Monday, April 16, 2012

Perec and the Excerpt of "Species of Spaces"

Georges Perec is a unique, joyful, bewildering, eccentric man. I've written on Perec in the past, specifically his novel La vie mode d'emploi or Life: A User's Manual in discussing his Oulipian approach to writing (namely his application of very specific constraints to his writing as a way of motivating himself), but I appreciate him even more after having read the excerpt from Species of Spaces.

The formatting of the novel is one of a slowly expanding frame of reference, going from the single page to the bed to the bedroom and so on all the way to the very outer reaches of the Universe, identifying the purpose of each space as he goes on. It's not a particularly restrictive form of writing (unlike the Herculean constraints of La vie mode d'emploi) but still has a specific pattern it must follow and narrative that develops as a result.

In spite of being vaguely formulaic, Perec has managed to make his piece--full of lists and schedules and various other non-literary texts--whimsical and a lot of fun to read. Letters and phrases bounce around the page in Chapter 1 in a way that predates Mark Danielewski by decades and reflects the works of Mallarme and others. It is entirely literal, but not in a way that feels dry or stale; rather, the self-conscious act of writing is for Perec a celebration (Perec calls writing "one of my principal activities" (12)) and his devious footnotes, such as the one where he reveals he actually just enjoys writing footnotes, regardless of whether they contribute to the argument at hand (11).

Could this narrative (a dream-like, nostalgic piece with a narrator that acts simultaneously as an impartial observer and a completely invested individual) have had the same effect if Perec had started at the furthest end of the macroscopic scale and worked his way down to the page? There is temptation to consider what this would mean in terms of tension, story arcs, etc. but ultimately I believe Perec's choice to go from small to large works very well; he creates an ever-larger setting from which to pull characters or memories that may inspire him to write. The memories, as they occur to him, are largely stream-of-consciousness and interrupt his personal monologue, but they don't feel intrusive; instead, they add a level of history to the rather two-dimensional map (I feel like I should say "no pun intended" but am fairly unsure why). I am exploring something similar in my zine project, though I am wary about the results.

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