Computers and the Humanities

, Volume 11, Issue 6, pp 325–338 | Cite as

Using a computer-generated concordance to analyze and document stylistic devices in Robert Pinget's fable

  • Robert M. HenkelsJr.
  • Esteban R. Egea


Function Word Sentence Length Prose Alphanumeric Character Entire Text 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 1.
    Jean Roudaut, “Robert Pinget et la boussole,”Critique, 303–304 (August–September 1972), 729–51.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    InPassacaille (Recurring Melody, 1969), the title he chose for the work of fiction precedingFable, Pinget explicitly acknowledged the validity of this analogy. The title is a double allusion to the book's repetitive structure and to the recorded Bach he listened to while relaxing from writing. Robert Pinget,Passacaille (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1969).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    A sample page of the concordance used in this article appears in the Appendix, p. 338.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ralph B. Long defines a sentence as: “linguistic units of certain magnitude. On written discourse they are ordinarily the most clearly marked units smaller than paragraphs and larger than words: capital letter begins them, periods or equivalent marks end them, and there is a characteristic spacing before and after. Sometimes a single word can be a sentence, and even a paragraph; but the distinction in magnitude is a real one nevertheless. Most sentences are dependent of the context of preceding sentences or situation for some of their meaning.” Long calls attention in this respect to the unpunctuated 25,000-word reverie at the end of Joyce'sUlysses where one cannot always be sure where the sentence boundaries are. Ralph B. Long.The Sentence and Its Parts: A Grammar of Contemporary English (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1961), p. 9.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See H. Kučera and W. N. Francis,A Computational Analysis of Present-day Edited American English (Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press, 1968); G. Yule,The Statistical Study of Literary Vocabulary (Hamden, Conn.: Shoestring Press, 1968); G. Zipf,The Psycho-biology of Language: An Introduction to Dynamic Philology (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1968).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    For the importance of these two statistical measures see Raoul N. Smith,Probablistic Performance Models of Language (The Hague: Mouton, 1973); G. Herdan,Type-Token Mathematics (The Hague: Mouton, 1960);The Calculus of Linguistic Observations (The Hague: Mouton, 1962);Quantitative Linguistics (Washington, D.C.: Butterworth, 1964);The Advanced Theory of Language as Choice and Chance (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1966).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Jean Roudaut, “Robert Pinget et la boussole,”Critique, 303–304 (August–September 1972), 739.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Pinget has described his creative process as “automatic writing” with careful subsequent conscious filtering of multiple existing possibilities. As he wrote, in answer to a request from Professor Henkels for the Preface to the study of his novels soon to appear through the University of Alabama Press, “You have already paid me an unhoped for honor in grappling with my work, which I do not understand very well, as you know. That kind of psychoanalysis, in the long run, which I undertook unwillingly to end up withPassacaille, gives me reason today not to be proud of myself, I assure you.” In a more concrete case of unconscious association unearthed by theFable concordance, in discussion with M. Pinget at his French farmhouse retreat in Touraine in the summer of 1975, we related the findings documented by the concordance and asked him why pigs seemed to keep turning up among the fauna of his most recent works. Somewhat taken aback, he admitted to the presence of the creatures inPassacaille, but stoutly denied that there were any inFable. A check of the concordance did indeed show only a single occurrence of the word “cochon.” The words “porcherie” (pigsty) and “porcher” (swineherd) appeared also, in two dramatic and symbolic instances. Symbolizing the final desecration of the herb garden that sheltered the now-parted lovers, the swineherd drives his animals into an enclosure now used as their wallow: Mais l'autre jetait un coup d'oeil dans la cour et disait lescochons ont franchi la cloture, allez-y mettre bon ordre. Et Miaille se levait, il serait leporcher, et il faisait rentrer les bêtes dans le clos qui n'abriterait plus d'aromates. (p. 63). As it turned out, while writingFable in the country, Pinget (like Nathalie Sarraute, who coincidentally found herself in a similarly malodorous rural situation elsewhere) was in litigation with a neighboring farmer to force him to remove a large, fragrant pig manure pile just upwind of his property. The necessity for this “démarche” became quite apparent during our visit when a breeze came up, and obviously the complex device of repetition and word association had let those pigs slip through Pinget's imagination through the Gates of Horn.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Although Victor Chklovski deals with this phenomenon inSur la théorie de la prose, Trans. Guy Verret (Laussanne: Editions L'Age d'Homme, 1973), it is more likely that Pinget became aware of it through the works of Max Jacob and the early Surrealists.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    “Dès qu'on percoit les choses plusieurs fois, la perception commence à operer par reconnaissance: la chose est devant nous, nous le savons, mais nous ne la voyons pas. Et c'est pourquoi nous ne pouvons rien en dire. Pour soustraire une chose à l'automatisme de la perception, l'art dispose de différents moyens....” Victor B. Chklovski,Sur la théorie de la prose, Translation from Russian by Guy Verret (Lausanne: Editions L'Age d'Home, 1973), 17.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Many other cases of this technique abound in the text. The wordville, for example, appears successively as: “la ville” (p. 10), “ces décombres de laville ...” (p. 11), “Cetteville qui fume encore ...” (p. 12), “Et pourquoi cetteville, ces décombres ...” (p. 14), “il n'y aurait qu'une chambre dans cetteville fumante sous ses décombres ...” (p. 19), “un rapport peutêtre avec l'effondrement de laville ...” (p. 20), “Laville fumante sous ses décombres ...” (p. 25), “Mais laville fumait toujours sous les décombres ...” (p. 38), “Comme il arrivait un matin venant de laville en ruines ...” (p. 50), “Laville avait fondu sous l'effet d'un cataclysme ...” (p. 10, 80), “Parce que sa maison il l'aurait fait avec Louis ... ou bien enville, notre bourg est devenu un endroit de vacances ...” (p. 100), “ils vont dans les bars de laville ...” (p. 101), “C'est l'heure où les vieux soupirent, où les jeunes vont enville ...” (p. 104)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Between pages 67 and 83 l'âme (the soul) is associated with the struggle between conflicting desires for change and stability. In part II, the narrator has blinded himself with a razor slash, “un coup de lame.” This act, apparently an abdication of the desire to see and understand is, in fact, the philosophical act of accepting life that returns the narrator to an uneasy equilibrium, a paradox reinforced by another pun involving “se mirer,” “miroir” and “miro.”Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Also exemplifying this technique of playing off repeated action through an iterative verb and the uncertain shifting of moods or tenses is the phrase “refaire le tour”; “Il refaisait le tour de la grange ...” (p. 13), “Il referait le tour des bâtiments à la nuit tombée ...” (p. 59).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    W. Nelson Francis,The Structure of American English (New York: The Ronald Press, 1958), 231.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Jean Roudaut, “Robert Pinget et la boussole,”Critique, 303–304 (August–September, 1972), 742.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    J. M. Coetzee, “Samuel Beckett'sLessness: An Exercise in Decomposition,”Computers and the Humanities, 7, (March, 1973), 198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    By winnowing out the text's numerous allusions to the supernatural, the word frequency list shows to what degree the hope of a salvation remains, not an operative reality, but a hope or dream. In the lexical category of religious belief, nominal constructions outnumber verbal ones 44 to 2. There are several references to Greek myth (most notable the title) and allusions to Proteus and Narcissus. Christian iconography is also invoked with more than passing frequency, “Dieu,” “le Diable,” “Jean Baptiste,” “fruit de vos entrailles,” “Immaculée,” “croix,” “sacré coeur,” among others. At first, the wordange, of Greek origin, seems to bridge the two systems of belief because in the Christian context it indicates a bearer of glad tidings. But the angel's message of Joy never gets through. And, as documented by the frequency tables, salvation is presented stylistically as a thing to be named or invoked, not an acting force.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Robert Pinget, “Le mécanisme de la création littéraire” (lecture), Williams College, April 20, 1972.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Ibid. Il me semble que l'interét de mon travail jusqu'aujourd'hui a été la recherche d'unton. C'est un problème de forme et qui explique peut-être mon appartenance à ce qu'on a appelé le nouveau roman. Mais il serait erroné de me croire partisan d'une école du regard. S'il s'agit d'être objectif, l'oreille a d'aussi tyranniques exigences. Or le ton varie d'un de mes livres à l'autre. C'est que la recherche en ce domaine ne sera jamais finie. Choisir à chaque fois, par goût du neuf, un ton entre les milliards qu'a enrigistrés l'oreille, voilà mon lot.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Pergamon Press 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert M. HenkelsJr.
    • 1
  • Esteban R. Egea
    • 2
  1. 1.University of Western Michigan
  2. 2.University of TexasDallas

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