Labyrinths of invention from the new novel to OuLiPo

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Abstract

This essay examines some of the complex relations between rhetorical invention, science, and practices of postmodern fiction, using as examples French writers of the experimental avant-garde of the 1950's and 1960's. The links between science and fictional discourse are currently being examined, amid great controversy, as a direct relationship or equivalence. This essay focuses on the resurgent technology of invention as a crucial intermediary in this exchange. The familiar metaphor of the labyrinth, invention's mythological origin, serves to track the inventive nature of postmodernism's methodical fictions.

A brief history of rhetorical invention, including its eventual (and ironic) denunciation at the dawn of the scientific age, is followed by a description of this discredited art's reemergence, as typified in Eric Charles White's Kaironomia, a Nietzsche-inspired apologia pro inventione.

In the final section of this paper, short analyses of exemplary works by Alain Robbe-Grillet, Italo Calvino, and Raymond Queneau show how postmodern fiction uses invention not to uncover science's lies but to discover the buried links between science and the literary imagination. Literature, we begin to find, is no less than science a fundamentally methodical construct.

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