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Georges Perec and the Significance of the Insignificant.pdf (329.46 kB)
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Georges Perec and the significance of the insignificant

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posted on 2023-06-09, 15:32 authored by Ben HighmoreBen Highmore
Georges Perec died in 1982 at the age of 45. What is he for us now, 33 years later in the second decade of the twenty-first century? How do we make him our contemporary? To make Perec’s work part of our present-day involves (perhaps counter-intuitively) grasping his project in its historical specificity. It isn’t by cherry-picking useable aspects of the work that we will ensure some relevance to its afterlife: rather it will be by recognising his larger project as a response to a particular historical situation. While Perec’s situation in the 1960s and 70s in France is not ours, it has its hooks in our world. Perec, I think, becomes our contemporary in the act of seeing those hooks, of seeing how a continuity of feeling and mood percolates through historical ruptures, and how changes in mood and feeling activate historical continuities. There is a simple claim driving this essay, namely that a central aspect of Perec’s project was its attempt to register actuality. Which is to say that his project was a form of realism and like many forms of realism it was a quest and a question rather than an answer or solution. And as a question Perec’s realism goes something like this: in a situation where there is no specific artistic style that has a privileged access to reality; where scholarly disciplines are all trying to grasp their slice of reality and claim it as the reality; and where the real is saturated by the unreality of the commodity spectacle – how can realism be achieved? Or slightly differently, and now as a quest rather than a question: if the means of grasping reality (from literature to sociology, from religion to politics) are in doubt, and if, because of this, there is a suspicion about what in the world should count as significant, then realism might mean revealing the significance of the insignificant.


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University of Edinburgh Press

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The afterlives of Georges Perec

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  • Media and Film Publications

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  • Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies Publications

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Justin Clemens, Rowan Wilken

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