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from notes on Oulipo and ‘The Falls’

from John L***** offers these notes on Oulipo and ‘The Falls’ {comparing Perec’s Life with Greenaway’s The Falls}:

Other similarities to Greenaway:

* deliberate confusion of the audience, mixing obscure but nevertheless real personages with entirely invented ones, with no immediate means of determining which is which, as well as deliberate misstatement of facts as a means of disguising allusions (in ‘Life’, for example, a poem attributed to Ibn Zayadun is really a quotation from Proust).

* use of pastiche, multiplicity of narrative and linguistic styles, introduction of ‘found objects’ into the text (in ‘Life’ this takes the form of reproductions of notices, adverts, invitations, recipe cards and even a half-finished crossword puzzle – needless to say these are distributed according to the magic square!)

* internal allusions, private jokes and self-promotion. Self reference in ‘Life’ is already guaranteed by the fact that the list of ten books to be alluded to throughout included both Perec’s own novel ‘La disparition’ and ‘The conversions’ by Harry Matthews in Perec’s own French translation. However, an additional pair of constraints were employed which seem very much in the spirit of ‘The Falls’. Firstly, each chapter includes an allusion to one of Perec’s other works as well as yet-to-be-completed projects. Secondly, each chapter had to mention something that happened to the author during the period it was written. (Harry Matthews is the only American member of Oulipo, and his quirky fictions are certain to delight Greenaway fans. Perhaps another note may be in order at some future date?!)

* implicit parallel between the narrative itself and some other elaborate trick being played out on one or more of its characters. The overarching narrative of ‘Life’ concerns a project devised by the dilettante Percival Bartlebooth in collaboration with the jigsaw puzzle maker Winckler. Bartlebooth will learn watercolour colour painting for 10 years, then over the next twenty will paint 500 watercolours of seascapes, which will be made into jigsaw puzzles by Winckler. for the next twenty years, Bartlebooth will re-assemble the puzzles, remove the reconstituted paintings from the backing board, return them to the place they were painted and dissolve the paint so that no trace of the project will remain after fifty years entirely devoted to its completion. Winckler revenges himself on Bartlebooth by cutting the jigsaw pieces in such a way that there is more than one solution to the puzzles, and Bartlebooth dies while assembling the 439th, holding the last piece in his hand – his death coinciding with his realisation that it does not fit. Similarly, there are suggestions in ‘The Falls’ that the VUE may be a cruel hoax perpetrated by one of its apparent victims on the others (and hence on the audience). Many of the other stories in ‘Life’ and the individual biographies in ‘The Falls’ describe pointlessly complex projects which seem doomed to failure or incompletion.

* the idea that truth may be attained through comprehensive listing, cataloguing and indexing – and the recognition that such work develops its own momentum and comes to be undertaken for its own sake. In Greenaway’s case, this may have been influenced by his work for the COI. Perec worked from 1961-78 as archivist for a unit at the CNRS (the French scientific research funding institute) and devised an indexing system for the technical periodicals taken by the unit. some of Perec’s other works involve exhaustive or arbitrary listings: for example, ‘Lieux ou j’ai dormi’ (‘Places I have slept’) or ‘L’Augmentation’ (‘The Increment’) in which Perec planned to describe two of twelve places in Paris each month (one in situ, one from memory), and repeat the exercise over 12 years. This is, of course, reminiscent of the photographic project ’20 sites, n years’ begun in 1973 by the English artist Tom Phillips – Greenaway’s collaborator on ‘TV Dante’.

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