Robert Pinget was born in Geneva on July 19, 1919. He studied law at the Collège de Genève. After the Second World War, Robert Pinget moved to Paris, where he studied painting under Jean Souverbie, and although he had some modest success with painting, he soon turned his attention to writing. In the mid-fifties, Robert Pinget befriended Samuel Beckett who introduced him to the editors at Editions Minuit; they were to publish his novel Graal Filibuste (1956) and subsequently the rest of his work. In 1960 Robert Pinget became a French citizen and shortly thereafter he purchased a 16th Century cottage in Touraine where he resided for the rest of his life.
As well as novels, many available in English from Red Dust, and all superbly translated by Barbara Wright, Robert Pinget also wrote plays for the stage and the radio. Robert Pinget has long been associated with the Nouveau Roman mainly because the authors under that banner shared a similar apolitical worldview; many shared the same publisher (Editions Minuit), and all held the plot driven structure of the traditional novel in contempt. Reductive associations aside, Robert Pinget was a truly singular voice, his writing celebrates and explores language, that, backed with an exquisite use of dialog and a warm and deeply reflective sense of parody. He died in Tours on August 25, 1997 at age 78.

The Apocrypha—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright) with an afterward “The Apocrypha or the New Law” by Stephen Bann
The Apocrypha begins and ends with the image of a shepherd, at the start a bucolic shepherd on a shattered cup, at the end the Good Shepherd, an illustration in a book. The narrative inherited by the Master from an uncle and carried on by succeeding nephews: “so that the story of one person would become that of several” is divided in two main parts. In each voices, fragments, notes from earlier texts are tied together by the succession of the seasons and succession of the holy days. The present narrator attempts to “Take up once again the thread of an obsolete discourse” to hear the murmur of dead people “which stops at the slightest sign of inadvertence” and to preserve “a word of love lingering in the deepest recesses of the ear.”

We know the difference between history, fiction and myth… we also know that these three provinces are bound together…that any gesture of separating one from another must be to a large extent arbitrary…Only Pinget, so it seems to me, has made teleology, myth and the culture of the West the vehicle for a sustained, poetic and structural investigation…Pinget’s The Apocrypha must always, in a sense, subsume all the previous novels which led up to it… the narrative order itself acquires an ever accentuated self-reflexivity… But this is not done in the interest of some severely reductive, mechanistic view of human psychology…It is done… in the interest of that very complex synthesis which Serres identifies as the ungraspable structure of human history.   
From “The Apocrypha or the New Law” Stephen Bann

They get out of the car. On moonless nights a flashlight guides the old man’s steps.

There follows a description of the cemetery which worries the executor of the will. He hesitates about where to classify the document, the aspect of the text makes him doubt its authenticity.

He is still hesitating. But what does it matter, what he has to do is reassemble the material of a book to be written, that’s all, he will never be its author, he is executing a clause in the will, if that. Everyone knows that the original was rewritten dozens of times, several variants exist crouched in contradictory terms.

The professor to whom he confides his difficulties replies without hesitation my dear fellow you mustn’t worry, at the end of his life he gave me several of his exercise books to read, and in spite of the different periods at which he wrote them, gaps of twenty years between some, you can always recognize the same ink. Tormenting yourself over such details is just childishness.
from The Apocrypha

Passacaglia—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright)
The Master ruminates on the death of an idiot who lived with him, for which he may or may not be responsible, and on his own death. He rehashes events with his friend the doctor, and in his notebooks. His ruminations form the “passacaglia” or recurring melody of the book.

“The object of Passacaille is to exorcise death by magical operations with words. As if the pleasure of playing with the vocabulary could delay the fatal tissue.”

“Don’t bother too much about logic: everything in Passacaille is directed against it.”

Robert Pinget in a letter to his translator Barbara Wright

“Passacaglia is an intense, somber, and moving work.”
John Updike The New Yorker

“…the deficiency of his sources is one of many recurring complaints voiced by the narrator of Passacaglia. But he keeps at it, working at what he calls his “accumulations of straws in the wind.” He has to keep at it: He is nothing more than a voice…to stop is also a death.
John Sturrock, The New York Times Book Review

So calm. So grey. Not a ripple in view. Something must be broken in the mechanism, but there is nothing to be seen. The clock is on the mantelpiece, its hands tell the time.

Someone in the cold room must have just come in, the house was shut up, it was winter.

So grey. So calm. Must have sat down at the table. Numb with cold, until nightfall.

It was winter, the garden was dead, the courtyard grassy. No one would be there for months, everything is in order.

The road up to it skirts some fields lying fallow. Crows fly up, or are they magpies, you can’t see very well, night is about to fall.

The clock on the mantelpiece is made of black marble, it has a gold-rimmed face and Roman figures.
from Passacaglia

The Enemy—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright)
The Enemy is made of 144 sections. Each section seems to have a life of its own. The characters (the master, the servant, the curator, the child victim, the secretary) appear through all of them but at different periods of time, in different guises and with differing relationships to one another. The Master is writing his memoirs. A secretary helps him to organize them then departs. Another replaces him who must deal with:

Fragments of totally unrelated reports, resolutely contradictory statements.

The master questions the secretary.

Well then, still in the shit? …you’ve attached too much importance to some statements that were no more valid than others…

The master struggles with an adversary who may be his double. He searches for a presence.

The translator is Pinget’s virtual twin: a shadow double glimpsed in a mirror… as through a glass darkly… Barbara Wright is at ease (or perhaps at finely attuned unease) with the shifting registers of The Enemy.

Its only subject, is the unfathomable text, composing and decomposing, elusive, fragmentary… (like the ancient portrait with its inviting, recognizable family traits and impenetrable patina.) …The reader becomes the crossroads which are absent from the obsolete and wrongly marked map of the district: Pinget is central to that crucial contemporary inquiry into the limits of the lacunae, the contradictions and charismas, of language.
The International Fiction Review—Peter Broome

89

That dream in which he is his own double. People are talking and he replies in an unknown voice whose words are articulated in his breathless mouth. Someone is going to disappear, someone takes over, searches for a presence in the darkness confused with the murmur of the speakers.

A line of the argument that asserts itself by its logic dominates the murmur, and measures out erudite words that appear in writing in a feverishly-consulted book.

The nightmare is followed by disconnected images, a particular element of one suddenly looming up in the following one, a particular element of the following one in the following one…

He wakes up.
from The Enemy

Monsieur Songe—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright)
“For some twenty years I have been finding relaxation from my work in scribbling these stories about Monsieur Songe. To the original Monsieur Songe I recently added as a component The Harness, and Plough. Here, revised and collected in one volume are all three books which, I repeat, are a divertissement.”
Robert Pinget

VIII

Monsieur Songe buys a fish. The fishmonger asks him

“Do you want me to clean it for you?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want me to leave the head?”

“Yes.”

“And the roe?”

“Yes, and the guts.”

“Do you eat the guts?”

“You never know, they might be good for you.”

“Then why ask me to clean this fish?”

“I don’t know, I though…that you wanted to do something else to it…”

“What? Cook it for you perhaps?”

And Monsieur Songe goes off with his fish telling himself that shopkeepers today are really not very pleasant. He had replied yes at random, just like that, to please that swine but that was casting pearls…
from Monsieur Songe

The Libera Me Domine—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright)
A tragedy has occurred in a French village. The Ducreux boy, was it the Ducreux boy, was strangled/drowned/sexually violated in the woods where his mother and father had taken him on a picnic, though they loathed picnics, never went on them. Is old Lorpailleur the school teacher involved or was she herself a victim?

“This network of gossip and absurd remarks had conditioned our existence to such an extent that no stranger could have resisted it for long. If he had come to follow the trade of baker he would have inevitably have branched off into that of child killer, for instance.”

Pinget says that his primary objective is to discover a tone of voice: this he undoubtedly achieves, and it is a different tone with each of his books, but what all his books have in common is the brilliance of the picture they present to the mind’s eye and the originality of the means by which he achieves the result.
“At the novel’s end we do feel we have lived in a provincial French village at a bone-deep level no logic-bound tale could have reached.”
The New Yorker—John Updike

Such a lovely night…

A July night over our little gardens, the moon illuminating a bare wall or a couple dreaming on a bench or a form creeping about under a tree or even… but everything looks so strange in this half-light, one must put oneself together, one must be reasonable, Mortin at his window would be thinking of something like his life, failure along the line, death gaining ground, friendships forfeited, the image he had of himself and which had gone up in smoke, in short all the chichés you can think of…
from The Libera Me Domine

That Voice—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright)

“Nothing is more comic, from a certain point of view, than the tragic adventure of a brain becoming unhinged.”
from the French jacket for Cette Voix (Les Éditions de Minuit1975) by Robert Pinget

“The structure of this novel is precise, although not immediately apparent. The different themes are intermingled. One cuts into another point-blank, then the other resumes and cuts into the first, and so on until the end. The first example of this procedure at the beginning of the book, is the theme of the cemetery, cut into by that of the gossip at the grocery, then resumed shortly afterwards.”
from the  preface to the American paperback edition (Red Dust 1997) by Robert Pinget

“…an investigation of whether memory can or can’t be made into record…immensely difficult but immensely rewarding.”
Kirkus

As for the kid, he was still listening to the radio in the barn, the maid had to call him to lunch once, twice, finally she went to fetch him, come on Théo, your uncle is already at the table, and wash your hands quickly, the kid turned off his radio and first ran to the wash house and rinsed his fingers then still running went and joined his uncle in the dinning room, they ate in silence, the master just managed to ask his nephew what he was doing with his Thursday holiday, a vague reply from Théodore who was struggling to peel a pear, his uncle took it out of his hands and peeled it for him, then the boy went out and the old man drank his coffee by himself, the maid came back to clear the table, he was dozing in the armchair, she made an awkward movement as she was picking up the coffee tray, the cup fell to the floor and smashed, the master jumped and called her a clumsy creature, you can’t pretend it was the cat.
from That Voice

Someone—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright)
This book also contains Robert Pinget’s speech at NYU from A retrospective Colloquium on the Nouveau Roman which took place in 1982, and Barbara Wright’s thoughts on The “Trials” of Translating Pinget.

Someone, a benign and self-accusing presence, “a decent fellow on a rather small scale,” “a wet blanket,” moves through the rooms, corridors, and garden of a guest house, searching for a ball of paper, notes taken while, “herborizing.” In the course of the search we come to know the inhabitants—“If I hadn’t been obliged to let myself get embroiled in our existence”—and someone, himself; “I shall never be able to talk about their affairs…without scrutinizing myself.”

The co-proprietor of a guest house, he is continually making lists: “wine, canary, ball, what else?” having conversations with the neighbor who assumes different forms, inveighing against Marie (“letting yourself be messed about all your life by people who tidy up your papers”) who considers his botanical efforts “trifles.” He observes the guests: Reber from Alsace knitting “thinking about her life, …nieces, first communions…school friends, storks,” Mme. Apostolos, the perpetual refugee, who steals bog paper, M. Cointet one and a half heads shorter than his wife, Vérassou who has an unmistakable odor of chastity and Fonfon the idiot.

Someone, who must continue to search, if not for that note, for one equally indispensable is afraid that others are “treating me as a nobody” and afraid that they may be thinking “I took myself for someone.” His only comfort—the owl: “because I have a kind of feeling that it’s there when we aren’t.” It hoots “an insult like a ‘fish-face, mind your own business, eat your eggplants and leave the rats to me’… I have a kind of feeling that things become transformed when it hoots …. In short there’s movement everywhere.

Someone is characteristically subtle, brilliant and obsessive, a splendid performance by a writer insufficiently well-known in this country.”
Writer’s Choice—Donald Barthelme

I wonder whether I’m right to describe everything in such detail. Yes, I am right. But it’s going to become insipid. And yet I have to find that paper. I’m already beginning to wonder whether I really did come down twice. I have to be on my guard against things that come back to me too easily. It would be better to start again. Calmly. Very calmly. As if I was talking about something else, or better still about someone else, so as not to get edgy. Let’s try to relax.
from Someone

Between Fantoine and Agapa—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright) Hardback/83 pages/ 8.95/ ISBN 0-87376-040-9

“I was very much under the influence of the surrealists, of attempts to approach the unconscious. Logic seemed to me to be incapable of attaining the very special domain of literature…an intense desire to abolish all the constraints of classical writing made me produce these exercises … this little volume contains in embryo all the forms taken by my later work.”
Robert Pinget—from the preface

The Cucumbers (extract)
Once upon a time there was a young cucumber, but, well, he wasn’t a bit likeable. He tanned himself. He turned orange-tawny. Always the first on the beach and the last to leave it. He would swell and swell, with half-closed eyes, with provocative peduncle. The cucumbresses were crazy about him. He had a special way of sidling up to you, of rubbing himself against…And what’s more, such enormous veins… So, well, he was the idol of the beach. Which made the beans dry up. And the viper’s grass die by the kilo. Soon the only things left in the market of this seaside town were the cucumbers. Encouraged by their colleague’s conquests, they proliferated. The police had to impose restrictive measures to control their growth. In spite of this decree, the cucumbers overran the district. They were to be seen everywhere. They climbed up the balconies and smothered the nasturtiums; they filled the bathtubs; they rotted in the linen baskets.
from Between Fantoine and Agapa

A Bizarre Will and Other Plays—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright) paperback/81 pages/ 10.95/ ISBN 0-87376-065-4

This collection includes the following plays: A Bizarre Will, Mortin Not Dead, Dictation, Sophism and Sadism, The Chrysanthemum, Crazy Notion, Night, About Nothing.
These seven plays were first aired on Radio Stuttgart. Robert Pinget’s voice is sharply attuned to smaller scenes with fewer voices, and these plays clearly highlight his tremendous talent at crafting dialog that is both arid while being uncomfortably precise.

“Pinget’s theater is a theater of the voice of the human presence. Challenging the obscenity of digitalized, universalized communication, stripped of the artifices, the facilities and the hypocrisies of novelistic writing or political discourse, Pinget’s plays tell us of the disorder, the conflicts and the simple joys of the living.”
Madeleine Renouard, Birkbeck College, London.

A: That is not an opinion to be shouted from the housetops, Monsieur.

B: Why ever not? What have we to lose by speaking the truth? What do we risk?

A: Getting rapped over the knuckles… or elsewhere. (Pause) In any case, this conversation is strictly between ourselves.
from A Bizarre Will

Abel and Bela—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright) paperback/25 pages/ 4.00/ ISBN 0-87376-052-2
Two actors, Abel and Bela, are planning to write a play.

First preformed in Strasbourg in the mid-70’s, Abel and Bela, was given a staged reading by the Ubu Repertory Theater in NYC in ’84, and was preformed by the Comédie Française at Avignon in the summer of ’87.

Robert Pinget is the author of many plays including : A Bizarre Will, Mortin Not Dead, Dictation, Sophism and Sadism, The Chrysanthemum, Crazy Notion, Night and About Nothing.
“Pinget’s theater is a theater of the voice of the human presence. Challenging the obscenity of digitalized, universalized communication, stripped of the artifices, the facilities and the hypocrisies of novelistic writing or political discourse, Pinget’s plays tell us of the disorder, the conflicts and the simple joys of the living.”
Madeleine Renouard, Birkbeck College, London.

Abel: A play, yes, a play for the theater. (Pause) It remains to be seem…

Bela: It remains to be seen?

Abel: What theater is.

Bela: What theater is? A stage, some actors, a text.

Abel: What it is, what it out to be, its necessity… its transcendence.

(Pause)

Bela: And then what?

Abel: Its essence. The reason why theater can’t be anything else, why it has to be, why it’s inevitable.
from Abel and Bela

Théo or The New Era—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright) paperback/31 pages/ 6.95/ ISBN 0-87376-079-4
Great texts now run together in the mind of the old man who no longer puts out his lamp at night.
Théo or The New Era is all about renewal. It is as funny as the early works, as dark as the recent ones, but it is also possessed of a new tenderness. Pinget creates two wonderful characters, an old man and his great nephew, the Théo of the title … Pinget is the best novelist writing in France at present.
TLS—Gabriel Josipovici  

A quarter of a page.

This lamp which he never puts out now, that little book which he fills with illegible notes.

Infinite distress.

Shuffle the pack, at all costs find the familiar court cards to teach the game to the child and found the new era.

Where to find the strength.

Sleeping or walking, return to the order of the olden days.
from Théo or The New Era

Be Brave—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright) paperback/31 pages/ 6.95/ ISBN 0-87376-075-1
“Resisting my decline” Monsieur Songe amuses himself with hilarious versions of his own death.

86

He sleeps so soundly that in the morning he sometimes wonders what had been tormenting him so much the day before. And then the unpleasant memory returns.

89

I loathe my memories says Monsieur Songe. Especially the happy ones which hurt so much.

94

Fleeting instants of happiness. A landscape. A moment in town.

Make them last at all costs his niece would have said. To take great pains to make happiness last, don’t you think that’s funny?
from Be Brave

Traces of Ink—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright) paperback/71 pages/ 8.95/ ISBN 0-87376-089-1

Traces of Ink is Robert Pinget’s last published book. It came out in the spring of 1997, and was followed that summer by a colloquium in Tours celebrating every aspect of his work; this was a happy, successful occasion which Pinget much enjoyed. Only a month later, he had a stroke and died.

In ’82, Monsieur Songe was published in French. In his introduction to the English translation, Pinget wrote: “For some twenty years I have been finding relaxation from my work in scribbling these stories about Monsieur Songe. To the original Monsieur Songe I recently added as a component The Harness, and Plough. Here, revised and collected in one volume are all three books which, I repeat, are a “divertissement”. Monsieur Songe can be seen as Monsieur Pinget’s alter ego, and he figures in two of Pinget’s subsequent books, Be Brave and this present one, taches d’ encre.

Pinget endows Monsieur Songe with his own preoccupations. In particular, there is vital importance attached to the unconscious, hence: to dreams, contradictions, repetitions, nostalgia, intimations of death. And yet, interwoven with all these grave subjects, his invincible humor is never far away.
from the afterward by Barbara Wright

Here, Monsieur Songe says something. But his voice has grown weaker.

Just a murmur can be heard. But not understood.
from Traces of Ink

Fable—(translated from the French by Barbara Wright) paperback/63 pages/ 16.95/ ISBN 0-87376-107-9
“What can I tell you about Fable? It is a love story, or rather the story of a betrayal. The man betrayed doesn’t cry out for vengeance, he is prostrated. Then he tries to turn the tragedy to ridicule, in order to overcome it. Monsieur Miaille becomes Monsieur Miette (crumb), thus he survives, although greatly diminished. Return to the fold (Fantoine) after a short odyssey, and acceptance.”
Robert Pinget in a letter to his translator Barbara Wright

He remembered having seen her in the company of white figures in the moonlight, lifting up her skirt and showing her behind to the devil whom she smelt out in the ditch or behind a little wall, exorcism, all three of them went into the wood, they could hear other people whispering and the old woman sat down on a tree trunk and watched the frolics and couplings as if she were at a strange Mass, here and there accepting in her mouth whichever stiff member approached her, they could hear her choking and spluttering, the vicious depraved old harpy, she kept on versifying, mixing the names of Christ and Mary with her obscene remarks to the hilarity of her companions.
from Fable

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