An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris

An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris

Georges Perec

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Translated, with an afterword, by Marc Lowenthal / September 2010 / 4.5 x 7, 72 pp. / 978-1-939663-83-6

One overcast weekend in October 1974, Georges Perec set out in quest of the “infraordinary”: the humdrum, the nonevent, the everyday—“what happens,” as he put it, “when nothing happens.” His choice of locale was Place Saint-Sulpice where, ensconced behind first one café window, then another, he spent three days recording everything to pass through his field of vision: the people walking by; the buses and driving-school cars caught in their routes; the pigeons moving suddenly en masse, as if in accordance to some mysterious command; the wedding (and then funeral) at the church in the center of the square; the signs, symbols, and slogans littering everything; and the darkness that eventually absorbs it all. In An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, Perec compiled a melancholic, slightly eerie, and oddly touching document in which existence boils down to rhythm, writing turns into time, and the line between the empirical and the surreal grows surprisingly thin.

Georges Perec (1936–1982) was a French novelist, essayist, and filmmaker whose linguistic talents ranged from fiction to crossword puzzles to authoring the longest palindrome ever written. Winner of the prix Renaudot in 1965 for his first novel Things, and the prix Médicis in 1978 for his most acclaimed novel, Life A User’s Manual, Perec was also a member of Oulipo, a group of writers and mathematicians devoted to the discovery and use of constraints to encourage literary inspiration. One of their most famous products was Perec’s own novel, A Void, written entirely without the letter “e.”


“[A] kind of secret treasure for those interested in Oulipo- and Situationist-inspired tracts of Paris. Marvelously simple and deceptively well-designed, Perec's slim volume presents itself as an artifact of the street…”
—Erik Morse, Bookforum

“Deliciously quotidian!”
—James Hannaham, The Village Voice

“[I]t’s this odd, miniature book of hyperreality, of over-existence, that fascinates me as I travel through this summer. It starts out factual, rational, but it can’t help turning into a poem, turning into an addiction, turning into some trippy literature, turning into inevitable metaphor, turning into too much exposure.”
—Elizabeth Bachner, Bookslut

“Georges Perec is charming, the most charming man I will never meet, and An Attempt is yet another charming example of his charm…”
—Lily Hoang, HTML Giant

“[A] glimpse into the wonderfully elaborate and obsessive world of Georges Perec.”
—Karl Whitney, 3:AM Magazine

“[T]his beautiful little tome of urban motion and "Ghostliness" from the past is truly haunting.”
—Kevin Carollo, Rain Taxi

“[V]ery human and very moving; as in all excellent poetry, every mundane detail seems, upon consideration, vastly significant.”
—A. D. Jameson, The Review of Contemporary Fiction

“[Perec] settles himself, watches and notes. He is a contra-flâneur; he sits still and the world moves by. […] His flat listing—bus, another bus and its number—has me thinking his recording isn’t passive notation; he’s scoring an urban cantata...”
—Meeka Walsh, Bordercrossings

“[A] stunning and bittersweet act of intimacy and remembrance.”
—Eugene Lim, Jacket2

“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, The Complete Review

“The little book is a masterpiece of city writing. In Ulysses, James Joyce look more than 700 dense pages to explore 24 hours in Dublin; Perec uses less than 60 sparsely populated pages to document the better part of three days in mid-1970s Paris.”
—Ian Klaus and Daniel Levin Becker, CityLab

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