Perec en Amérique by Jean-Jacques Thomas (review)


In the early pages of this study, Jean-Jacques Thomas confesses that it was not his intention to write a book on Perec. Rather, he was interested in the manner in which “French Theory” had taken root in American academia in the 1960s and 1970s, enabling figures such as Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Jean-François Lyotard, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and others to export their thought with such resounding success. During the same period, a variety of creative writers, many of them associated with the nouveau roman, became widely known, respected, and indeed influential in American intellectual circles. Gradually, Thomas began to wonder why Georges Perec failed to achieve the same sort of recognition. For initially at least, everything seemed to favor his success: he had been significantly influenced by American culture (and particularly American cinema) at an early age; he had expressed the desire to experience daily life in America; and his own artistic vision was in some ways closer to New York avant-garde aesthetics than to those encountered in mainstream Parisian culture. Thomas argues that Perec saw in America something akin to a Foucauldian heterotopia, “a reservoir of intellectual and vital energy” (14, my translation, as elsewhere) and a place that welcomed the kind of unconventional literary experimentation that he sought to practice. All the more surprising, then, that where so many others traversed the Atlantic in broad and apparently effortless leaps, Perec himself failed to do so—or at least during his own lifetime.

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