Georges Perec’s memoir section in W, or The Memory of Childhood frequently uses free association to comment on the random and stream of consciousness nature of memory. As other bloggers have noted, there is the pivotal “x” passage in which a mere symbol provokes the image of the swastika, and then other mutations of that same “x” in film (77). The passage that I’d like to discuss, however, occurs later in the book and, like many important passages in Perec’s memoir, seems a rather innocuous moment.
A memory of a failed bobsleigh run shifts into a recollection of Perec’s “frustrated left-handedness”(135). In his schooling, Perec remembers he was forced to write with his right hand even though he was born left-handed. This was commonplace in most Catholic schools, but for Perec the implications were immense. Not only did he develop a “slight lean of the head to the left”, he began to suffer from a “chronic inability to tell not just left from right but also the acute from the grave accent, concave from convex, the ‘larger than’ sign from the ‘smaller than’ sign and in general all terms that more or less approximately imply any kind of laterality and/or dichotomy(135).
This passage became of special interest to me, as I also recall being forced not only to write right-handed in elementary school but change my grip on the pen or pencil, which happened to make my writing almost illegible. Now, I have fully shifted my writing to my left hand, so much so that even my “check” marks, which as you can see are written in the opposite direction of right-handed check marks, are now an important trigger to my memory of those times when I was forced to write with my non dominant hand.
To me, the confusion between dichotomies that Perec refers to displays his individual version of suffering the consequences of arbitrary rules imposed by authority. Obviously, this is a theme that remains consistent through the memoir as well as the fantasy “Olympics” story. It speaks of Nazi Germany, and, more narrowly, of blind submission to rule. One also can’t ignore the Freudian nature of Perec’s response to this early childhood trauma. All of these things cut to the core of what W, or the Memory of Childhood attempts to communicate to the reader, and true to form, Perec has an uncanny way of doing it through the most seemingly inconsequential scene.