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The Play

Dreamed February 1972 by Georges Perec

... and perhaps the play has already begun and, after a little while, I realize (or remember) that I've gone to the suburbs to see it, that I know the actors and the director personally and that, to put it on, the producers might have found money to borrow--maybe 20,000 francs--in Dampierre.

The main character is a Byron who wants to be a Malatesta, which is to say a warlord who crushes his vassals under the pretext of bravery.

In one act, I am an actor: I am to shut off all the lights of a large house and I know that at the death of the lights something terrible will happen. This expectation triggers a light panic in me. But nothing happens.

Later, I'm laid out on a bed with a woman whom I eventually (surprised and stunned as though I had long dreamed of this impossible encounter) recognize as C. We are both overcome with an indescribable pleasure (even the word "ecstasy" gives only a distant, impoverished sense of it). I am on my back. C. mounts me, but she makes a quick movement that jolts me out of her. She begins to moan softly, which quickly excites me again. She kneels and, while she props herself up from behind, I enter her again. Coupled this way, we begin to creep on the carpet.

In the next room there are rwo men (one of them is F.). They see us, but it doesn't bother us. Ir's part of the play.

The next act takes place in the country. The heroine has become an ugly old woman. She is raising a bull, which we see escaping some kind of ditch. It doesn't seem real. One character remarks that it would take only a slightly wild cat to take it down.

I have a long discussion with the man seated next to me, which ends up irritating me. He thinks the show is good because it demonstrates that the lord is a bastard, and this is what theater must demonstrate until there are no lords left. I don't know how to respond. I think the show is awful, but that doesn't mean the man next to me isn't right, which makes me more and more uncomfortable.

Between each act, the characters come on stage, wearing outlandish hats. I remark to P that, the larger the hats, the longer the actors strut about in them, a typical example of directorial demagogy.

The last act is a celebration. Everyone in the audience is invited to come on stage and follow a circuit lined with different attractions (including a game of ping pong). At the exit, they pass in front of a buffet where they are served a cup of coffee, black, no sugar.

After the performance, I called on the director and his wife (who was one of the actresses). I tried to make it clear that I didn't care for the play. The director came back with a sheaf of papers; it was in these texts, he told me, that he found it was permissible to mix Byron and Malatesta.

I flip through the papers. Among them, I find a "Trois Suisses" leaflet advertising three leather telephone cradles. I was looking for exactly such furnishings, and they seem to cost much less than expected; meanwhile, the director, his wife and a third person are indeed seated (having removed their shoes) in such furnishings.

I wake up. Or I dream that I wake up.

Much later, it seems--another day--I am in the suburbs with friends of recent minting, with P and one of my friends, maybe R.

I begin to recount my dream to them. Everything is perfectly clear. I write it down, bit by bit, on slips of paper that I take from my pocket.

I begin the story of my dream backwards, with the part about the telephone cradles.

We leave.

Fruitless search for a taxi, somewhere by a port of Paris. . .

P, exhausted, has fallen into a sort of landfill filled with yellowish mud, where she stays, facing the ground, motionless.

Half laughing, half worried, I call to her, shouting her name:
"Lise! Lise!"

I realize that I have made a mistake and I call her again, correctly rectifying her name.

Very angry, P. stands up and says to me:

Sentence yelled in a dream: 'If you want me to feed you, give me the name you/I gave to your/my mother because she fed you/me!'
I realize that we're hungry. I search in my pockets and bring out--joy!--thin slices of Chester cheese: the same slices I thought I was writing my dream on.


This is Dream No.108 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.

What I see unsaid here: Perec, in his deadpan way, is claiming dreams are absurd, incoherent, a torrent of non sequiturs. We're all insane!

But why does waking Perec, that deadpan comedian, write as if dream-Perec is raving mad, rather than another deadpan comedian? Standup comedy is a barrage of nonsequiturs too--does that prove standup comedians are insane? (Now, now. Ignore the temptation. Just follow the argument.) Standup's just one kind of onstage act--and this is just one kind of dream. The cheesy dream.

--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: drama - money - fear - joy - exhibitionism & sex in general - class & revolution - nagging & criticism - phones - false waking - dreams about dreaming - the power of names - oops! - anger - language - forked dreams - humor - surrealism - more Georges Perec - more trouble with cheese - more absurd dreams: Trout Beck, Old Hat, Che Fanno gli Inglesi?, Marine Geology's Not It

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