Latest Review: "The Leg of Lamb: Its Life and Works" by Benjamin Péret
The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Andrew Barrett on Benjamin Péret’s The Leg of Lamb: Its Life and Works, translated from the French by Marc Lowenthal and published by Wakefield Press.
If we haven’t sang the praises of Wakefield Press yet, it’s because I’m a forgetful idiot. Prior to starting Wakefield Press, Marc worked at—and translated for—“Exact Change,”:http://www.exactchange.com/ one of the coolest publishers ever. In 2009, Marc (and a few comrades) launched Wakefield with this mission:
Wakefield Press is an independent American publisher devoted to the translation of overlooked gems and literary oddities in small, affordable, yet elegant paperback editions. Our publications include the Wakefield Handbooks series (the guidebook as imagined through literature) and the Imagining Science series (science as imagined through literature), as well as forays into classic experimental fiction (literature as imagined through literature). Authors range from literary giants to those underrepresented (or unknown) in English.
Their kicked things off with two gorgeous (I love the careful design of all their titles) offers: Balzac’s _Treatise on Elegant Living, Pierre Louys’s _The Young Girl’s Handbook of Good Manners for Use in Educational Establishments, the latter of which is DIRTYAWESOMEFUN and was in the front display at Idlewild Books until a few customers figured out that the “good manners” being taught here would make a porn star blush. . . . If that whets your curiosity, you can find a few samples by clicking here.
Since these first two very elegant publication, Wakefield has also brought out An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Georges Perec, and as part of their “Imagining Science” series, they recently published Paul Scheerbart’s The Perpetual Motion Machine: The Story of an Invention, translated by Andrew Joron.
Andrew Barrett is a translation grad student here at the University of Rochester, and is working on a translation of Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, which he wrote about for us a few weeks back. We workshopped a piece of this a few weeks back, and after you give in to the odd stylings of the Greek Epic, it’s pretty awesome. Based on the very surrealistic descriptions of bad-ass supervillain Typhon (such as throats flying through the air eating birds), so it only makes sense that Andrew would write this review . . . Speaking of which, here’s a bit from the beginning:
“The President of the Republic could be seen in the distance, dressed in a diving suit and accompanied by the King of Greece, who seemed so young that one had the urge to teach him how to read.” The defining traits-cum-pleasures of surrealism—hallucinatory imagery, dark humor and irreverence toward authority—are already in full bloom by the third sentence of “At 125 Boulevard Sainte-Germain,” the opening story in Marc Lowenthal’s new translation of founding Surrealist Benjamin Péret’s The Leg of Lamb: Its Life and Works. Each story in this collection (originally published in French in 1957, towards the end of Péret’s life) proves to be a highly saturated snapshot of Péret’s twilit poetic consciousness, wherein all manner of images bleed together in ways humorous and lyrical amidst a palpable atmosphere of derision for taboo and convention. In other words, the experience of reading one of Péret’s stories is comparable to staring at a Dalí painting; you can try to unlock its secrets, which are shrouded in the free association logic of automatic poetry, or you can simply bask in its sheer beauty and strangeness.
It is unquestionably Péret’s devotion to the automatic writing technique, mentioned above, that lends his stories a quintessentially surreal flavor. But, to view the stories in The Leg of Lamb: Its Life and Works as simply undiluted automatism can be misleading. Péret always weaves a thread of traditional narrative structure around the dense, variegated imagery generated by his use of the automatic technique. While nothing approaching a traditional narrative ever actually unfolds in The Leg of Lamb: Its Life and Works, the bare conventions of storytelling are always present to give a story its initial momentum. Thus, Péret’s stories never make for difficult reading (even as they consistently startle, confound and amuse), while their mixture of conventional narrative signposts with dream-like, chimerical imagery presents the reader with compelling linguistic textures that are always unique and accessible.
Click here to read the entire piece.