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Posts Tagged ‘Georges Perec’

I Remember Georges Perec

July 30, 2014 | by


“I remember that Stendhal liked spinach.” Stendhal, Olof Johan Södermark, 1839, oil on canvas.

I remember reading Joe Brainard’s accumulated aphoristic memories for the first time. I remember the way each entry built on the one that preceded it, even when they had little to do with each another, and I remember the texture of the entire enterprise: a pointillist portrait of a man by way of his internal dialogue; his observations, at one time absorbed as impressions, sent back out into the world, now shaped by a unique river of associations.

I can only imagine the extent to which Brainard’s I Remember has influenced writers since he penned his flowing juxtapositions forty-four years ago. I had long thought Édouard Levé’s Autoportrait the most obvious example—a seemingly endless sequence of declarative sentences that coolly relate both trivialities and intimacies. But I’ve now discovered that Georges Perec got there first.

In 1970, Perec met Harry Mathews; Mathews introduced Perec to ideas then circulating in the New York art scene, including Brainard’s “serial autobiography,” which was then on the cusp of publication. The French writer likely never saw Brainard’s book, but tale of its concept—each sentence beginning with the phrase “I remember”—was enough to inspire him. Next month, the fruits of Perecs efforts, also titled I Remember, will be published in English for the first time, by David R. Godine.
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Everything Is Calm and Peaceful

March 7, 2014 | by


Georges Perec, best known for Life: A User’s Manual, was born on this day in 1936; he died at only forty-five. You can celebrate his birthday by reading a very celebratory poem of his, “Three Epithalamia,” which The Paris Review published in 1989. Granted, the occasion here is a wedding, not a birthday, but the jubilance, the insouciance, the joie de vivre—it’s all there. (A betrothed couple could do worse than to read this at their wedding.) Many happy returns, Georges; wherever you are, may it be as bucolic and festive as this poem.

It’s a delectable morning
the sun lights up the countryside
bees are gathering honey
a butterfly delicately alights by a mimosa
sheep are bleating
in the distance bells are ringing
everything is calm and peaceful

Read the whole thing here.



What We’re Loving: Fictional Memoirs, Unreliable Narrators

February 15, 2013 | by

51eJO4rgNrLAs we close our Spring Issue, plan our Spring Revel, and try to find a new office, I’ve been taking refuge in two books at once. At dinner I’m reading Edward Limonov’s outrageous and very funny “fictional memoir” It’s Me, Eddie, about living as a penniless émigré in a New York SRO. In later years, Limonov has had a confusing political career (he may be the only living Russian poet to have raised a private army or campaigned for Zhirinovsky), but back in 1978 he was pure punk. After dinner it’s the new translation of Climates, by André Maurois, an irresistible, micro-Proustian novel about a jealous husband and the woman who tries to save him. I can’t explain why these two books go so well together, except to note that each one broods on a painful breakup, and that I don’t want either one to end. —Lorin Stein

I’ve been paging through the late Richard Stern’s Still on Call, a collection of essays, reflections, and general miscellany. In one section, Stern describes his encounters with other writers, including a near-stalking of Sinclair Lewis in Central Park and a leisurely lunch with Thomas Mann, but it was Stern’s meeting with “Japan’s most distinguished poet,” Shuntarō Tanikawa, that especially interested me. Unfamiliar with Tanikawa, I tracked down a translation of his 1980 collection, At Midnight in the Kitchen I Just Wanted to Talk to You, and felt an immediate affinity after reading “My Favorite Things,” Tanikawa’s take on Oscar Hammerstein’s famous lyrics. If you can’t get your hands on a copy of the collection, you can still read the poem here—Brenna Scheving

Who writes a novel-length lipogram, and furthermore, who translates it? Sadists? Cat lovers without a cause? Georges Perec and Gilbert Adair have, respectively, accomplished this feat. A Void (translation of the French title, La disparition) could rescue you from the winter doldrums as a cerebral, cleverly disguised detective tale. Written sans the letter e, it forces you to acknowledge the absence while following the protagonist, Anton Vowl. In this paragraph alone, I have used e sixty-two times. If you need further evidence of Perec’s merit as a writer, look at his author photo. —Kendall Poe

I picked up a galley of The Other Typist on a whim, and from the first page was absorbed: I haven’t been able to put it down. Suzanne Rindell’s story of a 1920s police stenographer who becomes increasingly obsessed with a glamorous new typist reminds me at points of Notes on a Scandal and Patricia Highsmith, but has creepy charms all its own. —Sadie Stein



Finding Marie Chaix

August 23, 2012 | by

In 1970 I was living in France full-time, partly in Paris, partly in a mountain village on the fringe of the Alps. In that year I had the good fortune of becoming friends with the author Georges Perec, who had acquired a modicum of fame when his original first novel, Les Choses (Things), was awarded the Prix Renaudot, one of France’s prestigious literary prizes. Georges had read the French galleys of my own first novel shortly before it was published; he wrote me a short but enthusiastic note about it, which I gratefully answered. After an exchange of phone calls, we agreed to meet one autumn evening at the Bar du Pont Royal on Rue du Montalembert, where we drank five vodkas together, followed by a good dinner nearby. By the end of the evening we were fast friends. And he was the best of friends—smart, sensitive (at once funny and depressive), as loyal as the rising sun.

At the time, Georges was uncertain about what to do next as a writer. An editorial assistant at his publisher suggested he translate my second novel. After the in-house readers of English-language manuscripts had given the book unanimously negative reports, Georges decided to accept the task anyway and did the work on spec. The publisher accepted the novel as soon as he read Georges’s French version. A few years later, for another publisher, Georges produced a brilliant translation of my third novel. He also translated the first poems I published in France.

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Elusive Epigraphs; Travel Books

September 2, 2011 | by

Dear Mr. Stein, May I take advantage of the hospitality of your letters column to ask if you or your readers can help me to solve a small puzzle? I have come across an epigraph ascribed to Proust that heads the first chapter of Hamish Miles’s English translation of Édouard VII et son temps by André Maurois (King Edward and His Times, London: Cassell, 1933, p. 1). It reads: “Every social status has its own interest, and to the artist it can be just as compelling to show the ways of a Queen as the habits of a dressmaker. —Marcel Proust.” An excellent colleague of mine remarks that this certainly sounds genuine, and he even wondered if the aperçu came from the bit in Le Côté de Guermantes where Proust talks sniffily about grocers writing aristocratic novels, but I am afraid it is not there. Now we find that the epigraph is nowhere to be found in Maurois’s original French text, so the plot thickens. Much as I am tickled by the idea of an industrious and I daresay underappreciated translator recklessly concocting a spurious epigraph for the purpose of self-promotion, or worse, something tells me that there is an alternative explanation. So can anyone, do you think, identify these lines about “the ways of a Queen” and “the habits of a dressmaker,” and pin them on Proust? Thank you, Angus Trumble

We all hoped it was made up. But no. The epigraph comes from “An Historical Salon,” an essay—really, a celebrity profile—that Proust wrote for Le Figaro in late 1902. His subject is the Princesse Mathilde Bonaparte, a niece of Napoleon’s and the last Bonaparte to remain in Paris after the fall of the Second Empire. She was known for her literary salons, which included Mérimée, Flaubert, and the Goncourts. In the sentences you quote, Proust has just finished his you-are-there description of one of the princess’s soirées and he’s gearing up for the mini bio (which, in the case of Princesse Mathilde, is slightly delicate, since she left her first husband, a Russian tycoon, for another man, with the connivance of yet another uncle: Czar Nicholas I; it's good to know people).

As translated in F.W. Dupee’s edition of Pleasures and Days, the entire paragraph reads:

An artist will serve the truth only, and have no respect for rank. In his portrayals he will take rank into account as a principle of differentiation like nationality, race, or environment. All stations in society have their interest for an artist, and it is as exciting for him to picture the ways of a queen as the habits of a dressmaker. Read More »