Life Big Read Question Thread 3


We are in Week 4. Give us your questions and thoughts right here.

For my own part, you may have noticed that I didn’t do some summarizing thoughts + a poll last Friday like I usually do. Reason being, I was out of town camping in the woods.

But that experience did give me an interesting perspective on Life A User’s Manual. Of course whenever you go camping you have to build a fire, and whenever you build a fire you enter into one of the strangest, most human experiences possible. What I’m referring to is that hypnotic sensation of watching a fire burn over the course of hours, watching these flames that you’ve just nurtured to life consume themselves, plus, of course, carefully tending the fire along the way to keep everything in good order. It’s the only experience I can think of that I probably share with the earliest human beings to walk the Earth.

For me, it’s a profound experience because, well, other than art in museums I don’t tend to sit and stare at things for any length of time (I stopped watching TV years ago), and so to suddenly be drawn into the experience of watching that fire is surprising, to say the least.

I mention all this because self-consuming quests is a very big them of Life, and of life, perhaps the theme in both. And as we consider Bartlebooth’s motivation for this quest he is undertaking, it might be worth while to think about how it feels to watch a fire.

And now an observation–did everyone notice the word isograms on page 298? I didn’t know what an isogram was, so I looked it up, and it is a word or phrase with nonrepeating letters. According to Wikipedia, the longest isogrammic word in the world is “subdermatoglyphic.” You can find out more here.

I thought it was interesting that Perec uses isogram as part of the title of the fictional scholarly paper “Hariri revisited: Crosswords and Isograms.” Just thinking about isogrammic crosswords gives me headaches, but I’m sure Perec would have loved to make one.

And now a question: What did you think was the significance of Gregoire Simpson [265 – 73] a man who sort of slowly recedes from life until he disappears into nothingness. In the essay I mentioned earlier this week, Josipovici identifies him with the protagonist of Perec’s early, short novel A Man Asleep. In a book full of so many fantastical, action-packed stories, this one is oddly mute, and his relationship to things is strange as well (in the context of the book).

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When I read ‘Gregoire Simpson’, the first thing that popped into my head was Kafka’s ‘Gregor Samsa’, and that’s as far as I got, my brain not being used to firing too many neurons in succession.

The paper maybe be fictional but Hariri was a real person, Al-Hariri of Basra (1054-1122) He was famous for his maqāmāt Al-Hariri – I looked this up on Wikipedia and found the following: “Both authors’ maqāmāt center on trickster figures whose wanderings and exploits in speaking to assemblies of the powerful are conveyed by a narrator. The protagonist is a silver-tongued hustler, a rogue drifter who survives by dazzling onlookers with virtuoso displays of rhetorical acrobatics, including mastery of classical Arabic poetry (or of biblical Hebrew poetry and prose in the case of the Hebrew maqāmāt), and classical philosophy. Typically, there are 50 unrelated episodes in which the rogue character, often in disguise, tricks the narrator out of his money and leads him into various straitened, embarrassing, and even violent circumstances. Despite this serial abuse, the narrator-dupe character continues to seek out the trickster, fascinated by his rhetorical flow.” This had many echoes for me of what Perec is doing in Life. There is an illustration from a copy in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and it’s fascinating to imagine that Perec would have been familiar with this very book.

Gregoire Simpson is a strange character. It’s as though he is impervious to the myriad riches of Perec’s Paris: to him everything that Perec sees as so different and distinct is all part of a featureless landscape. He makes lists and sets himself tasks, follows bizarre itineraries, but they are ridiculous and futile. He is like a shadow Perec, Perec on a bad day.

I became intrigued by the cats in the stories. They appear all over the place. The most famous photo of Perec is with his cat on his shoulder (interesting that Scott uses a similar photo with cat as his profile picture) and his perceptive observations of cats reveal him as a cat-lover. I came across a series of photos of writers and their cats I found these very attractive and appealing. I think cats like writers because they sit at home for long periods of time which cats find restful.

The Latin American Mixtape

5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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