Interpreting the Holocaust Dreams of Literary Puzzle Master Georges Perec

OUILPO Pioneer's Journal Finally Arrives in English

That Obscure Object of Literature: French-Jewish writer Georges Perec’s dream journal “La Boutique Obscure” has finally been published in English.
GETTY IMAGES
That Obscure Object of Literature: French-Jewish writer Georges Perec’s dream journal “La Boutique Obscure” has finally been published in English.

By Vladislav Davidzon

Published May 28, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

● La Boutique Obscure
By Georges Perec
Translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker
Melville House, 214 pages, $18.95

The Anglophone world is currently undergoing one of its periodical revivals — this time, of the panegyric experimentalism and formalist frolics of the French avant-garde literary collective Oulipo.

The Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle), a workshop, movement and a taxonomic method, sprang up in the early 1960s with the intention of fusing the crystalline purity of mathematics with the formal constraints of literary play — puzzles crafted out of literary texts that sprung up from puzzles. The movement tinkered fruitfully and often pointlessly, with genres ranging from murder mysteries to crossword puzzles and palindromes. It counted Raymond Queneau, Italo Calvino and Jacques Roubaud among its savviest practitioners.

[Georges Perec,}(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcjzsBL7OIg) who died tragically early of lung cancer a few days shy of his 46th birthday, was the Oulipian who most consistently and gleefully transfigured genre conventions while still writing remarkably readable fictions. His novel “La Disparition” (1969), translated by Gilbert Adair into English as “A Void,” was written without the letter e. The book’s title refers to a document certifying death when a body is not present; the missing ‘e’ has been construed as a cipher for judenrein European civilization.

Perec is currently seeing something of a renaissance; his magnum opus, “Life: A User’s Manual,” has recently been reissued along with a spate of his other novels, and many of his lighter and quirkier literary curios are now being translated into English for the first time.

“La Boutique Obscure,” his dream journal, collates 124 dreams, which he kept from November 1968 until August 1972 for the salutary purposes of furthering his psychoanalysis. It’s characteristically original if perhaps less ecstatically mad than might have been expected.

Perec proclaimed it the world’s first “nocturnal autobiography,’’ though certain motifs are reminiscent of an older tradition, such as the mystically laden dream books of Swedenborg. The tonal melding of the quotidian (he buys expensive cheese and frets about money), the commonplace sexual effusions of the nocturnal world along with the fantastically literary (Perec opens a secret door at work to find a Surrealist artist’s studio, and escapes down a crumbling staircase from the Palais de la Defense), owes something to the journals of surrealist and anthropologist Michel Leiris.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.