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An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris Paperback – September 30, 2010
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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Long neglected by English-speaking scholars and Perec devotees for the author's other, more flamboyant endeavors, An Attempt... has remained a kind of secret treasure for those interested in Oulipo- and Situationist-inspired tracts of Paris. Marvelously simple and deceptively well-designed, Perec's slim volume presents itself as an artifact of the street, ushering the reader into a spontaneous phenomenology of words, conventional symbols, numbers, fleeting slogans, trajectories, colors, and, as he more technically describes them, means of locomotion, means of carrying, means of traction, degrees of determination or motivation, and body positions. --Erik Morse, bookforum.com, Sept. 24, 2010
About the Author
Georges Perec (1936-1982) was a French novelist, essayist, and filmmaker whose linguistic talents ranged from fiction to crossword puzzles to authoring the longest palindrome ever written. Winner of the prix Renaudot in 1965 for his first novel Things, and the prix Medicis in 1978 for his most acclaimed novel, Life A User's Manual, Perec was also a member of Oulipo, a group of writers and mathematicians devoted to the discovery and use of constraints to encourage literary inspiration. One of their most famous products was Perec's own novel, A Void, written entirely without the letter "e."
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Perec refers to the movie as The Lousy Gatsby, perhaps reflecting his own low opinion of the movie, but one wonders, had he already seen it? This Virilio sighting takes place on Saturday, October 19, but what the translator doesn’t make clear is that, although the notorious Mia Farrow-Robert Redford star vehicle had made its debut in the spring in America, it opened in Paris only three days before Virilio is spotted hurrying to see something Perec refers to as lousy. Hmm, portrait of Virilio as crowd-following trendoid? We all know people who have to see movies on opening week, even those with middling word-of-mouth. On paper Jack Clayton’s Gatsby looked like a sure thing, with Redford’s unstoppable golden boy appeal, paired with Mia Farrow’s still potent haunted poor little rich girl act. But when the movie came out, French people approved only of the look of the divine Lois Chiles as Jordan, and the approved American harpy slut routines of New American Cinema favorite Karen Black as Myrtle.
But these speculations are necessarily far removed from the chess problem Perec sets for us. What would you see if your gaze was confined to one of the busiest intersections on earth, one with dozens of buses every half hour, and car-loads of Japanese tourists snapping cameras at signposts? It’s like that Tati movie where you see through a see-through apartment building, into the mime-like silent lives of the tenants and visitors, but Perec cheats so much the payoff suffers. And were Japanese camerabugs and English schoolboys the only foreigners walking the Place de St. Sulpice that weekend? Perhaps so, otherwise he might have mentioned a few, here and there. A general exhaustion pervades the piece. He’s tired frequently. Perhaps the onset of the illness that did him in far too early? He’s just sitting there in cafes writing down snatches of “in the distance, two boys with red anoraks” and “a bird settles atop a lamppost,” together with snippets of the old color-chase game the Situationalists used to play, following a snarl of green paper blowing through the wind tunnel caused by the appearance of so many silent, snapping Japanese people staring aimlessly at French sights. The puzzle of mass tourism persists, decades after the horror nostalgia of Hiroshima Mon Amour, but here the Japanese are staring back on one’s own Place.
This short journal gives us a glimpse of how much life takes place through various periods in a day over 3 days.
Makes you feel a bit like you are with the author, sitting on a chair in a bar, observing.
I tried to estimate the hours he observed each day, and the minutes (880 min!), and then combined it in a graph relating all the words he wrote during each sitting. He did get tired by Day 3...