The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

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 lacan.com, 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 . . .

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. On Joining Oulipo by Accident From Harry Mathews’ excellent, engaging Paris Review interview. Is that when you found out about the Oulipo? MATHEWS I had first heard about the Oulipo...
  2. Happy Birthday Oulipo November 24: The French experimental writing group "Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle" was founded on this day in 1960. The name translates as "Workshop of Potential...
  3. Essential Works by Oulipo Members in English Probably the most daring and most famous book to come out of Oulipo, here Perec writes (and Gilbert Adair translates) a full novel without the...
  4. Machine by Georges Perec Rev’d at Complete Review Michael Orthofer reviews "The Machine," a radio play written by Geroges Perec and published for the first time in English in the recent all-Perec issue...
  5. Believer in Oulipo The Believer looks at the members of Oulipo. The Beautiful Outlaw is a type of lipogram (for more about which, see below) wherein a...

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