Small Worlds


Small Worlds

Minimalism in Contemporary French Literature

Warren Motte

Stages Series

213 pages


March 1999


$50.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Small Worlds examines the minimalist trend in French writing, from the early 1980s to the present. Warren Motte first considers the practice of minimalism in other media, such as the plastic arts and music, and then proposes a theoretical model of minimalist literature. Subsequent chapters are devoted to the work of a variety of contemporary French writers and a diversity of literary genres.
In his discussion of minimalism, Motte considers smallness and simplicity, a reduction of means (and the resulting amplification of effect), immediacy, directness, clarity, repetition, symmetry, and playfulness. He argues that economy of expression offers writers a way of renovating traditional literary forms and allows them to represent human experience more directly.
Motte provides close readings of novels by distinguished contemporary French writers, including Edmond Jabès, Annie Ernaux, Hervé Guibert, Marie Redonnet, Jean Echenoz, Olivier Targowla, and Emmanuèle Bernheim, demonstrating that however diverse their work may otherwise be, they have all exploited the principle of formal economy in their writing.

Author Bio

Warren Motte is a professor of French at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Playtexts: Ludics in Contemporary Literature (Nebraska 1995) is his most recent book.


“Motte is a brilliant art critic. He relates the work of Donald Judd and Carle Andre—whose ‘fathers’ are Malevich and Duchamp—to the literature I have mentioned. . . . Although his first chapter is less than thirty pages, it says more about ‘lessness’ than any literary study I have read.”—Irving Malin, Review of Contemporary Fiction

“Warren Motte makes an attractive and useful case for the subspecies of modernism, minimalism, whose practitioners seem to mobilize an individualistic assault on norms, and on unwitting readers too. We can be grateful for this guidance through the maze toward the lively rewards that exist beyond.”—Lee Fahnestock, World Literature Today

Small Worlds is a big pleasure to read. For small and big reasons. First because the topic Warren Motte brings to us, modestly but brilliantly, is a refreshing departure from the mainstream. . . . But what firmly grounds all the works Motte presents on the side of the literary is a kind of knotting of the formal aspect with the actual story being told. . . . In a word (small), this book, just like the books it treats, should have an increasingly amplified effect. At least, that’s what this reviewer hopes.”—Sydney Lévy, L’Espirit Createur

“The majority of studies so far on Minimalism have appeared in the form of articles. This book . . . is a timely and well balanced appraisal of a phenomenon which, although known, has perhaps not received the attention it deserves. . . . Indispensable for those studying this field and, generally, to be recommended.”—François Jaques, Journal of European Studies

Small Worlds has much to offer and will appeal in the first place to anyone who wishes to become better acquainted with recent French literature. Those who sample even a chapter or two are likely to be sufficiently intrigued by Motte’s stimulating presentation to want to read the original works.”—John T. Booker, French Review

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