Georges Perec

Georges Perec

Georges Perec (7 March 1936 – 3 March 1982) was a highly-regarded French Jewish novelist, filmmaker and essayist. He was a member of the Oulipo group.


Perec was born, the only son of Icek Judko and Cyrla (Schulewicz) Peretz – Polish Jews who had emigrated to France in the 1920s – in a working-class district of Paris. He was a distant relative of the Yiddish writer I.L. Peretz. Perec's father, who enlisted in the French Army during World War II, died in 1940 from unattended gunfire or shrapnel wounds, and Perec's mother perished in the Nazi Holocaust, probably in Auschwitz. 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 "La Nouvelle Revue Française" and "Les Lettres Nouvelles", prominent literary publications, while studying history and sociology at the Sorbonne. In 1958–59 Perec served in the army, and married Paulette Petras after being discharged. They spent one year (1960–1961) in Sfax (Tunisia), where Paulette worked as a teacher.

In 1961, Perec began working at the Neurophysiological Research Laboratory attached to the Hôpital Saint-Antoine as an archivist, a low-paid position which he retained 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 Oulipo, which he joined in 1967, meeting Raymond Queneau, among others. Perec dedicated his masterpiece, "La Vie mode d'emploi" ("") 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 60s; 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 him 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 some financial and critical success – it won the "Prix Médicis" – and allowed him 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.


Many of his novels and essays abound with experimental wordplay, lists and attempts at classification, and they are usually tinged with melancholy.

Perec's first novel, "Les Choses" ("") was awarded the "Prix Renaudot" in 1965.

In 1978, Perec won the prix Médicis for "" (French title, "La Vie mode d'emploi"), possibly his best-known work. The 99 chapters of this 600 page piece move like a knight's tour of a chessboard around the room plan of a Paris apartment, describing the rooms and stairwell and telling the stories of the inhabitants.

[ Cantatrix Sopranica L.] is a spoof scientific paper detailing experiments on the "yelling reaction" provoked in sopranos by pelting them with rotten tomatoes. All the references in the paper are multi-lingual puns and jokes, e.g. "(Karybb et Scyla, 1973)".

Perec is also noted for his constrained writing: his 300-page novel "La disparition" (1969) is a lipogram, written without ever using the letter "e". It has been translated into English by Gilbert Adair under the title "A Void" (1994). The silent disappearance of the letter might be considered a metaphor for the Jewish experience during the Second World War. Since the name 'Georges Perec' is full of 'e's, the disappearance of the letter also ensures the author's own 'disappearance'.

His novella "Les revenentes" (1972) is a complementary piece in which the letter "e" is the only vowel used. This constraint affects even the title, which would conventionally be spelt "Revenantes". An English translation by Ian Monk was published in 1996 as "The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex" in the collection "Three".

It has been remarked by Jacques Roubaud that these two novels draw words from two disjoint sets of the French language, and that a third novel would be possible, made from the words not used so far (those containing both "e" and a vowel other than "e").

"W ou le souvenir d'enfance", ("W, or, the Memory of Childhood", 1975) is a semi-autobiographical work which is hard to classify. 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. Both merge towards the end when the common theme of the Holocaust is explained.

David Bellos wrote an extensive biography of Perec: "", which won the Académie Goncourt's "bourse" for biography of in 1994.

Association Georges Perec

The Association Georges Perec has extensive archives on the author in Paris.


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

Works by Perec

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

Works on Perec

* "Georges Perec: A Life in Words" by David Bellos (1993)

*"The Poetics of Experiment: A Study of the Work of Georges Perec" by Warren Motte (1984)
*"Perec ou les textes croisés" by J. Pedersen (1985). In French.
*"Pour un Perec lettré, chiffré" by J-M. Raynaud (1987). In French.
*"Georges Perec" by Claude Burgelin (1988). In French.
* "Georges Perec: Traces of His Passage" by Paul Schwartz (1988)
* "Perecollages 1981-1988" by Bernard Magné (1989). In French.
* "La Mémoire et l'oblique" by Philippe Lejeune (1991). In French.
* "Georges Perec: Ecrire Pour Ne Pas Dire" by Stella Béhar (1995). In French.
* "Poétique de Georges Perec: <<...une trace, une marque ou quelques signes>>" by Jacques-Denis Bertharion (1998) In French.
* "Georges Perec Et I'Histoire", ed. by Carsten Sestoft & Steen Bille Jorgensen (2000). In French.
* "La Grande Catena. Studi su "La Vie mode d'emploi" by Rinaldo Rinaldi (2004). In Italian.

External links

* [ L'Association Georges Perec, in French]
* [ Je me souviens de Georges Perec - comprehensive site in French by Jean-Benoît Guinot, with extensive bibliography of secondary material and links]
* [ Overview]
* [ Scriptorium - Perec]
* [ Reading Georges Perec, by Warren Motte]
* [ Perec's "Negative Autobiography"]
* [ "Récits d'Ellis Island" at IMDB]
* [ "Un homme qui dort" at IMDB]
* [ "Les Lieux d'une fuge" at IMDB]
* [ Georges Perèc o la Literatura como Arte Combinatoria. Instrucciones de uso | in Spanish | by Adolfo Vasquez Rocca]
* [ Pensar y clasificar; Georges Perèc, escritor y trapecista | in Spanish | by Adolfo Vasquez Rocca PhD]

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