Home > 2000, 21st Century, Czech Literature, Literary UFO, Ouředník Patrik > Patrick Ourednik and the writer’s condition

Patrick Ourednik and the writer’s condition

November 7, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I already know that this quote won’t fit into my future extatic billet about Ad Acta by Czech writer Patrick Ourednik. Classé sans suite in French and nothing in English because it has not been translated, which I don’t understand with all the fuss you make about Perec and here you have a Perec-like / Queneau-like writer and it doesn’t reach your shelves.  How inconsistent.

But enough ranting, the quote:

Il y a lieu de rappeler, particulièrement aux jeunes lecteurs, qu’à l’époque où Dyk écrivait son premier –et comme l’avenir le montrerait, dernier — roman, les écrivains étaient livrés à eux-mêmes. Aucun manuel, pas un seul atelier d’écriture créative, pas le moindre Devenez écrivain en trois mois, leçon numéro un, choisissez un sujet adapté, leçon numéro deux, recherchez dans un dictionnaire des adjectifs peu usités, leçon numéro trois, n’ayez pas peur des métaphores, leçon numéro quatre, soyez pittoresque et suggestif, leçon numéro cinq, le regard de l’auteur sur les passages épiques éclaire mieux la psychologie des personnages que le plus réussi des dialogues. Rien de tout ça, juste la cruelle solitude du créateur, la machine à écrire, le ruban qui se coinçait sans arrêt et la gomme à papier spéciale qui trouait invariablement chaque page laborieusement tapée à la moindre faute de frappe.

A quoi il faut ajouter le handicap traditionnel des écrivains tchèques: ils prennent leurs livres au sérieux. Dyk perdit un temps fou à trouver l’idée directrice et à enchevêtrer les vérités discrètement morales qu’il convenait de faire entendre dans un roman.

If I translate it as best I can (and it’s not easy)

We need to remind the readers, especially the youngest ones, that at the time when Dyk was writing his first –and as the future would prove, his last– novel, writers were left to their own devices. Not textbooks, not a single creative writing class, no How to Become a Writer in Three Months, lesson number one, choose your subject well; lesson number two, look for seldom used adjectives in the dictionary; lesson number three, don’t be afraid of metaphors, lesson number four, be picturesque and suggestive; lesson number five, the writer’s perspective on the epic passages sheds a better light on the characters’ psychology than the best crafted dialogues. Nothing like this, only the cruel solitude of the artist, the typewriter with its ribbon that always got stuck, the special rubber that always made a hole in each laboriously typed page whenever you made a typing error.

And you need to add on the traditional handicap of the Czech writer: they take their books seriously. Dyk lost ages looking for the right leading idea and intertwining the discreetly moral truths that had to pervade in a novel.

…billet to come soon, when I’ve finished the book.

  1. November 7, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Hey, aren’t you supposed to be preparing for a meeting? 🙂 Anyway that’s quite a quote. How on earth did writers survive in those days without creative writing courses and easy five-point recipes for success? That said, I once read a book written in 1934 that complained even then about the number of textbooks and courses devoted to the craft of writing. It was written in America, though, which I think is often at the forefront of converting life into teachable five-point plans. Maybe the Czechs took longer…


    • November 7, 2012 at 11:36 pm

      I’m fully prepared, mister! I’ve thoroughly read the presentation twice, I went through it with my staff and prepared my questions for the lawyer who will run the show. I earned my literary getaway 🙂

      You’re probably right about America, the country that invented DIY and self-help books, ever practical. (I don’t mean that it’s necessarily bad)

      This book is SO funny. I was laughing like an idiot on the plane earlier; thankfully I didn’t have a neighbour.


  2. November 8, 2012 at 3:24 am

    I’ve read some Queneau–loved a few and loathed a couple. I think I tried a Perec and tossed it. Might be wrong about that, but I like the quote above.

    I was in a class once in which someone raised his arm and asked the question: “where’s the best place for someone to move to to become a poet?’ Silence….


    • November 8, 2012 at 8:32 am

      When I was reading yesterday, I was thinking about how you’d love this book.

      That would be funny to have flocks of aspiring poets rush to Charleville-Mézières to find the Rimbaud-spirit. The Lourdes of poetry. That could be a sight! As Patrick Ourednik says Human stupidity is the only thing on earth that can give you a taste of the infinite.


      • November 9, 2012 at 11:37 pm

        Believe it or not, a “Lourdes” of poetry exists in China, or rather did until the waters of the Three Gorges dam reservoir put it underwater. Fengjie was “The City of Poets,” attracting such famous poets as Du Fu and Li Bai. Fortunately, still surviving nearby as an island in the river is tiny Bai Di Cheng, little more than a collection of crumbling buildings on top of a hill, but where the stone stelae of hundreds of poets cover every wall and stick up out of every courtyard. Sadly, it sees few visitors other than as a brief stop on overpriced Yangtze River cruises, and it certainly sees fewer poets, but it is nonetheless a sight.


        • November 10, 2012 at 10:35 am

          I didn’t know such a place existed, thanks for telling me.
          It’s a positive place here, built on tradition, not a marketing build-up.


  3. November 8, 2012 at 4:51 am

    Oh wonderful – I read an Ourednik novel earlier this year (never wrote about it) and am eager to hear about others,

    The passage you chose is very appealing.

    I think I would just say “as the future would prove” and omit “it” – but you should get a second opinion on that.


    • November 8, 2012 at 8:33 am

      Which one did you read and in which language?

      Thank I’m correcting the sentence. It’s difficult to translate and I’d be sorry to leave behind the wit of the original because of a clumsy translation.


  4. November 8, 2012 at 8:42 am

    I’m not familiar with him at all.
    I still think writing can be pretty lonely and writer’s groups and courses and a way to “ease the pain”. I just think that many follow creative writing tips too religiously, that’s why we get so many books with a similar feel. What is gained in better construction is lost in originality, or something like that.


  5. November 8, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    The Opportune Moment, 1855 is the one I read – note the 19th century connection.

    The adventurous Dalkey Archive press has published English translations of 3 of his novels – but not the one you are reading.


  6. leroyhunter
    November 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    I’ve read Europeana by Ourednik, and it’s one of the best things I’ve read in years. I have the book Tom mentions (plus his other translated one – a spoof thriller I think) on my wishlist. All this and I love Perec as well!

    PS am a month into a new job – I used to think I knew what busy meant, but I do for real now.


    • November 13, 2012 at 9:42 pm

      The one you’ve read is available in French too. It sounds promising.

      Re-PS: the first months in a new job are always challenging. I hope things will slow down later and that your family is fine.


  1. June 30, 2017 at 6:39 pm

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