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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