Georges Perec and the significance of the insignificant

Highmore, Ben (2017) Georges Perec and the significance of the insignificant. In: Wilken, Rowan and Clemens, Justin (eds.) The afterlives of Georges Perec. University of Edinburgh Press, Edinburgh, pp. 105-119. ISBN 9781474401241

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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.

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Film and Music > Media and Film
Research Centres and Groups: Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies
Subjects: A General Works
A General Works > AZ History of Scholarship The Humanities
Depositing User: Ben Highmore
Date Deposited: 18 Oct 2018 10:17
Last Modified: 18 Oct 2018 10:57

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