On Roger Lewinter’s An Approach

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The original project was to write a story in a single sentence without a period. The first draft was completed in ten days in 1989, but finding this first version “too simplistic, discursive, linear,” Lewinter sought to break out of what he saw as the constraining matrices of language in order “to have access to a state situated in another space-time, where everything can appear simultaneously.” Formally, this entailed a “disarticulation” of the sentence by means of interpolated clauses set off with dashes. … Lewinter’s functional innovation—the asymmetrically spaced dash—“allows the horizontal prose ‘sentence’ to be excavated vertically,” and ultimately diagonally, restoring to language its “other dimensions: even the space of the word.”

Last year I wrote a review essay of two works by the French writer Roger Lewinter. Not long ago, the translator of these books, Rachel Careau, told me about a new translation that had just been published at BOMB Magazine.

As much as I liked The Attraction of Things and Story of Love in Solitude—and I liked them a lot—I like this new piece even more. An Approach consists of four iterations, numbered one through four, of a single sentence—if it even is a sentence: there is no full stop—that readers must decide how to read. (We can follow the same number all the way through, or jump between them.) As in the works published last year, An Approach references literary translation (Lewinter has made his living as a translator from German to French), filial devotion, an encounter with a difficult lover, and the banalities of life in a city like Geneva, where Lewinter has long lived. But the text isn’t about those things: rather, it’s about nearly encountering them, brushing past them. For me, Lewinter’s texts are literary cruisings.

Careau offers an even better explanation of what ’s Lewinter is after in his literary experiments in her short introduction, which I have excerpted above.

You can read An Approach here.

English language readers should be grateful to Careau for her beautiful translations of these enigmatic and fascinating works. I gather more Lewinter might be forthcoming in English translation. I very much hope so.

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