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A General History of Transportation (excerpt)

Dreamed (late?) April 1972 by Georges Perec


It is not difficult to imagine a particularly exhilarating parking system: a giant spiral buried underground, whose slope has been so well calculated that it requires no more effort to go up than it does to go down with, in either case, a uniformly accelerating speed.

The only condition is that there can never be more than one car at a time on the spiral: when there are two, one going up and the other going down, they are powerless but to run into each other, with disastrous consequences. The employees who operate the tollbooths, one down below and the other up top, the exit and entrance of the vehicles, thus have a grave responsibility, but, since they're in cahoots, they can cause accidents easily: what better way to combine the perfect crimes?

The spiral is made not of concrete but of very hard steel; its end is shaped like a screw: the energy generated by the vehicles traveling on it causes it to turn and it buries itself progressively (extremely slowly, but with virtually no cost) in the ground (a particularly hard rock that cannot be otherwise penetrated): this is how the foundations of gigantic buildings are dug out, with the assumption that there are several screws, which is to say several parking lots.


It's fairly easy to go from the above to a project for a General History of Transportation, automobiles in particular. The director of the project is Alain Trutat, who was particularly enthusiastic when I suggested that we do a report on one of the least understood points--and yet one of the most important in this story: the hispanification (or more precisely the castillation, or castillification, or castillinization) of the Gascony concurrent to the rise to power of Catherine of Medici: even today, Gascon mentality, morals, and customs are completely incomprehensible if you forget that, for several decades, Gascony was purely and simply a colony, a protectorate, an appendage of Catalonia.

I begin my report in a relatively banal classroom, before a scattered audience. Quickly I realize I haven't prepared enough and, worse, I can no longer get my listeners to understand the simple relationship berween the history of the automobile and the history of Spain. It's going down the tubes. A total flop. I'm stammering. Alain Trutat leaves the room. To help create a diversion, someone suggests that we make music. A multi-instrument orchestra is established.

I go out to take a walk. Maybe I want to find Trutat? I walk in a large French-style park covered in snow. I return to the room. A second orchestra has been formed under the direction of R.K., who seems to be the only competent musician in the group and who has taken matters in hand with great authority and, for that matter, efficacy. I want to play the flute, but I notice as I'm taking it up that I've broken the tip: I was holding the flute in one hand, and in the other a kind of rosary made of three long olive stones, white and maybe wooden, which was supposed to constitute the mouthpiece of the flute.

A bit later, someone maybe hands me a clarinet.


    / /


This is Dream No. No.115 from Perec's La Boutique Obscure: 124 Dreams, translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker. Perec's famous for word- and mind-games; his best known novel, A Void, omits the letter E--as the title, elliptically, typically, warns. So beyond the hazards of double translation (dream to page, French to English) note what is not said.

In his intro, Perec says the sign "/ /" means a substantial omission, and the subtitle, "an excerpt", underlines that. At over 540 words, the 'excerpt' is already quite long for a dream account; it hints the unedited account may be epic. La Boutique Obscure's early dreams are brief; but this, two or three years later, is a typical late dream. Perec's insight and attitude toward dreams shows little change--early or late, he treats them as absurdist--but his recall sure improved!

I posted this dream for its ingenious and public-spirited explanation of parking garages and their spiral access ramps, which, after all, really are hard to enter or leave, making no logistical or architectural sense. It's good to know what these screwy structures are really up to. Or, as it turns out, down to.

If I were another sort of editor I'd have just included Part 1; Part 2 may be equally funny, but only if you're French. Parking spirals, in contrast, are worldwide conundrums--in ten thousand years, folks will still be scratching their heads over 'em. So Perec's editorial choice is revealing. He pictured readers, so he cut Part 3; but he kept Part 2. I conclude he saw his readers as strictly French. Well, maybe some Catalans. Certainly not Basques or Burgundians or you.

--Chris Wayan

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