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the Complete Review
the complete review - guide


A Short Treatise
Inviting the Reader to
Discover the Subtle Art of Go

Pierre Lusson, Georges Perec,
and Jacques Roubaud

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

To purchase A Short Treatise Inviting the Reader to Discover the Subtle Art of Go

Title: A Short Treatise [...]
Author: Pierre Lusson, Georges Perec, Jacques Roubaud
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1969 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 228 pages
Original in: French
Availability: A Short Treatise [...] - US
A Short Treatise [...] - UK
A Short Treatise [...] - Canada
Petit traité invitant à la découverte [...] - Canada
Petit traité invitant à la découverte [...] - France
Kleine Abhandlung zur Entdeckung [...] - Deutschland
Breve trattato sulla sottile arte del go - Italia
  • French title: Petit traité invitant à la découverte de l'art subtil du go
  • Translated and with an introduction by Peter Consenstein
  • With numerous diagrams

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid, compact introduction to the game, with amusing embellishments

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
La Stampa . 19/1/2015 Bruno Ventavoli
TLS . 14/2/2020 Anna Aslanyan

  From the Reviews:
  • "Complesso, geniale, impossibile da conoscere in ogni sfumatura, simula battaglie, stimola meditazioni, danna gli animi, oscilla tra caos e provvidenza. Il trattatello, oltre a farci scoprire un raffinato svago orientale (...), ribadisce la parentela tra letteratura e ludicità" - Bruno Ventavoli, La Stampa

  • "Faux-serious passages give way to humour, often of an Oulipo-lite variety" - Anna Aslanyan, 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:

       A Short Treatise Inviting the Reader to Discover the Subtle Art of Go was first published in France fifty years ago. The authors note that its advance of this game into the Western world was slow, but even here, France lagged, and at the time of the writing they claim France: "is just a bit below Afghanistan as far as the number and quality of players go"; their purpose was to help put France on the Go-map, introducing the game to their countrymen and perhaps arousing some interest in playing it among them. That the book now appears in English translation, some five decades later -- and was also translated into Italian and German in recent years --, of course has mostly to do with two of the co-authors, Oulipo masters Georges Perec and Jacques Roubaud. Both mathematically inclined, and authors of rule-based works that nevertheless show great creativity and imagination, this most Oulipian of games, Go, would seem to be right up their alley -- though translator Peter Consenstein notes in his Introduction that Perec did give up playing, because of the (time) demands of the game ("My Go professor told me that I could become a mediocre player, honorably mediocre, if I played two hours a day").
       Perec and Roubaud add a playful element to the guide, an added layer and spin on the straightforward explanation of the basics, that make it an entertaining text even for those who aren't in it to actually learn the game -- as well as those who are already familiar with these basics. The Short Treatise is, however, an honest-to-god -- and quite good -- introductory guide to the game.
       The Short Treatise is presented in four parts, each of which is further divided into many short chapters.
       It begins with part 0, 'Celebration', which introduces the game and its history -- noting:

     GO has its trends and schools, its secrets and mysteries, its charm and brio, its character and legend.
       The authors contrast it with chess a number of times -- contrast usually being the operative word: "We are not withholding our opinion: we don't think much of the game of chess". They maintain they mainly refer to chess rather out of desperation, using it as a fallback, "a crutch" -- since it is something their audience is familiar with (because of the: "deplorable popularity of this pathetic game in France").
       Go is presented as a duel, "an infinite pathway" -- and they conclude this section with the unsurprising observation:
     Only one activity exists to which GO may be reasonably compared.
     We will have understood it is writing.
       Part I introduces 'The Rules', a good overview, presented in small bites, of how the game is played and the basics surrounding the game. Part II is a more advanced look at 'The Game: Elementary Tactics and Strategies', walking readers through some more advanced game build-up and what to keep an eye on. With illustrative diagrams of various positions and moves, these parts of the Short Treatise do make for a solid entry-level guide to how to play the game. In an age where much of this is available online -- and perhaps more readily understood played out for the beginner there -- such an approach is perhaps no longer first choice for getting one's feet wet, but this is a compact, well-organized and -presented guide that still holds up well, and can indeed still serve more than adequately to lead a reader through the (first) essentials.
       Finally, Part III offers 'Saturation': odds and ends from 'Famous Players to 'Building your own GO set' -- since:
     Given the lamentable state of this sublime game in France, it is absolutely impossible to procure a GOBAN, and impatient neophytes will have to construct their own set.
       This is also the part where some (sometimes painful ...) wordplay really comes into play, with terrible puns ("It TAKAS two to tanGO") and some really forced wordplay ("John GO-le-swarthy, author of the Forsythe SaGO"), all the way to the inevitable: "Waiting for GOdot, Beckett"; the final chapter is a (going-out-of-business-)'Sale', where they: "sell off, at rock bottom prices, the following colorful phrases" that they couldn't fit into the text proper ..... It's all good, harmless fun, and this underlying humor does help lighten the overall tone -- useful in what might otherwise tend too easily to the very dry; in the hands of writers like Perec and Roubaud it's handled pretty well -- and hard not to smile at.
       Typical is the 'Conclusion' of the second part, summing up the way the game is played:
This is what it comes down to:
     — either the reader has absorbed the content of these two chapters, in which case you must begin playing immediately (how ? see chapter III)
     — or the reader has truly not understood anything. In which case there is only one solution: take a shower, relax, breathe deeply, and start over from the beginning.
     If you have still not understood anything after a second reading, our advice is to start or go back to playing chess (ugh !).
       Introducing a fairly timeless game, the Short Treatise stands up well even fifty years on (with a few of the references and addresses updated for this edition). And the occasional dated mention even takes on nice new meanings, such as the observation that:
     On that still far-off day when we will have taught a computer to play, the computer, believe us, will tremble when playing.
       A Short Treatise Inviting the Reader to Discover the Subtle Art of Go is a nice little curiosity that should appeal equally to Go-aficionados and the Oulipo-obsessed -- and can certainly be recommended to anyone wanting to learn about the game.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 August 2019

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A Short Treatise Inviting the Reader to Discover the Subtle Art of Go: Reviews: Go: OuLiPo: Georges Perec: Jacques Roubaud: Other books by Georges Perec under review: Other books about Georges Perec under review: Other books by Jacques Roubaud under review: Other books under review of interest:

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About the Author:

       Pierre Lusson is a French mathematician.

       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.

       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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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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