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Synopsis of Jacques-Alain Miller and François Regnault, ‘Avertissement: L’orientation du roman’

[‘Foreword: The Orientation of the Novel’]

CpA 7.Introduction:3–4

Although not addressed directly in Miller and Regnault’s introduction, the origins of this particular volume are bound up with the origin of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse themselves.

Before launching the Cahiers in January 1966, Miller and Milner had helped to edit the more overtly political journal which preceded it at the Ecole Normale, the Cahiers Marxistes-Léninistes (cf. Marxism). Established by participants in Althusser’s Lire le Capital seminar along with Roger Linhart and other members of the Ecole Normale branch of the Union of Communist Students, the first issue of the Cahiers Marxistes-Léninistes came out in December 1964, on the topic ‘Science and ideologies’ (with contributions by Miller, Milner, Rancière, and Linhart). The eighth volume, prepared by Miller, Milner, and Macherey in late 1965, was on the ‘Powers of Literature’, and included articles on experimental works by Borges, Gombrowicz and Aragon. Miller’s brief introduction to the volume announced its concern with what ‘literature can do on its own and upon itself,’ at the level of pure ‘signification’ or of ‘the treatment of language by its structure’, without reference to Marx or any ‘outside’ reference.1 Linhart in particular was vehemently opposed to such an apparently abstruse and apolitical approach, and refused to allow the issue to be distributed.

Miller, Milner and Grosrichard immediately resigned from the Cahiers Marxistes-Léninistes, and a few weeks later they founded the Cahiers pour l’Analyse as a less ‘dogmatic’ forum in which to continue the project of a general ‘theoretical training’. Milner’s article on Aragon (CpA 7.2) and Regnault’s on Gombrowicz (CpA 7.3) were eventually both re-printed in this seventh volume of Cahiers pour l’Analyse, entitled ‘From Myth to the Novel’ and dated March-April 1967. As Milner remembers, ‘we might almost say that it was because these texts ran into problems when we tried to publish them in the Cahiers Marxistes-Léninistes that Jacques-Alain Miller and I decided to create a new journal in which we wouldn’t have to be accountable to others.’2

Miller and Regnault’s introduction to the volume addresses the ‘orientation of the novel’, and opens with an anticipation of the novel’s paradoxical ‘death’. Born out of a transformation of ‘myth’, the novel is destined to run its course towards exhaustion and termination, though the ‘self-application of the novel henceforth forbids it to stop. Terminated, but indefinite, it enters the interminable.’

If myth (as suggested by Dumézil) is distinguished by its evocation of a depersonalising ‘cause without reason’, or ‘irrational determinism’, what the novel does is ‘rationalise’ such a cause by lending it ‘motivation’ (at the level of both narrative and characterisation). It thereby introduces into the scenario of myth a ‘psychological and juridical calculus of interest, i.e. motivation and judgment’; it introduces enough ‘sufficient reason’ to enable ‘interpretation’ of a character’s behaviour.

But as the trajectory that runs from myth to novel reaches its extreme limit, it begins to double back on itself. In the two recent experimental novels at issue here, by Aragon and Gombrowicz, characters begin to lose their apparent unity, and their actions lose some of their superficial intelligibility. They resist the sort of interpretation at issue in that ‘experimental psychology’ so firmly condemned throughout the Cahiers. And as Regnault and Miller conclude, ‘to put psychology and its sufficient reasons at such distance, this is surely a return to myth.’

English translation:


1. Miller, ‘Les Pouvoirs de la littérature’, Cahiers Marxistes-Léninistes 8 (1966), reprinted in Un Début dans la vie (Paris: Gallimard, 2002), 90-94.

2. Milner Interview; cf. Regnault Interview; François Dosse, History of Structuralism, vol. 1, 281.