Georges Perec and Paris: AA files 45/46

Mark Rappolt (editor)

translated from the French
The Architectural Association 2002
A book review by Danny Yee © 2002
In 1969 Georges Perec began work on Lieux (Places), which was to consist of descriptions of twelve places in Paris, carried out every year for twelve years, once on the spot and once from memory. This was abandoned half-finished in 1975, but this double issue of AA files contains four of the partially completed "on the spot" stories, translated and introduced by Andrew Leak: "Scene in Italie", "Glances at Gaîté", "Comings and Goings in rue de l'Assomption", and "Stances on Mabilon". These are unpolished, and in their attention to the mundane and "infra-ordinary" sometimes banal, but they offer a fascinating window on the changing face of Paris and provoking approaches to observation, description, and memory.

With the exception of a long piece by William Firebrace on the work of W.G. Sebald, this forms the centre around which most of the other contributions fit: they are about Perec and his work, inspired by him, or about Paris.

Photographer Pierre Getzler accompanied Perec while he was writing parts of Lieux; an interview with him is accompanied by some of the resulting photographs. In "The Bartlebooth Follies" Paul Aster offers an introduction to Perec's best-known work Life a User's Manual (1978), which he began after abandoning Lieux. Tom Emerson's "From Lieux to Life" looks at themes running through Species of Spaces, Lieux, and Life A User's Manual. And Paul Virilio contributes two pieces on Perec.

Terry Smith's "In the morning, will I remember this?" is a diary of travels around North America, vaguely in the style of Lieux. Other contributions come from members of the Oulipo, the literary movement of which Perec was a leading member. There are short stories by Marcel Bénabou and Harry Mathews, several "metro" poems by Jacques Jouet (where each line is composed while the train is moving in between stations and written down when it stops), and a selection of poems about Paris and Perec by Jacques Roubaud.

Carlos Villanueva Brandt and Richard Wentworth contribute urban photo-montages. Jean Baptiste Morot writes about painting scenes of 18th century Paris for the film The Lady and the Duke. And Julian Green meditates on the architectural future of Paris.

All of this is packaged in an attractive volume. AA files is clearly a journal that aspires to be art, not just to discuss it, but it doesn't try too hard to be trendy. I found the overall mix of literary criticism, urbanism, fiction, poetry, and photography a nice balance between the familiar and the novel. It could be read by those completely unfamiliar with Perec, but for proper appreciation I would recommend reading at least Life A User's Manual first.

June 2002

External links:
- buy from
- review and links at the Complete Review
Related reviews:
- Georges Perec - A Void
- David Bellos - Georges Perec: A Life in Words
- more French literature
- more Oulipo
- books about architecture + urbanism
- more literary criticism
%T Georges Perec and Paris
%S AA files 45/46
%E Rappolt, Mark
%M French
%I The Architectural Association
%D 2002
%O paperback, colour, large format
%G ISBN 1902902254
%P 175pp