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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

     

Thoughts of Sorts

by
Georges Perec


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Thoughts of Sorts



Title: Thoughts of Sorts
Author: Georges Perec
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1985) (Eng. 2009)
Length: 144 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Thoughts of Sorts - US
Thoughts of Sorts - UK
Thoughts of Sorts - Canada
Penser/Classer - Canada
Penser/Classer - France
  • French title: Penser/Classer
  • Translated by and with an Introduction by David Bellos
  • Several of the pieces included here were previously included in Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, translated by John Sturrock
  • These pieces were first published between 1976 and 1982, and the collection was posthumously published in 1985

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Our Assessment:

A- : nice, small collection

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       Thoughts of Sorts is a translation of the posthumous collection of stray pieces, Penser/Classer. Eight of the thirteen pieces were previously translated by John Sturrock and included in the collection Species of Spaces and Other Pieces.
       The titles the translators chose already suggests considerable differences: Sturrock translated the title-piece 'Think/Classify', while Bellos already opts for a more (word)playful variation. Bellos takes even greater liberties with, for example, the title of the opening piece, originally published as 'Notes sur ce que je cherche': Sturrock dutifully and accurately translates this as 'Notes on What I'm Looking For', while Bellos goes for the much bolder 'Statement of Intent'.
       The piece itself quite readily justifies substituting the newspaper-article headline with a claim of 'Statement of Intent'. After all, it opens:

     When I attempt to state what I have tried to do as a writer since I began, what occurs to me first of all is that I have never written two books of the same kind, or ever wanted to reuse a formula, or a system, or an approach already developed in some earlier work.
       It's a useful reminder to those who think of Perec as merely an Oulipo-writer, and the brief non-fiction pieces collected in this volume also again demonstrate his remarkable versatility.
       Certainly, there are certain kinds of games and styles he favored -- as is clear in his complaint that:
Contemporary writers (with a few exceptions, such as Michel Butor) have forgotten the art of enumeration
       And the mathematical creeps into several of these projects: there are the eighty-one recipes that allow for three variations of each of the four elements (3x3x3x3=81), or the attempt to introduce Jacques Roubaud's limit on the number of books one's library should hold (361) -- which immediately gets bogged down by the question of what should qualify as a 'book' (single volumes ? multi-volume works ? an author's output ? a theme ?).
       The title-piece -- Perec's thoughts on sorting and classifying -- is particularly revealing, since so much of his work does, in some way deal with issues of sorting, ordering, classifying, etc. So it is telling when he admits that:
     My problem with sorting orders is that they do not last; I have scarcely finished filing things before the filing system is obsolete.
       And, equally significantly:
     All utopias are depressing, because they leave no place for chance, for difference, for the miscellaneous. It's all been sorted into an order, and order reigns.
     Lurking behind every utopia is a great taxonomic design: a place for everything and every thing in its place.
       In 'On the Art and Craft of Sorting Books', addressing that age-old problem, Perec also observes:
     If you do not keep on sorting your books, your books unsort themselves: it is the example I was given to try to get me to understand what entropy was: personal experience has provided me with frequent demonstrations of it.
       Throughout these pieces, and throughout his work, that struggle between order and entropy is constantly played out, and much of the charm of the work is in how Perec allows entropy to creep into even his strictest orders, pushing his taxonomic designs to their limits (and even, in some senses, breaking them down).
       Thoughts of Sorts is a very enjoyable collection, from the useful 'Statement of Intent' to its consideration of the physical act of reading and Perec's 'Thoughts of Sorts/Sorts of Thoughts'. Pieces such as the recipes, or his revisiting Malet & Isaac -- his school history text --, are perhaps of more limited use and interest, but are amusing variations on his underlying theme, and can certainly be skimmed over more quickly. There are enough stand-out (and revealing) pieces that this is yet another must-read for any Perec-fan.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 September 2009

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Links:

Thoughts of Sorts: Georges Perec: OuLiPo: Other books by Georges Perec under review: Other books about Georges Perec under review: Books translated by Georges Perec into French under review: Other books under review of interest:
  • See Index of Oulipo books under review
  • See also the Index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       The great French writer Georges Perec (1936-1982) studied sociology at the Sorbonne and worked as a research librarian. His first published novel, Les Choses, won the 1965 Prix Renaudot. A member of the Oulipo since 1967 he wrote a wide variety of pieces, ranging from his impressive fictions to a weekly crossword for Le Point.

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© 2009-2013 the complete review

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