Georges Perec 1936-1982
Sami Frey - Je me souviens - Georges Perec (1978)
Duration: 70 minutes

This film is completely theatrical in its approach, which is perhaps the only reliable way to deal with a Perec text on film. Another better known adaptation by Bernard Queysanne 'Un Homme qui Dort', for example, uses striking imagery to 'aid' the reading of the text, but a viewer's attention is often caught between the imagery inherent in Perec's style and those put in the film by the filmmaker, where the latter seems to have little relevence to the text itself. In this adaptation, the entire text is delivered by Sami Frey in a monologue while paddling on a standing bicycle with varying degrees of speed.

Synopsis of Je me souviens by Georges Perec: A short introductory note to Je me souviens explains that the title, form, and, to a certain extent, spirit of these texts were inspired by Joe Brainard's I remember. Each of the 480 pieces collected here -- most just a single sentence -- is written: "Je me souviens ..." ("I remember ..."), and they consist of short "souvenirs" -- personal and shared memories, the small (and large) things that are incidental in life, momentarily significant and then often practically (but not entirely) lost.

They range from the utterly banal and everyday ("Je me souviens des trous dans les tickets de méro" ("I remember the holes in the Métro tickets")) to any number of people (from musicians to Yury Gagarin to "Christine Keeler et de l'affaire Profumo") to movies, periodicals, and books ("Je me souviens de How to be an alien et de How to scrape skies, de Georges Mikes").

In a brief afterword Perec explains that most of the memories come from when he was between the ages of ten and twenty-five (though there are a few more recent ones scattered in). Not everything, he admits, is correctly recalled -- but then that's the way memory works, distorting over time.

The 480 entries don't add up to a complete picture of either Perec or an era, but, put together, they do reveal a good deal about what Perec was exposed to, interested in, and particularly aware of. These memories seem almost neutral -- snapshots, without commentary -- and yet there are enough of them for the reader to begin to flesh out the man behind them.

Je me souviens is only a small piece of Perec-autobiography, but it is an appealing one, suggestive and whimsical. While of greatest interest to Perec-fans, it holds some interest for others too, sketching out French intellectual and artistic life in the two decades after World War II. (www.

Essay on Je me souviens:

If the impossibility of dealing with loss comprehensively has led to a sense of a ‘task’ to be achieved, then it is perhaps no surprise to find the term ‘memory work’ increasingly used in contemporary cultural theory. And if one method of going about this work is to employ a ritualistic, or repetitive, process for ‘listing’ loss, then it is worthwhile considering an example of just such memory work, from what I call the ‘I remember’ school of writers inspired by Joe Brainard’s book of the same title. I Remember was first published in 1975 and consisted of a series of entries, all beginning with the words ‘I remember’, in which Brainard recollected moments from his past, some of them highly individual and others doubtless shared by an enormous number of his contemporaries. To take a typical trio of consecutive entries:

I remember the first time I saw television. Lucille Ball was taking ballet lessons.

I remember the day John Kennedy was shot.

I remember that for my fifth birthday all I wanted was an off-one-shoulder black satin evening gown. I got it. And I wore it to my birthday party.

(Joe Brainard, I Remember (New York: Granary Books, 2001 [1975]), p. 9.)

The originality in Brainard’s technique lies in the intermingling of personal and collective memories and in the recognition that the catalogue of human life as compiled by memory is made up equally of intense personal experiences, public events, fads, fashions and myths. Brainard’s work shows how each person simultaneously carries within them official and unofficial histories, the contents of which are always at varying stages of being recalled or forgotten. The Kennedy assassination, for example, is an event unlikely to be forgotten in either official history or the unofficial history of a certain group of people alive at a particular time and in at least some level of connection via mass media with the rest of the world (Brainard’s generation, in other words). Indeed, for such a group, whose hegemony over these matters is only recently beginning to wane, this event has become the classic example of such individualized-yet-shared memory, with people being said to know exactly where they were when they heard the news of the president’s murder. In the new millennium this event has been succeeded for many by the events of September 11 2001. Yet if these events are subject to both official and unofficial memory, highly personal recollections such as those collated by Brainard still have within them a quality that is transferable to others who have experienced something comparable or who can connect to them simply through the fact that they too have remembered (things). Indeed it might well be said that it is in the highly personal, idiosyncratic details (Brainard’s evening gown) that the possibility for a universal recognition resides.

That is not to say, however, that such memory work is necessarily translatable to other cultural contexts. Although Brainard’s book was translated into French by Marie Chaix, the French ‘version’ of I Remember which found most success and which has itself come to be regarded as a classic of the genre, is Georges Perec’s Je me souviens (1978). Perec reduces the autobiographical elements of Brainard’s work to a certain extent, although these are still a prominent feature of his version alongside a higher proportion of memories likely to be shared with others. In producing a more pronounced cultural bias to the book, Perec is forced away from literal translation and towards the creation of a new work steeped in the resonance of the French imaginary. Perec’s intention was to seek out, via his own recollection, moments of memory that could be ‘deconsecrated’ and returned to their ‘collectivity’; speaking about the book he claimed, ‘what came out most clearly for me was that I wasn’t the only one to be remembering. It’s a book I might call “sympathetic”, I mean that it’s in sympathy with its readers, that readers are perfectly at home in it.’

The fact that Perec’s work increased the ratio of culturally shared to personal memories from Brainard’s original was recognized in 1986 by the British writer Gilbert Adair when he decided to publish his own version of the ‘I remember’ template in his book Myths & Memories. The book was devised partly as a homage to two French writers he admired, Roland Barthes and Georges Perec, and partly as an attempt to apply the techniques of Barthes’s Mythologies and Perec’s Je me souviens to a British context. In Adair’s opinion, Perec’s version of Brainard’s work was distinct enough to warrant its own ‘translation’ but a literal rendering of the French words would be pointless: ‘the fact of its being anchored in a French experience has rendered [Je me souviens] definitively untranslatable; or, rather, translatable only by way of the metamorphosis, the kind of total Anglicizing, which it undergoes here.’ (This observation has an obvious correlation with my earlier discussion of saudade. As for a Portuguese language version of I Remember, the closest parallel would appear to be a Brazilian text entitled Memorando, by Geraldo Mayrink and Fernando Moreira Salles (Sao Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1993). I have not been able to consult this text to see how it compares with the three versions mentioned here.)

Georges Perec in UbuWeb Sound