Empty Subjects

February 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have been thinking about the flaneur lately because I’ve been reading Benjamin and Baudelaire and listening to Jan Gorak lectures.  I’ve also recently read Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris.

 The flaneur was not just a member of an anonymous crowd but the exceptional member of that crowd who is able to observe, and Perec adopts the role.  No matter how hard Perec tries to record the infra-ordinary – the inconsequential and the mundane, the buses and cars going by, the pigeons in the square – he ultimately fails.  And he even records his failure as he “breaks character” to have a discussion or to reflect on something he finds curious.  

Perec performs a kind of bad faith that distinguishes him from Sartre’s Roquentin.  He cannot be pure automaton, and Perec’s attempt does not remove the subject.  It reposits the subject him, approached by aquaintances, capable of short reflections while recording the buses going by.

The infra-ordinary is the space that houses anonymity.  He need not obliterate himself to record it.  Alison James, in Constraining Chance: Georges Perec and the Oulipo, discusses how Bergson considered chance as depending upon a human perspective, that beneath the idea of chance is the idea of an organized universe.  Perec’s recording of happenstance instantiates him as human in the period of anti-humanism because of his inability to be random.

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