- Introduction: The Hows and Whys of Marcel Bénabou’s Writing
With this special section on Marcel Bénabou, we wish to revive a practice from the early years of the journal’s existence, but which has been eclipsed by the deluge of theoretical considerations of the 1970s and ‘80s. It consists of introducing the work of a contemporary writer whom we think is worthy of our readers’ attention. Working on the present issue, a kind of formula has taken shape. It has only two rules: that the author work with the editor to constitute the dossier, and that he/she figure among the contributors. Two of Marcel Bénabou’s books have recently been published in English by the University of Nebraska Press: Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books (translated by David Kornacker, introduced by Warren Motte, 1996); and Jacob, Menahem, and Mimoun: A Family Epic (translated by Steven Rendall, introduced by Warren Motte, 1998). We hope that the present offering will whet the appetites of those not yet familiar with Bénabou’s work.
Among the many ways to characterize Marcel Bénabou’s work (and there are hundreds of them—autobiographical, historical, memorial, virtual, epic, ludic, comic, post-colonial, Jewish, kabbalistic, oulipian, borgesian, rousseauist, rousselian, mallarmean, pataphysician, and so on), there is one that has a resonance with some of the recent turns in literary criticism. Actually it reconciles two tendencies that have grown so far apart that each side begins to wonder if it is in the same discipline as the other, or even dealing with the same object. We are referring, of course, to the cultural and the textual, the “what” or “why” of a text, on the one hand, and the “how” on the other. If there is a single most prominent characteristic of Marcel Bénabou’s work that can be taken as an injunction for literary criticism, it is indeed that “the ‘why’ [...] can only be grasped [...] through a minute analysis of the ‘how’” (see this issue, page....), as he puts it, with wink at his own endeavor of re-writing Roussel’s How I Have Written Some of My Books into his own Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books. The why, it seems for Marcel Bénabou, necessarily always echoes the how and the how, the why. We seem to have forgotten that it really could not be otherwise.