From Jewishness to the Aesthetics of Lack Author(s): Marcel Bénabou and Brian J.

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A Void). colloquia. Reception et mythisation. YFS105. just as he was about to turn forty-six. this very fact. Pereckonings:Reading GeorgesPerec. ed. ed. but he has come to know a fame that has not ceased to grow. and at the same time attempted to take stock of. WarrenMotte and Poucel. illustrated. specialized journals. 2002). monographs. each considered within its own genre as being representative of one aspect of the entire body of work. becoming ever more numerous. Jean-Luc bat: Publications de la Faculte des Lettreset des Sciences Humaines.MARCEL BENABOU From Jewishness to the Aesthetics of Lack The posthumous legacy of Georges Perec and his works seems to me to be one of the most peculiar phenomena of contemporary literary history. the ordealcalled "purgatory. and tributes of all kinds follow one upon the other. not only did he escape this eclipse. In 1975 came the great turning point of W ou le souvenir de 1. Until his death. ? 2004 by YaleUniversity Jean-Jacques 20 . Since his death in 1982. The proceedings of this colloquium were published under the title L'oeuvre Joly and AbdelfattahKilito (RaGeorgesPerec. Let's review them briefly. exhibits. Better still. And this phenomenon is not limited to Franceor even to Europe:a November 2002 conference held at the Universite Mohammed V in Rabat. more or less legitimately identified as a sociological document about consumer society in the 1960s. critical and public interest had successively concentrated on only a few emblematic books. indeed one from which even the greats do not always escape. and then La disparition (1969. a lipogrammatic novel that revealed Perec to be a verbal acrobat and enthusiast of Oulipian constraints. Things). The beneficial consequence of this posthumous craze has been a deepening of the general perception of Perec's works. Books. Perec has had the rareprivilege of not having to suffer that period of relative which traditionally follows the oblivion. Morocco. Interest sparkedby his work has only increased. dissertations. First came Les choses (1965." death of an author.

which serves as an epigraphto the "preamble" of La vie mode d'emploi: "The eye follows those paths that have been laid down for it in the work. The route I shall follow here gives importance to two notions." And yet. despite its brutal interruption and apparentscatter. Perec'soeuvre forms a coherent whole. including its most remote recesses (crosswords.) Instead. meditated upon. numerous. which sustains interest as much for its autobiographicaltheme (the quiet pain of a childhood destroyed by war) as for its complex structure (two different texts. interviews in diverse media. ruminated over. and so. to orient oneself within it and to grasp the internal movement that animates it. ever since his death. and infinite glossing.The second project aims at nothing short of a systematic charting of literature: to write all that is possible for a person to write today.With W. in edition after edition. Life a User's Manual)."because they seem to have played a part in crafting Perec's 2. which alternate from chapter to chapter). as we shall see below. has become the subject of commentary.MARCEL BENABOU 21 d'enfance (Wor the Memory of Childhood). And this whole is not just a simple juxtaposition brought about randomly by editorial needs or by the inspired flights of critics.we were apparentlyquite farfrom the putative sociological vocation of the author of Les choses. which Italo Calvino. called "the last great event in the history of the novel. jokes and games of all kinds). interpretation. critical attention has moved beyond these few seminal titles.2But it just so happens that Perec'sindications are sufficiently discreet. and ambiguous to affordeach readera large part of the responsibility in choosing which path to take. or from the dexterous witticisms to which La disparition had originally been reduced.Finally came the fascinating masterpiece La vie mode d'emploi (1978. Perec hardly believed in either chance or inspiration. who had known Perecfrom Oulipo.often cited by commentators. to use all the words of the French language. autobiographical. "Jewishness" and "lack. were all avowed ambitions. articles published in journals long defunct. (As an Oulipian. The progressiverealization of this double projectbrought about the multiform nature of his work. The entire oeuvre. It is as though the observation has finally been imposed that. The first projectis. this whole results from a double project." . to fill a shelf of the Bibliotheque Nationale. and hewn since childhood. Here one ought to recall PaulKlee' pieces. seemingly unrelated. we might best follow some of the many different paths that Perec himself carefully established for his readers.

parenthetical page references will give the Frenchoriginal first. 4." I.nobeing tably in Partisans.This reflection took place both at the marginsof his works and. justified his work. MarcelBenabou. trans. W ou le souvenir d'enfance (Paris:Denoel."Perec'sJewishness.22 Yale French Studies relationship to his memory and his identity. or from publishinga few of its pieces in diverse journals. Godine." Cahiers GeorgesPerec 1 (1984):15-30. I have elsewhere discussed two principalstatements. In English:MarcelBenabou.orratherto foundingat last a veritable Marxist aesthetics.The review. Laligne generalewas the name of a groupof young students andintellectuals who wanted to createa journalwith the view to refounding."trans. "Entretienavec Jean-Marie from this interview are the translator's. W or the Memory of Childhood. Hereafter. All translations 6. followed by the English translation.David Bellos. 1988). Perec. 5. JEWISHNESS LOST One observation seems serviceable as a point of departure:without ever pretending to be a theoretician of literature (except for his early days in the few articles written during the time of la ligne generale3). On this relationship. at times. at their very hearts. 41.making no claim to any ultimate truth about the genesis of Perec's oeuvre."5 This statement takes on a certain characterwhen cast in the light of a personal remark Perec once made in an interview: "I believe that I began to feel Jewish once I began to tell the story of my childhood. This path remains largely hypothetical and presents itself as only one of the possible "PerecquianPaths. never appeared a for active long time. In this respect. to use the theoretical jargon. But it goes without saying that this path is only a personal reading. which wanted neither to pledgeitself to the Communist Partynor to enter into open conas such-although this fact in no way stoppedthe groupfrom flict with it. The Review of ContemporaryFiction 13. . breakingas much from the Zhdanovism of so-called "social realism" as from the spineless eclecticism that had followed it in France. I shall begin then from the relationship that he himself established between writing and Jewishness. andwillingly."6 What Perec lets slip in this double admission is the concomitance and quasi-equivalence that exist in his mind among three 3. He often.1 (1993):76-87. Le Sidaner. Georges Perec."L'arc76 (1979):9. and so Perec'sauthorial epitext.4 The first comes from the autobiographicalpart of W:"The idea of writing the story of my past arose almost at the same time as the idea of writing. as well as in his work. Perec consistently engagedin a critical reflection about his "work"as a as vast as it is abundant. 1975). David Bellos (Boston:David R. they jointly play an important role in his life. 26."Perecet la judeite.

or at least about how and in what ways he was aware of it. Harry Mathews (New York: New Press. These variations first appearin the reference to "evidence" (obviousness):the "this was not evident to me" of the first text is amended in the second to read "There's something obvious about it.L. barely even a culture" (9). as though they ultimately represent but differentfacets of the same reality. Fora long time. almost contemporary texts." It is as though an embryonic awareness has slipped in from one statement to the other. but it's a worthless obviousness. There's something obvious about it. Ellis Island) (acommentary edited with particular care. It isn't a sign of belonging. Other differences are manifest in the order and 7. trans. In answering this question. 1995). it doesn't have to do with belief. or rather the rigorous parallelism that exists between these two. differentaspects of the same act. Rgcits d'Ellis Island. a history. 1994).MARCEL BENABOU 23 elements: "writing.7 It isn't particularly useful to underscore the relationship. I suppose. These three elements (the project of writing.O. including the choice of typography. The first is found in the interview cited above from the journalL'arc:"Iam Jewish. a people. or a code of behavior.which gives the text the look of verse): "Idon't know exactly what it is to be a Jew. 60). there was no association with a religion. or a language"(58. a way of life. with Robert Bober (Paris: P.. I suppose. I believe the slight differences that one can distinguish merit a brief examination. a language. the choice of the autobiographicalaxis of childhood. It is thus indispensable to ask just what this "feeling Jewish" is. this was not evident to me. a little better than no evidence (obviousness) at all. The second appearsin the commentary that accompanies the film Recits d'Ellis Island (1980. but it's a worthless obviousness that doesn't connect me with anything. and the feeling of a certain relationship to a Jewish identity) form for Perec a sort of indissociable series. Perec. Ellis Island. it is perhapsbest to turn again to Perec's own declarations about how he lived this relationship to a Jewish identity. or religion. On this subject. . Histoires d'errance et d'espoir. the first being more spontaneous and the second more literaryand thought-through:"une evidence mediocre" ("aworthless obviousness") is nonetheless a little more. Rather." "writing my story" (essentially the telling of "the story of my childhood"). for it has been claimed to be inseparable from his autobiographicalproject and thus from the very project of writing.or what effect being a Jewhas on me. and feeling Jewish. two statements are particularly significant.

language. culture" and on the other "belief.Cher. history. we find religion and language (although not exactly in the same places). What was it that led him to be reduced to what could rightly be called "the degree zero of Jewishness" ?Drawing on what we know about the situation of FrenchJews afterthe war. still culturally and linguistically close to their native Jewishness. and sometimes corrected. . 1993). David Bellos. GeorgesPerec: Harvill. This is all the more remarkablebecause this series of negations stands in contrast to the positive relationship of Perec's collaborator.2000). there is the fact that. given an author so attentive to detail and given an issue like Jewish identity. Perec cannot define his personal relationship to Jewishness other than by a succession of five negations ("it isn' short as the sum of a series of negations. people. The question posed by such remarks is why (orperhaps how) such a situation arose-for it is quite unexpected once we realize both that Perec was the child of recent Polish immigrants (only having arrivedin Paris at the end of the 1920s). to draw far-reachingconclusions from these differences. Perec was never affordedthe Jewish education that they might have given him. Lecturecritique (Paris: Le Jardind'Essai. We have in effect on the one hand "religion.such differences further emphasize what does not change from one declaration to the next.La biographiede GeorgesPerecpar David Bellos. than the word "culture")and most strikingly the words "people" and "history" have disappearedin favor of "belief" and "way of life. In both instances.9and on Perec's own statements." which in reality just gloss the word "religion. folklore. was deportedand died in a Nazi concentration camp. as well as Cahiers GeorgesPerec 7 (2003). language." "it doesn't"). of course. religion. In the family of his Aunt Esther." In both the first and the second declarations. dare I say. but I believe that.Robert Bober. Perec and JacquesLederer.although the word "folklore"is clearly less worthy. tres cher. way of life. to this same Jewishness. whereas culture has curiously ceded its place to folklore (which is perhaps understandable.24 YaleFrench Studies choice of words used to characterize the potential content of Jewishness. of course. we are able to glimpse an answer.See Bianca Lamblin. on the information contained in David Bellos's biography of Perec8 and in the correspondence with Jacques Lederer.1997). by whom he A Lifein Words(London: 8. and that his mother."I do not expect. Moreover. 9. separatedfrom his parents at a young age. admirable et charmant ami (Paris: Flammarion. First.Some of this work's information must nevertheless be completed. one cannot take them to be negligible. being Jewish.

a word that had the weight of a whole history. however." The question came to be about a more muted and insistent difference that separated the so-called "as10. and so Jewish identity was banished without remorse. then. This Jewishness. his affirmed taste for the universal. this position was not as comfortable as it seemed. This position was not unique to Perec. His Jewishness thus appeared to be nothing more than a genealogical detail: the vague awareness of being Jewish because one has Jewish parents becomes the sole content of Jewishness. Moreover. for a legal adoption was not possible). in short. This almost-nothing was yet a word.he plunged himself into an environment (the group La ligne generale) ideologically most marked by a fascination with socialism and revolution-a fascination that would engender in Perec a permanent and passionate demand for justice. but was more or less sharedby a number of Jewish intellectuals in French society. who had decided to "conceal his childhood" and to "refusehis past. this Jewishness reduced to almost nothing. a non-Jew. In the long run. . It is not surprising. of Sartre'sReflexions sur la question juive (1947) (Anti-Semite and few) must also be mentioned. During this period. the young it had been at the time of "la question juive. that Perec grew to adulthood in an almost complete ignorance of Judaism. still recent. He could accept neither its religious heritage (so clearly incompatible with his secular ideals) nor its Zionism (nationalism being incompatible with his resolute internationalism).MARCEL BENABOU 25 was taken in afterthe war ("takenin" and not "adopted. this minimal Jewishness. From an interview (5 April 1981) with Ewa Pawlikowska. it was a name they sharedwith all those who continued to give it a positive content-a name. that contributed to the continuing vitality among so many of a feeling of difference. throughout his formative years (in the middle of the 1950s and the early 1960s). nonetheless produced real effects in their lives-effects that were incommensurable with its putative lack of substance. Still-and perhaps this is the uniqueness of the era-the question was no longer so much about difference in relation to another. the desire to assimilate into French culture was strong."10l developed a sort of allergy to Judaism. of which they knew themselves to be the bearers. Litteratures 7 (1983): 74-75. The impact."as he himself sometimes wrote. for it came at just the right moment to give form to the idea that one is Jewish only through the gaze of the other.

" 12Jabes takes up the theme again in slightly different terms: "It is indeed the impossibility of being an 'untroubled Jew. that has made me the kind of Jew I think I am. the feeling of being at odds with something that could have been but is not. That That non-belonging-with non-belonging is my very substance. on the outer edge of what is sayable. EdmondJabes. 56. Many Jewish writers and intellectuals have felt such consequences. . and thus in a certain manner from a part of himself. generally. 1990). Fromthe Desert to the Book:Dialogues with Marcel Cohen. something that might be called closure."13 Ultimately. The striking convergence among the following quotations should suffice to illustrate this state of being. 61). 129. We begin with a statement from Edmond Jabes: "I feel that I exist only outside of any belonging. 58). and for them. anchored in his certainties."'l This doubt about one's identity and the resulting split within oneself are not without consequences. in some way I'm 'different.. the availability it allows me-is also what brings me close to the very essence of Judaism and. the acute sense of a lack all become familiar themes. 52-53. one that began in the comfort (at least an apparent et la difference(Paris:1967).29. Perec says nothing but the same thing: "What I find present here are in no way landmarks or roots or relics. or severance. but their opposite: something shapeless. Alain Finkielkraut.. or cleavage. 1983).Du dgsert au livre. Pierre Joris(New York:Station Hill Press. 112.26 Yale French Studies similated Jew" from the whole of Jewish history. 12.Le juifimaginaire (Paris:Seuil. and that in my mind is linked in a most intimate and confused way with the very fact of being a Jew" (Ellis Island. trans. Jacques Derrida captures this particular problem of identity in his 1967 L'ecriture et la difference (Writing and Difference): "Jewish would be another name for this impossibility of being oneself. JacquesDerrida. Perec explicitly raises this new question: "In some way I'm estranged from myself. Alain Finkielkraut defines his experience of Jewishness thusly: "What makes me Jewish is an acute awareness of a lack. of an active absence. Perec seems to have taken the same path as a postwar group of Jewish intellectuals. 13. The problem of identity progressively returned for the many Jews who had believed they had shirked it. the sensation of not belonging.L'ecriture Belfond. Entretiensavec Marcel Cohen (Paris: 1980). to the Jewish destiny.. 64). but it is precisely in that break-in that non-belonging in I am without a doubt most Jewish" (95search of its belonging-that 96. not from others but from 'my own people"' (59.' a Jew at peace. 11. This may seem paradoxical.

in the two senses of the word: to be oneself and to be similar to the other" ("Entretien. one can recallanother. who didn't hesitate to declare:"Our decision to write. (beingJewish)was the mark of an absence. a fracture.often cited declaration. in his works.It is thus through the means of writing that he is able to confrontwhat he has definedas a lack. Perec distinguishes and explains at least one aspect of this originary and multiform lack: "Infact. From the Desert to the Book. hache] has reduced the past to nothing).Perec often stated how he saw his own path to writing. 10. Let us note here that this function of writing as a link to the dead can also be found among other contemporary Jewish writers. 17. and the mourning of a future that has ceased to be imaginable (the Jew. OR THE AESTHETICS OF LACK How do we respondto lack? We can once again compare Perec to Jabes. of a lack (the death of my parents during the war). 1968). That which makes him Jewish lies at the juncture of a double lack. all the threadswere broken"(77. he specifies that he had the sensation of a split from the outset. FROM A LACK TO WRITING. to talk. And yet. 83. Perec expresslyidentifies "therupture"as "the initial place where the book came from.similar to other Jews. "which is not a lack of something. writing is the memory of their death and the assertion of my life" (59. Legends of Our Time (New York: Holt. a non-belonging.1 The "indeliblemark"to which Perecalludes is "the lack"-the loss of his parents. But this is not all: the link thus established between lack and writing will also appearon another. And here. 1966). II." Le chant des morts (Paris: Seuil. more general level." 9). Thus when Perec 14.42). Rinehart and Winston."14Forhis part. but an original lack upon which one must live" (emphasismine).Speakingof his parents. he wrote in evoking his experience of parachuting. 55). notably in W. Jabes. springs from a lack. . whose trace is writing. 15.Perecaffirms:"Iwrite because they left in me their indelible mark. that he could have been). a lack."And in the bodyof the book itself.In the publisher'sinsert to the book. of a breaking. of a double mourning: the mourning of a muffled memory (as History with its big "ax" [H. Du desert au livre.but also the loss of memory. Elie Wiesel offers an example: "The act of writing is for me often nothing more than the secret or conscious desire to carve words on a tombstone.and not of an identity.a rupture:"I was plunged into nothingness. Their memory is dead in writing. 54.MARCEL BtNABOU 27 comfort) of ignorance and refusal but ended in the uneasiness of a rupture.

He includes in the same inventory "the series of empty rooms. elimination. Presses Universi17. [Trans. the "lack"will have only accomplished one part-albeit an important and determinative oneof its function in Perec'sworks.28 YaleFrench Studies wants to position himself with regardto literature in general. i."He begins his list of finds: "cut. espace.ety16. ajour. interval. sinking. As BernardMagne correctly notes. (decoupe."hallmarks of the Perecquianstyle. perdition" frage. Perecollages. as well as its numerous metaphoricalequivalents. an it will become unrelenting inventory of objects to possess.incomplete things (fromthe chipped cup to the one-armed skeleton. the image of a void that needs to be filled.]See Gen.44). 1989). 1. when he wants to define the relationships between his personal oeuvre and this literature. Peretz. La vie mode d'emploi furnishes the most probing examples of what one might call the massive isotopic permutations of lack. But once the process of writing has begun.e. But writing will also engendera frenzied appetite for exhaustibility. not to mention the cardswith effacedinscriptions and the books with pages in the works of Perec. fissure. seen at work in Perec's resorting to combinatory systems and his quest for "saturation. try hard to fill all empty speaks ing.'8 this proliferationof lack in its concrete incarnations. void. intervalle. The part that follows will consist in affirming the presence of this "lack" in the products of writing itself. as much in his books as in his statements-the missing puzzle piece. 38:29. Magne. fissure.he voluntarily resorts to a very significant image. See Magne. of space. spaces to occupy. perdition) (Perecollages. nau- . Insofar as it contains the echoes of Perec's prior works. which must be filled by writ"the surroundingsmake a hole [trou16]. which he uses in all possible ways. space.. absence. vide. the notion of lack quite naturally at first becomes the very theme of this writing. Weought to recognizethe importanceof the hole {trou] mologically linked to his own Hebrewname. elimination. will the which lack. openwork.44. in a Perecquian mode. 18.absence. sap. once playfully imagined "an attempt to inventory some of the words evoking lack in La vie mode d'emploi through the course of reading.44. BernardMagne. Perec's originality consists in his extraordinaryaptitude for the literary manipulation of the lack. Lack as Theme Originatingas the drivingforcebehind writing. Perecollages 1981-1988 (Toulouse-le-Mirail: taires du Mirail. the innumerablebrokenobjects."17Writing. sape.

La vie mode d'emploi (Paris:Hachette. 1981). Life a User's Manual.20 Let's transpose this analysis from painting to writing. a curtain imperfectly pulled aside. 1978):601. Valene being. As Magne suggests. disorder. for a few weeks before his death he "lost his words. One can even go further and notice. to Dr. with Magne. the somewhat dirty. that one of the essential characters of the novel. the assuring of a presence of real life by multiplying its traces" (45). Perec. corrosion [patine]. those left behind and those abandoned)" (Perecollages. the chemist who has lost three fingers. had the heavy responsibility of being its narrator). 20. in the unique form of wear. as Perec himself liked to do. We arrive then at the hypothesis that. 19. wear and tear [usure]. corrosion. not to mention the neutered male cats of the household."not so much because they are more difficult to paint due to the effects of perspectivefor which the painter consequently takes on more risk-as because the slight opening of the dooror window strongly invites us to believe that the house is inhabited. Godine.a window barely open. L'oeilebloui (Paris:Chene/Hachette. "removed. Perecand Cuchi White. imperfection. disabled characters (from Morellet. this over-utilization of lack seems to be responsible for accentuating certain effets de reel. the orphans.MARCEL BENABOU 29 torn out). 1987). lack plays precisely the role that wear. and irregularity play in an optical illusion. "lack. left sentences hanging. Seen up close. the painter Valene (who. naturallyplace on the side of life and of nature. 44). an anagram of enleva. a shutter that does not properlyclose all seem more "true. in the first version of the work. irregularity-all this will be put precisely in place and staged in order to tell our stupefied and astonished eye that we are in a living and vibrant reality: a door slightly ajar. the widows and widowers. accident. trans. Recall here what Perec himself said about this subject in a different context in which he analyzes the techniques that make optical illusions work: Everythingthat we can immediately." One can ask how this proliferation of the theme of lack through other terms can find its place in the book in order to serve its novelistic ends. would thus have as its paradoxical goal the filling of the building. David Bellos (Boston:David R. The answer is interesting insofar as it testifies to Perec's literary know-how. is strongly marked by lack-at first in his speech. ."19 and ultimately in the very structure of his name. a deaf and mute man with neither arms nor legs. dust. Kolliker. as if by accident. and not on the side of art and artifice-that is to say haphazard. in this novel.

We notice first that the novel has only ninety-nine chapters instead of the expected one hundred: the novel "lacks" one chapter. of which a few. Perec returns again and again in his statements to this lack. The lipogram is thus not simply a constraint on writing (as the Oulipians liked to give themselves). remains unfinished. 2.1 Lack as a Generator of "Narrative Structures" It is hardnot to think here of La disparition. We can groupthem. but only suggested.30 YaleFrench Studies 2. Recall 21. the story speaks only of this lack. The singular force of this novel is not only its being one gigantic lipogram that amputates from the French alphabet its most used letter. in other words his talent for making what is in general a simple object of writing into a generatorof writing. he will not even have reached the end of the 439th puzzle. this transformation takes many forms. Perecollages. which Perec intentionally omitted. the unfulfilled projects that play a central role in it. one which can obviously never be named. Stage Two: Lack as Strategy I do not believe Perec's principal originality lies in his use of lack as theme.aroundwhich the narrationis constructed. more or less arbitrarily. every episode obstinately turns around the unique theme of the mysterious disappearanceof a letter. La vie mode d'emploi furnishes other examples of this use of lack as a generatorof narrativestructures.21But this is not all. are particularlysophisticated. The novel thus amputated also contains a number of incomplete stories. . and an effective means of producing real results is ultimately one he shared with other writers. See Magne.47-48. bringingit to our attention just because it is the bearerof special meaning. from one end to the other. but also that. as we shall see. Every character. In the case of lack. His skillfulness in turning the lacks imposed upon him by life into the driving force of his writing. but also the generator of the story itself. Perec's uniqueness lies instead with one of his other abilities: his aptitude for transforming a theme into a strategy. Upon his death. the recurrenttheme of his works. The very projectof Bartlebooth. this moneyed man will have failed to put back together the 500 watercolor puzzles that he painted himself. under two rubrics:lack as a generatorof narrative structures and lack as a generatorof literary forms.

The set {a. "the long procession of his characters with their stories. and it is eight o'clock in the evening. place. But perhaps the most original aspect of La vie mode d'emploi is its use of lack as one of the novel's constraints. 228). making twenty-one pairs.c} yields one possible Latin square: a b c b c a c a b An "orthogonalLatin square"results from the overlappingof two Latin squares of the same ordersuch that each combination of the elements of the two sets appearsexactly once. in the very last lines of the novel. this is how the painting appears: "The canvas was practically blank: a few charcoal lines had been carefully drawn. 497). [Trans. Each chapter is subtended by forty-two elements that must necessarily figure in the chapter. the black hole of the sole piece not yet filled in has the almost perfect shape of an X. their legends" (292.]A "Latinsquare"is the representationof a set into rows and columns such that each element appearsexactly once in each row and column. as well as its formal traits (length. without repetition. And yet. sex. would ever come to inhabit" (602..e. 500).MARCEL BENABOU 31 the scene that closes the final chapter of the novel: "It is the twentythird of June nineteen seventy-five. These forty-two elements are grouped by two. entailing twenty-one pairs of lists. Let us briefly review these constraints.b. time period. These elements can be about the chapter's narrative content (position. this ultimate double lack requires the reader to re-read the text in a different way and to understand differently the book that has just come to an end. at the moment of the artist's death. Becausethe letters of the Greekalphabetare often used with those of the Latin al- . dividing it up into regular square boxes. now. the sketch of a crosssection of a block of flats which no figure. Each pair is chosen from a series of lists of ten elements each. This time. 22. characters). But the ironical thing. On the tablecloth. This choice is determined under the constraint of a 10 x 10 Greco-Latin square22 which allows each pair of elements to be distributed. which could have been foreseen long ago. activity. i. age. Seated at his jigsaw puzzle. is that the piece the dead man holds between his fingers is shaped like a W" (600. Bartlebooth has just died. among the one hundred chapters. This double incompleteness. somewhere in the crepuscular sky of the four hundred and thirty-ninth puzzle. their pasts. We find incompleteness again at the end of the epilogue. hidden allusions). the incompleteness is apparent in the famous painting of Valene which normally ought to have represented the entire building on rue Simon-Crubellier.

obliging the element it affects to be replaced by another. Here again we must ask the question raised earlier during the consideration of lack as a theme."The sets {a. /. what corresponds to the introduction of "lack" and "falsity" as elements that must be included in each chapter? One response.p b. for example. but the intervention of "lack" in this chapter affects this element." a paperdelivered at the Colloque de Limoges in April 1990. the statements made to Ewa Pawlikoska. see the many remarksby Magne (Perecollages.twenty-one orthogonalLatinsquaresaffordone hundreddifferentlists of twentyone pairs.23 And yet.c} a. Perecsets out with not two sets of three elements. rather technical. . it serves only to modify the characteristic elements for each chapter that its initial regulation has established. Instead. On the Perecquianuse of the clinamen. b.y c. to distort its very machinery. forty-two elements for each of the one hundredchaptersenvisioned. for example.y). 158. In the Perecquian literary strategy."25 But a second question immediately follows upon this response: why choose to introduce phabet to avoid confusion. called the "clinamen.e."L'arc 76 (1979):50-53. in short. orthogonalLatin squareshave also been called "Greco-Latin and {a.32 Yale French Studies the one hundred possible combinations. 226. We have thus passed from "constraint" to "metaconstraint" (a constraint that governs another constraint). modifying the initial program such that the expected sideboard is not present.y} combine to form the Greco-LatinSquare: squares.24 We recognize here what the Oulipians.p c.i. borrowing from the physics of Epicurus (and from the pataphysics of Alfred Jarry). 23. See. to pervert it from within. Perec explains these points in "QuatrefigurespourLa vie mode d'emploi. as well as my "Lesruses du clinamen. The category "falsity" works in the same way.. the twenty-first does not directly result in narrative or formal elements.o b. He explains on a number of occasions that such an introduction serves to break the excessive rigor of the system of constraints that he had put in place. In La vie mode d'emploi. Litteratures7(1983): 70-71.b. among these twentyone pairs of lists. is suggested by Perec himself. the twentieth plays a particular role: this pair of lists brings together the categories entitled "lack" and "falsity. but two sets of ten elements-twenty-one times! Since each combinationyields a pairof two elements (saya." Unlike the other pairs of lists. 537). 45.p I a. 24.-y a. 25. 120. In chapter thirty-six./y c.. the expected combinatory game would impose the presence of a sideboard.

Perecgives a lovely justification:"It is as though their marriage has made them enter together into a languagesharedby them alone."28 26. 1. . 2. His undertaking here continues that same threadwe were able to see at work in La whom the "beauxpresents"are offered. those letters with which he so often liked to play. 27. Depending upon the collection."27 Les beauxpresents: Perec forces himself in these occasional texts to use only the letters contained in the names of those people celebrated therein. We might guess then that the motivation we are looking for does not come only from Oulipian technique. and we can be sure that Perec had the imagination to invent even further means had he so wanted. But this constraint is renderedeven more difficult by the supplementary constraint of the heterogram26: "a written utterance that does not repeat any of its letters. the employed alphabet can be reduced to anywhere from sixteen to eleven letters. 231. of which the principal examples are: Heterogrammatic poems (as in his 1976 Alphabets): These poems depend upon a drastic reduction of the alphabet. r. 28. among which are those most frequently used in French:e.But the rule that governs these attenuations is not always the same. 1981).. n. And it is with letters that Perec establishes himself this time. On this part of Perec's poetic production." all of which are foundedupon the use of attenuated alphabets.O.MARCEL BENABOU 33 the clinamen in such a form? Other processes exist in the Oulipian arsenal to loosen the stranglehold of constraints. he constructs his text solely from the letters of the names of the newly married. We are thus dealing with multiple constrained alphabets.2 Lack as a Generator of LiteraryForms We encounter here the last floor of the edifice Perec built upon lacka level that belongs uniquely to him. but from properlyPerecquian obsessions-and that this motivation inscribes itself in the aesthetics of lack that we are beginning to see take shape. In an epithalamium. Les poemes heterogrammatiques in Cahiers Georges Perec 5 (Paris: P. u. This simultaneous systematization and diversification allowed him to create and instantiate a series of new "poetic forms. Beaux presents. see the exhaustive study by Magne and Mireille Ribiere. belles absentes (Paris: Seuil. a. 55. Atlas de litterature potentielle (Paris: Gallimard. Perec.L. Inspiredby the lipogrammatic principle introduced by amputating from the alphabet one of its elements. 1994). Oulipo. i. Perec will ultimately both systematize and diversify this principle. t. s. 1992). o.

III. in every possible sense of the term. sometimes comforting. mark out a space. gropinglyplot a path. In each verse of the poem.34 Yale French Studies Les belles absentes: The beautiful absences obey a different logic. This additional absence inscribes. Perec accomplished what is. founded upon a simplified alphabet from which the letters k. sometimes discomfiting (because it is always suspended by a "book still to come. every letter of the reduced alphabet must appear save one." by an incompleteness designating the unspeakable towards which the desire to write hopelessly strives). In doing so. Through the absent letters of the name. the replacing of the suffering imposed by history with a meticulously won joy. I believe that I instead find-and justify-my way while walking:the succession of my books createswithin me the sentiment. one which goes way back. 13. one of those rare tasks that truly merits being attempted by a writer: the transforming of lack into plenitude. z have been removed. / Less is more: a consoling inversion. For can we not consider Perec to have remained unconsciously faithful. its presence in the poem becomes assured. w. then at least to the Hegelianism of his youth? I know of no better way to close than by recalling a statement often cited by commentators in which Perec presents his own way of retrospectively understanding his literary production: Even if what I produce seems to derive from a project long ago articulated. One thinks here of those lines of Raymond Queneau which Perec knew well: "From all the blows of fate. if not to the Marxism. describestep by step the stages of a pursuit about which I shall never know how to tell the "why" but only the "how":I vaguely feel that the books that I've written inscribe themselves within 29. Perec made lack the instrument of his fecundity. WHEN LESS IS MORE What becomes evident at the end of this path is the complexity of the nebulous literary person that Perec constructed around the idea of lack. Along with the other Oulipians who seek their liberty as writers in the arbitrariness of the constraints they impose on themselves. line by line. the concealed name of the dedicatee. Chene et chien in Oeuvres completes I (Paris:Gallimard. 1989). I knew how to fashion a tale. Raymond Queneau. in my eyes. that my books travel a path."29 But we can also link this attitude to at least one of the important stages of the ideological path evoked above. . x. y.

1985). as though a puzzle inexorably completed. but it seems to me that I shall never be able to seize that image. Reilly 30. ceasing to write. forever deferring that instant in which. "Notes sur ce que je cherche. Reprinted in: Penser/classer (Paris: Hachette. . Perec. 1.30 -Translated by Brian J. 8 December 1978. this image would become visible. 9-12." Le Figaro. for it is to me the beyond of writing. the "why I write" to which I can only respond in writing.MARCEL BENABOU 35 and take their meaning from a general image that I have of literature.

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