Georges Perec's short experimental novella An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris documents, with inert fascination, everything that passes through the busy Parisian square of Place Saint-Sulpice over the course of several days, from pedestrians to the continuous stream of buses and taxis. Why, this article asks, does Perec present this magisterial and oft-storied city in centrifugal terms as a place through which things only pass on their way to somewhere else? Once characterized as a rich tapestry of architecture and possible encounters, Paris in 1975 is, from the perspective of this novelist, transformed beyond recognition by the infrastructure of circulation. No longer the imagined center of a productive economy that draws people and objects into its orbit in order to assign them places as characters in the vast amphitheater of class relations—as in the classic city novels of Balzac or Eugène Sue—Perec's experiment shows the social space of the city in the process of becoming only one site among others in the postwar project of urbanization. On this basis, Perec's novella marks the 1970s as an important transition point in the history of the city novel: the old city, once a site of social possibility and conflict, seems to be in its final stage of exhaustion by the centrifugal forces of urbanization. As the process of urbanization becomes legible through its disfigurations of the traditional city novel, the novel forecasts what happens when the spatial development of global capitalism eclipses national culture and its arrangement of people and things.

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