UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A study of the role of the works of art in two novels by Michel Butor Fuller, Margaret M.


In L'Emploi du temps (1956) and La Modif ication (1957) Michel Butor continues the exploration of novelistic form begun in Passage de Milan (1954). In these and his later works, he seeks to answer the fundamental questions: What is the role of the novel as an art form? How do we represent time and space in the novel? A study of the works of art in L'Emploi du temps and La Modification, their role and their interrelationship with each other, with the central characters, and with the reader, shows how he explores these questions. For Butor the novel is a means of transforming the way in which we see the world and therefore of transforming the world. For, as the novelist experiments with new structures he creates new relationships which change our perception of "reality." The introduction of works of art - imaginary but based on some of the archetypal stories of western civilization (Theseus, Oedipus, Cain) in L’Empioi du 'temps, real (the Aeneid, the Sistine Ceiling, the Last Judgement) in La Modification - extends the temporal and spatial scope of the two novels. This allows Butor to create intricate structural patterns which in turn create complex interrelationships in the text. Through the works of art, the key periods of western civilization - ancient Greece and Rome, early Judaic and Christian times and the Renaissance - are restructured and re-presented to Jacques Revel, L6on Delmont and the reader. In this re-presentation, all the major artistic forms appear: tapestry, stained glass windows architecture, literature and film, in L'Emploi du temps; architecture, sculpture, painting and literature in La Modification. Music is absent from the content but present in the form of both novels whose mathematical structure, "reprises" of specific scenes or phrases and temporal flexibility find their origins in musical form. Butor's use of works of art and, through them, of myth and history demonstrates his view of the novel as an encyclopedic work whose purpose is to remind the reader of the ongoing influence of his cultural background and to involve him in the novelistic process. By restructuring the universal stories of mankind through the works of art and by demonstrating their influence on the stories of Jacques Revel and L6on Delmont, Butor shows us that in order to understand himself and his universe, modern man must explore, acknowledge and integrate his colelctive past. In Butor, this is accomplished through the act of writing.

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