Not being able to write the books he wanted to write

Marcel Bénabou’s often funny, but ultimately poignant Why I Have Not Written Any of My Boosk/Pourquoi je n’ai écrit aucun de mes livres(1986), seems to me to have some continuities with the prolific (albeit once-stalled) American writer with the meteoric rise, Michael Chabon. (Meteors flash and burn out, so I don’t quite understand the analogy… There is the Jewish boy’s ontogeny of the phylogeny of being the Chosen People (“No one around me, or at least no one in the narrow confines of my family, had ever doubted that my destiny would be a singular one”-71). And the reverence for sonorous words:

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“I never ran the risk of confusing things with their names. Most of the words I used were already almost entirely detached from their natural ties to things, and for this reason I found them intoxicatingly light. No heaviness came along to pull them down to the ground. The ones I loved the most (bergamot, natelle, botargo, galoubet, caillebotis) were attached to nothing I had before my eye. They were beautiful, shimmering, iridescent bubbles, and their emptiness mad them all the more precious to me.” (73-74)

And I apply Chabon’s vocation to use the resources of English words in “Things remain in existence only thanks to the effort made by a few people to recreate them day by day” (98, i.e., “if not me, who?”)

Chabon dramatized not being able to finish a book (the model for which always seemed arbitrary to him, whereas what the characters would do and say was clear to him in C&K). Bénabou addresses the multiple reasons not to write as “what had been a confident wait imperceptibly transformed itself into torpor” (62) and reading became a kind of bulimia in which he devoured much (writing by others) without retaining any trace (44).

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BTW, Bénabou also published the magnum opus of his work as a historian in 1976, La Résistance africaine à la romanisation.

 

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

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