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Perec in English

1. There are three pieces by Perec which exist in English - kinds of English - without their having a French "original":

1.1. "Experimental Demonstration of the Tomatotopic Organization in the Soprano (Cantatrix Sopranica L)." A scientific spoof written for the bound collection of articles presented to a laboratory colleague on her retirement in 1974, "Experimental Demonstration" was published in America in Sub-stance no. 29 (1981), and in Bostonia 6 (Winter 1991-92). It is most easily found in a posthumous collection of pastiches: Georges Perec, Cantatrix Sopranica L et autres ecrits scientifiques (Paris: Le Seuil, 1991).

1.2. "The Doing of Fiction" (1981), first published in this issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction.

1.3. "Morton's Ob" (1981), a one-page univocalic (using o as its only vowel), reproduced in David Bellos, Georges Perec. A Life in Words (London: Harvill, 1993).

2. Eight works by Perec which appeared as books in French have been translated into English in whole or in part:

2.1. Les Choses. Une histoire des anntes soixante. Paris: Julliard, 1965. Prix Renaudot. The first translation, by Helen Lane, was published by Grove Press (New York) in 1968 (dated 1967) under the tide Les Choses. A Story of the Sixties. The second translation, by David Bellos, was published together with a Man Asleep, by David R. Godine (Boston), in 1990, under the title Things. A Story of the Sixties. The same text was published in London by Harvill, and then by the same publisher in paperback format in 1991. Chapter 10 of Things appeared in Translation: The Journal of Literary Translation (New York) 23 (Spring 1990): 30-36, under the editorial title of "Fields of Plenty." Chapters 1 and 10 of Things appeared in Scripsi (Melbourne, Australia) 6.1 (February 1990): 141-49, with some variants. Things was awarded a special commendation by the panel of the Scott-Moncrieff Prize for translation in November 1991.

2.2. Un Homme qui dort. Paris: Denoel, 1991. Two extracts (corresponding to pp. 88-95 and 111-16 of the original), translated by Harry Mathews, were published in Paris Review (New York) no. 56 (1973): 49-56, under the title "Between Sleep and Waking." The text of the voice-over of the film made from the novel by Perec and Bernard Queysanne, released in 1974, was translated by Harry Mathews and read by Shelley Duval in the English-language version, entitled A Man in a Dream. The film-text is almost identical to the novel, save for several passages omitted and a number of continuity adjustments. The novel was translated by Andrew Leak and published under the title A Man Asleep, together with Things, by David R. Godine (Boston) in 1990. The same text was published in London by Harvill, and then by the same publisher in paperback format in 1991.

2.3 La Disparition. Paris: Denoel, 1969. The first fragment of Perec's lipogram-novel to appear in English was in Harry Mathews's article "Vanishing Point," in American Book Review (November-December 1981). Further passages translated by Harry Mathews appeared in "That Ephemeral Thing," New York Review of Books, 6 June 1988. A translation of the whole novel by John Lee, entided Vanish'd!, and another translation by Ian Monk, remain unpublished. Extracts from John Lee's translation appeared in 1988 alongside his article "On translating La Disparition" (see below), and Lee's English versions of Perec's lipogrammatic translations of well-known French poems were published in PN Review (Manchester, UK) 15.6 (1989): 18-19. Gilbert Adair's translation, provisionally entitled A Void, is due to be published in London by Harvill in 1993.

2.4. Especes d'espaces. Paris: Galilee, 1974. An extract translated by Harry Mathews was published under the title "Space" in Grand Street (New York), Fall 1983 issue.

2.5. W ou le souvenir d'enfance. Paris: Denoel, 1975. W or The Memory of Childhood Translated by David Bellos. Boston: David R. Godine, 1988. The same text was published in London by Harvill, and by the same publisher in paperback format in 1989. Chapters 2, 4,12, 13, 30, and 31 of this translation appeared in Sclipsi (Melbourne, Australia) 5.2 (April 1989): 113-30. A short extract translated by Leonard R. Koos was published in Yale French Studies, July 1989, p. 193.

2.6. Je me souviens. Paris: Hachette/Collection P.O.L., 1978. Gilbert Adair, Myths and Memories (London: Fontana, 1986), 157-205 is an explicit imitation of Perec's work.

2.7. La Vie mode d'emploi. Paris: Hachette/Collection P.O.L., 1978. Prix Medicis. Chapter 27, translated by Harry Mathews, was published under the title "Underground" in Grand Street (New York), Fall 1983 issue. Chapter 74, translated by Harry Mathews, was published under the title "Rorschasch 3" in Fiction International (San Diego), in 1983, and then reprinted in Atlas Anthology 2 London: Atlas, 1984), 59-63. The whole novel, translated by David Bellos, and incorporating the chapters translated by Mathews with minor modifications, was published as Life A User's Manual by David R. Godine (Boston) in 1987 in both hardback and trade paperback format. (This trade paperback was also brought out by the Quality Paperback Book Club in 1988.) The same text was published in London by Harvill, then by the same publisher in paperback format in 1988. The U.K. paperback was reprinted with corrections in 1989, and reissued in 1990. The first issue was released in three different jacket colors; altogether six different jacket colors (black, red, blue, green, magenta, yellow) have been issued so far. Life A User's Manual was awarded the 1988 IBM-France translation prize by the French-American Foundation.

2.8. Recits d'Ellis Island Histoires d'errance et d'espoir. Paris: Hachette/Le Sorbier, 1981. The text of the two-hour television documentary made by Perec and Robert Bober in 1979, first broadcast in 1980, was translated for the English-language version of the program by Harry Mathews, who also read the voice-over in part 1. English title: Ellis Island Revisited: Tales of Vagrancy and Hope.

2.9. "53 jours." Edited by Harry Mathews and Jacques Roubaud. Paris: P.O.L., 1989. "53 Days." Translated by David Bellos. Londen: Harvill, 1992, in cloth and trade paperback formats. Excerpts from the unfinished posthumous detective novel appear in this issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction (44-56), and the book will be published in America later this year by David R. Godine.

3. Several shorter pieces by Perec have also appeared in English:

3.1. "Histoire du lipogramme" (1969). Translated by Warren Motte as "History of the Lipogram," in his Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), 97-108.

3.2. "Roussel et Venise. Esquisse d'une geographie melancolique" (1977). With Harry Mathews. Translated by Harry Mathews and Anthony Melville as "Roussel and Venice: Outline of a melancholic geography," in Atlas Anthology 3 (London: Atlas, 1985), 69-86. Reprinted in Harry Mathews's Immeasurable Distances. The Collected Essays (Venice, CA: Lapis Press, 1991), 83-107.

3.3. "Notes sur ce que je cherche" (1978). Translated by David Bellos as "Statement of Intent" in this issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction.

3.4. "Le Voyage d'hiver" (1979). Translated by David Bellos as "The Winter Journey" in Encounter (London), July-August 1985, with U.K. spellings; then in Conjunctions (New York) no. 12 (Fall 1988), with U.S. spellings; then as a book, in a limited edition with covers illustrated by M. Aston, published by Post-Industrial Press (Greensboro, PA) in 1990, with U.K. spellings restored.

3.5. "Avez-vous lu Harry Mathews?" (1981). Translated by Harry Mathews as "Avez-vous lu Harry Mathews?" in Review of Contemporary Fiction 7.3 (Fall 1987): 82-83.

3.6. "Still Life/Style Leaf" (1981). Translated by Harry Mathews as "Still Life/Style Leaf" in Yale French Studies 61 (1982): 299-305.

3.7. Epithalames (1981). Translated by Harry Mathews as "Three Epithalamia" in Paris Review no. 112 (Winter 1989): 68-77.

4. There are also some works by Perec which have been translated into English but which for various reasons are not yet in course of publication:

4.1. Les Revenentes (1972). Translated by Ian Monk as "The Revenents."

4.2. Theatre I (1980). Translated by David Bellos. Comprises "The Increment" (L'Augmentation, 1969) and "The Warp" (La Poche Parmentier, 1974).

4.3.Penser/Classer (1985). Translated by David Bellos as "Thoughts of Sorts." Includes "Statement of Intent" and "81 Easy-Cook Recipes for Beginners," included in this issue.

Perec's Titles

Perec's titles are unorthodox delights. Those which call for particular attention from English readers, or which provoked English translators to rivalry, are:

1.3. "Morton's Ob," which appears to be in (an odd kind of) English, but is designed to be said aloud at speed with a French accent.

2.1. Les Choses, a stark and striking use of a neutral, unmarked term for "things," adopted at a very late stage in the novel's composition, to replace a more conventional title, La Grande Aventure ("The Great Adventure"). Helen Lane left Les Choses untranslated, following the style of many other French novels brought into English with their tides intact (Le Pere Goriot, La Rabouilleuse, Madame Bovary, L'Assommoir, etc.). The second translation, Things, aims to simulate the unusual quality of the original.

2.2. Un Homme qui dort is a well-known phrase from a famously long sentence by Marcel Proust. Harry Mathews's translation for the film version, "A Man in a Dream," gives the sense of Perec's use of the phrase in the work as a whole. Andrew Leak's later version, A Man Asleep, attempts to give English readers something of the "echo-effect" of Perec's use of Proust, since it is close to the form that the phrase has in Scott-Moncrieff's translation of Remembrance of Things Past, as revised by Terence Kilmartin.

2.3. La Disparition means "Disappearance," a word which cannot appear in a novel constituted exclusively by words that do not have the letter e.

2.7. La Vie mode d'emploi. Early mentions of Perec's masterpiece, which took nearly a decade to plan and to write, have the form La Vie, mode d'emploi (for example, in Especes d'espaces, p. 77). The folder in which Perec kept notes and drafts for the novel was labeled La Vie (Mode d'emploi). However, the published text is entitled La Vie mode d'emploi, with no comma, nor any other form of punctuation to separate "Life" from "Instructions for use." Perec faced resistance from his publisher and from others over the apparent incorrectness of his formula, but the author's firm view of what his title was prevailed in the end. The results have been gratifying. "X mode d'emploi" has been taken up by other writers (notably, in a controversial self-help pamphlet for suicides, Suicide mode d'emploi) and in countless newspaper headlines. Perec's "incorrect" formula is now used by many French speakers who have never even dipped into La Vie mode d'emploi. Italo Calvino refers to Perec's novel as Life, Instructions for Use (see below, Six Memos for the Next Millenium), and several other more or less fanciful versions have been proposed at different times, from Georges Perec's Great Novel Compendium Telling You All You Need to Know About Life to Life. The Works. Life A User's Manual imposed itself for the English translation partly because it allows (just about) the anomalous nonpunctuation of the French title to be respected. Overzealous correctors and the British Library Catalogue notwithstanding, the true English title has no comma, colon, or period. The French subtitle, romans, means "novels," and is an unorthodox and simple way of underlining the work's multiplicity. The English subtide is "Fictions," used for its plural value, despite the fact that it appears to allude to a work by Jorge Luis Borges. One extract translated by Harry Mathews carries the chapter title "Rorschasch 3," in the form in which Perec wrote it in French. The German translator, Eugen Helmle, pointed out to Perec that the Swiss town is called Rorschach and that he could not bring himself to write the anomalous Rorschasch in German. Perec allowed the name of the character, and therefore the chapter title, to be altered; and the English translation in book form follows the German. Perec's replies to Helmle seem to have constituted his last words on the text.

3.6. "Still Life/Style Leaf" is intended to be in English, but only because of Perec's imperfect command of phonetics: to our ears, it is not the vowel-pattern that Perec thought it was. (Only "Steel Life/Style Leaf" or "Still Life/Style Life" would achieve that, at the expense of meaning.) So (English) "Still Life/Style Leaf" is a "translation" of (French) "Still Life/Style Leaf," if by translation you mean " something different"; and simultaneously not a translation, if by "translation" you mean something that "says the same."

Secondary Sources in English

excluding articles in this issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction


Leblon, Jean, ed. Les Choses, by Georges Perec. New York: Appleton Century Crofts, 1969. Gives the text in French, together with an introduction and notes in English which Perec is said to have found hilarious. Motte, Warren, Jr. The Poetics of Experiment: A Study of the Works of Georges Perec. Lexington: French Forum, 1984. Schwartz, Paul. Georges Perec: Traces of His Passage. French Forum Monographs. Birmingham: Summa Publications, 1988. Mathews, Harry. 20 Lines a Day. Elmwood Park, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1988. Deals in part with reactions to Perec's death. _____ . The Orchard. Flint, MI: Bamberger Press, 1988. Also in Mathews's The Way Home. Collected Longer Prose (London: Atlas, 1989), 83-110. _____ . Immeasurable Distances: The Collected Essays. Venice, CA: Lapis Press, 1991. Contains "Roussel and Venice: Outline of a Melancholic Geography" (173-85), "The Oulipo" (173-85), "Georges Perec" (211-20), "Vanishing Point" (223-229), "|That Ephemeral Thing'" (231-45). Bellos, David. Georges Perec. A Life in Words. London: Harvill, 1993.


Bellos, David. "Georges Perec." In World Authors 1980-1985. Ed. Vineta Colby. New York: W. H. Wilson Company, 1990. 683-86. Calvino, Italo. Six Memos for the Next Millenium. Translated by Patrick Creagh. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988. 121-23. Roudiez, Leon. "Georges Perec." In French Fiction Revisited. Elmwood Park, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1991. 290-305.


Astro, Alan. "Allegory in Georges Perec's W ou le souvenir d'enfance." Modern Language Notes 102.6 (1987): 866-76. Bellos, David. "Literary Quotations in Perec's La Vie mode d'emploi." French Studies (U.K.) 42.2 (1987): 181-94. _____. "Georges Perec's Puzzling Style." Scripsi (Melbourne, Australia) 5.1 (1988): 63-77; reprinted with variants in PN Review (Manchester, U.K.) 15.6 (1989): 12-17. _____. "Georges Perec and the Art of Deception." Manchester Memoirs 128 (1990): 107-18. _____. "|Le Moyen fait partie de la verite': The Language of Georges Perec's Les Choses." Journal of the Institute of Romance Studies (London) 1 (1992): 325-33. Day, Leroy. "Narration and Story in Georges Perec's Les Choses. Symposium 43.4 (Winter 1989-90): 248-59. Goodman, Lanie. "Un Cabinet d'amateur. An Optical Disillusion." Substance 29 (1981). Josipovici, Gabriel. "Georges Perec's Homage to Joyce (and Tradition)." Yearbook of English Studies (U.K.) 15 (1985): 179-200. Koos, Leonard. "Georges Perec: P or the Puzzle of Fiction." Yale French Studies, The French Novel Today (Special Issue) (1989): 185-88. Leak, Andrew. "Perec's W." Scripsi (Melbourne, Australia) 5.2 (1989): 131-51. Lee, John. "On Translating La Disparition." Times Literary Supplement, 2 September 1988, 958. _____. "Perec Translations." PN Review (U.K.) 15.6 (1989): 18-19. Mathews, Harry. "Georges Perec." Grand Street (New York) 3.1 (1983): 136-45. Motte, Warren F., Jr. "Georges Perec on the Grid." French Review 57.6 (1984): 820-32. Noreiko, Stephen. "Note on 8 or [infinite]." Quinquereme 6 (1983): 102-5. _____. "La Vie mode d'emploi." Orbis Litterarum 39 (1984): 148-59. Ribiere, Mireille. "Doing Theory. " Paragraph (U.K.) 12 (1989): 56-64. Schwartz, Paul. "Georges Perec's Un Cabinet d'amateur. Portrait of the Artist as Iconoclast." Perspectives on Contemporary Literature 13 (1987): 11-17.

SELECTED REVIEWS (in chronological order)

Lennon, Peter. "English Shoes." New York Times Book Review, 16 June 1968, 32. Burgess, Anthony. "Things but not people." (London) Independent, 24 September 1987. Auster, Paul. "The Bartlebooth Follies." New York Times Book Review, 15 October 1987, 7. Josipovici, Gabriel. "Celebrations in a house of fiction." Times Literary Supplement, 30 October 1987, 1191-92. Mobilio, Albert. "Perpetual Notion Machines." Voice Literary Supplement, 5 November 1987, 11. Mathews, Harry. "|That Ephemeral Thing.'" New York Review of Books, 6 June 1988, 34-37. Brandmark, Wendy. "Brilliant Book by Perec." Literary Review (London), October 1988, 20-21. Rutherford, Andrew. "Life Regained (Perec's Rules of the Game)." Scripsi (Melbourne, Australia) 5.1 (1988): 79-87. Ford, Mark. "Pretzel." London Review of Books, 2 February 1989, 15-17. Slater, Maya. "The Game of Life." Encounter (London), July 1989. Riemer, Andrew. "In Search of Georges Perec," Sydney Morning Herald, 15 January 1990. George, David. "An Elusive Search." Jerusalem Post, 23 August 1990. Parrinder, Patrick. "Funny Old Fame." London Review of Books, 10 January 1991, 18.
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Title Annotation:Georges Perec/Felipe Alfau
Author:Bellos, David
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Bibliography
Date:Mar 22, 1993
Previous Article:Perec's painterly eye.
Next Article:Felipe Alfau: curriculum vitae.

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