the complete review Quarterly
Volume II, Issue 4   --   November, 2001

Essai 1:
On the difficulties of writing about Georges Perec

Elizabeth Morier

  1. Much of Perec's own writing is autobiographical
    • It becomes difficult to separate author from work.
      • But Perec's approach is not strictly autobiographical -- it is strict, but practically only in other ways.
      • Perec's work can rarely be approached in the manner most personally-based writing can, and yet biography is integral to it.
    • The knowledge that some of Perec is hidden in his work
      • The fear that the anecdote about director Bernard Queysanne -- his only learning years later that the location of the last scene of his film of A Man Asleep was shot essentially where Perec had lived as an infant, when his parents had still been alive -- is not the exception but typical of how Perec used his past but did not reveal it.

  2. Much of Perec's own writing is also impersonal, with form exerting an enormous influence on content.

  3. Perecís own writing is so exhaustive
    • The detailing is meticulous, minute.
    • His analysis goes in great depth, considering and describing all aspects.
    • His writing seems complete: what can there be to add ?

  4. There is an abundance of writing about Perec
    • There are biographies -- including David Belos' exemplary one -- seemingly covering most of the essential biographical details.
    • There are a fill of homages and tributes, and many personal reminiscences.
      • The advantage -- real or imagined -- of those who write from personal experience, who knew Perec personally.
    • Concomitantly: the general veneration of the figure Perec

  5. Perec as a sympathetic figure
    • Perec seems genuinely sympathetic, in all respects, including:
      • His humble archivist life.
      • His unostentatious cleverness.
      • His crossword puzzling.
    • Perec was not so simple, and yet it is hard to get beyond the superficial facts.
    • It is difficult to even want to see the warts -- even those so apparent on his face.

  6. The sheepish grin Perec displays in photographs
    • Author poses are terrible things, but Perec's sheepish grin is always winning.
      • As if he refuses to take it all seriously.
      • As if he refuses to allow the viewer -- the reader -- to take it all seriously.
      • Or at all seriously.
      • But it is also a sad, knowing countenance.
      • A face into which one can read too much.
      • An absurd face.
      • The face behind all those words.

  7. The temptation to drop a vowel, or a consonant
    The -ogram always on the lip
    The temptation to classify
    • Perec entices to wordplay, of all sorts.
    • Perec offers forms, rules; his material -- from its most basic elements to the most general -- is organized.
      • Perec's methodology does not -- should not -- translate to writing about Perec. Not necessarily.
      • Organization, methodology, rules: like all fabrications, they can easily mislead.
    • Perec was an adept. Emulation generally reduces to (pale) imitation; success, on any larger scale -- especially with a different (in our case: critical) objective in mind -- unlikely.

  8. The words that get in the way
    • Cancer:
      • Perec died of it. It cut his life short, quickly, unexpectedly. This turn, this rot -- it weighs over his work (and especially the work left unfinished and unwritten).
    • Auschwitz:
      • Perec was never there and yet it is almost impossible to speak of Perec without the word echoing in the background.
      • (His mother .. disappeared there. Presumably she died there (of course she died there). It is a parenthetical fact, an aside. And yet it stands at the very forefront of his life-work.)
    • How can one compete with these words ?
    • How can one integrate these words in any consideration of man and work when we have never come to terms with then even merely as words ?


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