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The Perecian Collection A method to create a new reality of the everyday using conscious self-alienation



Table of Contents Introduction

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The Everyday as a Mediative Level

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The Disruptive Potential of Everyday Practices

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The Practical Exercises of Georges Perec

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The Everyday in Three Key Terms: Repetition, Home and Habit

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Taking a Train to Amsterdam

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The Street as a Metaphor of the Everyday

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Who is the Collector ?

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The Perecian Collector

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Making a Collection as a Tool to Reinvent the Everyday, the Perecian Collection

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The World of Dogtooth from Yorgos Lanthimos, a Perecian Collection

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The Perfect Perecian Collection

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Bibliography

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Introduction My proposal describes a method that combines two concepts: the everyday and making a collection and how they come together in a perspective of reinvention. The everyday will be defined as an object of attention, an element to be thought of, researched, practised, deconstructed, experienced and eventually reinvented. This task has already been taken on by many writers, thinkers and artists. The list is long, as is the complexity of its definition. ‘The everyday escapes’1, says Maurice Blanchot. ‘[It] ceases to be everyday when it is subject to critical scrutiny’2 adds the cultural researcher Rita Felski on Blanchot’s writings. According to them, only by formulating this proposal, the essence of the object of interest just evaporated, leaving the trace of the familiar but not being able to grasp it anymore. I chose four figures, Henri Lefebvre, Michel de Certeau, Georges Perec and Rita Felski that I consider key to understanding what the everyday embodies. Having different theoretical backgrounds, each of them is singular in the way they investigate the subject, but complementary in the historical development of the everyday as a concept. In the second half of the thesis, the concept of making a collection will be analysed as a process that develops over time through the personality of the collector. Everybody can be a collector and anything can be collected. An example of this is last year’s exhibition at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, Finders Keepers, that showcased the many and varied types of collections and collectors. Knives, carpet beaters, roofing tiles, pencils, even staircases, were shown alongside things collected by Gerrit Rietveld and the man on the street. As diverse as they are, collectors share at least one characteristic: their fanaticism. Collecting is often described as a predisposition: either you are a collector or not, there is no in-between. Making a collection is a specific way to develop a relationship with the elements that surround us. A collector chooses by seeing what matches their criteria and then gathers them into an autonomous system that shuts off one context and time, and exchanges it for another. 7

1. Maurice Blanchot, La Parole quotidienne, in Blanchot, L’Entretien infini, Gallimard, Paris, 1969, trans. Susan Hanson, Everyday Speech, in Yale French Studies, no.73, 1987 2. Rita Felski, The Invention of Everyday Life, in New Formations, Cool Moves, Number 39, London, 1999


3. «Travaux pratiques», trans. in Georges Perec, Espèces d’Espaces, Editions Galilée, Paris, 1974

Towards the last part, Perec’s ‘practical exercises’3 will be combined with the process of making a collection to define a methodology that reinvents the everyday. Or to put it more succinctly, how using conscious self-alienation can create a new reality of the everyday.

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I like cats, I have always liked cats, petting them, taking pictures and filming them. I filmed this cat on Morsestraat, a few weeks ago. He was eating and playing around with a plant at the bottom of a tree. This plant and this tree are part of the 111 plant specimens composing the flora of Morsestraat. In early October, I collected all of these plants and created a herbarium. During the collection process, I foot of one of the street trees, Umbraculifera. From what I could like mint, looked like mint, and Mentha arvensis.

picked up a plant at the a Robinia pseudoacacia tell, the plant smelled that I identified as mint,

How unexpected to find mint in my street I thought, already imagining myself making infusions, and reconsidering it almost immediately when realising that the plant was the same height than the cars’ exhaust pipes. A few days later, I was talking to my lady neighbour, explaining how amazed I had been to discover mint at the bottom of this tree, and not only this tree but all of our street trees, 10 in total, distributed along the street on both sides. Since my discovery, I kept thinking about how that Mentha arvensis invaded those spaces and the relationship it had with Robinia pseudoacacia Umbraculifera and how they certainly liked each other very much. But then lady neighbour says: ‘Oh, I planted it there, and it’s not mint’. I thought she was wrong, it looked like mint, smelled like mint, but it was not mint, it had not spread by itself, and it didn’t especially like Robinia pseudoacacia Umbraculifera. All my theories were wrong. Later on, pursuing the realisation of a herbarium of Morsestraat, I created a defined identification process, consisting of several steps and verification procedures. All the plants were arranged in different categories depending on their aesthetic similarities to avoid confusion. Then, using the Nieuwe plantengids voor onderweg from Thomas Schauer, I would compare the collected sample to the drawing and the description of this reference book. When hypothetically identified, the plant is compared to a picture found researching the Latin name on Google image. In around 70% of cases, the hypothesis is confirmed, and there is no need for further research using another book, like Tuinplanten



encyclopedie op kleur by Modeste Herwig, or Wikipedia. So far, 45 plants have been identified. I used the very same process to identify the ÂŤ mint Âť plant. Knowing it was not mint, I had to expand my research and found several possible answers: Clinopodium Vulgare, Ballota nigra, Lamium purpureum or Nepeta cataria. According to Wikipedia, Clinopodium vulgare has hairy leaves, Ballotta nigra has a powerful characteristic smell that reminds of mould or humidity, Lamium purpureum is easily mistaken for Lamium amplexicaule since they both have similar looking leaves and similar bright purple flowers and Nepeta cataria is commonly known as catnip, catswort, or catmint. Catnip is a member of the mint family and contains the essential oil nepetalactone which gets some cats high. Cats respond in a number of ways including drooling, head and body rolling.


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The Everyday as a Mediative Level In 1950s’ France, there was an obvious turn in the history of thinking about the everyday. The French literature researcher Kristin Ross, in French Quotidian, explains how the post Second World War society favoured a deeper interest in the everyday: ‘The Liberation and the end of the war unleashed in France a euphoria and a sense of unlimited possibilities; for a brief time, life was lived differently [...]. But the promise of social transformation gave way to a gradual submersion in old, daily patterns and routines. As the trappings of the everyday re-emerged, they appeared for a brief moment as alien, unnatural - not inevitable.’4 Giving attention to the everyday was a way to begin change. What was considered beforehand universally as negative, ‘dull, ordinary, rote existence, the dreary unfolding of trivial repetition’5 by earlier thinkers, became much more nuanced in Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday life, published in 1947. Henri Lefebvre was a French Marxist philosopher and sociologist. He wrote numerous books during his entire life about the everyday being ‘a critical arena within capitalist future.’6 The always changing character of the everyday might explain the important number of publications as well as rewritings. ‘Everyday life, in a sense residual, defined by ‘what is left over’ after all distinct, superior, specialised, structured activities have been singled out by analysis, must be defined as a totality.’7 The image is precise: a piece of cheese with holes. Rita Felski explains Lefebvre in these words: ‘[The everyday] frames our forays into more esoteric or exotic worlds.’8 She rightly uses the word ‘frame’, that clarifies Lefebvre’s use of ‘totality’, for the everyday is what surrounds us. Maurice Blanchot expands on this in his essay, Everyday Speech, as an answer to Lefebvre: ‘[The everyday] can only be described through negations.’9 The everyday is the unnoticeable, the meaningless, the uneventful. Everything that is not something. However, Lefebvre notes that the everyday is needed in order to create the exceptional that manifests itself in ‘the superior realms of social practice’10, like art, philosophy or politics. Lefebvre goes on to say: 17

4. Kristin Ross, French Quotidian, in The art of Everyday : The Quotidian in Postwar French Culture, ed. Lynn Gumpert, New York, 1997

5. Ibid.

6. Ben Highmore, Henri Lefebvre, in The Everyday Life Reader, Routledge, London, 2002 7. Henri Lefebvre, Critique de la vie quotidienne II, Fondements d’une sociologie de la quotidienneté, L’Arche, Paris, 1961, trans. John Moore, Verso, London, 2002 8. Rita Felski, op.cit. 9. Maurice Blanchot, op.cit.

10. Henri Lefebvre, op.cit.


11. Ibid. 12. Ibid.

13. Derek Schilling, Mémoires du Quotidien : Les lieux de Perec, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, Villeneuve d’Ascq, 2006

‘These superior activities are born from seeds contained in everyday practice.’11 The exceptional cannot exist without a reference point, a base, which allows the confirmation of its own exceptional being. ‘It is everyday life which measures and embodies the changes which take place [...] in ‘the higher realms’.’12 Therefore, the everyday holds the potential for transformation, a creative energy, in favour of a higher structure. What we can take from Lefebvre’s thoughts is the mediating role of the everyday. The French literature researcher, Derek Schilling, in his introduction to La pensée du quotidien, supports this when he wrote: ‘Everyday life is not reduced to a sum of isolated actions: eating, drinking, dressing, sleeping [...], a set of daily acts susceptible to quantitative analysis.’13 Everyday life finds itself ‘in all the interactions of these sectors’14 as a measuring point.

14. Ibid.

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The Disruptive Potential of Everyday Practices Michel de Certeau wrote the first volume of L’invention du quotidien in 1980. The starting point of his investigation about the everyday follows the events of May 1968 in France, during which the singular vision and the centrality of power imposed by institutions were openly attacked. As well as Lefebvre, de Certeau reacted to a historical turning point. This interest in cultural and political resistance raises and outlines a space of imagination, invention and possible gestures of emancipation within everyday practices. De Certeau depicts the everyday as an active space. ‘The everyday exists through the practices that constitute it, the ways in which times and spaces are appropriated by human subjects and converted into physical traces, narratives, and histories’15 Michael Sheringham, a French literature professor, when writing about de Certeau. In contrast to Lefebvre, De Certeau did not create a definition of the everyday but rather investigated its potential for invention within the everyday practices of its actors. De Certeau rejects a passive behaviour of the subject. The everyday is revealed by stimulating the dynamic creativity that exists in the practices that generally remain hidden in their original context; things like cooking, shopping and walking. We invent the everyday using the ‘arts de faire’, which is ‘a ‘complex geography of social ruses’ played out on the interstices of bureaucratic surveillance by the relatively powerless.’16 Within their everyday activity, human beings have the possibility to escape the protocols that are imposed on them by social structures. Everyday practices are formed by fragments of unpredictability that cannot be controlled by a higher structure. Lefebvre celebrates the everyday for its transformational potential towards ‘higher realms’. From de Certeau’s point of view, the everyday cannot and is not meant to be escaped. De Certeau celebrates the transformational power of the everyday within itself, which is significantly different from Lefebvre’s more defeatist discourse. At this point in the history 21

15. Michael Sheringham, Everyday Life, Theories and Practices from Surrealism to Present, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006

16. Kristin Ross, op.cit.


17. Rita Felski, op.cit.

of thinking about the everyday, de Certeau unprecedentedly sheds a positive light on the topic. However, by stimulating the dynamic creativity of everyday practices, Rita Felski mentions quite correctly that ‘this new account of the everyday often loses sight of the mundane, taken-for-granted, routine qualities that seem so central to its definition - the very everydayness of the everyday.’17

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The Practical Exercises of Georges Perec Perec’s contribution to the thinking on the everyday is mostly found within his literary writings. ‘How to look at the everyday’18 is one of the four types of questions defined by Perec himself, that are at the core of his oeuvre. This interrogation and the way it is formulated - the use of the adverb how - tell us that Perec investigated the everyday using the method of observing. Observing is only a first step though: ‘How can we speak of these ‘common things’, or rather how can we track them down, flush them out, prize them from the magma in which they are stuck [...] ?’19 Here the method becomes much more physical: chasing, driving out and tearing off. Perec is engaged in a fight with the everyday. When Perec offers very concrete and practical exercises in order to answer these questions, a similar intensity, as well as promptness, appears :

18. «Comment regarder le quotidien» trans. in Georges Perec, Notes sur ce que je cherche, in Penser/ Classer, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2003 19. Georges Perec, Approches de quoi?, in L’infra-ordinaire, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1990, trans. John Sturrock, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1997

‘Describe your street. Describe another. Compare. Make a list of what’s in your pockets, in your handbags. Ask yourself about the provenance, use, and likely future of each object you take out. Question your teaspoons.’20 The sentences are short, and the punctuation is dense. Perec uses the imperative as well as repetitions. The triviality of the instructions is overruled by the rhythm of the sentences that makes it feel like an essential task to fulfil. What is this task ? ‘The project [...] is a stratagem designed to let something else be apprehended obliquely, something utterly serious and important.’21 Perec calls this ‘something’ the infra-ordinary, ‘neither ordinary nor extraordinary, neither banal or exotic.’22 Let’s take a concrete example of his writings to explain more precisely what Perec means when using the term infra-ordinary. An Attempt to Exhaust a Parisian Space, is a book published in 1982 that recounts a three days fieldwork during which Georges Perec observed and described the Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris. He starts by cataloguing what exists in the street, shops and cafés, but only to suggest that these are too meaningful. However, he intends to ‘describe what 23

20. Michael Sheringham, op.cit. 21. Ben Highmore, Georges Perec, op.cit.


22. Georges ‌Tentative Perec, d’épuisement d’un lieu parisien, Christian Bourgeois, Paris, 1982 23. Georges Perec, Approches de quoi ?, op.cit 24. Ibid.

remains: that which we generally don’t notice, which doesn’t call attention to itself, which is of no importance; what happens when nothing happens, what passes when nothing passes, except time, people, cars, and clouds.’23 By interrogating the infra-ordinary, ‘what’s needed perhaps is finally to found our own anthropology, one that will speak about us [...]. We [are trying] in vain to lay hold on our truth.’24 Perec gives no answer to what this truth is and he makes a clear point that it is not only up to him to discover it. Approches de quoi ? is an essay that reads like a manifesto. It addresses us using a ‘we’ that globalises. It wants to awake its readers from ‘a dreamless sleep [...], to question the habitual [...], to question what seems so much a matter of course that we’ve forgotten its origin [...], to question that which seems to have ceased to forever astonish us.’25 Georges Perec’s writings are no answers to the interrogations that constitute his oeuvre, but rather a way to assert them for himself and others.

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The Everyday in Three Key Terms: Repetition, Home and Habit Rita Felski is a cultural studies researcher specialising in feminist theory. In 1999, she wrote an essay called The Invention of Everyday Life. Felski uses phenomenological methods as a starting point to define her main research lines, that she then analyses with references and thoughts from other fields. The overall text gives a complete and critical point of view on the subject as well as her methodology. Felski gives a new definition of the everyday using the three key terms: time, space and modality. These are contextualised in their relationship to the everyday. ‘The temporality of the everyday [...] is that of repetition, the spatial ordering of the everyday is anchored in a sense of home and the characteristic mode of experiencing the everyday is that of habit.’26 Using Felski’s way of thinking, we will look at the following three points in detail: repetition, home and habit.

25. Rita Felski, op.cit.

The everyday carries a strong sense of time and a particular feeling of repetition. The everyday is not what is unique or eventful. It embodies what happens again and again, the recurrent. Our fundamental activities, sleeping, eating and working are organised in the repetitive natural time structure of day-night. This itself is embedded in larger constructed time cycles of week, month and year. Time in the everyday is cyclical. In his latest writings, Henri Lefebvre already approaches the everyday as a time-space idea but develops it into a system of oppositions. According to him, repetition is a ‘great problem.’22 It is in contradiction with linear time, the symbol of the modern man, of constant progress and moving forward. Therefore, everyday life and its cyclical times are slowing down progress. From Lefebvre’s point of view: ‘Repetition is seen as a threat to the modern project of self-determination, subordinating individual will to the demands of an imposed pattern.’28 Rita Felski tempers these words with her own: ‘Repetition can signal resistance as well as enslavement.’29 When refusing change, one can preserve their everyday rituals that carry a sense of autonomy and dignity. Moreover, the everyday’s 27

26. Henri Lefebvre, The Everyday and Everydayness, Yale French Studies, No. 73, Everyday Life, 1987 27. Rita Felski, op.cit. 28.

Ibid.


29.

30.

Ibid.

Ibid.

31. Ibid.

32.

Ibid.

33. Georges Perec, Approches de quoi ?, op.cit.

34.

Ibid.

temporality cannot support such a strong opposition between circular and linear time. Instead, they can combine. ‘The everyday cannot be opposed to the realm of history but is rather the very means by which history is actualised and made real.’30 When addressing the second key term, Felski argues that unlike its temporal aspect, everyday life does not carry a distinctive sense of space. Everyday life happens in a broad diversity of places, as well as affecting the way we move within them. We walk, we drive, we fly. Nonetheless, she determines home as a privileged symbol for the everyday that acts like a reference point ‘which allows us to make forays into other worlds.’31 The common understanding of home would define it as a unique, private and domestic space. Felski gives a more open definition: ‘It includes any often visited place that is the object of cathexis, that in its very familiarity becomes a symbolic extension and confirmation of the self.’32 In that description, home is defined not only as a physical space, but also as a place that responds to a strong emotional instinct that will strengthen through time and experience, or cathexis. Within the idea of home, Felski connects space and time, and gives a perfect introduction to the last investigative term, the habit, or the modality of the everyday. Both home and repetition embody the third key term of Felski’s definition of the everyday: habit. ‘The idea of habit crystallises this experience of dailiness. Habit describes not simply an action, but an attitude: habits are often carried out in a semi-automatic, distracted or involuntary manner.’33 Felski describes here our way of experiencing the everyday. Her description perfectly echoes Perec’s words: ‘We don’t question it, it doesn’t question us, it doesn’t seem to pose a problem.’34 Routine grows, as we let it. It is a consensual exchange. Perec specifies his words and describes this attitude as problematic: ‘It is no longer even conditioning, it’s anesthesia.’35 The very nature of the habit carries with it the danger of losing awareness and accept with no critical 28


thinking. Felski puts things into perspective: ‘This [point of view] ignores the ways in which routines may strengthen, comfort and provide meaning.’36 Routinization cannot only be described as an insidious element of our lives as it also creates an essential frame for our well-being. In this chapter, as well as in her final argument, Felski takes a strong position towards theoretical critique and how it can be disconnected from reality. ‘Contemporary theorists have tended either to excoriate the everyday for its routine [...] or to celebrate the everyday while pretending that such qualities do not exists.’37 Contemporary thinkers, influenced by modernist ideals, have lost sight of the very core of the everyday, its ordinariness.

29

35. Rita Felski, op.cit.

36.

Ibid.


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I hardly ever paid any attention to plants and trees. They would never be a priority in my routines. But that was before I started making a herbarium of my street. A few weeks ago, I collected all the plants I could find there. Afterwards, I put them under press to dry, in between newspapers’ sheets, that I collected on the street early on Friday mornings, before the paper truck shows up. The drying process needs time and care. The newspaper sheets need to be replaced every two days for at least three weeks. I changed the newspapers sheets thirteen times in twenty-two days’ time. I therefore went three Fridays in a row collecting newspapers on the street. Once all the plants are dry, the identification process starts. I created a defined identification process, consisting of several steps and verification procedures. But unfamiliar with the plants’ taxonomy, I was tricked a few times, especially when confronted with cultivars. A cultivar is a subcategory of a species that has been genetically modified to enhance specific characteristics. They are part of the same family: parents, kids, cousins, relatives, more or less extensive, depending on the variety. The thing is, even if the cultivar has the same last name than its parent, it can look pretty different. Nepeta Cataria and Mentha Arvensis, that look, smell and taste absolutely similar, are actually distant cousins, and different species. But Robinia pseudoacacia and Robinia pseudoacacia Umbraculifera, which are like genetical twins, look nothing alike. They are the Pinky and the Brain or the Laurel and Hardy of trees, a slender one and a chubby one, a first and a false, one for avenues and one for streets. They are though complementary and by their very nature, forever united. 34


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Taking a Train to Amsterdam Rita Felski defines the everyday as a process that all beings experience. ‘It makes more sense to think of the everyday as a way of experiencing the world rather than as a circumscribed set of activities within the world.’38 I remember the first time I took the train to go to Amsterdam Centraal. While taking the train is an action that I regularly do, going to Amsterdam is not. If I think a bit more about my train journey, I was not amazed by the speed nor the comfort, but I was captivated by the landscape, which was something new. Taking the train and going to Amsterdam are two distinct parts of one experience. One is habitual, and one is exceptional. A few months passed, and I am now more used to taking the train to Amsterdam. It no longer feels exceptional as I went through the experience of routinisation. ‘Everyday life simply is the process of becoming acclimatised to assumptions, behaviours and practices which come to seem self-evident and taken for granted.’39Taking the train and going to Amsterdam are now one. The experience feels comforting and safe. However, by continuously experiencing this, comfort and safety, it started to feel mundane. Another travel brought more insights into the experience of the everyday. I was taking the train in winter early in the morning, which was a set of unknown conditions. Being amazed by the landscape, I again felt the excitement of these first train rides. These specific circumstances, cold and morning light, created a possible frame to rediscover what was already acclimatised and processed. However, my experience was a development of random circumstances, that eventually ended in thought.

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37. Rita Felski, op.cit.

38.

Ibid.


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The Street as a Metaphor of the Everyday As stated previously, Perec’s writing encourages a proactive attitude towards the rediscovery of the everyday. To do so, he recommends several techniques he himself uses: observation, description, comparison, inventorisation, questioning. Here is a specific example : ‘Observe the street, from time to time, with some concern for system perhaps. Apply yourself. Take your time. [...] You must set about it more slowly, almost stupidly. [...] Force yourself to see more flatly. [...] Time passes. Drink your beer. Wait. [...] Carry on until the scene becomes improbable.’40

39. Georges Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, op.cit.

In this section of text from Species of Spaces, Perec urges us to look at the street. From his perspective, the street is a space where the everyday happens. I would define the street as a possible metaphor of the everyday. In Perec’s words: ‘The street is what separates houses from each other, and also what enables us to get from one house to another, by going either along or across the street.’41 This echoes very much the thoughts of Lefebvre, for whom the everyday is defined in relation to a higher structure which exists ‘in all the interactions of these [daily acts].’42 The street is, therefore, a possible illustration of this description. The street is what connects and allows interactions. Following that train of thought, the idea of the street as a metaphor of the everyday can be extended to the more general concept of infrastructure. The diverse definitions and thoughts about infrastructure find troubling similarities within the writings on the everyday. The architectural historians, Stalder and Darò speak of infrastructure as ‘[...] an invisible presence. It is only when the system breaks down, or the connections is lost, that we become aware of it, and then usually in a negative sense.’43This observation perfectly 45

40. Georges Perec, Approches de quoi?, op.cit.

41. Derek Schilling, op.cit.

42. Laurent Stalder and Carlotta Darò, Eight points on Infrastructure and Architecture, in Infrastructure Space, Ilka and Andreas Ruby, Ruby Press, Berlin, 2017


43. Georges Perec, L’infra-ordinaire, op.cit.

44. Jesse LeCavalier and Jason Young, The Metropolitan relational Matrix, in Infrastructure Space, op.cit. 45. Marc Angélil and Cary Siress, Infrastructure Takes Command: Coming out of the Background, in Infrastructure Space, op.cit.

embodies the indignation of Perec towards the way the everyday does not exist, unless through the spectacular. “What is significant is always abnormal.”44 The words of the architects Jesse Lecavalier and Jason Young on infrastructure undoubtedly remind us of the above definition of the street: ‘[...] Infrastructure space exists between other spaces, providing switches and couplings that link diverse systems.’45 Infrastructure creates a frame that serves other structures, and so does the everyday of Lefebvre. Rita Felski’s ‘taken-for-granted continuum of mundane activities’ are served by the infrastructure described by the architects Marc Angélil and Cary Siress: ‘[...] remaining largely inconspicuous by being always at hand and available without question.’46 There seems to be a continuous movement of back and forth between infrastructure and everyday. They are two complementary elements that find confirmation of themselves within each other’s existence. Perec defines the street as a privileged space to observe the everyday, which he puts into practice in most of his writings. He is himself an observer, and he urges us to join him. I carried out that experiment in the street where I live, Morsestraat, between the 1st of October and the 25th of November 2018. During that time, I was an observer, looking systematically at the elements. Through time and development of the process, I also became a collector. In the next chapters, I will define the character of the collector and analyse how the collection can play a role in the achievement of Perec’s project.

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Who is the Collector ? Anyone can be a collector and anything can be collected. The material value of the collected object does not define the quality of the collection, but rather the size and specialisation of it. Last year’s exhibition at Het Nieuwe Instituut, Finders Keepers, showcased all sorts of collections including ‘3000 carpenter’s pencils and 150 different sorts of handcuffs.’47 The same goes for the collector who is not defined by the type of objects he collects but rather by his fanaticism. And this, according to Jean Baudrillard, in The system of Objects: ‘is identical whether it characterises a rich connoisseur of Persian miniatures or a collector of matchboxes.’48 The collector is exalted by the idea of owning the object as well as the possibility of creating a series, a continuous and endless game. Collectors and objects have a privileged and intimate relationship that Baudrillard describes using the image of the harem: ‘an intimate series (one term of which is at any given time the favourite) combined with a serial intimacy’49. The collector is the master of his objects, but unlike human relationships, objects offer him the reassuring guarantee of an infinite continuity. Despite the intimate relationship existing between the collector and the collected, the action of collecting is very much about the illustration of the collector’s figure. The American poet Susan Stewart writes: ‘The ultimate term in the series that marks the collection is the ‘self’, the articulation of the collector’s own ‘identity’.’50This contemplation towards oneself carries a feeling of loneliness and can imprison the collector in his own image. Baudrillard ends his reflexion on the collection by asking: ‘can man ever use [the collection] to set up a language that is more than a discourse addressed to [the collector] himself  ?’51

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46. https:// finderskeepers. hetnieuweinstituut.nl/ en/home 47. Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects, trans. James Benedict, Verso, London, 1996 48.

Ibid.

49. Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Duke University Press, London, 1993 50. Jean Baudrillard, op.cit.


The Perecian Collector I would like to offer a different representation of the collector, one in which the motivation is not possession, but rather the completion of a process inspired by Perec’s ideals: the search for astonishment. As the previous chapters have already analysed, Perec uses various methods (such as observation, description, comparison) to rediscover the everyday, and therefore the Perecian collector employs the process of making a collection in order to rediscover his surroundings, and thereby reinvent his everyday.

51. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, English Edition, Tavistock Publications, London, 1970

52. Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes, Routledge, London, 1992

53. Lewis Carroll, Through the LookingGlass, Macmillan, London, 1871

Let us now analyse Perec’s practical exercise ‘observe the street,’ from the Perecian collector’s point of view. The Perecian collector starts by observing. In The Order of Things, Michel Foucault describes the action of observing in the context of the creation of a ‘natural history’ and its classification. Here, observing is defined as: ‘[being] content with seeing – with seeing a few things systematically. With seeing what, in the rather confused wealth of representation, can be analysed, recognised by all, and thus given a name that everyone will be able to understand.’52 Foucault’s definition, therefore, sets one condition between the Perecian collector and the object of his attention: in order to be observed, one must be identified and acknowledged understandably by a larger structure – in other words, named. In Imperial Eyes by Spanish literature professor Mary Louise Pratt, naming is transformative: ‘It extracts all the things of the world and redeploys them into a new knowledge formation whose value lies precisely in its difference from the chaotic original. [...] The naming brings the reality of order into being.’53 Naming creates order, and forms a system of relationships and hierarchies between the actors of a system. In Lewis Caroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, Alice finds herself in a wood ‘where things have no name.’54 There, she encounters a fawn, and the situation that arises from this specific context is particularly revealing on how naming conditions our relationships towards one another. ‘Just then a Fawn came wandering by: it looked at Alice with its large gentle eyes, but didn’t seem at all frightened. [...] 58


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In early October, I collected all the plants I could find on Morsestraat to create a herbarium. Since I started collecting, and especially since I began to identify the plants, I feel much more aware of any type of plant I encounter in the public space. I started asking myself a lot of questions, transforming my smallest journeys into intense experiences. What type of tree is that ? Why is this specimen planted here ? How is it placed here ? How are trees arranged in a public space ? Why in a line ? Why only on one side ? Why not symmetrically ? Why do some streets not have trees ? Why do we have trees planted in the public space anyway ? All sorts of endless questions never leaving my thoughts. Since I identified it, I felt especially concerned by the fate of one type of tree, Robinia pseudoacacia Umbraculifera, for several reasons that I will expose presently. First I became disconcerted on a semantic level, because of its name, and more precisely its middle name. I clearly remember the feeling of compassion, almost pity, that took hold of me the first time I read its name: a useless hopeful, a wannabe, a pseudo. As good as it looks alike, it is not and it will never be. My very human inclination towards the weaker, deepened my admiration for this unfortunate specimen standing nevertheless fiercely in front of me, proud of its bright green foliage and hardwood. Moved by this realisation, I was inclined to develop a personal attachment for that type of tree. Robinia pseudoacacia Umbraculifera, RPU, is the variety of tree that is planted in my street, 60


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Morsestraat. There are ten of them in total, eight, on the even numbers’ houses’ side, two on the odd numbers’ houses’ side. A specimen of them is planted almost di rectly in front of our house, the number 33. It is the first tree that I see when I come out of the house, and it also ensures a car-free space, giving me easy access to the road with my bike at any time, making its presence in this spot of obvious practical relevance. More recently, RPU was one of the main protagonists in my journey of identifying the plant proliferating at his feet, which attracts all the cats of the neighbourhood. I therefore found myself spending quite some time sitting at his feet and enjoying his glorious shadow. A few weeks ago, I was talking to my lady neighbour and sharing my amazement about the sturdiness of these trees, and how worthy they were. But then she says: ‘Oh, look at them, it’s time to change them. I actually just asked the municipality to replace them.’ The compassion I felt already once, overwhelmed me once again. I had to acknowledge it, my neighbour was right, yet again, bringing me and my both feet back to the solid ground of reality. The trees were dying. I guess I knew about it. I had noticed the trunks drying, separating in two and the leaves being invaded by an aggressive mushroom. It felt like his destiny was biased from the start, and even my personal inclination for it could not help it being the victim of an organised crime society.

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“What do you call yourself?” the Fawn said at last. Such a soft sweet voice it had!

55. Ibid.

“I wish I knew!” thought poor Alice. She answered, rather sadly, “Nothing, just now.” “Think again,” it said: “that won’t do.” Alice thought, but nothing came of it. “Please, would you tell me what you call yourself?” she said timidly. “I think that might help a little.” “I’ll tell you, if you’ll move a little further on,” the Fawn said. “I can’t remember here.” So they walked on together through the wood, Alice with her arms clasped lovingly round the soft neck of the Fawn, till they came out into another open field, and here the Fawn gave a sudden bound into the air, and shook itself free from Alice’s arms. “I’m a Fawn!” it cried out in a voice of delight, “and, dear me! you’re a human child!” A sudden look of alarm came into its beautiful brown eyes, and in another moment it had darted away a full speed.’55 As they emerged from the wood, Alice and the fawn both remembered how they usually act in a named and defined system: the fawn is supposed to be scared of humans. Their exchange ended abruptly, which upset Alice, for whom the possibility of a meaningful encounter was denied by a normative system. In this exchange, it is made evident how our interpretation of reality relies on a pre-existing method of classification. However, in order to pursue Perec’s project, one must ‘Carry on until the scene becomes improbable, until you have the impression, for the briefest of moments, that you are in a strange town or, better still, until you can no longer understand what is happening or is not happening, until the whole 63

54. Georges Perec, Species of Spaces, op.cit.


place becomes strange, and you no longer even know that this is, what is called a town, a street, buildings, pavements ...’56 Perec asks us to forget where we are, unlearn what we know, and un-name what we have identified. Observing sets a precedent: the Perecian collector can only collect in a system with which he is familiar and that he can name. However, Perec’s practical exercise is a deliberate method to alienate yourself from your everyday, and in order to accomplish that endeavour, the Perecian collector uses the process of making a collection.

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Making a Collection as a Tool to Reinvent the Everyday, the Perecian Collection Making a collection is a way of creating a distinctive group of gathered elements inside a larger system, within an undetermined period of time. This group answers to a number of rules and criteria, determined by the collector. The most striking notion about collecting is the creation of a distinctive group, or how it captures elements from the original context to put them in a new, subjective space; it creates a contextual neutralisation that excludes the original context of the object. Susan Stewart says that collecting allows ‘[...] the reframing of objects within a world of attention and manipulation of context.’57 The cultural theorist Mieke Bal goes even further, defining the action of collecting as a clean slate: ‘The objects are radically deprived of any function they might possibly have outside being collected items.’58 These thoughts echo the writings of Jean Baudrillard, for whom an object is ‘put to use’ or ‘possessed.’59 The act of collecting could be considered as either the death or the genesis of a new system of relationships within the gathered objects. Susan Stewart summarises by stating that ‘Each element within the collection is representative and works in combination toward the creation of a new whole that is the context of the collection itself.’60 We can use the example of Noah’s Ark to illustrate the action of collecting. In order to save the animals from a flood, God ordered Noah to collect and place them in an Ark: ‘And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.’61 Noah’s task is immense: collecting all the existing animals in order to save them. In this specific case, the act of collecting allows the creation of a new world, freed from all the sins of the ancient one; a new start. The Perecian collector acts towards a similar goal: the reinvention of his everyday. Unlike Noah’s case, the action of the Perecian collector is not initiated by a higher power, but by himself, and the Perecian collector can thus determine the rules that apply to his collection. In an essay written as part of the Finders Keepers’ exhibition, the architect and writer Sam Jacob has written 73

57. Susan Stewart, op.cit. 58. Mieke Bal, Telling Objects: A Narrative Perspective on Collecting, in The Cultures of Collecting, Reaktion Books, London, 1994 59. Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects, trans. James Benedict, Verso, London, 1996 60. Susan Stewart, op.cit. 61. (Genesis 6.19-20), cited in John Elsner and Roger Cardinal, Introduction, in The Cultures of Collecting, op.cit.


62. Sam Jacob, Life among things, Finders Keepers’ Exhibition, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam, 2017. https://finderskeepers.hetnieuweinstituut.nl/en/lifeamongst-things

63. John Elsner and Roger Cardinal, op.cit.

64. Lewis Carroll, op.cit.

that within the collection: ‘Meaning and significance are projected onto objects rather than intrinsic to them or baked into their material form.’62 The collected elements exist only through their relationship to the whole, as well as in relation to the other members. As just defined, the elements gathered in a collection find themselves void of all meanings, and this contextual neutralisation allows the Perecian collector to invent and project his own signification and narratives onto them. We can use the definition that the art historian John Elsner and the writer Roger Cardinal has proposed about the history of collecting to extract an accurate description of the role of the Perecian collector: ‘The history of collecting is [...] the narrative of how human beings have striven to accommodate, to appropriate, and to extend the taxonomies and systems of knowledge they have inherited.’63 We can therefore deduce that within his collection, the Perecian collector reinvents the taxonomies and systems of knowledge he has inherited. The words of the Perecian collector could be those of Humpty Dumpty, a character from Through the Looking-Glass: ‘“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean— neither more nor less.”’64

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The World of Dogtooth from Yorgos Lanthimos, a Perecian Collection The Perecian collector is interested in an environment with which he is familiar through a process of routinisation; for example, a street. He can observe, and therefore name, the elements that compose this complex environment; naming allows him to gather some elements of this environment, and regroup them in a collection – an act that removes them from their original context. The elements of the collection find themselves deprived of all meaning or function, and that leaves space for the Perecian collector to reconsider their previous significance, and impose his own narrative onto them. The film Dogtooth, co-written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, will be used to offer a more concrete description of a possible Perecian collection. The choice of a film as an example implies that a Perecian collection can be fictional, but I chose the film Dogtooth due to its realistic qualities. Yorgos Lanthimos has written a work of fiction, but there is no sign that the depicted world could not be ours, despite the repetitive and irrational behaviour of the characters. The possibility that this film could be our tangible reality is what makes it so intriguing. The scenario portrays a couple, along with their grown-up son and two daughters, living in a countryside house somewhere in Greece. A tall fence surrounds the house, and creates a closed perimeter that the children have never left. The grown-up children do not know about the outside world. Every day, the father leaves the house to go to his workplace situated outside the fence, leaving the mom and the children at the house. From that perspective, the father – a more prominent figure than the mother – can be considered the Perecian collector. The closed perimeter of the house is a representation of the contextual neutralisation created for his collection – his family life. The children live by the rules the parents have created, and never question their legitimacy. What they see is the only reality they have ever experienced.

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The movie opens with a scene in which the children are playing with a recorded tape of their mother’s voice, teaching them words and their definitions. ‘Today the new words are the following: sea, motorway, excursion and carbine. A sea is a leather armchair with wooden arms like the one we have in our living room. For example: “Don’t stand on your feet. Sit on the sea to have a quiet chat with me.” A motorway is a very strong wind. An excursion is a very resistant material used to construct floors. For example: “The chandelier fell violently onto the floor but no damage was caused to it because it is made of 100% excursion. A carbine is a beautiful white bird.”’65

65. Transcript from Dogtooth, Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece, 2009

We instantly notice that the definitions and examples do not fit the common understanding of these elements. The father configures his children, as well as the elements, in such a way so as to make them fit in to the narrative he has created for his collection. Every word that is not part of the common domestic language is adapted to fit that specific context; the sea, a symbol of openness and exploration, is brought back to a chair, a simple and characteristic element of the living space, while a carbine, a light automatic rifle, is transformed into a white bird, usually associated with peace. Despite the efforts of the parents, the closed perimeter of the house is not completely impermeable to the outside world; a few uncontrolled elements appear: planes flying in the sky, or a cat that manages to cross the fence. However, the collection works like a digestion machine, and incorporates all these disruptive elements into narratives that fit the system created by the collector. The planes are transformed into playful elements such as toys, while the cat, a dangerous monster, needs to be kept away, and will eventually be killed by one of the children. The plot of the movie grows towards a friction between the time within the collection and real time, which will jeopardise the contextual neutral78


isation created by the collection. Collections do not follow real time, but embody ‘[...] the urge to erect a permanent and complete system against the destructiveness of time’66; a collection ‘abolishes time.’67 The elements of the collection are cut from their origin, and so do not relate anymore to an extensive reality, but rather only to the collection and the place they occupy within it. ‘Temporality within the collection becomes thereby a “spatial and material phenomenon”,’68 and time in the collection is an organisation system that manages the relationships of the elements within it. This scenario is real for the elements that form the collection of Dogtooth. However, of the fact that some of them are living creatures generates a conflict between the time of the collection and real, biological time from which they cannot escape. In the movie, time works on a two-tier level. The time of the collection froze the relationship between the parents and the children into an established hierarchy in which good behaviour is rewarded with stickers, and bad behaviour with violence. That routinised pattern keeps the adult children from the natural emancipation that accompanies growing up. However, real time unfolds, and biological development creates a growing sexual need. In order to keep real time from colliding with the collection time, the father introduces a woman into the closed house to satisfy his son’s sexual urges, but he does not manage to control this new outside element, which will lead to the collapse of the closed perimeter and the entire collection.

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66. John Elsner and Roger Cardinal, op.cit.

67. Jean Baudrillard, op.cit. 68. Susan Stewart, op.cit.


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I ride the Anthony van Leeuwenhoeklaan bike lane everyday, twice a day, to go to school and come back home. It is a nice, almost straight bike lane with a bike-friendly ochre coating, on which your bike smoothly slides. I would recommend using the park side way, the roadside being more bumpy due to the trees’ roots popping up under the pavement. The bike lane is framed with beautiful big trees, planted on both sides, creating a majestic route, avenue-like. For a few days in spring, the trees blossom with beautiful white flowers, and in autumn, the falling leaves form small hills of infinite yellow and orange shades, that you have to fluidly cycle around, creating a sort of bike dance. As I have become much more aware of the plants I encounter in the public space, around two weeks ago, while riding back home, I became troubled by the naked trees. Autumn is here. The cycle is ending. The leaves fall, gliding slowly in the in between, until they land and remain quiet, still bubbling from that last dance. But the emotion eventually dies out, and they are just lying there, in stacks, waiting to be picked up by the city employees, whom every year, during that time, everyday, seal the fate of these beings, bringing them to their conclusion. I feel concerned but only until the cycle starts again. As the leftover leaves unfold slowly in front of my eyes, they pique my curiosity, a first time, a second time, the ride is quick, but I keep giving short glances, they seem very familiar : Odd-pinnate compound leaves, entire edges, not serrated, cross-venulate venation, obtuse apex, rounded base. I feel the excitement, but I need confirmation, using a systematic and improved identification process. 84


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I use the index of the ANWB Bomengids van Europa, book compiled by Owen Johnson and David More. In the ‘Bladvormen bij Loofbomen’ section, under the ‘Bladen samengesteld’ genre, subdivided into ‘Verspreid, niet gezaard’ category, I was offered 13 different possibilities. 3 of them, I could exclude immediately, their style being much too far-fetched to fool me. That left me with 10 more options to explore. It should be quickly settled, the process is efficient. But the wait increases the agitation. I play the game, clumsily turning pages and forgetting the numbers I’m looking for. I obviously start with the least probable option, I linger on pages, dissecting every drawing. Maybe, maybe it could be, not sure. 5 more to go, I am getting closer, I know it. Finding the right moment to peak is sensitive, it shouldn’t be too quick but also not too long. Is it that one ? Is it the one ? The joy I felt already once, overwhelmed me once again. I am back home.

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The Perfect Perecian Collection Dogtooth is at the same time fascinating and sordid. The entire scenario is constructed to create an image of ordinariness, but the more ordinary it becomes, the more uncomfortable we feel. The decision to choose this film as a possible example of a Perecian collection is extreme. The father uses the process of the Perecian collection, but as the movie unfolds, we understand that his motives completely digress from Perec’s ideals into something fundamentally problematic. His violent, controlling, and manipulative behaviour, and the consequent effects it has on the children’s mental health, reveals the potentially devastating abuse of such a method. In contrast to the father in Dogtooth, Alice, the main character in Through the Looking-Glass is a harmless Perecian collector, but nonetheless entirely dedicated to her cause. Her Perecian collection exists in the ‘Looking-Glass House’69 that she can see in the mirror of her living room. Behind the mirror, everything looks the same, but works the other way around: ‘What could be seen from the old room was quite common and uninteresting, but that all the rest was a different as possible.’70 Throughout the book, Alice can cross the mirror and visit that world, where ‘it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place,’71 and whose characters’ memory ‘works both ways.’72 From our rational perspective, Alice’s collection is obviously fictional; she knows that she was in a dream as she comes back from behind the mirror, having been woken up by her kitten: ‘You woke me out of oh! such a nice dream!’73 However, she cannot clearly identify who was dreaming, and what was part of her dream or not: ‘Let’s consider who it was that dreamed it all.’74 In the world in front of the mirror, her familiar environment, chess pieces now have new names and characters: the Red Queen and her White Majesty – Alice’s perception of her surroundings has changed. The choice of the Looking-Glass House as an example of a Perecian collection is also ambiguous, in that it represents an entirely fictional 89

69. Lewis Carroll, op.cit. 70. Ibid.

71. Ibid. 72. Ibid.

73. Ibid.

74. Ibid.


space, and therefore is more difficult to relate to our reality, unlike the world of Dogtooth, where it is easier to project oneself. However, Alice’s behaviour perfectly embodies the Perecian collector’s goal of the rediscovery of his everyday, unlike the father in Dogtooth, whose controlling personality leads to the fall of his reality. The combination of the realistic qualities of the context of Dogtooth with Alice’s attitude towards the world embodies a successful example of the realisation of a Perecian collection as an experience to reinvent one’s everyday. Drawing significantly on Perec’s practical exercises, this thesis has been written to come to a definition of another possible method that can be used in order to reinvent one’s everyday. Examples such as Dogtooth or Through the Looking-Glass can sound daunting or impressive due to their complexity, but the means employed in the method remain simple: naming, observing, and collecting. Anyone can at any time reinvent their own everyday, using these three tools.

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Bibliography AngÊlil Marc and Siress Cary, Infrastructure Takes Command: Coming out of the Background, in Infrastructure Space, Ilka and Andreas Ruby, Ruby Press, Berlin, 2017 Bal Mieke, Telling Objects: A Narrative Perspective on Collecting, in The Cultures of Collecting, London, 1994 Blanchot Maurice, La Parole quotidienne, in Blanchot, L’Entretien infini, Gallimard, Paris, 1969, trans. Susan Hanson, Everyday Speech, in Yale French Studies, no.73, 1987 Baudrillard Jean, The System of Objects, trans. James Benedict, Verso, London, 1996 Carroll Lewis, Through the Looking-Glass, Macmillan, London, 1871 Elsner John and Cardinal Roger, Introduction, in The Cultures of Collecting, Reaktion Books, London, 1994 Felski Rita, The Invention of Everyday Life, in New Formations, Cool Moves, Number 39, London, 1999 Foucault Michel, The Order of Things, English Edition, Tavistock Publications, London, 1970 Highmore Ben, Henri Lefebvre, in The Everyday Life Reader, Routledge, London, 2002 Jacob Sam, Life among things, Finders keepers Exhibition, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam, 2017. https://finderskeepers.hetnieuweinstituut. nl/en/life-amongst-things Lanthimos Yorgos, Dogtooth, Greece, 2009 LeCavalier Jesse and Young Jason, The Metropolitan relational Matrix, in Infrastructure Space, Ilka and Andreas Ruby, Ruby Press, Berlin, 2017

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Lefebvre Henri, Critique de la vie quotidienne II, Fondements d’une sociologie de la quotidienneté, L’Arche, Paris, 1961, trans. John Moore, Verso, London, 2002 Lefebvre Henri, The Everyday and Everydayness, Yale French Studies, No. 73, Everyday Life, 1987 Perec Georges, Espèces d’Espaces, Editions Galilée, Paris, 1974 Perec Georges, T ‌ entative d’épuisement d’un lieu parisien, Christian Bourgeois, Paris, 1982 Perec Georges, Approches de quoi?, in L’infra-ordinaire, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1990, trans. John Sturrock, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1997 Perec Georges, Notes sur ce que je cherche, in Penser/Classer, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2003 Ross Kristin, French Quotidian, in The art of Everyday : The Quotidian in Postwar French Culture, ed. Lynn Gumpert, New York, 1997 Sheringham Michael, Everyday Life, Theories and Practices from Surrealism to Present, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006 Schilling Derek, Mémoires du Quotidien : Les lieux de Perec, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, Villeneuve d’Ascq, 2006 Stalder Laurent and Darò Carlotta, Eight points on Infrastructure and Architecture, in Infrastructure Space, Ilka and Andreas Ruby, Ruby Press, Berlin, 2017 Stewart Susan, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Duke University Press, London, 1993

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Marie Rime Master Contextual Design Design Academy Eindhoven 95

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