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Georges Perec. Cantatrix Sopranica L.: Scientific Papers.

Georges Perec. Cantatrix Sopranica L.: Scientific Papers. Trans. Antony Melville, Ian Monk, and John Sturrock. Intro. Marcel Benabou. Atlas Press, 2008. 100 pp. Paper: 12.00 [pounds sterling].

The neurological cause for a soprano yelling at her audience when pelted with tomatoes is, apparently, a laughing matter. According to biographer David Bellos, when Georges Perec's "Experimental Demonstration of the Tomatotopic Organization in the Soprano" found its way into a presentation at the biochemistry commission of the National Centre for Scientific Research, the chairman reading "scanned the first page, began to redden, then spluttered and had to hold on to the sides of his seat" Perec's article, the opening piece for a new collection of his "scientific writings," is a parody of the language of neurophysiology that one might read as sincere until the Histology section, when "Sopranos were perfused with olive oil and 10% Glennfiddish, and incubated at 42 I[degrees]C in 15% orange juice." A pervasive giggle underlies all of Perec's writing, and these scientific papers will delight his devotees. They are also a testament to a literary genius still under-read in the United States, despite Perec's ranking by many as among the most innovative writers of the twentieth century. Perec was a member of the Oulipo, a French literary lab that experiments with constraints to breed imaginative writing. His results include a novel-length lipogram that never uses the letter E, and a tome generated by a game of chess through a Greco-Roman bi-square. Here, Perec has deftly appropriated a variety of scientific discourses, replete with diagrams, maps, and bibliographies. His chosen fields mirror their objects of scrutiny, including an entomological report of an invented species of butterfly and a hagiographic account of a relationship between two men. The final piece, "Roussel and Venice" composed with comrade Harry Mathews, is a philological examination of "the dream space from which Roussel was able to draw the mappamondo of his work." Raymond Roussel was what the Oulipians call an "anticipatory plagiarist" and through him Perec offers insight into his own writing: "His work is not a riddle ... It is our reading of it, our thirst for explanation, our love of complexity that creates the impression that there is a secret to be cracked. If secret there is, it will not be found where we look for it." Perec's scientific writings remind readers that all languages contain poetry and possibility.
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Author:Sobelle, Stefanie
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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