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Book Of A Lifetime: Life: A User's Manual, By Georges Perec | Reviews | Culture | The Independent
"The index of 'Life: A User's Manual' ('Life', for short) is enough to hook me again. How many novels have an index? And 58 pages long! I dip in at random to the letter D and find:

"DEMOCRITUS, Greek philosopher, 460-370 BC, 14.

Dempledorf (Nebraska), 499.

DEMPSEY (William Harrison, called Jack), American boxer, 83, 175

De natura renum, by Blancard, 478

DENIKIN (Anton Ivanovich), Russian general 1872-1947, 151."

A little further on, Dundee gets a mention. Georges Perec makes it sound exotic. Everything becomes more curious seen through this French writer's eyes. The opening quotation is from Jules Verne: "Look with all your eyes, look." I think that is what the novel gave me. There is Dundee, and there is 'Dundee'.

I discovered 'Life' by chance in a bookshop on Market Street in St Andrews as an undergraduate. It was 1989. It was just a punt; the day was grey and the cover was red and blue. It was published in French in 1978. An English translation by the excellent David Bellos appeared in 1987. Perec himself died from too many cigarettes in 1982, aged 45.

He was a member of Oulipo, an experimental writing group that included Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino (the Italian I count as a big influence on my own writing). Oulipo toyed with writing constraints. Perec wrote a novel without using the letter e and another where e was the only vowel. Life is also subject to lists, arrangements of chapters according to Graeco-Latin squares (don't ask), even crossword puzzles.

It doesn't matter if you never notice these strictures (I didn't). What matters is the storytelling. It is just before eight in the evening on 23 June 1975 in 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier, a fictitious apartment building in the XVIIth arrondissment in Paris. Perec stops time. An old, blind English millionaire, Bartlebooth, is just about to die at his desk. He holds in his hand a piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

In the quiet, like a surveying ghost, Perec moves through every room in the building and spins out stories on the characters stopped there. The effect is ever-changing. The stories cover several genres: romance, mystery, thriller, essay and comedy.

Throughout the knowledgeis arcane, brilliant and mischievous. In the internet age Perec may have fallen through the trapdoors of hyperlinks. Here, the scholarship feels substantial. In my first reading, 'Life' seemed celebratory and playful. As I went on, as a political and war correspondent, the world here and there cut to the bone, the book felt darker. People die alone, schemes fail. I thought this was Perec the orphan speaking, the desolate boy whose mother was killed in a Nazi death camp.

Now I prefer a more positive feeling. Perec is showing that life is precious – time, people, even objects – and is precious because they cannot last."
jmdegard  books  georgesperec  life  oulipou  raymondqueneau  italocalvino 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Uncreative Writing - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education
"W/ an unprecedented amount of available text, our problem is not needing to write more of it; instead, we must learn to negotiate vast quantity that exists. How I make my way through this thicket of info—how I manage it, parse it, organize & distribute it—is what distinguishes my writing from yours.

…Marjorie Perloff has recently begun using the term "unoriginal genius" to describe this tendency emerging in literature. Her idea is that, because of changes brought on by technology & Internet, our notion of genius—a romantic, isolated figure—is outdated…updated notion of genius would have to center around one's mastery of information & its dissemination. Perloff…coined another term, "moving information," to signify both the act of pushing language around as well as the act of being emotionally moved by that process…posits that today's writer resembles more a programmer than tortured genius, brilliantly conceptualizing, constructing, executing, & maintaining a writing machine."

"For the past several years, I've taught a class at the University of Pennsylvania called "Uncreative Writing." In it, students are penalized for showing any shred of originality and creativity. Instead they are rewarded for plagiarism, identity theft, repurposing papers, patchwriting, sampling, plundering, and stealing. Not surprisingly, they thrive. Suddenly what they've surreptitiously become expert at is brought out into the open and explored in a safe environment, reframed in terms of responsibility instead of recklessness.

We retype documents and transcribe audio clips. We make small changes to Wikipedia pages (changing an "a" to "an" or inserting an extra space between words). We hold classes in chat rooms, and entire semesters are spent exclusively in Second Life. Each semester, for their final paper, I have them purchase a term paper from an online paper mill and sign their name to it, surely the most forbidden action in all of academia. Students then must get up and present the paper to the class as if they wrote it themselves, defending it from attacks by the other students. What paper did they choose? Is it possible to defend something you didn't write? Something, perhaps, you don't agree with? Convince us.

All this, of course, is technology-driven. When the students arrive in class, they are told that they must have their laptops open and connected. And so we have a glimpse into the future. And after seeing what the spectacular results of this are, how completely engaged and democratic the classroom is, I am more convinced that I can never go back to a traditional classroom pedagogy. I learn more from the students than they can ever learn from me. The role of the professor now is part party host, part traffic cop, full-time enabler.

The secret: the suppression of self-expression is impossible. Even when we do something as seemingly "uncreative" as retyping a few pages, we express ourselves in a variety of ways. The act of choosing and reframing tells us as much about ourselves as our story about our mother's cancer operation. It's just that we've never been taught to value such choices."
technology  writing  creativity  research  literature  marjorieperloff  internet  information  genius  2011  plagiarism  digitalage  poetry  classideas  marcelduchamp  readymade  remix  remixing  remixculture  briongysin  art  1959  christianbök  machines  machinegeneratedliterature  automation  democracy  coding  computing  wikipedia  academia  gertrudestein  andywarhol  matthewbarney  walterbenjamin  jeffkoons  williamsburroughs  detournement  replication  namjunepaik  sollewitt  jackkerouac  corydoctorow  muddywaters  raymondqueneau  oulipo  identityciphering  intensiveprogramming  jonathanswift  johncage  kennethgoldsmith 
september 2011 by robertogreco

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