Michel Butor

Michel Butor
Michel Butor in 2002
Michel Butor in 2002
BornMichel Marie François Butor
(1926-09-14)14 September 1926
Mons-en-Barœul, Nord, France
Died24 August 2016(2016-08-24) (aged 89)
Contamine-sur-Arve, France
Alma materUniversity of Paris
  • Novel
  • criticism
Notable worksLa modification

Michel Butor (French: [miʃɛl bytɔʁ]; 14 September 1926 – 24 August 2016) was a French writer.[1][2]

Life and work

Michel Marie François Butor was born in Mons-en-Barœul, a suburb of Lille. He studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, graduating in 1947.[3] He taught in Egypt, Manchester, Thessaloniki, the United States, and Geneva. He won many literary awards for his work, including the Prix Apollo, the Prix Fénéon; and the Prix Renaudot.

Journalists and critics have associated his novels with the nouveau roman, but Butor himself long resisted that association. The main point of similarity is a very general one, not much beyond that; like exponents of the nouveau roman, he can be described as an experimental writer.[4] His best-known novel, La Modification, for instance, is written entirely in the second person.[5] In his 1967 La critique et l'invention, he famously said that even the most literal quotation is already a kind of parody because of its "trans-contextualization."[6][7][8][9]

For decades, he chose to work in other forms, from essays to poetry to artist's books[10] to unclassifiable works like Mobile. Literature, painting and travel were subjects particularly dear to Butor. Part of the fascination of his writing is the way it combines the rigorous symmetries that led Roland Barthes to praise him as an epitome of structuralism (exemplified, for instance, by the architectural scheme of Passage de Milan or the calendrical structure of L'emploi du temps) with a lyrical sensibility more akin to Baudelaire than to Robbe-Grillet.

In an interview in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, conducted in 2006,[11] the poet John Ashbery describes how he wanted to sit next to Michel Butor at a dinner in New York.

Butor was a close friend and colleague of Elinor Miller, a French professor at Embry Riddle University. Butor and Miller worked collaboratively on translations and lectures. In 2002, Miller published a book on Butor entitled Prisms and Rainbows: Michel Butor's Collaborations with Jacques Monory, Jiri Kolar, and Pierre Alechinsky.[12]



His works include:


  • Passage de Milan (1954)
  • L'emploi du temps (1956) (translated into English as Passing Time) (awarded Fénéon Prize)
  • La modification (1957) (translated into English as A Change of Heart)
  • Degrés (1960)


  • Histoire extraordinaire : essai sur un rêve de Baudelaire (1961)
  • Les mots dans la peinture (1969)
  • Improvisations sur Flaubert (1984)
  • Improvisations sur Michel Butor : l'écriture en transformation (1993)
  • L'utilité poétique (1995)
  • Quant au livre : triptyque en l'honneur de Gauguin (2000)


  • Essais sur les modernes (1964)
  • Répertoires [I à V] (1960–1982)
  • Essais sur le roman

Other genres

  • Le génie de lieu (1958)
  • Mobile : étude pour une représentation des États-Unis (1962) (translated into English as Mobile: Study for a Representation of the United States)
  • Portrait de l'artiste en jeune singe (1967) [cf. Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man]
  • Niagara (1969)
  • Illustrations II (1969)
  • Travaux d'Approche (1972)
  • Matière de rêves [I–V] (1975–1985)
  • Envois (1980)
  • Retour du boomerang (1988)
  • L'embarquement de la reine de Saba (1989)
  • Transit A, Transit B (1992)


  1. ^ L’écrivain Michel Butor, figure du Nouveau Roman, est mort (in French)
  2. ^ French writer Michel Butor dies aged 89: family Archived 2016-09-17 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ His DES thesis (diplôme d'études supérieures [fr], roughly equivalent to an MA thesis) under Gaston Bachelard was titled Les Mathématiques et l'idée de nécessité, "Mathematics and the Idea of Necessity" (see Mary Lydon, Perpetuum Mobile: A Study of the Novels and Aesthetics of Michel Butor, University of Alberta, 1980, p. 156 n. 31).
  4. ^ Une Conversation avec Michel Butor (in French) quotation:

    La littérature, c’est l’expérimentation sur le langage.

  5. ^ Joshua Parker: On writing in second person, Published in Connotations Vol. 21.2-3 (2011/12)
  6. ^ Linda Hutcheon (1985), A theory of parody: the teachings of twentieth-century art forms, p. 41
  7. ^ Allan H. Pasco (1994), Allusion: a literary graft, p. 217
  8. ^ Original quotation:

    La citation la plus littérale est déjà dans une certaine mesure une parodie. Le simple prélèvement la transforme, le choix dans lequel je l'insère, sa découpure (deux critiques peuvent citer le même passage en fixant ses bords différemment), les allégements que j'opère à l'intérieur, lesquels peuvent substituer une autre grammaire à l'originelle et naturellement, la façon dont je l'aborde, dont elle est prise dans mon commentaire

  9. ^ Michel Butor (1981), Letters from the Antipodes, p. 162 quotation:

    A whole ideology of ownership and transmission is implied by the commercial promotion of books and a certain kind of discourse in newspapers, schools and universities, with its emphasis on greatness, uniqueness, and influence— often via quotation— as a one-way process. This ideology has received a battering for many years now at the hands of authors such as James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Jorge Luis Borges (Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote) and Butor himself.

  10. ^ Manuel Casimiro, Books on Manuel Casimiro.
  11. ^ Audio file
  12. ^ The Fales Library of NYU's guide to Elinor Miller Paper Archived 2009-11-30 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

  • Courrier des Antipodes – Notes on Michel Butor’s Letters from the Antipodes by Pam Brown in Cordite Poetry Review
  • Lydon, Mary, Perpetuum Mobile. A study of the novels and aesthetics of Michel Butor. University of Alberta Press, 1980. ISBN 0-88864-055-2
  • Rambures, Jean-Louis de, Comment travaillent les écrivains, Paris: Flammarion, 1978 (interview with Michel Butor, in French)

External links

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