DOI: 10.1215/03335372-10938644 ISSN: 0333-5372

Making Known Again: The Rhetorical Function of Anagnorisis in Georges Perec's La disparition

Hervé Picherit, Jason C. Thompson
  • Literature and Literary Theory


This article proposes that the main trope of Georges Perec's novel, La disparition (1969), is anagnorisis, or a scene of literary recognition. Though Perec borrows a classical trope described by Aristotle, his novel stands out in that it is not a character that the reader must recognize but an unexpected and unannounced void, namely, the absence of the letter E from the entire text. Framing this exercise in literary constraint as a modernist mystery novel, Perec aligns the stakes of noticing, or not noticing, his missing letter with postwar debates about literature's capacity to help us understand existence. On the one hand, Perec decries the inability of traditional literature to capture the complexity of a post-Holocaust world. On the other hand, he deplores the literary nihilism he attributes to the nouveau roman movement. It is to escape this impasse that Perec embarks on his mission to renew anagnorisis and, more broadly, literary meaning-making. To do so, he sets in place new forms whose ultimate purpose is to help us begin to recognize the profound meaning of the absences left behind by the traumas of the twentieth century.