March 04, 2007

Perec Anniversary

It was only by chance that I discovered that yesterday (Saturday March 3rd) was the 25th anniversary of the death of Georges Perec (Wednesday 7th is the 71st anniversary of his birth). I've rootled around a little on the internet but there seems to be nothing in the way of new tributes to the man and his remarkable work, even in French. I would have thought that this sad jubilee was worth marking in some way, so here are my thoughts, for what they're worth.

Georges Perec is, for me, one of the most important authors I've read. I can think of few other writers who combined formal innovation with emotional clout so effortlessly, so that nothing in his work ever seemed gratuitous or there for show. Or who were so self-effacing and generous to their readers, so that, despite an underlying note of sadness, you can take his books almost as you want.

But more personally than this, Perec occupies a crucial place for me as he rescued me as a wannabe-writer from a trap of my own making. In my time as a student I became increasingly obsessed by the strand of modernism that seemed to find its final expression in the late work of Samuel Beckett, the slow boiling down of language that led to "Worstward Ho," "All Strange Away" and, in particular, "Ill Seen Ill Said." I wanted to write but couldn't see where the room was left for me and, in particular, my desperate story-telling urges, which seemed a little vulgar when set against, "White walls. High time. White as new. No wind. Not a breath."

A friend of mine showed me "Life: A User's Manual" just after I left college and suddenly I could sense something like a way forward - a way to fold endless stories and tales in on themselves without sacrificing any of the rigour or, indeed, the emotional weight of those austere short novels I had been so affected by. It's probably the only book I've consistently re-read over the following seventeen years and each time I return to it I find new ways to view it, different aspects of its construction becoming clear, even the compulsive imagining of seventies furnishings becoming increasingly poignant as they (and I) age. As a writer I've failed again and again to come anywhere near the formal beauty of any of Perec's hugely broad body of work, the quality of its writing and, perhaps most damningly, the generosity of its vision. He remains a (profoundly humbling) inspiration.


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Blah said...

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