The Construction of the Tower of Babel (Paperback)
Juan Benet's penultimate book, The Construction of the Tower of Babel brings together two essays that testify to the multiplicity of the author's interests, both personal and professional.
The titular essay is a meditation on Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 1563 painting of the Tower of Babel: the first painting in European art history to feature a building as a protagonist. An engineer by trade, Benet brings his knowledge of building construction to bear on Bruegel's creation, examining the archways, pillars, windows and the painter's meticulously depicted chaos at the heart of the edifice's centuries-long execution. An unusual analysis of architectural hubris and the linguistic myth that gave rise to it, Benet's essay builds its own linguistic telescoping structure that could be described as an "architextual" discourse on the madness of the unending project.
Also included is "On the Necessity of Treason" (a theme of particular interest to Benet, whose father was shot by Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War, and whose brother was forced to escape to France, exiled for his Republican sympathies). Benet considers the essentially dual nature of the spy and the curious World War II cases of Julius Norke and William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) to conclude that, within the order of the State, the traitor is not only necessary, but welcome.
A civil engineer by profession, Spanish writer Juan Benet (1927-93) began writing to pass the long nights of solitude he spent on construction sites in Le n and Asturias. He self-published his first novel, You Will Never Amount to Anything, in 1961. In 1967, he won the Biblioteca Breve Prize for his novel A Meditation.