Attempt to Exhaust a Parisian Place, Georges Perec

Avertissement du Traducteur - April 2011

This excerpt is the first part of my longer translation of Georges Perec's Tentative d'épuisement d'un lieu parisien (1975), which I had translated as part of my work on Christopher Burnett's and Elisabeth Tonnard's "Image Process Literature" project.

One interesting methodological symbolism at work in the translation is that Perec's observations chronicle three days time, and I similarly spent three days initially drafting a translation. A question arises then as to whether translation is analogous to a "mere" recording of the everyday, with the full irony of "mere" apparent as soon as we understand what Perec has done, and then consider how to translate the deep irony of a poetical project that seeks to play with what constitutes a literary work.

Note from the publisher: This text appeared in 1975. It is an extract from Pourrissement des sociétés no. 1, 1975 Cause commune, directed by Jean Duvignaud and for which Georges Perec was one of the leading contributors (animateurs).

There are many things Saint-Sulpice: a town hall, a chamber of finance, a police station, three cafés (one for tobacco, a cinema, one a church in which Le Vau, Gittard, Oppenord, Servandoni and Chalgrin worshiped and which is dedicated to a chaplain of Clotaire, Bishop of Bourges [624-644], and for whom there is a holiday on Jan 17th), a publisher, a funeral home (entreprise de pompes funebres), a travel agency, a bus stop, a tailor shop, an hotel, a decorative fountain next to the statues of four great Christian orators (Bossuet, Fénelon, Fléchier, and Massillon), a newspaper stand, a market for selling religious objects, a parking lot, a beauty school, and yet many other things.

A great number - many - of these things have been described, inventoried, photographed, related, and even recorded by census. My goal for the following pages has been rather to describe what others have missed. What is not generally noted hasn't been noticed and is irrelevant (n'a pas d'importance): this is what happens when nothing happens; otherwise, time, people, cars and clouds.


Date: October 18, 1974

Time: 10:30

Place: Tabac Saint-Sulpice

Weather: dry, cold. Grey sky. Minor flashes of sun.

Sketch of an inventory of some things strictly visible:

-Letters of the alphabet, words: “KLM” (on someone's carrying bag), a capital “P” designating “parking”, “Hotel Recamier”, “St Raphael”, “money adrift”, “taxis arriving at the station”, “Rue du Vieux-Colombier”, “La Fontaine Saint Sulpice brewery and bar”, “P ELF”, “Saint-Sulpice Park”.

-Conventional symbols: signs under the “P” of parking lots, one slightly angled toward the ground, the other, towards rue Bonaparte (on the Luxembourg side), at least four signboards seeming to speak, that is, interjecting (a fifth reflected in the café window).

-Numbers: 86 (at the crest of a bus of class 86, indicating its place of origin: Saint-Germain-des-Pres), 1 (name plate no. 1 of rue Vieux-Colombier), 6 (here to indicate that we are in the 6th Paris arrondissement).

-Fleeting slogans: “From the bus, I spy Paris”

-On the ground: a pile of gravel and sand

-Stone: sidewalk edging, a fountain, a church, houses...


-Trees: (leafy, yellowing)

-Quite a large piece of sky (perhaps 1/6th my visual field)

-A cloud of pigeons suddenly pounding the central platform between church and fountain

-Vehicles (their inventory remains to be taken)

-Human beings

-A type of basset hound

-Bread (A baguette)

-Lettuce (wilted?) protruding from the top edge of a shopping bag.



96 goes to the Montparnasse station

84 goes to the Champerret Terminal

70 goes to Place du Dr-Hayem, headquarters of O.R.T.F.1

86 goes to Saint-Germain-des-Pres

Ask for the truth into the green oval of the Roquefort Societé

No water sprouting out of the fountain at all. Pigeons sitting on the fountain basin edge.

There are benches on the (central) platform, benches doubled by a strange pilaster. I'm able to count six from my position. Four are empty. Three bums gesturing classically (drinking red wine from a bottle) on the sixth.

63 goes to the Muette Terminal

86 goes to the Saint-Germain-des-Pres

Cleaning up is good; not getting dirty is better

A German bus

A Brinks delivery truck

87 goes to Champ-de-Mars

84 goes to the Champerret Terminal


Red (Fiat, dress, St. Raphael, one-way)
blue sack
green footwear
green raincoat
blue taxi
blue 2CV

70 goes to Place du Dr-Hayem, headquarters of O.R.T.F.

Green Méhari

86 goes to Saint-Germain-des-Pres

Dannon: yogurts and desserts

Ask for the truth into the green oval of the Roquefort Societé

many people with at least one hand occupied: they hold a sack, a small case, a shopping basket, a cane, a leash with a dog on the end, the hand of a child

a truck delivering beer in metal barrels (Kanterbrau, the beer of Master Kanter)

86 goes to Saint-Germain-des-Pres

63 goes to the Muette Terminal

A “Cityrama” bus with two levels

A blue Mercedes truck

A brown Printemps Brummel truck

84 goes to the Champerret Terminal

87 goes to Champ-de-Mars

70 goes to Place du Dr-Hayem, headquarters of O.R.T.F.

96 goes to the Montparnasse station

Darty Réal

63 goes to the Muette Terminal

Casimir, master caterer.

Carpenter transit

Berth France S.A.R.L.

Drawing of Le Goff with beer3

96 goes to the Montparnasse Station

driving school

Coming from Vieux-Colombier, an 84 turns onto rue Bonaparte (towards Luxembourg)

Wallon relocations

Fernand Carrascossa relocations

Potatoes in bulk

From a bus of tourists, a Japanese woman appears to photograph me.

An old man with half a loaf of bread, a woman with a bundle of cakes in the shape of a pyramid

86 goes to Saint-Mande (it does not turn onto rue Bonaparte, but takes Vieux-Colombier)

63 goes to the Muette Terminal

87 goes to Champ-de-Mars

70 goes to Place du Dr Hayem, headquarters of O.R.T.F.

Coming from Vieux-Colombier, an 84 turns onto rue Bonaparte (towards Luxembourg)

A bus, empty.

Other Japanese people in another bus

86 goes to Saint-Germain-des-Pres

Braun art reproductions

Calm (from weariness?)