“Marcel Bénabou & Bruno Marcenac . . . Apart from the Flaubertian attitude towards your characters, and sentence rhythms constantly reminiscent of Sentimental Education, there are whole sentences lifted from Flaubert into Things, like collages.
Georges Perec That’s quite right, and I stand by that. I used Flaubert on three leves: first, the three-part sentence rhythm, which had become a kind of personal tic; second, I borrowed some exemplary figures from Flaubert, ready-made elements, a bit like Tarot cards – the journey by boat, the demonstration, the auction, for instance. . . . And third, there are sentences copied over, purely and simply pasted in.
MB & BM What is that really about?
GP I don’t know for sure, but it seems to me that for some time now, in fact since the surrealists, we are moving towards a kind of art that could be called ‘citational,’ and which permits a certain progress, since the point where our predecessors finished up becomes our own point of departure. It’s a device I like a lot, that I like to play with. At any rate, it helped me a great deal. At one point I was utterly stuck, and the act of choosing a model in that way, or inserting cuttings, so to speak, into my material, got me over my block. For me, collage is like a grid, a promise, and a condition of discovery. Of course, my ambition isn’t to rewrite Don Quixote like Borges’s Pierre Ménard, but I would for instance like to rewrite my favorite Melville story, “Bartleby the Scrivener.” It’s a text I wanted to write; but since it’s impossible to write a text that already exists, I wanted to rewrite it – not to pastiche it, but to make a new Bartleby – well, the same one actually, but a bit more . . . as if it were me who’d done it. It’s an idea that seems to me invaluable for literary creation, much more promising than the mere business of writing well that Tel Quel and other reviews of that kind go on about. It’s a desire to place yourself in a line that acknowledges all the literature of the past. So you bring your personal museum to life, you reactivate your literary reserves. Anyway, Flaubert is not my only model, not the only thing I’ve collaged. There are less obvious models, Nizan and The Conspiracy, Antelme and The Human Race.”
(From an interview with Georges Perec in Paris, December 1965, published in English as “George Perec Owns Up: An Interview,” pp. 27–28 of the spring 2009 Review of Contemporary Fiction.)