Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 14

Georges Perec on the Grid

Author(s): Warren F. Motte, Jr.


Source: The French Review, Vol. 57, No. 6 (May, 1984), pp. 820-832
Published by: American Association of Teachers of French
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/392433
Accessed: 10-03-2019 08:57 UTC

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide
range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and
facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at
https://about.jstor.org/terms

American Association of Teachers of French is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize,


preserve and extend access to The French Review

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
THE FRENCH REVIEW, Vol. LVII, No. 6, May 1984 Printed in U.S.A.

Georges Perec on the Grid

by Warren F. Motte, Jr.

GEORGES PEREC'S DEATH ON 3 MARCH 1982, four days short of his forty-sixth
birthday, abruptly truncated what had promised to be a long and brilliant
literary career. From his first novel, Les Choses (1965),1 until his death, Perec's
production testifies to his remarkable artistic curiosity, his technical virtuosity,
and his faith in the regenerative power of experiment.
In 1978, after accepting the Prix Medicis for La Vie mode d'emploi,2 Perec
commented on his literary quest in a short article entitled "Notes sur ce que je
cherche":

Mon ambition d'ecrivain serait de parcourir toute la litterature de mon temps, sans
jamais avoir le sentiment de revenir sur mes pas ou de remarcher dans mes propres
traces, et d'ecrire tout ce qu'il est possible a un homme d'aujourd'hui d'&crire: des
livres gros et des livres courts, des romans et des poemes, des drames, des livrets
d'opera, des romans policiers, des romans d'aventures, des romans de science-
fiction, des feuilletons, des livres pour enfants . . . .

Indeed, a glance at Perec's career reveals a conscious laboring toward the


goal described above. Les Choses and 53 jours (the project he was working on
at the time of his death)4 frame his novelistic production. Between these two,
Perec pursued his ambition in a number of texts whose only apparent shared
characteristic is their generic tag, demonstrating in passing the breadth of terrain
encompassed by the term "novel': Quel petit vilo a guidon chrome au fond de la
cour?, Un Homme qui dort, La Disparition, Les Revenentes, La Vie mode d'emploi,
Un Cabinet d'amateur.f Perec's poetry is equally diverse: his two principal
collections, Alphabets and La Cl6ture et autres poemes, offer texts ranging from
' Les Choses: une histoire des annees soixante (Paris: Julliard, 1965). Awarded the Prix Renaudot,
Les Choses became an enormous success, not only in the original, but in sixteen different translations.
Fifteen years after its publication, it continued to sell at the rate of twenty thousand copies a year
in France alone. (Personal interview with Georges Perec, 22 July 1980.)
2 La Vie mode d'emploi (Paris: Hachette, 1978). Harry Mathews, whose Tlooth and The Sinking of
the Odradek Stadium were translated into French by Perec as Les Verts champs de moutarde de
l'Afghanistan (Paris: Denoel, 1974) and Le Naufrage du Stade Odradek (Paris: Hachette, 1981), is
preparing an English translation of La Vie mode d'emploi.
" Notes sur ce que je cherche," Le Figaro, 8 December 1978, p. 28.
4 Hachette intends to publish this unfinished text in the POL collection. See "Le Roman inachev,&"
Le Monde, 12 March 1982, p. 17.
s Quel petit velo h guidon chrome au fond de la cour? (Paris: Denoel, 1966); Un Homme qui dort
(Paris Denoel, 1967); La Disparition (Paris: Denoel, 1969); Les Revenentes (Paris: Julliard, 1972); Un
Cabinet d'amateur: histoire d'un tableau (Paris: Balland, 1979).
820

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
GEORGES PEREC ON THE GRID 821

bilingual and acrostic verse to palin


where, he has experimented with
also active in the domains of theat
and La Poche Parmentier,8 are exp
musical theatre, Horspiel, film, and
Other texts among his major wor
invitant a la dicouverte de l'art sub
Jacques Roubaud and Pierre Lusson
Go; La Boutique obscure chronicl
Especes d'espaces oscillates between
W ou le souvenir d'enfance juxtaposes
ical; Je me souviens is a collection
generation.10
Finally, Perec contributed very sig
Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle
founded in 1960 by Raymond Qu
time of his entry in 1967 until his
group's activities; his efforts are
collections that have been publishe
Oulipo: Atlas de litt&ature potentiel
Faced with such an enormously h
is to search for constants-and ind
be traced to the influence of Oulipian
constraint, systematic artifice, the

6 Alphabets (Paris: Galilee, 1976); La Cl6ture


matic poetry is a form in which each verse
verse within that unity.
7 Examples of these may be found in Oul
recreations (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), pp. 239
in which each verse of a given poetic unity c
it; the popular term for this very ancient
which both augments (from one to eleve
snowball.'

8 In Thedtre I (Paris: Hachette, 1981). L'Augmentation, ou comment, quelles que soient les condi
sanitaires, psychologiques, climatiques, iconomiques ou autres, mettre le maximum de chances de
c6te en demandant a votre chef de service un rjadjustement de votre salaire was first performed a
Th6etre de la Gaiete-Montparnasse, 26 February 1970; La Poche Parmentier at the Th6itre de
12 February 1974.
' For a complete listing of these activities, see the "Bibliographie sommaire," L'Arc, 76 (1979),
96. This issue of L'Arc is devoted to Perec and his work; the bibliography was prepared by
himself, and includes his entire production until 1979.
1o Petit traite invitant h la dicouverte de l'art subtil du go (Paris: Bourgois, 1969); La Bout
obscure: 124 raves (Paris: Denoel, 1973); Especes d'espace: Journal d'un usager de l'espace (
Galilee, 1974); W ou le souvenir d'enfance (Paris: Denoel, 1975); Je me souviens (Paris: Hache
1978).
" See note 7; Oulipo: Atlas de littirature potentielle (Paris: Gallimard, 1981); La Bibliotheque
Oulipienne (Geneve: Slatkine, 1981).

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
822 FRENCH REVIEW

matical structures in th
postulate and analyze on
insistent in Perec's wor
would seem to be radica
As a starting point, on
the importance of the
In addition to his variou
merit. From 1976 until
Le Point; 130 of these are offered in a collection entitled Les Mots croises de
Georges Perec.12 Initially, this would seem to be the most banal element of
Perec's work (apart, surely, from the service de presse). However, lucid consid-
eration of the form of the crossword puzzle and a reading of Perec's prefatory
essay in Les Mots croisis, "Sur l'art et la maniere de croiser les mots,' suggest
that Perec's cruciverbal production is animated by many of the same concerns
that underlie his "literary" work.
Speaking of the methodology employed in making crossword puzzles, Perec
argues that the construction of the grid and the elaboration of the definitions
are two distinct operations: "La construction de la grille est une tache fastidieuse,
minutieuse, maniaque, une sorte d'arithmetique a la base de lettres . . . c'est un
systeme de contraintes primaires out la lettre est omnipresente mais d'oui le
langage est absent" (pp. 3-4). The construction of the grid necessarily precedes
the elaboration of the definitions: Perec characterizes the latter work as "un
travail fluide, impalpable, une promenade au pays des mots' (p. 4). In noting
these differences, Perec suggests that the completed grid and definitions are the
result of two distinct kinds of thought process:

Les deux operations impliquent des facultes mentales qui pourraient presque sembler
contradictoires: dans la premiere, on procede par essais et erreurs, en recommenpant
vingt ou trente fois une grille jugee toujours trop imparfaite; dans la seconde, on
privile'gie l'intuition, la trouvaille, la brusque illumination: la premiere se fait a table,
avec obstination et acharnement, en tatonnant, en comptant, en effapant; la seconde
se fait plut6t a toute heure du jour ou de la nuit, sans y penser, en flanant, en
laissant son attention flotter librement dans le sillage des mille et une associations
evoquees par tel ou tel mot. (Pp. 4-5)

The primacy of the grid, of the constraining structure, is clear. Moreover, this
structure may be more or less constraining. In this connection, it would perhaps
be appropriate to point out the essential difference between Anglo-Saxon and
French crossword puzzles: in the former, the symmetric distribution of the black
squares is of prime importance, while the latter is judged by the number of
black squares it contains; that is, in the French tradition, all other things being
equal, a grid with five black squares is superior to one with six: as the difficulty
of the problem posed increases, so, too, does the elegance of the solution. It
should also be noted that if this aesthetic of the difficulte vaincue guides the

12 Les Mots croises de Georges Perec (Paris: Mazarine, 1979).

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
GEORGES PEREC ON THE GRID 823

puzzle-maker, it equally guides t


a mirror image of that of the fo
the grid, then passes on to the
definitions, arrives at a decoding
jigsaw puzzle, demonstrated that
of any sort of puzzle:

On en deduira quelque chose qui es


des apparences, ce n'est pas un je
puzzle, le faiseur de puzzles l'a fait
qu'il examine, qu'il caresse, chaqu
chaque tatonnement, chaque intuit
ete d'cides, calcules, etudies par l'au

Moreover, Perec in Les Mots croise


though dominated in the case of
characterized by its serious conte

Ce n'est pas par hasard si, dans les


composait les grilles et "CEdipe" cel
croissante de la psychanalyse a char
il n'en demeure pas moins, d'une pa
j'ose m'exprimer ainsi, d'une simplic
jeu, dans les mots croises comme en
du sens, cette "inquietante etranget
conscient du langage. (P. 11)

Can we in good faith consider the


for language? Perec, in any case, s
one step further: his description o
de contraintes primaires" and an
Oulipian poetic theory, wherein,
constraint and the adaptation of
assume capital importance. Perec
puzzle is revelatory not only of th
Before attempting to demonstrat
be productive to examine briefly
centers on a form combining g
dicouverte de l'art subtil du go w
(Perec, Jacques Roubaud, and Pier
ceived to stimulate interest in the
played with pawns on a grid of e
rules of play are very simple, the
Go is both ancient and Oriental i
the Petit traits, as they review no
also the mythology, history, trad

13 La Vie mode d'emploi, p. 18.

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
824 FRENCH REVIEW

of Go. But, curiously e


comes to serve as a pre
of "la vocation poetiqu
the game of Go rivaled
the game in the followin
jeu de Babel" (p. 38); th
a comparison of Go an
explicit:
11 n'existe qu'une seule activite' a laquelle se puisse
raisonnablement comparer le Go.
On aura compris que c'est I'ecriture. (P. 42)

From that point onward, as one game will lead to another, the authors give free
rein to their verbal play.
In both Les Mots croises and the Petit traite, then, Perec's interest is centered
upon a game that derives its structure from the grid. Moreover, Perec argues
that both the crossword puzzle and the game of Go are in some fashion related
to poetic concerns. It should not be wholly surprising, therefore, to find these
three elements, the grid, the game, and the poetic, juxtaposed in Perec's literary
work.

Perec's heterogrammatic poetry is a case in point. "Ulcerations,"14 for instance,


is a long poem consisting of 399 successive anagrams of the title; the letters
appearing therein are the eleven most frequently used letters in French. The
manner in which the poem is presented on the printed page gives no clue as to
its underlying form; on the contrary, it seems both lisible and relatively nor-
mative, as a brief glance at its first four lines will demonstrate:

Coeur a l'instinct sa6ul


reclus a tr6ne inutile,
Corsaire coulant secourant l'isole,
crains-tu la course intruse?

These four lines of "free verse," however, comprise in fact eight and four-
elevenths lines of "heterogrammatic verse":
C-O-E-U-R-A-L-I-N-S-T
I-N-C-T-S-A-O-U-L-R-E
C-L-U-S-A-T-R-O-N-E-I
N-U-T-I-L-E-C-O-R-S-A
I-R-E-C-O-U-L-A-N-T-S
E-C-O-U-R-A-N-T-L-I-S
O-L-E-C-R-A-I-N-S-T-U
L-A-C-O-U-R-S-E-I-N-T
R-U-S-E

14 First published privately in 1974 as the first volume in the Bibliotheque Oulipie
quently published in La Cl6ture et autres poemes, pp. 55-67, and in Slatkine's collection o
sixteen volumes of the Bibliotheque Oulipienne referred to in note 11. See also the d
"Ulc6rations' in Oulipo: Atlas de litterature potentielle, p. 337 and in Michel Laclos, Je
jeux d'esprit (Paris: Simoen, 1977), pp. 118-20.

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
GEORGES PEREC ON THE GRID 825

The structure of the poem as a w


eleven squares by four hundred.
maniacal rigor of this poem; one
of folie litteraire. But to do so wou
is, after all, readable, and its het
speaking, masked) is not readily app
Perec's madness is extraordinarily
ples of "Ulc'rations" are analogou
of his poetic enterprise, as furth
suggest that "Ulc'rations," grante
to the aesthetic of difficulte vain
not entirely dissimilar to a crossw
Perec employed essentially the
Hans Dahlem":

Tel roi mu
Hans Dahlem nous dit
rythme d'un alors:
son art d'huile melant hors
du mineral mu d'histoire
humant l'os destin
dur a l'homrnme sorti d'un halo
s'il hante mur d'or
l'isthme d'un desir

Norm haut:
l'Hamlet d'un soir15

In heterogrammatic verse form, the poem reveals a grid of thirteen


by thirteen: each verse uses the letters A, D, E, H, I, L, M, N, O, R, S,
(if one has the indulgence to accept the Y in place of the I in the thir
Granted the letters which compose it, Hans Dahlem's name is encode
text. Thus the poem, in addition to its heterogrammatic form, tend
toward the acrostic.
The formal organization of Alphabets is similar to that of "Ulcerations" and
"A Hans Dahlem" and, if possible, even more rigorous. Each of the 176
heterogrammatic poems that compose this collection forms a square grid: eleven
verses of eleven letters each. These letters are A, E, I, L, N, O, R, S, T, U, and
one other letter that remains constant within the poem, but may vary from
poem to poem. The sixteen letters in the alphabet apart from those already
mentioned are each used in eleven poems; the formula of the collection is thus
11 x 16 = 176.16 The poems succeed each other in alphabetical order determined
15 La Cl6ture et autres poemes, p. 80. Originally published in Hans Dahlem, ein Buch zum 50.
Geburstag von seinen Freunden (Saarbrick: SDV, 1978).
16 Or, to push matters one step further, granted that each poem contains eleven verses, (11 x 16)
x 11 = 1936. The coincidence of the number denoting the number of verses in Alphabets and the
year of Perec's birth is difficult to ascribe to chance. This mathematisation of a collection of poetry
recalls, of course, Sceve's La Ddlie, 449 dizains governed by the formula 5 + (9 x 49) + 3 = 449.

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
826 FRENCH REVIEW

by the variable letter


Each poem is pres
consideration of th

Satin, or bleu, t
Rite: nous balbutions la realite.

Nous brulons.

Abrite la brune toison, brutalise


le baton suri, ablutions errantes:
oubli...

S-A-T-I-N-O-R-B-L-E-U
T-R-O-U-B-L-E-S-A-I-N
R-I-T-E-N-O-U-S-B-A-L
B-U-T-I-O-N-S-L-A-R-E
A-L-I-T-E-N-O-U-S-B-R
U-L-O-N-S-A-B-R-I-T-E
L-A-B-R-U-N-E-T-O-I-S
O-N-B-R-U-T-A-L-I-S-E
L-E-B-A-T-O-N-S-U-R-I
A-B-L-U-T-I-O-N-S-E-R
R-A-N-T-E-S-O-U-B-L-I

The formal constraints involved in Alphabets may be compared


"Ulcerations." The latter poem consists of 400 anagrams. Alphabet
sixteen sets of 121 anagrams (since each of the sixteen variable le
in eleven poems of eleven verses). The ten invariable letters in Alph
in every line of every poem, or a total of 1936 times. In view of t
these ten letters are the same as those used in "Ulcerations," minu
that the C occurs in French more frequently than any of the othe
variable letters, common sense would tell us that the formal con
Alphabets are greater than those of "Ulcerations.' In other words,
posed by the eleven C poems in Alphabets are identical to those en
"Ulcerations'; however, the constraints imposed in the poems emp
other fifteen variable letters (B, D, F, G, H, J, K, M, P, Q, V, W, X
be greater, since these letters are used far more rarely in French.17 Mo
the end of each eleven-verse poem in Alphabets, Perec "closes' his
poem is a discrete heterogrammatic unity of 121 letters. In "Ulcera
other hand, there is no predetermined formal scheme of interna
textual divisions (there are eleven parts in "Ulcerations") do not hav
to anagrammatic divisions, as they do in Alphabets. This quite obv
the poet far greater freedom of action in "Ulcerations.'
If the structure of each of the 176 poems of Alphabets may be d
grid of eleven by eleven, the structure of the collection as a who
17 For simplicity's sake, we are here disregarding the fact that in "Ulc6rations
anagrams of a given set of letters, whereas in Alphabets there are only 121 anagram
set. Granted that in Alphabets there are sixteen sets varying by only one letter, cum
would seem to point toward Alphabets as the more constraining exercise.

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
GEORGES PEREC ON THE GRID 827

viewed as a sort of meta-grid o


each of the sixteen variable lett
the crossword puzzle, "la const
viewed in the light of Alphabets
After having experimented wit
we have described, Perec, perha
through a marginal reduction o
of that form. He proposed to d
heterogrammatic poetry (a "jok
verse within a given poetic unity)
in composition, at the expense o
(assuming for a moment the Ou
"La Clo6ture"19 was produced
seventeen parts, each part being
twelve (twelve verses, each con
are those of "Ulcerations" plus a

Tels oi m'incamrne, 6 rict


l'absent lourd a ciel trop
si calme,
transi ou cloque,
criant secours.
La fin trouble sciant maison:
lecture du clos,
art inscrit a l'enfoui clo6ture.
Sang

Or, rendered into heterogrammatic verse form:

T-E-L-S-O-U-M-I-N-C-A-R
N-E-O-R-I-C-T-U-S-L-A-B
S-E-N-T-L-O-U-R-D-A-C-I
E-L-T-R-O-P-N-U-S-I-C-A
L-M-E-T-R-A-N-S-I-O-U-C
L-O-Q-U-E-C-R-I-A-N-T-S
E-C-O-U-R-S-L-A-F-I-N-T
R-O-U-B-L-E-S-C-I-A-N-T
M-A-I-S-O-N-L-E-C-T-U-R
E-D-U-C-L-O-S-A-R-T-I-N
S-C-R-I-T-A-L-E-N-F-O-U
I-C-L-O-T-U-R-E-S-A-N-G

The jokers are, in order, M, B, D, P, M, Q, F, B, M, D, F, and G. On


how much their introduction alleviates the constraints in the text.
concretely evident in a perusal of the heterogrammatic verse patte
becomes apparent in a comparison of the language of "La Clo6ture" w
Is See "Entretien: Perec/Jean-Marie Le Sidaner," L'Arc, 76 (1979), p. 8.
9 In La Cl6ture et autres poemes, pp. 9-27. The poem is first published in 1976 in a pr
limited to 100 copies.

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
828 FRENCH REVIEW

the pure heterogramma


resembles "normative"
poems. Since the degre
less in the effort to conf
more "readable." Perec,
form, since he adopted
poems therein are hetero
the term sonnets heter
employs thirteen invari
Although Perec produc
model, the grid serves as
poetry as well. By way
for reasons that will become evident, "Gamme":

A demi-mot un art chetif nous parle,


ci nouant le strict opus a ce frisson fugace,
t'inoculant ce simoun blanc,
tels vingt blocs d'un marbre si lourd a sertir
hors du trace gris ou l'avenir gourd
sans repit nous mache
ni croc d'un art bref
ni mort brunatre
ni l'outrage inconnu:
L'Ange introuvable,
cri troublant cet ilot sur.21

Again, the pattern that guided the composition of the text is not immediately
apparent. It resides in the sequence of the vowels that follow each other in
order in twenty sets: thus, a grid of five unities by twenty appears.
Such draconian systems of formal constraint are central to Perec's conception
of poetry. Questioned by an interviewer about the latter, Perec responded in a
very revealing manner: "La poesie, c'etait compter sur ses doigts jusqu'a douze.
La chose ne se faisant plus aussi innocemment depuis pas mal de temps ...
j'ai choisi d'appeler "poesie" des textes engendres par des contraintes diffi-
ciles .... Je n'envisage pas pour l'instant d'ecrire de poesie autrement qu'en
m'imposant de telles contraintes."22 Far from being crushed by the grid, like an
insect under some vast infernal fly-swatter, Perec the poet regards constraint
as liberating, remarking in the same interview, "l'intense difficulte que pose ce
genre de production et la patience qu'il faut pour parvenir a aligner, par exemple,
onze 'vers' de onze lettres chacun ne me semble rien comparees ~i la terreur que
serait pour moi d'ecrire 'de la poesie' librement."
Raymond Queneau suggested that the novel, in its form, should resemble a

20 Metaux was originally published privately in 1980 in an edition limited to 90 copies. Four of
the seven original poems are reproduced in La Cl6ture et autres poemes, pp. 37-42.
21 In La Cl6ture et autres poimes, p. 81. Originally published in Les Nouvelles Littiraires, August
1979.
22 "Entretien: Perec/Jean-Marie Le Sidaner," p. 8.

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
GEORGES PEREC ON THE GRID 829

poem.23 George Perec's La Vie m


Queneau, conforms very strikingl
that of Perec's own poetry. La
Perec's masterwork,24 was initi
would indicate, as a traditional
it as "un de ces livres qui se dev
revolves around the life of a Pa
meticulous descriptions of its inh
plurality of the generic appellat
Following the publication of La
there was more to the text than
article entitled "Quatre figures po
formal organization of his nov
he describes in the text as a gri
unities wide). Using an exercise
mined the order in which he w
occupants. This is a figure called
a knight around a chessboard
square twice. (Of course, the ex
requirements imposed by a gri
eight.) One hundred squares in t
d'emploi.27
The second system of formal constraint is used to determine the constitutive
elements of each chapter, and is based on a mathematical figure called an
"orthogonal pair of Latin squares order 10."28 Briefly, this figure assures the
symmetric distribution and combination of sets of elements (characters, objects,
themes, literary allusions) throughout the one hundred squares of the grid.
There are forty-two imposed constitutive elements in each chapter of La Vie
mode d'emploi.
The dominant image in the novel is that of the jigsaw puzzle (which is the
obsession of its principal character); indeed, this may be viewed as an image-
mattresse since, granted the systems of formal constraint according to which it
was organized, the text itself may be seen to resemble a jigsaw puzzle. Indeed,
23 See his BMtons, chiffres et lettres (Paris: Gallimard, 1950), pp. 22-23 and 34.
24 The text's origins lie in a project that Claude Berge proposed to the Oulipo in 1967, in whose
execution he was to collaborate with Perec and Jacques Roubaud. See Perec, "Quatre figures pour
La Vie mode d'emploie," L'Arc, 76 (1979), 50. See also Perec, "Emprunts a Flaubert," L'Arc, 79 (1980),
49-50. The project failing to bear fruit, Perec continued alone, working on La Vie mode d'emploi
from 1969 to 1978. He announced his project publicly in 1974 in Especes d'espaces, pp. 61-62.
25 See "Notes sur ce que je cherche," Le Figaro, 8 December 1978, p. 28.
26 In L'Arc, 76 (1979), 50-53.
27 Actually, La Vie mode d'emploi has 99 chapters rather than 100. Chapter 66 was deliberately
left out. Personal interview with Georges Perec, 22 July 1980.
28 Although Latin squares of other sorts have long been familiar to mathematicians interested in
combinatorics, the sort used by Perec was believed impossible until the theorists Bose, Parker, and
Shrikhande arrived at it in 1960. An example of the figure is offered in "Quatre figures pour La Vie
mode d'emploi," p. 52.

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
830 FRENCH REVIEW

what Perec states in re


to La Vie mode d'emplo
Au depart, l'art du puzzle
un maigre enseignement
perceptif, d'un apprentis
occupe, d'un puzzle de b
isoler et analyser, mais un
ne preexiste pas a l'ense
pas les elements qui dete
elements.29

Obviously, Perec is con


own argument, the point
d'emploi is remarkably
of Perec's poetry: it con
serves to structure the
In a project entitled L
though this project nev
and worthy of brief co
Perec chose twelve pla
strong significance for
the rate of two a mont
would go to the place i
treated each month wo
to have taken twelve ye
be described twenty-fou
from memory.
In order to organize h
month of the year, onc
pair of places would ev
relied on an orthogonal
than order ten. This fig
by twelve. According to
288 texts resulting fro
peine: ce que j'en attend
vieillissement: celui des lieux eux-memes, celui de mes souvenirs, et celui de
mon ecriture."31
For various reasons, this project was never completed; Perec published some
of the texts that remained from it in 1977 and 1979.32 It should be noted,
moreover, that if Les Lieux failed, it was not because of the constraints imposed
by the algorithm, but rather because of the terrible constraints of geo-temporal

29 La Vie mode d'emploi, p. 15.


30 See Espices d'espaces, pp. 83-84, and W ou le souvenir d'enfance, p. 68.
3' Especes d'espaces, p. 84.
32 See "Tentative de description de quelques lieux parisiens: Guett6es," Les Lettres Nouvelles, 1
(1977); "Tentative de description de quelques lieux parisiens: la rue Vilin," L'Humanite, 11 November
1977, p. 2; "Vues d'Italie," Nouvelle Revue de Psychanalyse, 16 (1977), 239-46; "All6es et venues rue
de l'Assomption," L'Arc, 76 (1979), 28-34.

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
GEORGES PEREC ON THE GRID 831

reality: the project was predicated o


place at the right time, which, as w
As a final example, one might pro
cuisine a l'usage des debutants,"33 an
loosely centered around the theme
piece, as its title suggests, offers 8
and 27 for sweetbreads, of which t
SOLE AUX CHAMPIGNONS: Lever a cru les filets de deux belles soles. Mettre a
four moyen pendant 40' en arrosant frequemment. A mi-cuisson ajouter 250
champignons de Paris. Dresser sur le plat de service prealablement chauf
saupoudrer largement de quatre-epices.
LAPIN AU NOILLY: Tartiner genereusement 2 jeunes lapereaux de moutarde fo
Les mettre dans une cocotte dont on aura garni le fond de quelques bardes e
carottes emincees, tomates fraiches et oignons nouveaux. Deglacer au Noilly. Se
avec de la ratatouille.
RIS DE VEAU A LA CREME: Escaloper finement 4 ris de veau que vous aurez
auparavant fait degorger dans une eau legerement citronnee. Les faire partir a feu
vif dans une grande sauteuse puis baisser la flamme et laisser mijoter. Ajouter hors
du feu ldl de creme double. Envoyer a part une sauciere de sauce mousseline.
Now, a close reading of all 81 recipes reveals that certain elements recur with
regularity. These may be divided into four sets constitued by (I) the principal
aliment used and (II, III, IV) the three steps in each recipe. The constitutive
elements of each set, along with letter and number values we have arbitrarily
assigned to them, are as follows:
I A SOLE: Lever a cru les filets de 2 belles soles.
B LAPIN: Tartiner genereusement 2 jeunes lapereaux de moutarde forte.
C RIS DE VEAU: Escaloper finement 4 ris de veau que vous aurez auparavant
fait degorger dans une eau legerement citronnee.
II 1 Mettre a four moyen pendant 40' en arrosant frequemment.
2 Les mettre dans une cocotte dont on aura gamrni le fond de quelques bardes et
de carottes emincees, tomates fraiches et oignons nouveaux.
3 Faire partir a feu vif dans une grande sauteuse puis baisser la flamme et
laisser mijoter.
III 4 A mi-cuisson ajouter 250g de champignons de Paris.
5 Deglacer au Noilly.
6 Ajouter hors du feu ldl de creme double.
IV 7 Dresser sur le plat de service prealablement chauffe et saupoudrer largement
de
8 Servir avec
9 Envoyer a part une sauciere de

Looking at the text as a whole, these, then, may be seen as invaria


elements. The other element, that is to say the titles of the recipes and the
on the final steps (numbers 7, 8, and 9 in our schema) are not formally importan
in the work, and may be regarded as purely ornamental. Having isolated th
invariable elements, then, and working from them, the formal organizatio
the test gradually becomes apparent: it may be schematized as a grid:

33 In Christian Besson and Catherine Weinzaepflen, eds., Manger (Liege: Yellow Now, 1980),
97-109.

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
832 FRENCH REVIEW

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A147 B258 C168 A267 C347 B159 C249 B148 A257

10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
C369 B248 A159 A268 C147 B267 B169 A358 C259

19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27
B348 A349 C157 A247 B369 A167 C358 B358 A369

28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36
C268 B167 C359 B347 A148 C367 B249 C158 A258

37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45
C149 A249 B147 C269 B357 A359 A168 C167 B268

46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
C348 A158 C248 B157 A368 B259 C349 B367 A348

55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63
C257 A149 B257 C148 A357 B349 C267 B359 A367

64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72
B269 A248 C169 A259 B158 C368 A269 B149 A157

73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81
C247 B168 C357 C159 A347 B368 A169 C258 B247

In mathematical terms, the text resu


sets; that is, the combinatory possibili
and repetition of combination is exclu
work that may be considered as the se
Queneau's Cent mille milliards de poem
binations offered in the latter remain
potential state, whereas Perec's text ren
"81 fiches-cuisine a l'usage des debuta
monstrously exaggerated, skeletal (sin
whimsical model of literary combinatoric
organization, it is strictly analogous to
which we have alluded in the course of
the formal rigor. This constraint may
further consideration, however, it is r
of the aesthetic of difficulte vaincue w
effort. Neither mathematical nor ling
described in both of those modes), the gr
offers a privileged locus for the interpla
scribed, symmetrical space rigorously
pursued the ludic activity of encodi
decoding will perhaps find himself envyi
of Perec the cruciverbist: "je ne crois p
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

34 Cent mille milliards de poemes (Paris: Gallimard, 1961). The ten sonnets in this work
constructed such than any of the fourteen lines in a sonnet may be exchanged with its homolo
in any of the other sonnets. The structure thus involves 14 sets of 10 elements each: 1014
100,000,000,000,000, the number of poems theoretically generated. Perec's work involves four
of three elements each: 34 = 81, the number of recipes proposed to the unsuspecting and benighte
gastronomist.
3s Les Mots croises, p. 14.

This content downloaded from 217.67.59.248 on Sun, 10 Mar 2019 08:57:22 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms

Centres d'intérêt liés