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This article is taken from PN Review 41, Volume 11 Number 3, January - February 1985.

Michel Tournier and the Masterful Art of Rewriting Michael J. Worton

Every writer rewrites. This may be axiomatic, but we tend to assume that rewriting is a process of correction whereby the writer polishes his or her work until he is satisfied with it and feels ready, by publishing it, to relinquish his power - and even his authority - over it. However, there is another form of rewriting which, although rarely encountered, is significant for an understanding of the compulsion to write: the rewriting of a text one has already published in the same genre in which it was first written. This form of rewriting is self-revision in a way that differs greatly from the adaptation of a text into a play, film script, opera libretto, etc., for it entails not a transposition of genres but a questioning of the very medium one chooses to write in.

To rewrite another writer's work is common, is the very stuff of literary creation. Harold Bloom pertinently affirms in The Anxiety of Influence that 'every poem is a misinterpretation of a parent poem', and his notion of poetic influence as a variety of melancholy or the anxiety-principle illuminates the need of every writer to establish his own creative space and to assert his own mastery. Yet to rewrite a precursor's text usually involves the exploitation of historical changes, of displacements of context. Borges's story 'Pierre Menard, author of the Quixotte' powerfully illustrates this point: more than an allegory of composition, it is a metaphor for the complex relationships between reading ...


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