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Sunday, 4 April 2010

Roubaud Interviewed . . .

Below is a great interview with one of my favourite writers, Jacques Roubaud:

"Not many writers write from both the right and left brains, but Jacques Roubaud bridges that chasm much like an expert martial artist—in a way that makes it seem simple. Or not. Roubaud is an encompassing author. He writes through a full spectrum of the “simple” (i.e. his poetry for children) to mind-bogglingly dense pieces underpinned by mathematical concepts incomprehensible to many left-brained creative folks. After all, the title for his first book was a mathematical symbol—graphic and discrete, yet to explain what it means would take more words than I have been allotted.

Then there’s his life. Child of French Resistance parents. Member of Oulipo, short for the Ouvroir de Litterature Poténtialle, commonly translated as “Workshop for Potential Literature.” Inventor of the “clandestine hunger strike” during his tour of duty in Algiers and translator of Lewis Carroll. University professor of mathematics, but not “a very important one,” as he says, “I didn’t want power!” Survivor of tragedy—World War II, the early death of his wife. Writer through prodigious memory, therefore inevitably grappling with Proust, with whom one senses Roubaud has a wary relationship. But Roubaud himself is now a revered figure in French literature—a postwar writer who, thanks to the ongoing invention of “constraints” demanded by Oulipo, always seems cutting edge, as evinced by some of his books available in English: Hortense in Exile; Hortense Is Abducted; Some Thing Black; The Form of a City Changes Faster, Alas, Than the Human Heart; The Great Fire of London: A Story With Interpolations and Bifurcations; and, most recently, The Loop.

Either Roubaud allows the wiring and the plumbing to show, or draws over it a perfect veneer of simplicity. Strangely, sometimes jarringly, his language can veer toward the winsome, a light joke, silliness, croissants, figs, even while he struggles with an engulfing darkness, delivering a stream of words to explode grief, to versify death. He approaches the past with a multitude of linguistic and formal tools, and while he told me that he wrote to destroy memory, I didn’t sense any kind of satisfaction, or resolution. Instead, he seemed to grieve the loss of these memories even as he, like Jean Tinguely, set in motion the destruction of his own creation. How and to where do you move forward, I wanted to know, once you’ve gotten rid of your memories? Whither to?"

[read full interview with Jacques Roubaud here]


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