An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Georges Perec

An experiment, and one ultimately doomed to failure; its failure, however, is also its greatest strength.  It’s essentially an extended list of details (“some cars dive into the parking lot./ an 86 [bus] passes by.  A 70 passes by,” etc, etc), something that would seem to make for a rather dull read.

But I found it one of the most invigorating reading experiences I’ve had in a long while.  Not particularly, I admit, because of the text itself, but in the way that it suddenly made me breathlessly attuned to my surroundings, conscious of the tiny details of a particular time and a particular space that are easily (usually?) overlooked, ignored.  I read this slenderest of texts as I sat at the small table in the front bay windows of a cafe I discovered last week and have returned to several times since, looking out on a side street that heretofore had seemed tranquil and practically empty (at least by San Francisco standards), but as I read it suddenly seemed bristling with activity, and I became hyper-aware of the pedestrians criss-crossing my direct field of vision, casually walking dogs, pushing strollers or talking on phones, of the wind occasionally causing the overhanging expanses of tree leaves to shudder uncontrollably, of the slightest glimpse of figures appearing in windows of the facing row of houses…

And for that all-too-brief hour or so, the “infraordinary”—Perec’s term for “the markings and manifestations of the everyday that consistently escape our attention as they compose the essence of lives”—suddenly seemed quite extraordinary.

I didn’t think of taking a photo myself, but I’m glad someone else did!  I was at the table on the opposite window, however, and when I’ve been there there hasn’t been so much activity outside… I have no idea what the white stuff is on the window though.  Photo by sparkle glowplug, found on flickr.

Review crossposted at Goodreads