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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

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_Black_Acrylic presents … You Know It Is, It Really Is: A Frank Sidebottom Day *

* (restored)

 

Welcome to a day devoted to someone whose work was somehow indefinable yet would often touch the giddy heights of greatness. Please give it up for the one, the only, Frank Sidebottom.

 

 

Christopher Mark Sievey (25 August 1955 – 21 June 2010) was an English musician and comedian known for fronting the band The Freshies in the late 1970s and early 1980s and for his comic persona Frank Sidebottom from 1984 onwards.

Sievey, under the guise of Sidebottom, made regular appearances on North West television throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, even becoming a reporter for Granada Reports. More recently he had presented Frank Sidebottom’s Proper Telly Show in B/W for the Manchester-based television station Channel M. Throughout his career, Sidebottom made appearances on radio stations such as Manchester’s Piccadilly Radio and on BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 5, alongside Mark and Lard.

The character was instantly recognisable by his large spheroidal head, styled like an early Max Fleischer cartoon. This was initially made from papier-mâché, but later rebuilt out of fibreglass.

Frank, usually dressed in a 1950s-style sharp suit, was portrayed as an aspiring pop star from the small town of Timperley near Altrincham, Greater Manchester. His character was cheerfully optimistic, enthusiastic, and seemingly oblivious to his own failings. Although supposedly 35 years old (the age always attributed to Frank irrespective of the passage of time), he still lived at home with his mother, to whom he made frequent references. His mother was apparently unaware of her son’s popularity. Frank sometimes had a sidekick in the form of “Little Frank”, a hand puppet who was otherwise a perfect copy of Frank.

He reached cult status in the late 1980s/early 1990s thanks to extensively touring the country. Performances were often varied from straightforward stand-up comedy and featured novelty components such as tombola, and a lot of crowd interaction. Sometimes the show also included lectures. Contrasting against the alternative comedians of the time, Frank Sidebottom’s comedy was family-friendly, if a little bizarre for some.

Sievey was diagnosed with cancer in May 2010, and died at Wythenshawe Hospital on 21 June 2010 at the age of 54 after collapsing at his home in Hale, Greater Manchester. After it was reported that Sievey had died virtually penniless and was facing a pauper’s funeral provided by state grants, a grassroots movement on various social networking websites raised £6,500 in a matter of hours. The appeal closed on Monday 28 June with a final balance of £21,631.55 from 1,632 separate donations.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Sievey

 

 

Frank is, of course, just that: an invention, an artistic, musical and comedic outlet for the man who dwelled underneath the hardened paper and paste. Chris Sievey was the unnamed narrator to Frank Sidebottom’s Tyler Durden, a man who slept very little to achieve more, who cared not for money but for what he could make, and whom he could make happy. Mostly himself. Though sharing one body, Frank and Chris were always seen as two completely different people, even by those who knew them best. Frank’s former manager, bandmate and roadie, Dave Arnold, played bass in Frank’s band for some time before his first meeting with Chris: “Frank made you suspend all belief,” he says. “Even after I saw the transformation, it was still Frank.”

Sievey was an immersive performer so committed to his act that it took on a life of its own – he made all his props and artwork by hand, and even worked on animated shows such as Pingu and Bob the Builder during his times away from Frank’s head to keep his creative juices flowing in any way he could. But he was at his happiest when reaching for that showbusiness star in his ill-fitting suit and disproportional mask, and his output was matched by his disregard for it. Arnold describes him as the “ultimate punk” in that he gave most things away for free or destroyed them (knowing he himself would have to remake everything). In his column in the anarchic comic Oink!, Sidebottom would publish his home phone number for people to ring him whenever they wanted; a free chat with a man who just loved to perform. Even at the height of his popularity during the late 80s, Frank would hire out his services to come to your house to entertain and in turn be entertained by whoever hired (£35 Manchester area only, an extra £2.11 if you wanted Little Frank as well). “He would stay for an hour or so, but if the conversation was good, i.e. space, then he would stay for longer,” discovered Sullivan after finding one of the old newsletters Sidebottom would hand-write and send to fans.

John Stansfield
http://www.theskinny.co.uk/comedy/features/307084-can_we_frank_searching_for_frank_sidebottom

 

 photo Frank_Sidebottom_Oink1_zpse7bb6337.jpg

 

What got you started?
Getting a packet of pound-shop felt-tip pens in a Christmas stocking. I used them to draw pictures of the American civil war.
What was your big breakthrough?
Winning £8 worth of art materials in a competition at school. I did a picture of Scotland, with some trees and a lake. The next thing I knew, I had an exhibition at Stockport art gallery.
Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?
Pink felt-tip pens. When I do self-portraits, I wear a pink tie. So I’m always running out of pink.
What one song would feature on the soundtrack to your life?
Guess Who’s Been on Match of the Day? I wrote it after I went on Match of the Day. I document my life in music.
Are you fashionable?
Very.
Have you done anything cultural lately?
I’m preparing to go on The Culture Show on BBC2 to talk about surrealism. It’s like the Blackpool Hall of Mirrors, but in paintings.
Do you suffer for your art?
Yes, when my mum tells me to tidy up and go to bed at half-past 10. But sometimes I climb down the drainpipe and carry on downstairs. I’m a rebel.
What’s your favourite film?
Dr Who and the Daleks. TheDaleks are the best design of the 20th century.
What’s the greatest threat to art today?
The Germans coming back and stealing it all, and then burning it.
What advice would you give a young artist just starting out?
Get some paper and pens. And forget the beret and the attic. You can do art just as well in a shed.
Is the internet a good thing for art?
Yes, because it tells people about it, but art doesn’t look as good on a screen: you’ve got to see it up close. None of my artworks have frames, so people can touch them.
What work of art would you most like to own?
Peter Blake’s cut-outs for the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album cover. I’d line them up in my living room to look like I had loads of mates.
Complete this sentence: At heart I’m just a frustrated …
Peter Blake.
In the movie of your life, who plays you?
I don’t know. Film4 is making one and they haven’t cast it yet.
What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
My mum told me to get a proper job. I ignored her.

In short
Born: Timperley, Greater Manchester, 1972
Career: The comic creation of artist/ musician Chris Sievey, Frank released his debut EP, Frank’s Firm Favourites, in 1985. His drawings, models and animations are on show at the Chelsea College of Art and Design, London (020-7514 6000).
High point: “Supporting Bros at Wembley in front of 56,000 Bros-ettes. They didn’t know who I was, but I won them over.”
Low point: “Performing in front of 56,000 Bros-ettes who didn’t know who I was.”

Interview by Laura Barnett
http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2007/jul/17/art1

 

 

There can have been few funnier sites than a middle aged man with a bulbous papier mache head arguing with a small puppet version of himself before treading on a microbe version of himself. Not only hilarious but also skewed and weirdly surreal.

Frank Sidebottom was one of the last of a breed- operating outside the rules and with a mind so brilliant that its restless genius was never appreciated. He put most modern comedians to shame. And now he is no more.

It’s hard to believe that Frank Sidebottom is dead. He seemed too surreal, too childlike, too cartoon strip to be bothered with tedious, boring stuff like dying. But it’s true: Frank is no more because his creator Chris Sievey died of complications caused by cancer on June 21st.

Of course we must not mix the two of them up. There is no truth in the scurrilous rumour that Chris Sievey was Frank Sidebottom. I interviewed the pair of them on the phone for The North Will Rise Again, my oral history of Manchester book, and after about an hour of brilliant stuff from Chris I asked him about Frank, figuring he must know something about the nasally comic genius.

The phone went click.

Dead.

A few minutes later the phone rang and, oddly, it was Frank, coincidentally ringing to sort out an interview. Where Chris was full of funny stories from the fringes of the music scene, Frank was plain weird and hilarious, like a psychotic child running amok in showbiz and using his humour to tear apart the stupidity of that world that had snubbed him for so long.

His tales of Timperley – the Manchester suburb where Ian Brown and John Squire had lived in their youth – were brilliantly skewed piss-takes of the mundanity of the rainy day. I was once in a TV studio and watched him do this utterly mental, but utterly brilliant, musical set in Timperley with a pick up band of lunatics in cheap suits. It was like the One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest bus trip.

The bizarre tension when you confused the pair of them was something that unwitting journalists had often mentioned, and I wasn’t the only one with this experience.

Sievey hated talking about Frank.

There seemed to be some sort of rivalry between the two of them. Altrincham obviously wasn’t big enough for the pair of them, or maybe they were the same person.

Now we will never know.

Sievey did the publicity for Rabid records in Manchester; he was also produced by Martin Hannet very early on and did some artwork for John Cooper Clarke. He was already a key figure on the fringes of the scene, with his wild imagination and brilliant pop mind just too far ahead of everyone else plodding along in his wake. In pop, though, there are no awards for being great or first, and Sievey was eternally frustrated.

His band, The Freshies, were perfect pop-punk whose sole semi hit ‘I’m In Love With The Girl On A Certain Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk’ got to number 54 in the charts in February 1981 and was lined up for a Top Of the Pops appearance. Sievey was denied his dream opportunity when there was a BBC technicians strike – the story of his life.

The single is nowhere near their best song. His cassettes, which I have a bunch of, were stuffed full of great songs. Classic melodic pop-punk, the kind of stuff that sells millions these days but, back then, was too pop for punk and too punk for pop.

He even invented a very early computer game, but no-one know what he was going on about. Yet again, he was too far ahead. His fervent pop mind was a good decade in advance of everyone else: he also invented board games, songs, musical ideas, schemes and scams before eventually he invented Frank Sidebottom, his curious alter ego whose papier-mâché head, shabby suit and nasal twang were a perfect vehicle for a series of bizarre and weird gags that were dark, strange and utterly hilarious.

We heard about his cancer a couple of months ago, which was shocking, and were cheered by his never-ending gigs that continued and his Tweets that dared to take the piss out of his illness – including joking about his papier-mâché head losing its hair!

Two weeks ago Frank Sidebottom popped up at Bruce Mitchell’s (Durutti Column drummer and real Manchester legend) 70th birthday party at the Manchester town hall. He looked as fresh faced as ever with those big round eyes, showing little sign of the cruel disease. To be honest, Frank had remained unchanged since he burst onto the showbiz scene a quarter of century ago.

He even did a gig in my local pub the Salutation about a week ago. Funny as fuck to the end.

Manchester mourns another legend.

John Robb
http://johnrobb77.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/frank-sidebottom-rip/

 

 

Sometimes life’s poetry and pathos can be embodied by the most unlikeliest of things. Such was the case with Chris Sievey’s masterful comic creation Frank Sidebottom. So complete was Sievey’s command of the character that, on hearing the news on Monday of his death at the age of 54, I couldn’t help but think of poor Little Frank; what will become of him?

Sievey’s perennially daft boy-man with the oversized papier-maché head was so likeable and witty that a part of you really wanted him to be real. That desire to suspend disbelief and inhabit Frank’s world of garden sheds and tea with his mum was testament to Sievey’s considerable comic talent.

I didn’t know Sievey, but I did meet him once without his Frank head. He was recording something for a radio show I was working on. He put a clip on his nose – the sort you’d use for diving, I think – and for some reason I found that most simple of props fascinating. It was obvious really, but I guess I’d never thought about how or why Frank’s voice was the way it was – it was just the voice he’d been ‘born’ with, the voice you’d expect a head such as his to emit.

Again, you can only put that down to Sievey’s skill as a character comedian; as unlikely as it may sound, what he did was a kind of method acting, more Marlon Brando than Mike Yarwood. Sievey was, of course, renowned for only being interviewed in character when talking about Frank.

So, there I was, listening to Frank while what I could see was a very ordinary, scruffy-looking bloke in jeans and a T-shirt who’d obviously popped for a pint on his way to the studio (it was early evening). I can’t remember what Frank was saying, but I do remember smiling a lot.

But Frank Sidebottom – by accident or design – was able to do more than just make you laugh. By the sheer ludicrousness of what Sievey did, he managed to bring the po-faced down a peg or two as well, to cut through the way that so much that is really pretty trivial in our culture is treated far too seriously. When he parodied the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK as Anarchy In Timperley it was hilarious, not just because the notion of anarchy in a sedate, middle-class village in Cheshire is inherently comic, but because it also made you realize that the original was rather silly as well.

And so it is with Three Shirts On My Line, his just released World Cup charity record which takes Frank Skinner, David Baddiel and Ian Broudie’s Three Lions and wrings some humour out of an event and a sport that has a habit of thinking rather too highly of itself. Yet at the same time it feels like a celebration of being a perpetually disappointed England fan. Fantastic.

“The song just rolled off my tongue, faster than a fast-speed washing machine,” Frank told the Manchester Evening News to launch the record. “I asked my mum where my England shirts were and she said that she had washed them. I looked outside and there were three shirts on the line. I thought, that is a brilliant idea for a song. Thirty-five years of dirt washed out by my mum.”

There’s a Facebook campaign been set up to try and get the song to number one during the World Cup as a tribute to Sievey. The same group is also raising funds for his funeral; Sievey died virtually penniless and his family were struggling to raise the cash to give him the kind of send off he deserves. A substantial amount has already been raised.
Not that anyone can say that Sievey leaves nothing behind. There’s all those witty songs, all those YouTube clips, all that laughter and silliness. We’ll miss you, Frank. And Little Frank too.

Chris Sharratt
http://www.creativetimes.co.uk/articles/frank-sidebottom-remembered

 

 

In the summer 0f 2010 I conducted what was, to my knowledge, the last ever interview that Frank ever gave. This appeared in our art zine Yuck ‘n Yum:

A singular presence on the stand-up comedy and cabaret circuit, Frank Sidebottom can rightly be called an institution. His act takes in popular Manchester standards (his rendition of Love Will Tear Us Apart really is quite something), some traditional showbiz patter and also puppetry with his cardboard alter ego Little Frank, all performed by a man with a giant spherical papier-mâché head. Once seen, Frank will surely not be forgotten by anyone in a hurry. Emerging around the late eighties/ early nineties Madchester music scene, he spent many years appearing on regional TV and treading the boards at northern comedy gigs. After making something of a comeback around the turn of the 21st century, Frank has recently performed in a few art spaces such as Tate Britain to great acclaim and a viewing of his routine by some as a form of outsider- performance art. In May this year Frank shocked his fans with the “bobbins news” that he has cancer, but this he has borne with characteristic valour. A self-portrait titled ‘me as me after chemotherapy’ was posted on eBay, raising £480 for Cancer Research, and in an exclusive Yuck ‘n Yum interview we learned all about the world according to Frank Sidebottom:

During your fantastic showbusiness career you have performed at the CHELSEA art space and even at Tate Britain. Do you consider yourself an artist?

************ anyone can be for as little as a pound !!! that’s how much my felt-tip pens cost from the pound shop !

This year you’ll be playing shows across the world. Is there any place that you’re looking forward to the most?

*** new york is ace,… but then so is the isle of man !

In June you’ll appear at Glasgow’s Puppet Cabaret festival. What can your audience expect?

**************** a medium rate of semi-professional puppetry,… as long as little frank (my ventrilloquist puppet) doesn’t ruin it !

Do you ever argue with Little Frank when you’re both on tour?

*** don’t be swept along,… he’s only cardboard !

Who is your favourite artist?

*** myself,… and paul macca and billy childish are quite good at painting too !

Are you planning any more TV appearances in the future?

***** i’m planning loads,… it’s just a case of if the telly companies are planning that too !

We all know how much you’re looking forward to the world cup, but who do you think will win?

**** in the ideal world,… it would be “timperley bigshorts f.c.” (my sunday football team… but it will probably be 10 men from somewhere else !

During your long glittering showbusiness career what do you think have been the high points?

**** meeting the queen was o.k.,.. and supporting bros at wembley in front of 54,000 was quite good too !

Who would be your dream special guest on Timperley TV?

**** ringo ,… (only joking !!! i mean paul!)

Yuck ‘n Yum will be holding a karaoke contest for artists in September. What is your ultimate karaoke tune?

“see you later crocodile” (in swahilli)

Many thanks and all the best… Ben Robinson, Yuck ‘n Yum

and a big thank you to you ,.. and all at yuck ‘n yum
best regards
frank sidebottom

http://www.yucknyum.com/the-zine/?read=summer2010&pp;=3

 

 

THE END… you know it is, it really is.

 

 

*

p.s. Here’s a cool guest-curated goodie from my former, murdered blog. Check it. See you personally on Saturday.

Georges Perec Day *

* (restored)

‘Georges Perec was born, the only son of Icek Judko and Cyrla (Schulewicz) Peretz – Polish Jews who had emigrated to France in the 1920s – in a working-class district of Paris. Perec’s father, who enlisted in the French Army during World War II, died in 1940 from unattended gunfire or shrapnel wounds, and Perec’s mother perished in the Nazi Holocaust, probably in Auschwitz. Perec was taken into the care of his paternal aunt and uncle in 1942, and in 1945 he was formally adopted by them.

‘He started writing reviews and essays for La Nouvelle Revue Française and Les Lettres Nouvelles, prominent literary publications, while studying history and sociology at the Sorbonne. In 1961, Perec began working at the Neurophysiological Research Laboratory attached to the Hôpital Saint-Antoine as an archivist, a low-paid position which he retained until 1978. A few reviewers have noted that the daily handling of records and variegated data may have had an influence on his literary style. Perec’s other major influence was the Oulipo, which he joined in 1967, meeting Raymond Queneau, among others. Perec dedicated his masterpiece, La Vie mode d’emploi (Life: A User’s Manual) to Queneau, who died before it was published.

La Vie mode d’emploi (1978) brought Perec some financial and critical success – it won the Prix Médicis – and allowed him to turn to writing full-time. He was a writer in residence at the University of Queensland, Australia in 1981, during which time he worked on the unfinished 53 Jours (53 Days). Shortly after his return from Australia, his health deteriorated. A heavy smoker, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died the following year, only forty-five years old.

‘The Association Georges Perec was founded in 1982 in order to promote the work of Georges Perec internationally and to establish public archives. The Perec archives in Paris have almost all editions of Perec’s work published both in France and abroad, as well as a weath of secondary literature on the author. The association is open to visits once a week in the Arsenal library. It organises a monthly seminar at Paris VII Jussieu university where researchers present papers on Perec. It also publishes its own biannual Bulletin Georges Perec with details of the latest editions and secondary literature published worldwide, and the Cahiers Georges Perec with articles on Perec’s work.’ — collaged

 

____________

Georges Perec, Oulibiographer
by Bernard Magne

‘There are facts: Georges Perec has been a member of the Oulipo since March 1967.

‘There are photographs: in the group’s “official” photo, taken in 1975, Georges Perec occupies the eleventh position from the right (counting the head of André Blavier on the table).

‘There are rules: despite his death on March 3, 1982, Georges Perec is still a member of the Oulipo—which, as we know, makes no distinction between living members and deceased ones.

‘There are statistics: “I consider myself a genuine product of the Oulipo. My existence as a writer is 90% dependent on my knowing the Oulipo at a pivotal point in my formation, in my literary work,” Perec has declared.

‘There is, above all, the complexity of a body of work so rich and so diverse that it seems impossible to reduce to a label—whether grandiose or grassroots is anyone’s guess.’

(Read the rest)

 

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The Infra-Ordinary
In an essay written in 1973 (“Approches de quoi?” “Approaches to What?”), Georges Perec coined the term “l’infra-ordinaire” (the infra-ordinary) for those minimal aspects of reality which he hoped to zero in on. Perec asks himself: “What is the real in people’s life, what is the real in people’s consciousness? What real still belongs to them?” For him, the real is not what merits inclusion in History, but instead what is likely to be forgotten, what is fleeting, inconsequential. The anthropologist’s task is to rescue things from their opacity: “what we call quotidian is not evidence, but opacity” – writes Perec – “a kind of blindness, a sort of anesthesia.” In order to free oneself from such blindness, phenomenologists prescribe the bracketing of the world as a necessary precondition to understanding. Similarly, Perec’s first step is to detach himself from contingency, yet for him the process of bracketing focuses on what is the narrative material for other writers or journalists, evidence itself. He will scrupulously avoid any “interesting” detail; instead he will launch himself into a diligent analysis of the most trivial aspects of the here and now:
‘What happens everyday, the banal, the quotidian, the evident, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual; how can one account for it, how can one question it, how can one describe it?’

‘Trains begin to exist only when they are derailed, the more passengers are dead, the more trains exist; planes have access to existence only when they are hijacked; the only meaningful destiny for cars is crashing into a sycamore: fifty-two weekends per year, fifty-two totals; so many dead and all the better for the news if the figures keep increasing! […] In our haste to measure the historic, the meaningful, the revealing, we leave aside the essential.’

‘What really happens, what we live, all the rest, where is it?’

‘It is of no importance to me that these questions here are fragmentary and simply hint at a method, or, at the most, a project. It is of great importance to me, on the contrary, that these questions appear to be futile and trivial: it is precisely that which makes them as essential as, if not more essential than, so many other questions through which we have vainly tried to capture our truth.’

— taken from The Ali Baba Project

— Read Perec’s full essay ‘The Infra-Ordinary’ here.

 

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Georges Perec Thoughts on the Art and Technique of Crossing Words

‘The construction of a crossword consists of two operations that are quite different and in the end perfectly independent of each other: the first is the filling of the diagram; the second is the search for definitions.

‘The filling of the diagram is a tedious, meticulous, maniacal task, a sort of letter-based arithmetic where all that matters is that words have this or that length, and that their juxtapositions reveal groupings that are compatible with the perpendicular construction of other words; it is a system of primary constraints where the letter is omnipresent but language is absent.’

(Read the rest of an extract here)

— Read the entirety in the March 2007 issue of The Believer

 

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Georges Perec’s 10×10 Knight’s Tour
‘The following 10×10 Knight’s Tour was used by Georges Perec to descibe the rooms of a Paris apartment building in his masterpiece: Life: A User’s Manual.

Perec: “it would have been tedious to describe the building floor by floor and apartment by apartment; but that was no reason to leave the chapter sequence to chance. So I decided to use a principle derived from an old problem well known to chess enthusiasts as the Knight’s tour; it requires moving a knight around the 64 squares of a chess-board without its ever landing more than once on the same square… For the special case of Life A User’s Manual, a solution for a 10 x 10 chess-board had to be found… The division of the book into six parts was derived from the same principle: each time the knight has finished touching all four sides of the square, a new section begins”

‘Perec’s 10×10 Knight’s tour is reproduced below. Notice that the tour is not accurate, because of the incorrect knight move between squares 65 and 66. A more accurate knight’s tour can be seen further below.’

— taken from The Borders Chess Club Website

 

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Georges Perec A Void

A Void (La Disparition) is a novel in the form of a lipogram in which the letter e does not appear. In English this deprives one of an essential article (“the”) and about two thirds of the words in the language; in French it is even worse, leaving one with about an eighth of the lexicon. My initial feeling was that this was a gimmick which might be amusing in a poem or a short story but which must surely be ridiculous in a novel, but I soon realised I was wrong.’

Excerpt: ‘Noon rings out. A wasp, making an ominous sound, a sound akin to a klaxon or a tocsin, flits about. Augustus, who has had a bad night, sits up blinking and purblind. Oh what was that word (is his thought) that ran through my brain all night, that idiotic word that, hard as I’d try to pun it down, was always just an inch or two out of my grasp – fowl or foul or Vow or Voyal? – a word which, by association, brought into play an incongruous mass and magma of nouns, idioms, slogans and sayings, a confusing, amorphous outpouring which I sought in vain to control or turn off but which wound around my mind a whirlwind of a cord, a whiplash of a cord, a cord that would split again and again, would knit again and again, of words without communication or any possibility of combination, words without pronunciation, signification or transcription but out of which, notwithstanding, was brought forth a flux, a continuous, compact and lucid flow: an intuition, a vacillating frisson of illumination as if caught in a flash of lightning or in a mist abruptly rising to unshroud an obvious sign – but a sign, alas, that would last an instant only to vanish for good.’

— Read ‘Anton Vowl,’ the first chapter of Perec’s A Void, here.

 

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Georges Perec and classification
Oct 23rd, 2006 by maxine
from LibraryThing’s ideas blog

‘The brilliant, eclectic French writer Georges Perec is best known for his unconventional novel Life: A User’s Manual. Others may know him as the guy who wrote a novel, La disparition, without using a single e–which is at least as hard to pull off in French as it is in English—and followed it up with the shorter Les Revenentes, which used e as its only vowel! (La disparition was translated into English by Gilbert Adair as A Void; Les revenentes hasn’t been translated.) He wrote a 5,000 word palindrome—much harder to do before computers—and a fake paper on the “yelling effect” produced when a soprano is pelted with tomatoes.
‘What does any of this have to do with classification? Well, for much of his life Perec worked as a archivist and classifier for a scientific laboratory. He thought deeply about classification and its consequences, a topic which appears often in his essays and other (unclassifiable) short pieces, published in English as Species of Spaces. “Think/Classify” is (intentionally) an unordered grab bag of thoughts on the topic—Sei Shonagon’s lists, French place-names, the organization of the 1900 World’s Fair, his personal filing system, etc. “On the art…” aligns nicely with what Thingamabrarians say about what really happens when you try to put your books in order. Some choice bits:

“Disorder in a [personal] library is not serious in itself; it ranks with ‘Which drawer did I put my socks in?’ … Opposed to this apologia for the sympathetic disorder is the small-minded temptation toward an individual bureaucracy: one thing for each place and each place for its one thing, and vice versa. Between these two tensions, one which sets a premium on letting things be, on a good-natured anarchy, the other that exalts the virtues of the tabula rasa, the cold efficiency of the great arranging, one always ends by trying to set one’s book in order. This is a trying, depressing operation, but one liable to produce pleasant surprises, such as coming upon a book you had forgotten because you no longer see it and which, putting off until tomorrow what you won’t do today, you finally re-devour lying face down on your bed.”

“So very tempting to want to distribute the entire world in terms of a single code. A universal law would then regulate phenomena as a whole: two hemispheres, five continents, masculine and feminine, animal and vegetable, singular plural, right left, four seasons, five senses, six vowels, seven days, twelve months, twenty six letters. … Unfortunately, this doesn’t work, has never even begun to work, will never work. Which won’t stop us continuing for a long time to come to categorize this animal or that according to whether it has an odd number of toes or hollow horns.”

“Taxonomy can make your head spin. It does mine whenever my eyes light on an index of the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC). By what succession of miracles has agreement been reached, practically throughout the world, that 668.184.2.099 shall denote the finishing of toilet soap, and 629.1.018–465 horns on refuse vehicles; whereas 621.3.027.23, 621.436:382, 616.24—002.5—084, 796.54, and 913.15 denote respectively: tensions not exceeding 50 volts, the export trade in Diesel motors, the prophylaxy of tuberculosis, camping, and the ancient geography of Japan!’”

— taken from OWL’s (omnipresent Wisconsin librarian) Librarian’s Place Blog

 

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Georges Perec Métaux
R.L.D. [Robert et Lydie Dutrou], 1985; edition of 135

‘Robert Dutrou, one of the most important French printers, founded the RLD studio in 1973. In 1985 they published seven poems by Georges Perec: Métaux. The book contained seven engravings by Italian artist Paolo Boni. In addition to his well known novels, Perec wrote so-called ‘heterogrammatical’ poems, written with a limited number of letters: a, e, i, l, n, o, r, s, t, u, adding one other letter of the alphabet for each poem (the so-called ‘joker’). The author therefore uses a special alphabet of only 11 letters for these poems. The poem is presented in a square of 11 x 11 letters, in which the letters he uses may only appear once in each line and each column. For clarity’s sake, the poem is also presented in more traditional form, with the addition of punctuation marks, accents, spaces and blank lines. In 1976 Perec published 176 such poems under the title Alphabets. He changed his spelling rules for Métaux: these are seven poems for which he used a 14-letter alphabet: 12 regular letters (a, d, e, i, l, m, n, o, r, s, t, u) with one additional letter for each poem, and another ‘joker’ letter.’

— See sample pages from Métaux and read more about the book here.

 

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Three authors’ anagrammed versions of ‘Vocalisations’ by Georges Perec
‘These are all simultaneous anagrams and approximate English translations of Vocalisations by George Perec, a lipogrammatic rendering of Rimbaud’s poem Voyelles omitting the letter E. Note that this constraint is present at two levels: the poem elides the parts of Rimbaud’s original that talk about E, as well as avoiding the letter itself.’

Vocalisations

A noir, (Un blanc), I roux, U safran, O azur:
Nous saurons au jour dit ta vocalisation:
A, noir carcan poilu d’un scintillant morpion
Qui bombinait autour d’un nidoral impur,

Caps obscurs; qui, cristal du brouillard ou du Khan,
Harpons du fjord hautain, Rois Blancs, frissons d’anis?
I, carmins, sang vomi, riant ainsi qu’un lis
Dans un courroux ou dans un alcahool mortifiant;

U, scintillations, rond divins du flot marin,
Paix du pâtis tissu d’animaux, paix du fin
Sillon qu’un fol savoir aux grands fronts imprima;

O, finitif clairon aux accords d’aiguisoir,
Soupirs ahurissant Nadir ou Nirvâna:
O l’omicron, rayon violin dans son Voir!

Read the authors’ anagrammations here.

— taken from The Anagrammy Awards Home Page

 

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from Georges Perec’s History of the Lipogram
‘Exclusively preoccupied with its great capitals (Work, Style, Inspiration, World-Vision, Fundamental Options, Genius, Creation, etc.), literary history seems deliberately to ignore writing as practice, as work, as play. Systematic artifices, formal mannerisms (that which, in the final analysis, constitutes Rabelais, Sterne, Roussel…) are relegated to the registers of asylums for literary madmen, the “Curiosities”: “Amusing Library,” “Treasury of Singularities,” “Philological Entertainments,” “Literary Frivolities,” compilations of a maniacal erudition where rhetorical “exploits” are described with suspect complaisance, useless exaggeration, and cretinous ignorance. Constraints are treated therein as aberrations, as pathological monstrosities of language and of writing; the works resulting from them are not even worthy to be called “works”: locked away, once and for all and without appeal, and often by their authors themselves, these works, in their prowess and their skillfulness, remain paraliterary monsters justiciable only to a symptomology whose enumeration and classification order a dictionary of literary madness.’

— taken from Attempts: A reality-based blog by Stephen Frug

 

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The system inside Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual

‘In keeping with Oulipo objectives, Perec created a complex system to construct the novel Life: A User’s Manual which would generate for each chapter a list of items, references or objects which that chapter should then contain or allude to. He described this system as a “machine for inspiring stories”. There are 42 lists of 10 objects each, gathered into 10 groups of 4 with the last two lists a special “Coupl
es” list. The way in which these apply to each chapter is governed by an array called a Graeco-Latin square. The lists are considered in pairs, and each pair is governed by one cell of the array, which guarantees that every combination of elements is encountered. For instance, the items in the couples list are seen once with their natural partner (in which case Perec gives an explicit reference), and once with every other element (where he is free to be cryptic). In the 1780s, the great mathematician Leonhard Euler had conjectured that a 10×10 Graeco-Latin square could not exist and it was not until 1959 that one was actually constructed, refuting Euler. To further complicate matters, the 38th and 39th list are named “Missing” and “False” and each list comprises the numbers 1 to 10. The number these lists give for each chapter indicates one of the 10 groups of 4 lists, and folds the system back on itself: one of the elements must be omitted, and one must be false in some way (an opposite, for example). Things become tricky when the Missing and False numbers refer to group 10, which includes the Missing and False lists.’

Wikipedia has a decent thumbnail explanation of the novel’s systems, and you can read it here.

 

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George Perec’s Last Healthy Days in Australia
by Joseph K.

In 1981 Jean-Michel Raynaud, then lecturer in French at the University of Queensland, invited Perec to Australia for two months, and later documented the writer’s stay in Pour un Perec, lettré, chiffré (Presses universitaires de Lille, 1987).
Throughout that September, Georges Perec was resident writer at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, where his duties consisted mainly in running a weekly Oulipian poetry workshop for students and staff. Perec had hoped that, while in Australia, he would be able to concentrate on Fifty-three Days, the novel that was still unfinished when he died; but progress was slow, as he found himself busier than expected.
October was spent giving lectures and interviews in Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, some of which were duly recorded. Things, his first novel and the only one then available in English, was already on the syllabus of many universities and, as a result, Perec gave several lectures on this book. He also talked at length about poetic writing and the work of Oulipo. Unfortunately there is no trace of the lecture in English entitled “Fiction and Autobiography” that Perec was scheduled to give at Flinders University, Adelaide, on 2 October 1981.
A few days before Perec’s departure for Australia, Kaye Mortley recorded a long conversation with him in English in Paris for The Listening Room, an Australian literary radio programme. This proved to be the last formal interview of his life, as he died of cancer not long after his return to France. Here are three of Perec’s answers:

– ‘At the end of my life, I would like to have used all the words of the dictionary. That’s impossible. And not only to … use all of them but to create some. That’s my ambition. That’s why I write and how I write, at the same time.’

How do you situate yourself in relationship to your readers…?

– ‘I represent myself as something like a chess player playing [a game of chess] with the reader. I must convince him, or her, to read what I wrote, and he must begin the book and go until the end. If he doesn’t, I miss my aim.’

So you regard him as a sort of alter ego who reads, who is reading?

– ‘Not exactly… yes, at the end. But I mean during the process of reading, I consider him like a chess mate – somebody who is playing a part with me. The model for that kind of thing is the detective novel, all detective novels. When you read a detective novel, you don’t care really about who kills the victim and who is the murderer and… you care only about… you wonder why you don’t find. And it’s very interesting because in a novel you try to play with what is true, what is false, what to think, what to… – just to keep an aura of suspense, in a sense like Roland Barthes uses it. Something is suspendu – hanging – and it’s a way of dreaming, of going elsewhere through the process of fiction. What is most important in a novel, it’s… I could say it’s not written. It’s something which is… behind the words and which is never said.’

 

 

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p.s. Please welcome back Georges Perec Day, thank you. As for the p.s., it will see you again on Saturday.

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