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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

The Plurality of Worlds of Lewis

Jacques Roubaud

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Title: The Plurality of Worlds of Lewis
Author: Jacques Roubaud
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1991 (Eng. 1995)
Length: 109 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Plurality of Worlds of Lewis - US
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  • French title: La pluralité des mondes de Lewis
  • Translated by Rosmarie Waldrop

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting, intermittently very successful collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 27/2/1995 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Precisely measured and deeply moving, Roubaud's meditations are rendered in Waldrop's translation with force and nuance." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       The Lewis of the title is the relatively well-known (and recently deceased) philosopher, David Kellog Lewis, one of whose books is itself titled: On the Plurality of Worlds (1986).
       Roubaud's book is divided into three parts, the first of which shares the title of the book, the second is: "The Sickness of the Soul", and the third is "Circles in Meditation".
       Pluralities of worlds -- other possibilities -- are a significant feature of the book (as, indeed, of some of Roubaud's other writings), and the first part, in particular, is an exploration of this idea. The poems here focus largely again on Roubaud's dead wife, Alix Cleo -- if not quite as directly as in his earlier collection, Some Thing Black (see our review).
       In Some Thing Black Roubaud opens one poem, "Meditation on Plurality":

Death: obligatory plurality
       Alix Cleo's death pushes him towards considering the implications and possibilities afforded by these pluralities. It is overwhelming -- Roubaud is "looking through an infinity of worlds, / for one" -- but also comforting. And it is an interesting notion he plays with, very nicely done.
       "The Sickness of the Soul" is a shorter sequence, more traditionally poetic in its language, colour, metaphors. It is not a complete success: too much simply doesn't work. Roubaud can't pull off lines like:
The stars defenestrate
My mouth opens to the amoral sun
Horrible intimate birds
Scratch at the leaves
     This chemical trace looming with the hugeness of objects that encroach on a different duration
       One can allow the slips ("I raved, but gently", he acknowledges), but they are jarring in the work of a writer whose work is otherwise so controlled.
       The long final section offers "Circles of Meditation", more prose than poetry. Almost each page offers three paragraphs, each of the nine sections eighteen such passages. It is, in parts, closer to narrative: places and events are recounted, for example. Others offer lists of variations -- "Flower, Flower", for example, with "Its fragrances countless" and other pluralities.
       Theory, too, is on offer, as Roubaud considers "The Idea of Form" -- a guide also to much of the book (and, once again, Roubaud's writings in general). He notes, for example:
     For form, I agree, is stupid. Substituting tree for the sky cannot absolve it of lack, let alone correct the void, a hospitality that cannot be refused. Neither can saddling ourselves with difficult multiplicity.
       Not all the variations are entirely successful, but Roubaud offers interesting variety again, and it is an accomplishment.

       The Plurality of Worlds of Lewis, combining three different (if related) approaches, doesn't have quite the same power as the more focussed Some Thing Black. Nevertheless, it is also an often intriguing work, and pieces of it are very impressive.
       Still: worthwhile -- in its own right, as well as as both an addendum to Some Thing Black and a companion volume to The Great Fire of London (see our review).

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The Plurality of Worlds of Lewis: Reviews: David Kellog Lewis: Jacques Roubaud: OuLiPo: Other books by Jacques Roubaud under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jacques Roubaud was born in 1932. He has been a member of Oulipo since 1966. He is a professor of mathematics, and has published both poetry and fiction.

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