Through a foggy lens: Perec’s borrowing of Balzac’s brouillard
Pryia Wadhera
Columbia University

I propose a study of a remarkable intertextual reference – or a case of literary borrowing - in the oeuvre of the late 20th century French author Georges Perec. My point of departure is Un Cabinet d’Amateur. Histoire d’un tableau (1979, henceforth Cabinet) which is itself borrowed from Perec’s previous publication: La Vie Mode d’emploi (1978, Vie). Perec used Vie as a source for the paintings he describes in Cabinet. For example, the appearance of a girl in a picture dressed as a squaw in Chapter 76 of Vie generated the painting “La Squaw,” catalogue number 76 in Cabinet. As is well-documented, Perec was also inspired by other sources as diverse as Greek mythology, Victor Hugo’s correspondance, and Thomas Mann’s “Magic Mountain.”
In Vie there is a painter named Hutting who had “une période brouillard” during which he would paint works after the great masters and then layer the canvasses with a sort of fog. This technique may have been borrowed from Balzac’s “Pierre Grassou” (1839) the relatively ignored counterpart to “Le Chef d’Oeuvre Inconnu” (1831). So far as I know, no one has linked the fog of Hutting’s paintings to that layered on the canvas by Grassou’s savvy dealer in an effort to lend newly counterfeited works an air of age and authenticity. In unmasking the Balzac in Perec, I hope to gain a better understanding of Perec’s creative process, thereby clearing his literary canvas for further study.