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An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,233 ratings  ·  153 reviews
One overcast weekend in October 1974, Georges Perec set out in quest of the "infraordinary": the humdrum, the non-event, the everyday--"what happens," as he put it, "when nothing happens." His choice of locale was Place Saint-Sulpice, where, ensconced behind first one cafe window, then another, he spent three days recording everything to pass through his field of vision: t ...more
Paperback, 55 pages
Published September 30th 2010 by Wakefield Press (first published 1975)
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Mar 13, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a gift from my boyfriend and I'm really excited that it found its way into my life because it was such a unique reading experience.

These are the observations of a man who sits in a cafe for 3 days and just watches the streets in front of him. That's literally it. He lists everything, basically in bullet points, that he sees: the buses that pass by, the people that walk around, the cars and pigeons and kids and food.

I really respect what he did - it was a project with an objective and he
Steven Godin
It is five after two
An 87 passes by
People, in waves, continually
A priest returning from a trip
A child slides a toy car along the windowpane of the Café
A man stops to say hello to the big dog of Café,
peacefully stretched out in front of the door
An 86 passes by
A 63 passes by
I wish I could have walked by, and tapped on the window
Afternoon Georges, fine day it is
A young man walks by: he is carrying a large portfolio
Malissard Dubernay rapid transit passes by
A 70 passes by
A 96
It is two twenty...

Two y
Dec 20, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, paris, france, oulipo
When my daughter was born last year we were living in Paris's sixth arrondissement, and every weekend, while my wife was at work presenting the news, I would walk up the rue du Cherche-Midi with the pushchair, cut right down rue du Vieux Colombier, and then circle round and round the Place Saint-Sulpice for hours on end waiting for Clementine to go to sleep.

The church there is my favourite in Paris, as beautiful as Notre-Dame but much quieter, and with an amazing organ whose organist used to pra
Update 8/1/2012: I have revised this Goodreads book review into a proper essay, now published on the Eyeshot website (thanks to Lee for taking an interest! And thanks to all of you for for your likes and comments). I am leaving my original Goodreads review below, as a document of the first draft of this essay, flaws and all.

An Attempt At Exhausting A Book On Goodreads

Date: June 30, 2012
Time: 11:00 a.m.
Location: Kavarna (Cafe), Decatur GA
Weather: Sunny, Record Breaking Heat

A small book.

The pages
Glenn Russell

CAFÉ DE LA MAIRE - One of the prime spots where Georges Perec records the swirl of life

An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris - over the course of three days in October 1974, Georges Perec compiled hundreds of individual entries of instances of what he perceived in a certain local in Paris.

This dainty little forty-page Perec praline prospectus can be read several times in an afternoon. I encourage you to slow down and take your time - little will be gained zipping from page to page, most es
It took me a little bit to fully accept the premise of this slender volume. Ostensibly, it's a description of everything going on in one place, with an odd fixation on buses. And at first I thought, "neat trick, but what's the point?" Then, the more I read, the more it came to me as a prose poem, an ode to the ebb and flow of urban life, to both the joys and the melancholy of being solitary in a great city. Honestly, all I wanted to do afterwards was sit out in front of the decrepit royal statue ...more
Jul 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Georges Perec wrote this fascinating little (very little but beautifully designed) book regarding one location in Paris, and documenting what was happening around that section. And that is basically it! Buses come and go, taxi stand, children walk by as others. Totally uninteresting and that is what's interesting about it.

Perec only records what's not interesting and by doing that he is capturing a series of moments that one never pays attention to. And there is a beauty to that. Also Perec is
May 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jesse by: Aimee
An experiment, and one ultimately doomed to failure; its failure, however, is also its greatest strength. It's essentially an extended list of details ("some cars dive into the parking lot./ an 86 [bus] passes by. A 70 passes by," etc, etc), something that would seem to make for a rather dull read.

But I found it one of the most invigorating reading experiences I've had in a long while. Not particularly, I admit, because of the text itself, but in the way that it suddenly made me breathlessly at
Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 added it
Shelves: french
An attempt at exhausting writing strategies

This is an excellent illustration of a problem with purely descriptive, unvoiced, constrained writing: the more it attempts to be "unoriginal" in Marjorie Perloff's sense, the more meaning is infused. Perec's project is to describe the "infraordinary": everything about this square in Paris that is not recorded in the history and tourism books, and, by implication, in novels. He spends a lot of his weekend noting what people are eating or carrying, and h
Feb 07, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: french-lit
Remember that scene in Groundhog Day where Bill Murray is sitting outside dictating out loud everything that is going to happen in town as it happens? Wind blows, car passes, etc. This book is just like that.
Gerasimos Reads
Nov 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: university
This was a very weird book and it made for an interesting reading experience. The book is literally a long list that the author writes sitting in a cafe in Paris for 3 days describing every single thing that passes out of the window. There is no story to it, no cohesion, just literally a laundry list of every single detail of everything that he sees. It made me feel like when you repeat a word again and again and after a while it loses meaning. This is how this book felt by the end. The details ...more
Roger Brunyate
Life Sneaks In

— Ground: packed gravel and sand
— Stone: the curbs, a fountain, a church, buildings…
— Trees (leafy, many yellowing)
— A rather big chunk of sky (maybe one-sixth of my field of vision)
— A cloud of pigeons that suddenly swoops down on the central plaza, between the church and fountain
— Vehicles (their inventory remains to be made)
— Human beings
— Some sort of basset hound
— Bread (baguette)
— Lettuce (curly endive?) partially emerging from a shopping bag

Journal entries from a man sitting
Oct 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is an edited version of my review, originally posted here:

An Attempt At Exhausting a Place in Paris is, essentially, a list. Perec set out to catalog the infraordinary, “what happens when nothing happens other than the weather, people, cars, and clouds”; or, those things that are oft ignored or unnoticed. Attempt is the result of this endeavor, which Perec carries out from various vantage points in the bustling Place Saint-Sulpice. Over a three-day p
Nov 15, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: french-lit
It's very hard to rate this book, considering it's such an unique kind of non-fiction. Perec sits in a cafe and observes everything that happends at a busy square in Paris. He writes down and documents the small details of a brief shared existence at that particular point in time. 1974, Paris, here is what real daily life is. So 3 stars because I enjoy this concept and because it was done well enough, though the writing itself is not really remarkable. ...more
Sep 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: oulipo fans, those who want to see it all
Perec's short book is an Oulipo-inspired attempt to record the "infraordinary" things which no one pays any attention to. In the space of 50 pages, he tries to record all that passes his field of vision, but as he (and the reader) quickly discover, it isn't really possible to see everything. Instead, as he makes his attempt, you start to imagine the Place Saint-Sulpice, and even though we're not sitting next to him nor looking through his eyes, an anxiety arises in the reader, "Is he seeing ever ...more
Jan 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Nothing happened and yet, I’m feeling like I was just told a story. With this brief, 50-page writing experiment, Perec makes one ask: What is to be gained by zooming in on the little things, by getting lost in the details?
If much of novel writing is about capturing a snapshot of a time and place, Perec does that here with no characters, no action, no interior thoughts or motives. The reader is left feeling like they know this little square in Paris. It’s the melancholy of a sunset—another day o
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
So lulling. Hard to read quickly, I found, because it is made up of attention to detail, and to skim that is to ignore the purpose of the text. I reread certain parts about the passing of various bus lines, for example.

Very interesting from a cultural perspective, too - the translator's note mentions the difficulties of translating things such as a "palmier" bag, or the que-sais-je series of educational books.

Now I just need to read it in French.
Apr 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Since returning from a month-long trip, I've been trying to think about ways to keep traveling while at home. It comes down to observing. I think I'll have to put aside some time to make my own attempt at exhausting a place in Portland. ...more
Einas Alhamali
Oct 04, 2018 rated it did not like it
Um, okay? (I get that it's experimental, but I still don't like it) ...more
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Little, lovely, grey
In March of 2021, still during the pandemic, this comes across in a whole new way. It's a book filled by observations from a man sitting at a cafe in Paris in 1974. "Jean-Paul Aron goes by again: he coughs", "A 70 goes by, full".

Before, it seemed like a literary stunt or demonstration, and to me it made a point that it's nearly impossible to fully describe or capture anything. (I half-read this in Fall 2019, and am just finishing it.)

Now, this slice of normal life on a city street actually beco
Ed Simnett
Jan 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
A simple idea very well executed. It reads almost like a set of written photographs.

Worth the short reading time.

Not *completely* satisfied with the translation. I might try and work through it in French.
May 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
The title of this little book has been haunting me for years; I finally plucked up the courage to peruse it. Courage, because to tear away your gaze from the extraordinary and fix it upon Perec's infraordinary, is an intimidating thing to do. The infinite repetitions Perec will attach to the square over the course of a weekend frighten easily: pigeons coming and going, church bells, people ordering coffee and smoking cigarettes, and especially endless numbers of bus numbers spewed out like codes ...more
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
In October 1974, Georges Perec spent many hours over the course of three days (a Friday/Saturday/Sunday) sitting in cafés on the place Saint-Sulpice in Paris. This book, which was originally published in French in 1975, is the result. It's divided into days, and into numbered sections within each day. Each day starts with the date, time, location, and weather, and then Perec goes on to write about what's around him, focusing on "that which is not generally taken note of, that which is not notice ...more
Sebastian Radu
(This review later evolved into an essay on Medium.)

An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris is a strange, experimental psychogeographical novel. The whole book is a comprehensive list of things the author sees and sometimes does during the course of three days in a busy Square in Paris (Place Saint-Sulpice), in an attempt to... exhaust the place. He lists everything: the buses that pass by, the pigeons that fly around, the people that cross in front of him and so on, and mentions them each tim
May 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone looking for something different
What an amazing book. As the translator says, the attempt by Perec to detail everything he sees in three days from various points on the Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris, is ultimately doomed; if not artistically then simply by the impossibility of listing, and noticing, “everything”. But despite this fact, this book is still a triumph.

This is my first Perec read and I didn’t really know what to expect. It appealed to my quirky sensibilities that an author would try to list and categorize everything
aman caur
Dec 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an extraordinary book in the sense that the writer chooses to record everything to pass through his field of vision, all those things which are usually passed off as ordinary, banal and commonplace: the people walking by; the buses and the cars caught in the traffic; the birds chirping and playing on a busy street; the women moving with their shopping bags; a wedding at a church; the signs, symbols and slogans littering everything; the drinks and food that cafes are serving etc. He recor ...more
Aseem Kaul
Sep 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Strictly for Perec fans, this is a delightful litany of observations of a single place over a single weekend, whose fascination lies in its very banality--the way the mundane is transformed into something almost magically surreal by the very act of paying close attention.

To truly appreciate this book, spend an hour or two some Fall weekend sitting by a cafe window in any major city, watching everything that passes before you. You will come away with a store of scenes and images and observations
Jeff Buddle
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Not so much a book, a pamphlet at best. It reminded me a bit of Joe Brainard. Not sure why. A sort of innocence, maybe? Also, kind of Frank O'Hara, with an "I did this, I did that" aura? Yes. Perec saw this, he saw that. It's definitely Georges Perec. He kinda made his reputation with lists. He also ripped off Joe Brainard, as I remember... but that's another story. Real artists steal, right?

This thing is not prose, not a poem. It's an inventory. But it's unique. Anybody else sitting down on the
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this strange little book in my car, facing a busy street, listening to the wind and rain. It was an unexpectedly grounding experience. Perec's observations (and his reasons for making those observations instead of different ones) reflect the way my mind often works, and I found comfort and connection in that. Ultimately, that's what I'm looking for when I read anything.

Some resonant quotes from the afterword:
-"Focused empirical attention on what we take for granted can have disquieting ef
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Georges Perec was a highly-regarded French novelist, filmmaker, and essayist. He was a member of the Oulipo group. Many of his novels and essays abound with experimental wordplay, lists, and attempts at classification, and they are usually tinged with melancholy.

Born in a working-class district of Paris, Perec was the only son of Icek Judko and Cyrla (Schulewicz) Peretz, Polish Jews who had emigra

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