Sunday, 13 April 2008
Georges Perec: The People in the Street
It's always good to find an excuse to refer to that quiet genius of twentieth century European literature, Georges Perec. I recently turned up this postcard which I think I bought in one of those tourist shops in Les Halles in Paris and it has a quote in which Perec asks: "The people in the street: where have they come from? Where are they going? Who are they?" It was Perec's gift to make the quotidian seem exotic through the fantastic power of his imagination and his literary invention. His question is really about realism itself. This is one of the most slippery terms in the literary lexicon. When Wallace Stevens writes: "The humble are they that move about the world with the lure of the real in their hearts," he is not in the same boat as those weekend supplement reviewers who berate novelists for not writing about "real people". Realism in literature is not for me reportage or naturalism but something much more elusive which I can't define but I know it when I find it. I find it in Perec.