Islands, camps, zones: towards a nissological reading of Georges Perec

Screen Shot 2018-03-17 at 15.35.28

I’m currently writing a chapter for a book on Perec (which will be published in 2019) that presents a nissological reading of Perec’s work.

Nissology, a term coined by Grant McCall in 1996, derives from the Greek nisos (island) and describes the interdisciplinary theory of islands and islandness. My chapter takes as its starting point three case studies from the Perecquian corpus: the imaginary island of W (which appears in W, ou le souvenir d’enfance, the semi-autobiographical text that was first published in 1975) and which functions as an allegory of the Nazi concentration camps; Ellis Island (the US migrant inspection centre that is the subject of Perec and Robert Bober’s 1980 film, Récits d’Ellis Island); and the Parisian îlots insalubres (usually translated as ‘unhealthy zones’, but more literally, small islands – or islets – of insalubrity) that dominated French planning discourse from the late nineteenth century right through the 4th Republic (there is still mention of ‘tubercular islands’ in planning documents dated 1956), and in one of which la rue Vilin (where Perec was born and which features in L’Infra-ordinaire, W and the unfinished Lieux project) was situated. The main thrust of the argument is that around these major islands, and through a series of textual and historical allusions, Perec constellates a broader carceral archipelago, made up of dispersed yet interconnected island territories that are located in multiple space-times. This nissological reading – which also draws in some of Perec’s many references to other insular places (including Madagascar, Tierra del Fuego, Pulau Bidong and Jules Verne’s imaginary Lincoln Island) suggests that Perec is concerned less with individual islands (or specific insular regimes) than with the ways in which island topographies are produced as networked sites in which sovereign power and bio-politics intersect. Finally, my chapter explores the ways in which Perec’s archipelagic topographies, when understood relationally, in both spatial and temporal terms, can be seen to speak both to the complex and extended networks of power that subtend the organization of the modern world, but also the ongoing (and performative) manifestations of the past in what Derek Gregory (2004) has insightfully described as the colonial present.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s