a writing and architecture workshop
The subject of this book is not the void exactly, but rather what there is round about or inside it. To start with, then, there isn’t very much: nothingness, the impalpable, the virtually immaterial; extension, the external, what is external to us, what we move about in the midst of, our ambient milieu, the space around us.
Space. Not so much those infinite spaces, whose mutism is so prolonged that it ends by triggering off something alin to fear, nor the already almost domesticated interplanetary, intersidereal or intergalactic spaces, but spaces that are much closer to hand, in principle anyway: towns, for example, or the countryside, or the corridors of the Paris Métro, or a public park.
We live in space, in these spaces, these towns, this countryside, these corridors, these parks. That seems obvious to us. Perhaps indeed it should be obvious. But it isn’t obvious, not just a matter of course. It’s real, obviously, and as consequence most likely rational. We can touch. We can even allow ourselves to dream. There’s nothing for example, to stop us from imagining things that are neither towns nor countryside (nor suburbs), or Métro corridors that are at the same time public parks…
What’s certain, in any case, is that at a time too remote no doubt for any of us to have retained anything like a precise memory of it, there was none of all this: neither corridors, nor parks, nor towns, nor countryside. The problem isn’t so much to find out how we have reached this point, but simply to recognise that we have reached it, that we are here. There isn’t one space, a beautiful space round about, a beautiful space all around us, there’s a whole lot of small bits of space, and one of those bits is a Métro corridor, and another of them is a public park. Another – and here we suddenly enter into much more particularised spaces – originally quite modest in size, has attained fairly colossal dimensions and has become Paris, whereas a space nearby, not necessarily any less well endowed to begin with, has been content to remain Pontoise…
In short, spaces have multiplied, been broken up and have diversified. There are spaces today of every kind and every size, for every use and every function. To live is to pass from one space to another, while doing your very best not to bump yourself.
Such is the (condensed) opening to George Perec’s Species of Spaces. This short work may be considered the unofficial handbook on writing and architecture. Perec establishes his own structure for documenting space, beginning with the intimacy of the page and expanding chapter by chapter towards the whole of the extraterrestrial universe. Throughout is a concern for the everyday, the overlooked and a quest to explore a methodology that best describes his intentions. Perec’s attempts vary from the analytical to the imaginative; from deciphering the hidden pattern of street life through an exhaustive description to proposing a domestic architecture founded not on function but days of the week.
a pdf of the foreword and first chapter of Species of Spaces may be viewed here: species of spaces
With Perec’s final words, the relationship between writing and architecture is lucidly revealed:
I would like there to exist places that are stable, unmoving, intangible, untouched and almost untouchable, unchanging, deep-rooted; places that might be points of reference, of departure, of origin:
My birthplace, the cradle of my fmaily, the house where I may have been born, the tree I may have seen grown (that my father may have planted the day I was born), the attic of my childhood filled with intact memories…
Such places don’t exist, and it’s because they don’t exist that space becomes a question, ceases to be self-evident, ceases to be incorporated, ceases to be appropriated. Space is a doubt: I have constantly to mark it, to designate it. It’s never mine, never given to me, I have to conquer it.
My spaces are fragile: time is going to wear them away, to destroy them. Nothing will any longer resemble what was, my memories will betray me, oblivion will infiltrate my memory, I shall look at a few old yellowing photographs with broken edges without recognising them. The words ‘Phone directory available within’ or ‘Snacks served at any hour’ will no longer be written up in a semi-circle in white porcelain letters on the window of the little cafe in the Rue Coquilliere.
Space melts like sand running through one’s fingers. Time bears it away and leaves me with only shapeless shreds:
To write: to try meticulously to retain something, to cause something to survive: to wrest a few precise scraps from the void as it grows, to leave somewhere a furrow, a trace, a mark or a few signs.