Life: A User's Manual

In Life: A User’s Manual, Georges Perec describes a rarely visited tribe deep within Sumatra. An anthropologist is trying to understand the habits of the natives. He comes to the village bearing gifts

He’d gone forward, greeted them with the Malayan gesture of stroking their ginders before placing his right hand on his heart, and put a gift-offering in front of each–a little bag of tea or tobacco. But they didn’t answer, didn’t nod their heads, didn’t touch the gifts

A little later dogs began to bark and the village filled with men, women, and children. the men were armed with spears, but were not threatening. Nobody looked at him, nobody seemed to notice he was there.

Appenzzell spent several days in the village without succeeding in making contact with its laconic inhabitants. He exhausted his small supply to tea and tobacco to no effect; no Kubu–not even a child–ever took a single one of these little bags which the daily storm made useless by each evening. The best he could do was to watch how the Kubus lived and to begin to commit what he saw to writing.

I think Perec has provided us with an excellent metaphor for the act of reading. We all are like Appenzzell, trying to understand a group of people that proceed with their daily lives right before our eyes, but without acknowledging us in the least.

More soon about this truly bizarre, but indisputably beautiful book.

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If the copy of Perec’s novel that you’re reading actually has a colon after the word “life” in the title, you should try to sell it on e-bay for a lot of money, because it is a rare and unusual printing of the book.
Just as there’s no apostrophe in Finnegans Wake, there’s no colon in Life A User’s Manual. This is true for both the French original (La Vie mode d’emploi) & the US/UK translation.

I have just finished reading this book but I must say it didn’t occur to me that it could be a metaphor. I think it is going a little too far. After all that tribe purposedly ignored him and they kept running away from him, because they wanted to get rid of him. Do you think the characters in the book are trying to do the same?

Kinga: I meant my remarks to only pertain to the excerpt quoted above. I didn’t mean to imply that Perec meant the quote as a metaphor for reading, just that I perceived it as such.
Herb: Very perceptive.You’re absolutely right, and I thinkthe implications of what you have poited out are interesting.


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