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the Complete Review
the complete review - literature

     

Why I Have Not Written
Any of My Books


by
Marcel Bénabou


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books



Title: Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books
Author: Marcel Bénabou
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1986 (Eng. 1996)
Length: 114 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books - US
Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books - UK
Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books - Canada
Pourquoi je n'ai écrit aucun de mes livres - Canada
Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books - India
Pourquoi je n'ai écrit aucun de mes livres - France
Warum ich keines meiner Bücher geschrieben habe - Deutschland
Perché non ho scritto nessuno dei miei libri - Italia
Por qué no he escrito ninguno de mis libros - España
  • French title: Pourquoi je n'ai écrit aucun de mes livres
  • Translated by David Kornacker
  • With a Preface by Warren Motte

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Our Assessment:

A- : enjoyable meditation on the (not) writing of books

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 29/4/1996 .
TLS . 24/1/1997 David Bellos
Die Zeit . 5/10/1990 Iris Radisch


  From the Reviews:
  • "In very few pages, Benabou, addresses conflicting impulses between writing and reading, writing and living, following great models and being original. And he has a great deal of gentle self-deprecating fun while doing it. But this isn't just about the wordplay beloved of French modernists. At base it is a lovely book about the love of books and of language and all that goes into making them" - Publishers Weekly

  • "Wrapped in hilarious self-ironizing waffle, it is a serious, largely autobiographical account, by one of the leading members of the Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle, of how difficult it is to write a book. (...) Much of this book is in fact a meditation on the other tradition that Benabou carries within him, the one that he acquired from his Moroccan Jewish childhood, and which fetishizes not just The Book, and books in general, but books in French in particular. (...) David Kornacker’s version is solidly faithful, sometimes almost word for word; unfortunately, Benabou’s amusing rhetoric can sound arch, even pompous, in English" - David Bellos, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Wie Proust, der aus Angst, sein Werk nicht rechtzeitig beginnen zu können, Seite um Seite seiner Recherche füllt, an deren Ende er bereit ist, das geschriebene Buch zu schreiben, wie Mallarme, der unzählige fliegende Zettel, rätselhafte Kryptogramme seines Universal Buches hinterließ, hat Marcel Benabou ein unmögliches Werk vollbracht. Er hat ein Buch geschrieben, das kein Buch ist. Das reine NichtBuch. Eine Art mahnendes Demonstrationsgerippe, ein Buch von beeindruckender Blöße auf dem Laufsteg der bunten Herbstmodelle." - Iris Radisch, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books is chronicle of the attempt to write a book and a meditation on the inevitable failure to do so (even, as, of course it meets with some success: there is a finished book to show for it, after all; note also that Bénabou is the author of numerous other books, published both before and after this one). Bénabou aims very high: as Warren Motte notes in his Preface, he wants it not to be: "merely a book but rather be the book, something like the Book of all books."
       Bénabou is torn between his aspirations -- he knows what he wants his book to be -- and the difficulties of actually creating what he envisions; he's also keenly aware of the futility of the task he sets himself. Part of what holds him back is a kind of super-literacy: so familiar is he with books and their creation, that he can not help but compare his efforts to those that came before him -- and, of course, finds his wanting. So, for example, each section of Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books is prefaced by one or several epigraphs -- each of which, of course, perfectly (and succinctly) express what Bénabou struggles to convey.
       His ideal of the book is clear enough -- in the abstract --, from what a title should be to how it should begin -- but he gets completely caught up and ultimately tangled in his ideal(s). An Oulipian master, he does so beautifully and very cleverly, the text constantly reflecting and refracting what he is writing about.
       Bénabou reports that he's managed: "a great quantity of first pages", and even, a few times, completed some first chapters, but the grand whole eludes. While it's the follow-through to the end that he has the most trouble with, beginnings, in particular, are important to him, and Bénabou breaks down the writing of his book into some of its basic pieces, with sections devoted to the 'Title' and 'First Page'.
       Even at the most basic level he finds himself tripped up, as when he just considers the use of words:

     As today, I particularly loved those moments when language appeared to me naked. It was enough for a slighty unusual word to issue from a mouth where I wasn't expecting it to leave me feeling somewhat overwhelmed. The word would immediately disarticulate the discourse that was bearing it, invalidate the logic of the reasoning in progress, and, having created a void around itself, surface alone, filling all the senses with its unusual sonority.
       Much of Bénabou's apparent difficulty in writing his book clearly stems from his focus on the elemental, on breaking everything down to its most basic parts -- even as he understands that the most successful books are more than the sum of their parts. Similarly, he can convince himself of self-defeating conclusions: "Writing nothing before having reached complete maturity thus seemed the primary imperative" -- after all:
What good are books that can by definition be only rough sketches for the one that one wishes to write !
       Bénabou finds himself with quite the hopeless conundrum -- but out of that arises, of course, the book the reader holds ..... (Needless to say, Bénabou also addresses the reader directly as he muses about what he is trying to do.) Imperfect, right down to the very end -- where he resignedly acknowledges: "All the tricks in the world won't give a definitive conclusion to these pages, which are not capable of having one" --, it nevertheless accomplishes a great deal of what he originally set out to do.
       Bénabou does not merely go around in circles; even as he complains of the impossibility of writing a (or the) book, he offers a study of writing and reading in general, and of what authors and readers expect from their books. Indeed, in some ways, Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books does become the book, a (small) summa that proves to be surprisingly enlightening (and very good fun, too).
       An Oulipian master-text, and highly recommended for all writers and readers alike (with a warning to writers not to get too carried away by Bénabou's 'arguments').

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 June 2012

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Links:

Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books: Reviews: Marcel Bénabou: OuLiPo: Other books by Marcel Benabou under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Marcel Bénabou is a member of the OuLiPo and has written several books.

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© 2012 the complete review

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