Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More Georges Perec at Words Without Borders

The brilliant Words Without Borders website has published an interview between Martin Riker of the Dalkey Archive Press and French literature / Georges Perec expert Warren Motte. Here's a brief excerpt to whet your whistle:

“MR: So how did you get interested in Perec?

“WM: I came across Perec like I come across most of the writers I write about, reading in a haphazard manner: I go to France and go to my bookseller and pull books off the shelves more or less at random, and become interested in some and not others, and sort of bumble my way through French literature. And that's what I did with Perec, I came across A Void, and I came across his wonderful memoir-novel W, or the Memory of Childhood, and the books floored me. I've always been drawn to books that provide a variety of reading experiences, and Perec is very good for that. To take an obvious example, A Void, his book written using only words that do not contain the letter E. You can read that book on many different levels — on the level of the detective story, for instance, where the mystery is bound up in the fact that E has absconded from the alphabet. So you've got a hospital ward with 26 beds the fifth of which is empty, an encyclopedia set with 26 volumes but the fifth volume is absent, and so forth. But you can also watch this constraint work its way through the text on other levels, in terms of a literal poetics, or a narrative innovation. Perhaps most poignantly, you can watch as Perec's constraint enables this book to say things that Perec couldn't say otherwise. That is, the absent E becomes the signifier for other kinds of absences in Perec's life — the death of his parents, the fact that he felt he had lost his childhood, and so forth. The way that this process plays out enables him to say things that he could not have said in a more conventional way, things that were quite literally unsayable.

“Getting back to your original question, though: Perec's books floored me, and as is my wont when I find some really excellent books, I read everything I could of that particular writer. Then in 1978 when Life a User's Manual came out, that too floored me.”

As you know, we were floored too. Read the rest of this interview at the Words Without Borders website.

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