Meet Georges Perec, an eccentric writer who used mathematics to write amazing books

Meet Georges Perec, an eccentric writer who used mathematics to write amazing books
Meet Georges Perec, an eccentric writer who used mathematics to write amazing books

Imagine writing a book without the most frequent letter of the alphabet – or with just a single vowel? Imagine writing a text that can be read front to back and back to front in the same way? Imagine conceiving a novel with 99 chapters, each with 42 restrictions? Imagine always writing surrounded by mathematical rules (and traumas), exploring the limits of language, literature and existence itself?

Well, we are faced with the inexhaustible work of Georges Perec. An eccentric writer who died in 1982, but left us incalculable enigmas – perhaps to be discovered, admired, or transcreated by his crazy and translunatic translators.

Born in 1936, the French Jewish writer was part of OuLiPo. The Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or Potential Literature Workshop, was created in 1960 as a response to the surrealists, as it proposed a literary practice based on the use of restrictions (from the French, contraints) mathematics, and no longer by waiting for “divine” inspiration or through automatic writing.

Perec, one of the main members, conceived works using structural constraints – lipograms, palindromes, magic squares and dozens of games. Reading Perec is to enter the unexpected universe of literature that seeks to govern the contingent world and calm the heart of this child traumatized by the premature loss of his parents.

Photo by writer Georges Perec (1936-1982). Photograph: Editions du Seuil/Disclosure

The writer’s mother died in Auschwitz and his father, at the war front when he was six years old. The boy lived in anguish, searching for memories of the little interaction he had with them. These longings, and also some restrictions, appear in their touching W or Childhood Memory It is Ellis Islandrecently published by Círculo de Poems in translation by Vinicius Carneiro and Mathilde Moaty.

Perec’s work involves mathematical and traumatic aspects. In Palindromea booklet with five thousand words that ended up in Guinness Book, Perec conceives literature capable of being read front to back and back to front. Perhaps an absurd way of confronting your childhood traumas, of thinking what life would be like if the past and present could return and take different paths other than those of the Holocaust and the Pogroms.

In Life How to Usethe book that contains 99 chapters and 42 restrictions in each of them, a preamble warns us that literature and life can be just a puzzle of an excellent (and evil?) Creator:

We can deduce something that is, without a doubt, the ultimate truth of the puzzle: despite appearances, it is not a solitary game – every gesture that the puzzle maker makes, the builder has already done before him; every piece he takes and takes back, examines, caresses, every combination he tries and tries again, every hesitation, every intuition, every hope, every fainting was decided, calculated, studied by the other.

Excerpt from ‘Life’s way of using’, by Georges Perec

Perec asks us: would it be possible to imagine all the possibilities of reading and control the reception of the work? Would it be plausible to understand human suffering? Would it be imaginable that something or someone manipulated all the events in the world? The answer, presented by him throughout his work, is a categorical no.

And to demonstrate this untranslatability and the contingency of pain, in 1969, Perec published the La Disparition (The Disappearance). A book with 300 or so pages in which the letter “e” (lipogram), the most common in the French language, never appears. Craziness? Insanity? Impossible project?

Parents, letters and absences

He said that, when the Nazis deprived him of socializing with the most important people in the world – père (father) and mère (mother) – he would also have to be able to write a book without the most important letter of the alphabet. Parents and letters always present, although missing. In 1972, Perec returned and took up these losses, these present absences, when writing the Les Revenentes. The missing “e” became present and powerful again.

In these books full of restrictions, a question is imposed: how is any type of translation possible? How to translate text, restriction, word and emotion? How to express our indescribable and inner pains? Perhaps this is what Perec tried to show explicitly and structurally. And perhaps that is why there is a need for a brilliant transcreator like the poet and translator Zéfere (in addition to other obsessive Perequians like Vinícius Carneiro) to enchant Perec’s work even more.

In The disappearance (Autêntica, 2015), Zéfere removed the “e” creating a transromance (which was awarded the Jabuti and the BN Prize). And, just like Perec, Zéfere brought him back exhaustively in his trans-invented Come backrecently released and also by Autêntica.

Cover of ‘Qe regressem’, by Georges Perec and translated by Zéfere. Photograph: Authenticity/Disclosure

The sarcastic, fun and pornographic Let them return it’s more of a mix of Perec (and now the translunatic Zéfere). Genius of literary hybridism, of juggling letters, numbers, lists, forms and restrictions, inventor and usurper of intertextuality and plagiarism-homage, Perec romanticizes a detective text with erotic touches and illogical enigmas.

A book to be read and re-read aloud – and with an attentive smile in your eyes. However, it is through monovocalism that Perec reveals what is hidden: his childish side. Of this traumatized and homesick boy. Pere and always be present to him, Perec. (Here I also made a perequian joke).

These obsessive mathematical devices in Perec functioned as an insistent attempt at elaboration. An experiment that saved him through writing, but condemned him to premature death at the age of 46 due to suffocation due to lung cancer. Here’s an invitation to have fun and suffocate with Perec’s restrictive juggling act.

*Jacques Fux is also an obsessive Perequian. In addition to having done a doctorate and post-doc on the author, written two theoretical books, he made use of restrictions in his books ‘Antiterapias’ (São Paulo Prize) and ‘The Things I Don’t Remember, Sou’ (FNLIJ Prize and finalist of Jabuti).

Read excerpt from ‘Qe Regressem’:

“Like cattle in check, seven green Mercedes-Benzes, with beige crepes hanging from them that make it impossible to see who is coming in them, go down West End Street and turn east into Temple Street. Not even quickly, they come between hedges and snags in which, very lightly, although vehemently, stretches Exeter Temple,1 which, suddenly, in front, fills with people, people who want to see who want to reveal themselves in these Mercedes .

– Who is it?

– It’s ok, Prete-Master! Excellence!

– You’re crazy, aren’t you? Must be a star! – frendem, without teeth, three senescents.

– Want to lose threepence? Want to see who Mel Ferrer is? – This guy believes he must be an expert in westerns.

– It doesn’t even come, it doesn’t even have it! It’s Peter Sellers! – deny seven TV-starved pedestrians.

– Mel Ferrer! Peter Sellers! Never! – fremes. – It’s Bérengère from Brémen-Brévent.

– Bérengère de Brémen-Brévent!! – exegesis that people repeat, although without believing you.

– It is – recresces –, it is Bérengère, Bérengère “The Qeen”, Bérengère “The Legs”, this being that has reverents in Dresden and Leeds, who made him worship standing in Rex, Sélect and Pleyel! Bérengère, that celestial being, a star among stars, famous in festivals and feasts! There are not even people who want him, nor are they about to hold back in front of Bérengère; Every time you undress, three, seven, a hundred of them get lost, you guys!

– And what does this xenhenhém have to see in Sé? Not even prayer works for you! – Bérengère belittles this beré-beré with the coat and clothes and who, suddenly, reprimands:

– What a stupid mind you have! If Bérengère comes to Exeter, it is because the one who governs this Temple is a descendant of semen and womb from whom Herbert Merelbeke descends, and, from Herbert, descends Thérèse Merelbeke, who had Bérengère as a master, and Bérengère always prefers Thérèse among those who had to teacher.

Without really understanding it, he moves and fiddles with his hester pence.

– And who is who in this train of descendants and masters who prefers those who don’t even see who they are?!?

His disdain hurts you, makes you boil, and it is urgent to be Zen, surrender, detach yourself from him and from these beings like him. Do you want to see Hélène? In front!

Pedestrianly, you follow and feel that there are people who are like snakes, without you carefully researching who and what they want to secret themselves and entangle:

– …See of Exeter, effervescent, is a setback…

– …It’s Bérengère who has setbacks: he must.

– …Want to sell belenggendéns that belong to you.

– Does it make a good profit if sold?

– …And is there anyone who can receive it?

– There are people in the Cathedral of Exeter who get involved!

– …eh-eh!…

You feel that a warm front is coming, even though it is windy. And entries get lost…”

Author: Georges Perec

Translation: Zefere

Publisher: Autêntica (144 pages; R$ 69.80 | E-book: R$ 48.90)

The article is in Portuguese

Tags: Meet Georges Perec eccentric writer mathematics write amazing books



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