Georges Perec

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Georges Perec (March 7, 1936 – March 3, 1982) was a twentieth-century Jewish French novelist, filmmaker and essayist, and a key member of Oulipo, a twentieth-century literary movement advocating the invention of new, complex literary forms. Perec is widely considered one of the most innovative and technically accomplished of twentieth-century fiction writers; his works include La disparation (A Void), a novel written entirely without use of the letter "e," and La vie, mode d'emploi (Life: A User's Manual), a novel describing every room and inhabitant of a single Paris apartment complex.

Did you know?
Georges Perec's detective novel La disparation was written entirely without using the letter "e"

Acclaimed for his formal brilliance as well as for his wit, wordplay, and delicate sense of melancholic irony, Perec is one of the most important authors of twentieth-century French literature, and one of the most widely influential fiction writers of the post-World War II generation.

Contents

Life

Georges Perec was born on March 7, 1936 in a working class neighborhood in Paris, the only son of Icek Judko and Cyrla (Schulewicz) Peretz, Polish Jews who had emigrated to France in the 1920s. He was a distant relation of Yiddish writer I.L. Peretz. Perec's father enlisted in the French Army during World War II and died in 1940 from unattended gunfire or shrapnel wounds. Perec's mother perished in the Nazi Holocaust, probably in the Auschwitz death camp. Perec was taken into the care of his paternal aunt and uncle in 1942, and in 1945 he was formally adopted by them.

He started writing reviews and essays for Nouvelle Revue Française and Les Lettres Nouvelles, prominent literary publications, while studying history and sociology at the Sorbonne. In 1958-1959 Perec served in the army, marrying Paulette Petras after being discharged. They spent one year (1960-1961) in Tunisia, where Paulette worked as a teacher.

In 1961, Perec began working as an archivist at the Neurophysiological Research Laboratory attached to the Hôpital Saint-Antoine, a low paid position he kept until 1978. A few reviewers have noted that the daily handling of records and variegated data may have had an influence on his literary style. Perec's other major influence was the literary movement Oulipo, short for Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Workshop of Potential Literary) which he joined in 1967 after meeting Raymond Queneau. Perec dedicated his masterpiece, La Vie mode d'emploi (Life: A User's Manual) to Queneau, who died before it was published.

Perec began working on a series of radio plays with his translator Eugen Helmle and the musician Philippe Drogoz in the late 1960s; less than a decade later, he was making films. His first work, based on his novel Un Homme qui dort, was co-directed by Bernard Queysanne, and won the Prix Jean Vigo in 1974. Perec also created crossword puzzles for Le Point from 1976 on.

La Vie mode d'emploi (1978) brought Perec great financial and critical success—winning the Prix Médicis—which allowed Perec to turn to writing full-time. He was a writer in residence at the University of Queensland, Australia in 1981, during which time he worked on the unfinished 53 Jours (53 Days). Shortly after his return from Australia, his health deteriorated. A heavy smoker, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died the following year, only forty-five years old.

Work

Many of Perec's novels and essays abound with experimental wordplay, lists, and other novel formal innovations. Beneath the irony, playfulness, and experimentation of his works, many critics have also noticed a deeper melancholy, reflecting Perec's search for new forms of meaningful expression in the radically changing world of the twentieth century. Perec is widely considered to be one of the most influential formal innovators of fiction of the twentieth century, ranking alongside the like of Joyce and Borges for sheer inventive genius.

In 1978, Perec won the prix Médicis for Life: A User's Manual which is universally considered to be his masterpiece. Each of the 99 chapters of the novel examine a different room of a Parisian apartment complex, describing inhabitants and revealing touching stories just beneath the surface of even the most unassuming of locales.

Perec is also noted for his 300 page novel La disparition (1969), a seemingly straightforward detective novel, which is a lipogram written entirely without the letter "e." It has been translated into English by Gilbert Adair under the title A Void (1994). Likewise, Perec's novella Les revenentes (1972) is a complementary piece in which the letter "e" is the only vowel used. This even affects the title, which would conventionally be spelled Revenantes. An English translation by Ian Monk was published in 1996 as The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex in the collection Three.

W ou le souvenir d'enfance, (W, or, the Memory of Childhood, 1975) is a semi-autobiographical work, where Perec masterfully interweaves two storylines. Two alternating narratives make up the volume, one a fictional outline of a totalitarian island country called "W," patterned partly on life in a concentration camp, and the second, descriptions of childhood, that merge towards the end when the common theme of the Holocaust emerges.

Legacy

Perec is widely considered one of the most innovative and technically accomplished of twentieth-century fiction writers. His La disparation (A Void) is a novel written entirely without use of the letter "e." La vie, mode d'emploi (Life: A User's Manual) is a novel describing every room and inhabitant of a single Paris apartment complex.

Acclaimed for his formal brilliance as well as for his wit, wordplay, and delicate sense of melancholic irony, Perec is one of the most important authors of twentieth-century French literature, and one of the most widely influential fiction writers of the post-World War II generation.

Bibliography

The most complete bibliography of Perec's works is Bernard Magné Tentative d'inventaire pas trop approximatif des écrits de Georges Perec (Toulouse, Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 1993).

Works by Perec

Year Original French English Translation
1965 Les Choses: Une histoire des années soixante (Paris: René Juillard, 1965) Things: A Story of the Sixties in Things: A Story of the Sixties & A Man Asleep trans. by David Bellos and Andrew Leak (London: Vintage, 1999)
1966 Quel petit vélo à guidon chromé au fond de la cour? (Paris: Denoël, 1966) Which Moped with Chrome-plated Handlebars at the Back of the Yard?, trans. by Ian Monk in Three by Perec (Harvill Press, 1996)
1967 Un homme qui dort (Paris: Denoël, 1967) A Man Asleep, trans. by Andrew Leak in Things: A Story of the Sixties & A Man Asleep (London: Vintage, 1999)
1969 La Disparition (Paris: Denoël, 1969) A Void, trans. by Gilbert Adair (London: Harvill, 1994)
1969 Petit traité invitant à la découverte de l'art subtil du go, with Pierre Lusson and Jacques Roubaud (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1969) -
1972 Les Revenentes, (Paris: Julliard, 1972) The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex, trans. by Ian Monk in Three by Perec (Harvill Press, 1996)
1972 Die Maschine, (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1972) The Machine, trans. by Ulrich Schönherr in "The Review of Contemporary Fiction: Georges Perec Issue: Spring 2009 Vol. XXIX, No. 1" (Chicago: Dalkey Archive, 2009)
1973 La Boutique obscure: 124 rêves, (Paris: Denoël, 1973) -
1974 Espèces d'espaces (Paris: Galilée 1974) Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, ed. and trans. by John Sturrock (London: Penguin, 1997)
1974 Ulcérations, (Bibliothèque oulipienne, 1974) -
1975 W ou le souvenir d'enfance (Paris: Denoël, 1975) W, or, the Memory of Childhood, trans. by David Bellos (London: Harvill, 1988)
1975 Tentative d'épuisement d'un lieu parisien (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1975) An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, trans. by Marc Lowenthal (Cambridge, MA: Wakefield Press, 2010)
1976 Alphabets illust. by Dado (Paris: Galilée, 1976) -
1978 Je me souviens, (Paris: Hachette, 1978) Memories, trans./adapted by Gilbert Adair (in Myths and Memories London: Harper Collins, 1986)
1978 La Vie mode d'emploi (Paris: Hachette, 1978) Life: A User's Manual, trans. by David Bellos (London: Vintage, 2003)
1979 Les mots croisés, (Mazarine, 1979) -
1979 Un cabinet d'amateur, (Balland, 1979) A Gallery Portrait, trans. by Ian Monk (in Three by Perec Harvill Press, 1996)
1979 film-script: Alfred et Marie, 1979 -
1980 La Clôture et autres poèmes, (Paris: Hachette, 1980) -
1980 Récits d'Ellis Island: Histoires d'errance et d'espoir, (INA/Éditions du Sorbier, 1980) Ellis Island and the People of America (with Robert Bober), trans. by Harry Mathews (New York: New Press, 1995)
1981 Théâtre I, (Paris: Hachette, 1981) -
1982 Epithalames, (Bibliothèque oulipienne, 1982) -
1982 prod: Catherine Binet's Les Jeux de la Comtesse Dolingen de Gratz, 1980-82 -
1985 Penser Classer (Paris: Hachette, 1985) Thoughts of Sorts, trans. by David Bellos (Boston: David R. Godine, 2009)
1986 Les mots croisés II, (P.O.L.-Mazarine, 1986) -
1989 53 Jours, unfinished novel ed. by Harry Mathews and Jacques Roubaud (Pari: P.O.L., 1989) 53 Days, trans. by David Bellos (London: Harvill, 1992)
1989 L'infra-ordinaire (Paris: Seuil, 1989) -
1989 Voeux, (Paris: Seuil, 1989) -
1991 Cantatrix sopranica L. et aitres écrits scientifiques, (Paris: Seuil, 1991) Cantatrix sopranica L. Scientific Papers with Harry Mathews (London: Atlas Press, 2008)
1992 L.G.: Une aventure des années soixante, (Paris: Seuil, 1992) -
1993 Le Voyage d'hiver, 1993 (Paris: Seuil, 1993) The Winter Journey, trans. by John Sturrock (London: Syrens, 1995)
1994 Beaux présents belles absentes, (Paris: Seuil, 1994) -
1999 Jeux intéressants (Zulma, 1999) -
1999 Nouveaux jeux intéressants (Zulma, 1999) -
2003 Entretiens et conférences (in 2 volumes, Joseph K., 2003) -

Film

  • A Man Asleep - (film in 1973, with Bernard Queysanne)
  • Les Lieux d'une fugue, 1975
  • Ellis Island (TV film with Robert Bober)

References

  • Bellos, David. Georges Perec: A Life in Words. London: Harvill, 1993. ISBN 0002720221
  • Motte, Warren F. The Poetics of Experiment: A Study of the Work of Georges Perec. Lexington, KY: French Forum, 1984. ISBN 0917058518
  • Schwartz, Paul. "Georges Perec: Traces of His Passage. Birmingham, AL: Summa Publications, 1988. ISBN 0917786602

External links

All links retrieved March 21, 2011.

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