Because I’ve Been Thinking a Lot About Oulipo Lately

Some Oulipo links.

Bookforum’s Oulipo syllabus.

Writings for the Oulipo by Ian Monk

In this concise but rich collection, Ian Monk ingeniously introduces and analyzes various Oulipian forms while also taking them to task. Of particular import is his lipogrammatic critique of Gilbert Adair’s translation of Georges Perec’s La Disparition (as A Void), an insightful meditation on the problems of translation. These pieces serve not only as an explanation of the Oulipo but also as an introduction to Monk, a wonderful writer and translator in his own right (after reading Writings, check out his 2004 book of poetry, Family Archaeology).

My own Essential Oulipo Works in English.

Drunken Boat’s very rich Oulipo feature.

Oulipo Compendium reviewed at the Boston Review.

An essentially collaborative effort to create new work by arbitrary systems of constraint, recombination, transposition, and displacement, Oulipo is on one level a game-though of course all art is game-playing. And on another level, it is a means of breaking through what one knows and knows how to do, a way of forcing oneself to think in different categories, to come face to face with the surprising. Take the lipogram, for instance: a text excluding one or more letters of the alphabet. Georges Perec wrote an entire novel, A Void (La disparition), without using the letter e. Walter Abish’s Alphabetical Africa consists of 52 chapters, each word in the first chapter beginning with a, each in the second chapter with either a or b and so on, until with chapter 26, where all letters are allowed, the process reverses, each word in the final chapter again beginning with a. Others have written texts in which each noun was replaced by that found seventh ahead of it in the dictionary, texts using no letters that extend above or below the line, texts in which all r’s have been eased-make that erased.

Though in no sense is this a mere glossary, editors Mathews and Brotchie arrange their material alphabetically. “Processes, definitions, and personalities,” they say, brief entries of biography and unusual reference (a definition and examples of homosemantic translation, for instance) opening onto longer discussions of various schemata for composition, both in theory and as realized in specific works. Included are discussions of such Oulipo keystones as Queneau’s Exercises in Style and Georges Perec’s Life A User’s Manual, as well as generous samples of work from the panoply of Oulipian activity. Shorter sections on Oulipopo (crime fiction), Oupeinpo (painting) and Ou-x-pos (comics) supplement the 250-page Oulipo section.

Recent Tweets with the word oulipo in them

Harry Mathews’ essay “In Quest of the Oulipo” (hosted at, no less):

How much has the Oulipo mattered to me, and why? It is hard to answer simply, because its influence has been gradual, because I had strong non-Oulipian feelings about three of its members, because my devotion to the group involves much more than its ideas.

Was I an Oulipian before the fact? I long thought so. I used to claim that the Oulipo had only favored and not changed the course of my writing. (After all, I had written my first three novels without even hearing of it.) I was not yet aware of what the Oulipo was in fact changing: my understanding of the act of writing. This has been an insidious process.

My non-Oulipian feelings concerned Raymond Queneau, Italo Calvino, and Georges Perec . . .

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Great post Scott, but I’m wondering about your views regarding Almost Never. I guess you’ll post more about it soon ?

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