Saturday, 27 December 2014

Some thoughts on ‘Life A User’s Manual’ by Georges Perec


Do the lists always work? Isn’t there an emptiness behind pages of detail? It is a work of immense care and attention, yet are the rooms of the house full of scrappiness? As a fan of inventories this book is a wonder to read – yet the reader is left too often with a disjunction, between the objects of the room and the person, that cannot be solved, cannot be soldered. One imagines the rapidity of the puns, the verbal play, the suggestiveness of styles in the French, which in translation cannot achieve the same effect. Perhaps, as in ‘Ulysses’ or Rabelais, listing and listing has its own momentum and thrill, the only way to say “there is more” is to say more and more. The curiosity of the curiosity shop, the curiosity of the plan Perec set himself in writing each chapter along such restricted lines of play – these things keep the fascination long after the objects and their connotations have started to wear out. Again though, what delight to have someone who makes us aware in a novel way of the hundreds of things that we surround ourselves with and live in common with, daily.

Answer to the first question: what do you mean ‘work’? Answer to the second question: what do you mean ‘behind’? Answer to the third question: only what is on the page.   

Entry in Notebooks, 5th July 1989 

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