Species of Spaces and Other Pieces

Returning to Georges Perec’s writing feels like unearthing the ethos that originally informed Lawson Park. His commitment to ‘infra-ordinary’, or his belief that we none of us give enough attention to what is truly daily in our daily lives - to the banal habits, settings and events of which these lives almost entirely consist, has spawned generations of intimate writings and readings of our lived environments. Most typically, the infra-ordinary is what goes, literally, without saying. Perec’s writing is beautiful, terse, kind; he was the master of minute every day observations – urging readers to ‘examine your teaspoons’ for the clues, inscriptions and suggestions contained within them. His writing and his thought is the examination of the domestic par excellence and is probably essential reading if you would like to understand anything of the idiosyncratic details that layer together to form LP’s psychic compost. Perec was a Jewish child of the Second World War, during which he lost both of his parent to the Nazis, and the loss, sadness, and absence of identity this implies is legible in (and crucial to) the text. There is some sense of a young boy of alienation; belonging neither at home nor anywhere else, and of his deep need therefore to experience, generate and understand the minutia of hospitality and gestural communication.

Perec joined The Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle (known as OuLiPo) in 1967, a literary organisation formed in 1960 by a subset of writers and mathematicians interested in the possible connections between the practice of mathematics, and the various formal constraints that have to be satisfied in poetry. These experiments in constraint were a deep motivating principle for Perec’s joining. Though he was an archivist for most of his life - and rarely politically active - it’s often been noted that it feels intuitive to draw lines of connection between his minute attention to detail, and Marxian notions of the use and labour value attached to even the most nondescript products of human making. Perec’s biography suggests that there is some truth in this, though his left wing political allegiance was pretty softly realised – something that was in fact perhaps to his credit, as in many ways his unregenerate materialism is rendered all the more effective because it’s no longer at the service of a distracting ideology. As Perec wrote, ‘The subject of this book is not the void exactly, but rather what there is round about or inside it.’ It seems he felt it far less fruitful to chart infinite, rhetorical or ideological spaces, than to find fresh understanding in spaces much closer to hand, in principle anyway: towns, the countryside, or the corridors of the Paris Metro, or a public park. One chapter leads us through, for example:

The Bed

The Bedroom

The Apartment

The Street…

Perec would masterfully delineate the characteristics of each space, whilst playfully undermining the seriousness of categorization  - the dangerous limitations of which had been witnessed not only through the terror of Facism and its attendant methods of delineating, separating and ultimately persecuting, but in his position as a full time archivist, which he maintained until his premature death at the age of 46.


Georges Perec
John Sturrock
Original Language

Lawson Park Electronic Library is a Guestroom project for Grizedale Arts, designed and built by Dorian Moore