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The Denunciation

Dreamed August 1972 by Georges Perec

The fabric merchant owed my father money and decided to denounce him to the SS and, at the same time as my father, his own son (or just an employee) who was found distributing clandestine newspapers.
It's much more complicated than that. But that's what it is.

The SS comes to arrest us. They have black uniforms and tight-fitting, spherical helmets, like masks. They're preparing to arrest the boss too, but he lifts my head by the chin and points to the little scar underneath it.

We cross the town.
If only we could go have a cup of coffee. It seems so simple, but it's impossible. I've already given up. The casino is closed too, or closed to Jews. But a light shines from inside.

We go back the way we came. We pass the fabric merchant's store again. It's a boutique on the corner of two streets; neo-Gothic architecture (turrets, machicolations). It looks fancy. We look at it with a well-justified bitterness.
We arrive at the train station.
I know what's waiting for us. I have no hope. Get it over with. Or maybe a miracle... One day, learn to survive?

My father dips his left boot in the icy water of a pond. He thinks this will revive an old wound, which will maybe get him declared unfit for service. But everyone watches him do it, indifferent.

They put us in a cabin reserved for monsters. Two young children, legs cut off at the knees, a boy and a girl, naked, wriggling like worms. Myself, I have become a young snake (or was it a fish?).

At the end of a long boat trip, we will reach the camp.
Our wardens, torturers with degenerate faces, pale, ruddy, cruel, dumb, are crowned with ridiculous titles: "(Worm?) Disinfectant Supervisors"; 'Adjuncts to the Conversation of (Preserves?)."
Soon their faces are surrounded with frills, lace, curlicues; this becomes an album I am paging through, a memorial album, pretty like a theatrical program, with advertisements at the end...

I am back in this town. There is a large memorial ceremony. I attend, sickened, scandalized, and finally moved.

I arrive in the middle of a crowd. There's a party. Lots of scattered records, they're searching for one to put on a little record player. I burst into tears. J.L. scolds me for it.

I am a little child. On the side of the road, I stop a motorist and ask him to dare, for me, to go see the gardener in the big orchard to get back my ball, which went over the wall (and, in noting this, the return of a real memory: 1947, rue de l'Assomption, I was playing with a ball against the wall of the convent, just across from our building).


This is from Perec's La Boutique Obscure: 124 Dreams, translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker. It's the final dream: No. 124. According to Perec's introduction, new paragraphs indicate scene-shifts; the final three paragraphs (memorial, party with records, and childhood memory) may even be later REM episodes that night.

According to the translator, Perec's mother vanished early in World War II; probably killed in Auschwitz, though he never knew for sure. Many of his dreams feature war, persecution and fascism. What's unique here is that Perec the dreamer transforms--first into a snake or fish, then at the end into his childhood self just after the war.

What that means, I don't know; but all signs point to some reconciliation over time. The war ends, the Nazis fade into photo albums, there's a memorial, hardboiled Perec sheds tears. The imprisoned monster becomes a child; a child in peacetime.

--Chris Wayan

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