March 8, 2013

Happy Birthday, Georges Perec


Georges Perec in 1976 (photo via Pam Brown at the deletions)

Today is the 77th anniversary of Georges Perec’s birth on March 7, 1936.

He had a pleasant voice. (Maybe it’s the French accent.) You can listen to it in this interview (it’s in English) courtesy of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and France Culture, who pulled out some nice excerpts from the audio if you only have time for a little bit. It’s especially satisfying to hear him pronounce the names of other French writers: Jules Verne; Flaubert; Stendhal; Mallarmé.

I first heard of Perec by way of his novel A Void, in which the letter “e” never appears. I remembered that feat for a long time, though I forgot the author’s name. It’s sad that readers (myself included) tend to remember his work principally for what’s new and different about it. Few see what he shares with other writers: not only playfulness, but also a plainness and honesty, This interview, if nothing else, is evidence of the warmth and passion behind his work.

He was dedicated to his craft. He says, “I can’t imagine a life in which I won’t spend some hours every day writing.”

In some ways he spent nights writing as well. For several years, he kept a dream journal (recently translated for the first time into English as La Boutique Obscure, available from Melville House) that’s unlike anything else I’ve read. Here is No. 55, from March, 1971, in its entirety:

I am on the street with P. and Henri G. There are buses.

We’re talking about the elephant’s support polygon.

Henri G. reminds me that the center of gravity is located slightly toward the front (or slightly toward the back?) of the body; no effort is required to be upright, or only a tiny effort.

This explanation obviously applies to high heels.


He left us with puzzle pieces. In another section of the above interview, he explains a conception of his life and work:

When I was twenty, about, there were some twenty authors I loved very much. And they, they drew a kind of puzzle between them… And all of them were different, but all of them have something in common, some frontières, some borders. And I could draw a puzzle with them; and somewhere in the puzzle there was a blank space, which was mine… And what I can ‘ope for readers, and for people who will write after me, that I will take place of one of this piece of puzzle, and give way to somebody to write again, after my death.

I will live from 1936 to, I don’t know, and then my work sometime will be… both unfinished and finished. Unfinished because what I have to say is everything… I would like to say everything in every way possible. I like to write stories for children of six when they begin to read, and I would like to write science fiction, and detective novels, and cartoons, and libretto, and dramas, and comedy, and film scripts… I would like to work in all the fields of literature.

Perec died on March 3, 1982, at the age of 45.



Jay McNair is an intern at Melville House.