Georges Perec

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Georges Perec
Born (1936-03-07)7 March 1936
Paris, France
Died 3 March 1982(1982-03-03) (aged 45)
Ivry-sur-Seine, France
Occupation Novelist, Filmmaker, Essayist
Language French
Spouse Paulette Petras

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


Perec, who was born in a working-class district of Paris, was the only son of Icek Judko and Cyrla (Schulewicz) Peretz, Polish Jews who had emigrated to France in the 1920s. He was a distant relative of the Yiddish writer Isaac Leib Peretz. Perec's father, who enlisted in the French Army during World War II, died in 1940 from untreated gunfire or shrapnel wounds, and his mother perished in the Nazi Holocaust, probably in Auschwitz after 1943. 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 (XVIIIe Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes), 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 in the unit's research library funded by the CNRS and 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 varied data may have had an influence on his literary style. In any case, Perec's work on the reassessment of the academic journals under subscription was influenced by a talk about the handling of scientific information given by Eugene Garfield in Paris and he was introduced to Marshall McLuhan by Jean Duvignaud. 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 (Life A User's Manual) 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; his ashes are held at the columbarium of the Père Lachaise Cemetery.


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

Perec's first novel, Les Choses (Things: A Story of the Sixties) was awarded the Prix Renaudot in 1965.

His most famous novel, La Vie mode d'emploi (Life A User's Manual), was published in 1978. Its title page describes it as "novels", in the plural, the reasons for which become apparent on reading. La Vie mode d'emploi is a tapestry of interwoven stories and ideas as well as literary and historical allusions, based on the lives of the inhabitants of a fictitious Parisian apartment block. It was written according to a complex plan of writing constraints, and is primarily constructed from several elements, each adding a layer of complexity. The 99 chapters of his 600-page novel, move like a knight's tour of a chessboard around the room plan of the building, describing the rooms and stairwell and telling the stories of the inhabitants. At the end, it is revealed that the whole book actually takes place in a single moment, with a final twist that is an example of "cosmic irony". It was translated into English by David Bellos in 1987. Some critics have cited the work as an example of postmodern fiction.

Perec is 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 univocalic 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.

"Cantatrix sopranica L. Scientific Papers" 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 & Szyla, 1973)".[1]

David Bellos, who has translated several of Perec's works, wrote an extensive biography of Perec: Georges Perec: A Life in Words, which won the Académie Goncourt's bourse for biography in 1994.

The Association Georges Perec has extensive archives on the author in Paris.[2]

In 2013, Perec's initially rejected novel "Gaspar pas mort" (Gaspar is not dead), which was believed to be lost, was found by David Bellos amongst papers in the house of Perec's friend Alain Guérin.


Asteroid no. 2817, discovered in 1982, was named after Perec. In 1994, a street in the 20th arrondissement of Paris was named after him, rue Georges-Perec. The French postal service issued a stamp in 2002 in his honour; it was designed by Marc Taraskoff and engraved by Pierre Albuisson. For his work, Perec won the Prix Renaudot in 1965, the Prix Jean Vigo in 1974, the Prix Médicis in 1978.


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[edit]

Year Original French English translation
1965 Les Choses: Une histoire des années soixante (Paris: René Juillard, 1965) Les choses: A Story of the Sixties, trans. by Helen Lane (New York: Grove Press, 1967);
Things: A Story of the Sixties in Things: A Story of the Sixties & A Man Asleep trans. by David Bellos and Andrew Leak (London: Vintage, 1999)
1966 Quel petit vélo à guidon chromé au fond de la cour? (Paris: Denoël, 1966) 'Which Moped with Chrome-plated Handlebars at the Back of the Yard?', trans. by Ian Monk in Three by Perec (Harvill Press, 1996)
1967 Un homme qui dort (Paris: Denoël, 1967) A Man Asleep, trans. by Andrew Leak in Things: A Story of the Sixties & A Man Asleep (London: Vintage, 1999)
1969 La Disparition (Paris: Denoël, 1969) A Void, trans. by Gilbert Adair (London: Harvill, 1994)
1969 Petit traité invitant à la découverte de l'art subtil du go, with Pierre Lusson and Jacques Roubaud (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1969)
1972 Les Revenentes, (Paris: Editions Julliard, 1972) The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex, trans. by Ian Monk in Three by Perec (Harvill Press, 1996)
1972 Die Maschine, (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1972) The Machine, trans. by Ulrich Schönherr in "The Review of Contemporary Fiction: Georges Perec Issue: Spring 2009 Vol. XXIX, No. 1" (Chicago: Dalkey Archive, 2009)
1973 La Boutique obscure: 124 rêves, (Paris: Denoël, 1973) La Boutique Obscure: 124 Dreams, trans. by Daniel Levin Becker (Melville House, 2013)
1974 Espèces d'espaces (Paris: Galilée 1974) Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, ed. and trans. by John Sturrock (London: Penguin, 1997; rev. ed. 1999)
1974 Ulcérations, (Bibliothèque oulipienne, 1974)
1975 W ou le souvenir d'enfance (Paris: Denoël, 1975) W, or the Memory of Childhood, trans. by David Bellos (London: Harvill, 1988)
1975 Tentative d'épuisement d'un lieu parisien (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1975) An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, trans. by Marc Lowenthal (Cambridge, MA: Wakefield Press, 2010)
1976 Alphabets illust. by Dado (Paris: Galilée, 1976)
1978 Je me souviens, (Paris: Hachette, 1978) Memories, trans./adapted by Gilbert Adair (in Myths and Memories London: Harper Collins, 1986);
I Remember, trans. by Philip Terry and David Bellos (Boston: David R. Godine, 2014)
1978 La Vie mode d'emploi (Paris: Hachette, 1978) Life A User's Manual, trans. by David Bellos (London: Vintage, 2003)
1979 Les mots croisés, (Mazarine, 1979)
1979 Un cabinet d'amateur, (Balland, 1979) A Gallery Portrait, trans. by Ian Monk in Three by Perec (Harvill Press, 1996)
1979 film-script: Alfred et Marie, 1979
1980 La Clôture et autres poèmes, (Paris: Hachette, 1980) – Contains a palindrome of 1,247 words (5,566 letters).[3]
1980 Récits d'Ellis Island: Histoires d'errance et d'espoir, (INA/Éditions du Sorbier, 1980) Ellis Island and the People of America (with Robert Bober), trans. by Harry Mathews (New York: New Press, 1995)
1981 Théâtre I, (Paris: Hachette, 1981)
1982 Epithalames, (Bibliothèque oulipienne, 1982)
1982 prod: Catherine Binet's Les Jeux de la Comtesse Dolingen de Gratz, 1980–82
1985 Penser Classer (Paris: Hachette, 1985) "Thoughts of Sorts", trans. by David Bellos (Boston: David R. Godine, 2009)
1986 Les mots croisés II, (P.O.L.-Mazarine, 1986)
1989 53 Jours, unfinished novel ed. by Harry Mathews and Jacques Roubaud (Paris: P.O.L., 1989) 53 Days, trans. by David Bellos (London: Harvill, 1992)
1989 L'infra-ordinaire (Paris: Seuil, 1989)
1989 Voeux, (Paris: Seuil, 1989)
1990 Je suis né, (Paris: Seuil, 1990)
1991 Cantatrix sopranica L. et aitres écrits scientifiques, (Paris: Seuil, 1991) "Cantatrix sopranica L. Scientific Papers" with Harry Mathews (London: Atlas Press, 2008)
1992 L.G.: Une aventure des années soixante, (Paris: Seuil, 1992)

Containing pieces written from 1959–1963 for the journal La Ligne générale: Le Nouveau Roman et le refus du réel; Pour une littérature réaliste; Engagement ou crise du langage; Robert Antelme ou la vérité de la littérature; L'univers de la science-fiction; La perpétuelle reconquête; Wozzeck ou la méthode de l'apocalypse.

1993 Le Voyage d'hiver, 1993 (Paris: Seuil, 1993) The Winter Journey, trans. by John Sturrock (London: Syrens, 1995)
1994 Beaux présents belles absentes, (Paris: Seuil, 1994)
1999 Jeux intéressants (Zulma, 1999)
1999 Nouveaux jeux intéressants (Zulma, 1999)
2003 Entretiens et conférences (in 2 volumes, Joseph K., 2003)
2012 Le Condottière (Éditions du Seuil, 2012) Portrait of a Man (MacLehose Press, November 2014, forthcoming)
  • Un homme qui dort, 1974 (with Bernard Queysanne, English title: The Man Who Sleeps)
  • Les Lieux d'une fugue, 1975
  • Ellis Island (TV film with Robert Bober)

Works on Perec[edit]

  • 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.


  1. ^ "Mise en évidence expérimentale d'une organisation tomatotopique chez la soprano (Cantatrix sopranica L.)" (French)
    "Experimental demonstration of the tomatotopic organization in the Soprano (Cantatrix sopranica L.)"
  2. ^ Association Georges Perec
  3. ^ Georges Perec: "Le grand palindrome" in La clôture et autre poèmes, Hachette/Collection P.O.L., 1980

External links[edit]