March 7, 2010
His first roman (Things, in translation) was a modish, mildly Godardian disquisition on class and sociology; its 1967 follow-up, a slight study in post-Kafka solipsism. But it wasn’t long until THIS AUTHOR (1936-1982) found artistic individuality by, paradoxically, joining Oulipo and applying its notorious formal constraints across a panoply of works — palindromic (1,247 words!), univocalic (inspiring Christian Bök’s similar productions), and so forth. A hospital archivist by vocation, his data- and vocabulary-juggling skills and gift for organization would inform all of his output. Still, in his most significant fiction, G.P.’s writing is both ludic and lucid, and anything but inhuman: W, half-autobiographical and half-mythological, movingly limns his childhood dislocations as son of a Polish Holocaust victim and a WWII casualty, and his 1978 magnum opus is a miniaturist’s history of a typical block of Parisian flats and its inhabitants, told through a knight’s tour of that building’s 99 rooms. Obviously, I can’t I.D. this last, prix-winning book, nor its author, without violating that limitation for which his La Disparation (A Void, trans. G. Adair) is justly (in)famous, and of which this paragraph is but a tiny illustration. Trivial word-count notwithstanding, writing this way is damnably frustrating.
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