Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Georges Perec: Still Crazy After All Those Years
The media obsession with cultural anniversaries is not always complete – look how the books pages missed the fact that this year, nearly over, has been the centenary of Malcolm Lowry – but here's one you definitely haven't thought of. This month is the 35th anniversary of a literary experiment by that delightful and inventive French writer, Georges Perec. In October 1974 he decided to station himself for three days in the place Saint-Sulpice in the posh 6th arrondissement of Paris in St Germain just north of the Jardin du Luxembourg and make a record of everything he saw. Tentative d'épuisement d'un lieu parisien (Attempt to exhaust all the possibilities of one particular spot in Paris) his little book is a record of what he saw. All those apple-green 2CVs, buses, Japanese tourists, aubergines (I'd forgotten that's French slang for a traffic warden), taxi-drivers, flâneurs, children, dogs, dossers passed by as he sat in cafés drinking coffee or vittel. Perec loved to tease out the poetry of the ordinary and what might sound like an exercise in obsessive tedium is in fact fascinating as we see a little quartier of Paris under the microscope. The artist, of course, sees what we don't always see and this is of course selective and proves that, in writing, the glory is in the detail and in what is selected rather than left out. This tiny book, with its occasionally glittering observations, has made my week, in that glum period after the clocks went back.