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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

An Attempt at Exhausting
a Place in Paris

Georges Perec

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To purchase An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris

Title: An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris
Author: Georges Perec
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1975 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 54 pages
Original in: French
Availability: An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris - US
An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris - UK
An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris - Canada
Tentative d'épuisement d'un lieu parisien - Canada
An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris - India
Tentative d'épuisement d'un lieu parisien - France
Versuch, einen Platz in Paris zu erfassen - Deutschland
Tentativo di esaurimento di un luogo parigino - Italia
Tentativa de agotamiento de un lugar parisino - España
  • French title: Tentative d'épuisement d'un lieu parisien
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Marc Lowenthal

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely done little exercise

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 11/12/2010 Stefan Zweifel
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2010 A.D.Jameson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Das Büchlein gehört zu den modernen Klassikern. (...) Eine mönchische Etüde mitten im mondänen Paris. Ein Wegweiser ins Heute und ins eigene Herz und Hirn." - Stefan Zweifel, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The result is very human and very moving; as in all excellent poetry, every mundane detail seems, upon consideration, vastly significant. Adding to this small volume’s already immense worth is translator Marc Lowenthal’s afterword, which locates the project in Perec’s career and contemporary literature in general, and offers its own beautiful observations on how all writing is always done at a particular time, in a particular place." - A.D.Jameson, Review of Contemporary Fiction

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The place Georges Perec attempts to exhaust in An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris is Place Saint-Sulpice. He notes that most of it -- the buildings, businesses, and landmarks -- "have been described, inventoried, photographed, talked about, or registered", but he wants to move beyond that:

My intention in the pages that follow was to describe the rest instead: that which is generally not taken note of, that which is not noticed, that which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens other than the weather, people, cars, and clouds.
       Over three consecutive days in October 1974, Perec recorded what he observed, from a variety of vantage points. He begins by trying to situate himself in the most general way, inventorying "some strictly visible things", ranging from the signage to the most obvious and everyday:
- Asphalt

- Trees (leafy, many yellowing)

- A rather big chunk of sky (maybe one-sixth of my field of vision)

- A cloud of pigeons that suddenly swoops down on the central plaza, between the church and fountain

- Vehicles (their inventory remains to be made)

- Human beings
       He repeatedly mentions the passing buses -- the line-numbers and their destinations -- noting eventually:
(why count the buses ? probably because they're recognizable and regular: they cut up time, they punctuate the background noise; ultimately, they're foreseeable
       As he hones in his gaze, "looking at only a single detail", much of what sees is no longer merely site-specific: if not entirely generic, much nevertheless could be anywhere (even, so he imagines, places he himself has never been or seen).
       Capturing everything is, of course, an impossibility -- there are: "tens, hundreds of simultaneous actions, micro-events" -- yet even so this exercise -- somewhere between list, sketch, and prose poem -- captures more than just the place and moment(s).
       This Attempt is a sort of Oulipian exercise. It's an easily exhausted approach -- at less than fifty pages it is readily digestible; at greater length it would quickly become unmanageable -- but Perec (as usual) shows a deft touch in how much to show, and how long to play his game. As the beginning suggested, it seems as much an exercise in situating self -- Perec as person, observer, and, specifically, writer -- as anything else; as such it is also an integral piece of the greater puzzle that is Perec's entire œuvre.
       Obviously an unusual sort of narrative, but certainly of interest. (And it comes in a beautiful little pocket-sized edition from Wakefield Press.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 May 2013

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An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris: Reviews: Georges Perec: OuLiPo: Other books by Georges Perec under review: Other books about Georges Perec under review: Books translated by Georges Perec into French under review: Other books under review of interest:
  • See Index of Oulipo books under review
  • See also the Index of French literature at the complete review
  • Other books from Wakefield Press under review

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About the Author:

       The great French writer Georges Perec (1936-1982) studied sociology at the Sorbonne and worked as a research librarian. His first published novel, Les Choses, won the 1965 Prix Renaudot. A member of the Oulipo since 1967 he wrote a wide variety of pieces, ranging from his impressive fictions to a weekly crossword for Le Point.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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