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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Edouard Levé

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Works

Title: Works
Author: Edouard Levé
Genre: (Fiction)
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 104 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Works - US
Works - UK
Works - Canada
Œuvres - Canada
Works - India
Œuvres - France
  • French title: Œuvres
  • Translated by Jan Steyn

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Our Assessment:

B+ : great idea, nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 6/8/2014 Nicholas Lezard
The LA Times . 11/7/2014 Jim Ruland
TLS . 12/9/2014 Keith Miller

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) delight to read, so full of surprises, so many unexpected moments of laughter, reverie and delight (.....) (T)his is a beautifully thought-provoking work. (...) Some of the works imagined are silly, some tiresome, but almost all of them have the quality of a wish, a poignancy that comes from having been imagined but not enacted." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "Works is a slim volume of big ideas. (...) Works is a book charged with wit and wonder, seeded with the prospect of future masterpieces." - Jim Ruland, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Indeed, it is the entries that most obviously evoke art installations that tend to reveal the project’s fundamentally literary character. (...) But there is a distinct -- if deeply sublimated -- sense of humour at play, too, and a solid but lightfooted awareness of various French avant-garde movements, from Surrealism to Situationism to the exact, depersonalized prose of the nouveau roman." - Keith Miller, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Works begins:

1. A book describes works that the author has conceived but not brought into being.
       That summarizes Levé's book (though with the book completed he can check this off from the list ...), as Works consists of 533 such works and ideas that Levé had not yet (and, in most cases, would never) realize: a different kind of catalogue raisonné.
       Levé was not just a writer, and so this is not merely a collection of story- or book-ideas; the 'pieces' range from individual staged photographs to variations of performance art to the occasional written text. They also range from the very simple to the elaborate and the near- or actually impossible (including, most disappointingly, 17: "A liter of molten lead is poured in zero gravity in a vacuum. Brought back to earth, it is exhibited in the form into which it has hardened" -- as, alas (leaving aside the hazards of playing with molten lead in outer space (or, worse, an enclosed space-capsule)), nothing pours in zero gravity ...). Only rarely, however, does Levé consciously suggest the absurd ("456. A one-deciliter jar contains a liter of dehydrated water.").
       Most of the 'works' are described in only a few sentences -- the 533 filling a book of barely a hundred pages, after all -- and range from a few words ("24. A house designed by a three-year old is built") to a few that take up several pages; even the latter generally take up so much space not because they are so elaborately complex but because they are long lists (such as 55, a book which collects "images of French municipalities with names that are simultaneously common and proper nouns" (e.g 'Arches' or 'Les Menus')).
       There are a number of variations on re-fashioning and re-situating familiar images and objects, turning them into something different (even as the origins/foundation can't be/aren't entirely obscured):
113. The silhouette of a dog is cut out of a pornographic picture.

149. Scene from a pornographic magazine are reenacted and rephotographed using clothed models. There are no visible genitals and no faces miming pleasure. Only the poses and gestures are kept.

341. Advertising photographs are reconstructed using expressionless models. The absence of slogans makes the message incomprehensible.

397. A large pornographic poster is folded and cut into sixty-four pieces, and then put back together with the pieces out of order. In their fragmented form, its obscenity dissolves.
       Replacement and substitution, a re-seeing of objects, is a favorite variation, right down to:
481. All that remains of a series of paintings are the copies made before destroying them, now exhibited in place of the originals.
       Levé repeatedly forces an entirely different perspective on viewers, often less a shift than a complete reversal, as in the inspired (if not entirely original):
82. Panoramas of Panoramas. Panoramic photographs show not landscapes, but the places from which they are looked upon: vistas, rest areas, tourist sites, parking lots, restaurants, bars.
       Some of the pieces are the sorts of things that have been done on YouTube and the like:
232. A man's face is photographed with the same camera every day for a year. Facial Year, a film consisting of three hundred and sixty-five images shown chronologically, fifteen seconds long.

346. Silent moments in a film are shown in their order of appearance. The piece has the same title as the film.
       Throughout, the blank spaces, the shadows, the mirror images, the remembered (as opposed to actual) are what fascinate Levé. Artificial correspondences -- those towns whose names are also descriptive -- or random and forced ones (249 is a book in which the captions do not correspond to the photographs, and yet there is a system behind them -- not the only time he does this) are common. The nature of reality is questioned in a variety of ways, from the simplest (how we label it, and how our perceptions are changed by labeling it differently) to the much more complex.
       While some entries consist simply of instructions (in several cases, very elaborate ones) and most are neutrally descriptive, Levé curiously nevertheless finds it necessary occasionally to explicitly note the (generally self-evident) outcome and consequence -- e.g. 397 ("A large pornographic poster is folded and cut into sixty-four pieces, and then put back together with the pieces out of order. In their fragmented form, its obscenity dissolves").
       The final three entries nicely round off the book by suggesting possible next steps after this work (and item number 1) has been completed -- such as the variation-on-his-themes:
531. After having published a book describing works he has not brought into being, the author rewrites them in crayon, in a notebook, from memory, eyes closed.
       Works is not anything as simple as a catalogue of a life, and yet it is very much a complement to Levé's Autoportrait. It is a book of potential -- of what Levé envisions creating, and would like to create, and, in part, knows he will/can never create.
       One of the final pieces is:
527. A book describes the life of its author in the present tense. It is factual recollection up until the moment of writing, then fiction up until the author's death. Both of the book's parts, separated as they are by the weeks of its writing, have the cold style of an official statement. Later, the author can decide to live what he had foretold.
       Levé's (written) œuvre is not quite as simply structured, but ultimately amounts to such a project, with Works the most hopeful, forward- and future-looking part of his collected, integrated body of work.
       Works is a fun book, even leaving aside the bigger picture of the man and his work, but it's particularly fascinating seen as part of Levé's larger, closely autobiographical output. Enjoyable and clever, Works is also a good introduction to a major artist. Though it (and much of his work) may seem largely conceptual, he again also demonstrates considerable artistry in its realization.

       Note: Two observations about the Dalkey Archive volume: the typesetting finds an inordinate number of words conjoined (when they shouldn't be): 'which he' printed as 'whichhe', etc. This is very annoying.
       While that appears to be mere carelessness, the cover-design is slightly more confusing: it's a neat design, and repeats the aforementioned first, defining entry, alternatingly in French ("Un livre décrit des œuvres dont l'auteur a eu l'idée, mais qu'il n'a pas réalisées") and English. Except that the English version on the cover (and which Dalkey also features on its publicity page for the book) does not read, as in the book itself:
A book describes works that the author has conceived but not brought into being.
       Instead, it reads:
A book describes works conceived of but not realized by its author
       Was that a conscious choice ? And, if so ... what the hell ?

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 May 2014

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Works: Reviews: Other books by Edouard Levé under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Édouard Levé was born in 1965 and committed suicide in 2007.

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© 2014-2015 the complete review

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