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The Arrest

Dreamed July 1970 by Georges Perec

I am in Tunis. It is a vertically sprawling city. I'm on a very long walk, winding roads, lines of trees, fences, panoramas. It's as if the whole landscape turned out to be the background of an Italian painting.

The next day, the police come to arrest me. Long ago I committed a minor infraction. I no longer have any memory of it, but I know that today it could cost me twenty years.

I flee, armed with a revolver. The places I pass through are unfamiliar. There is no immediate danger, but I know already that my flight won't solve anything. I go back to places I know where I had been walking the previous night. Three sailors ask me for directions. Behind a line of trees, women in veils wash laundry.

I return to town on a winding road. There are cops everywhere, hundreds of them. They're stopping everyone and searching vehicles.

I pass between the cops. As long as I don't make eye contact, I have a chance of making it out. I go into a cafe, where I find Marcel B. I sit down near him.

Three men enter the cafe (cops, obviously!); they make a halfhearted search of the room. Maybe they haven't seen me? I almost breathe a sigh of relief, but one of them comes and sits down at my table.

"I don't have my papers on me," I say. He is about to stand and leave (which would mean I'm saved), but he says to me in a low voice:


I don't understand.

He writes the word in the margin of a newspaper, in huge bubble letters:

the word COPULATE in an all-caps, hollow font.

then he goes back over the first three letters, filling them in:

the word COPULATE in an all-caps, hollow font with COP blacked in solid.

Eventually I get his drift. It's extremely complicated: I am to go home and "have marital relations with my wife" so that, when the police come for me, the fact of "copulating' on a Sunday will constitute for me, being Jewish, an aggravating circumstance.

My being Jewish is, of course, at the root of this whole affair and complicates it considerably. My arrest is a consequence of the Judeo-Arab conflict and affirming my Pro-Palestinian sentiments will do me no good.

I return to my villa (which might be just a single room). Most of all I want to know whether I will be a Tunisian prisoner in France or a French prisoner in Tunisia. Either way, I anticipate an amnesty during a visit from a head of state.

I feel innocent. What bothers me most is having to go for several years without being able to change my dirty socks.


This is Dream No.16 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. For example, early in World War II, Perec's mother vanished, probably dying in Auschwitz. Like mother, like son?

I haven't seen the original French text, so I can't say if highlighting the COP in COPULATE was Perec or the translator. But the pun is sure Perec style.

--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: cops - Judaism - Islam - hunted - sex - puns - prisons & freedom - politics - Nazism and Hitler - more Georges Perec - Tunisia

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