Blog post

Poole posits Perec perecquially

Phan Nguyen14 June 2011

The Guardian’s Steven Poole embraces the expression that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” to its literal extreme in his review of Georges Perec’s The Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise, also known as L’art et la manière d’aborder son chef de service pour lui demander une augmentation, also known as The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise.

Poole tackles the Vintage UK edition, released concurrently with the Verso edition, as he assimilates the stylism of Perec and circumperambulates about the task of reviewing the unconventional text—and, à la L’art et la maniere d’aborder (ou à L’art?), dispenses of punctuation and capitalization, writes in the second person, and establishes a series of hypothetical situations, all within the span of a single-sentence review.

To quote Poole mid-sentence:

… functioning as a satire for the author’s day and oh yes our own on the subtly crushing effects of corporate life which was always after all the genius of perec to marry a deeply humane melancholy with dazzling formal experiments of which this one is also a deftly recursive simulation of the choices facing the writer of fiction as the text circles back on itself with varied refrains such as …

Alas, such affected imitation leaves this lowly blog post in a quandary. As a review of a review, should it too imitate the imitator or else run the risk of appearing too unconventionally conventional, effectively unaffected, or perhaps affectedly ineffective? And do such open thoughts take us dangerously close to the meta-terrain occupied by both the book and the review?

Poole does take notice of the stylistic decisions made by translator David Bellos, whose task of translating somewhat-French to somewhat-English necessitated prerogatives exceeding the typical demands made of translators. Ultimately Poole acknowledges that

you were not privy to a fanatical enumeration of all the decisions that faced the translator himself in the creation of this extraordinary rendition which enumeration would have run to thousands of morbidly unreadable pages and there were no two ways about it either he was going to come up with a readable english version of this delectable and philosophical office farce or he wasn’t and after all he did and now that you have finished it you sigh wistfully and start reading it again.

Bellos himself spared us a fanatical enumeration in favor of a ten-page introduction in which he admitted, either humbly or brazenly,

Translating a text which is close to being unreadable in the original is a paradoxical but not a particularly difficult task, since ordinary readability is hardly an issue.

The rest is between you and Perec.

Visit the Guardian to read the review in full.

Filed under: reviews