Cayrol and J. M. Le Clézio. In the following years the interest of authors in this direction increasingly shifted to language as the material of literature (F. Ponge).

In the novel – in addition to the avant-garde currents – traditional patterns in the plot structure and psychology of the novel character are continued. The world successes of French literature in the 1950s were the historical novel “Mémoires d’Hadrien” (1951; German including “I tamed the she-wolf”) by Marguerite Yourcenar, set in the Roman Empire, and the novel, which expresses the attitude towards life of a youth looking for orientation, ” Bonjour tristesse «(1954; German) by Françoise Sagan. M. Tournier, R. Merle and R. Gary designed historical, mythological and fantastic materials in a modern form. In the succession of naturalism are H. Bazin and Françoise Mallet-Joris, who led the regionalist novel, among others. Giono, M. Genevoix, J. Carrière and B. Clavel continued the novel of Christian inspiration L. Estang. The works of J. Gracq, Cayrol and A. Pieyre de Mandiargues show references to surrealism. R. Queneau and G. Perec combined largely traditional formswith elements of language games and language experiments. Since the 1960s – partly in interaction with literary theoretical discussions – women’s literature with different accents has emerged, which also develops a language that is analogous to specifically feminist experiences (Hélène Cixous, Chantal Chawaf, Christiane Rochefort, Monique Wittig and others).

In the narrative prose of the 1960s and 1970s, a turn to the retrospective can be seen, which among other things manifested in historical and autobiographical novels and generally in literary biographies, autobiographies, memoirs and diaries; research of the past is combined with the critical reappraisal of history with regard to the present, with universal existential issues and the search for one’s own identity (Yourcenar, J. Cabanis, Cayrol, A. Cohen, P. Modiano, Le Clézio, C. Mauriac, Annie Ernaux).

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