o u no



*** plagiarism by anticipation ***
the second volume of the first edition.

OULIPO  ? What is this? What is this? What is OR  ? What LI  ? What PO  ? OR is workroom , workshop. What to make? The LI . LI is literature, what we read and what temperature. What kind of LI  ? The LIPO . PO means potential.Literature in unlimited quantities, potentially producible until the end of time, in huge quantities, for all practical purposes infinite. WHO  ? Ie who is responsible for this senseless business? Raymond Queneau says RQ , one of the founders, and François Le Lionnais says FLL , father and fellow co-founder and first president of the group, its Fraisident-Pondateur. What do Oulipians , members of theOULIPO (Calvino , Perec, Marcel Duchamp, and other writers and mathematicians, writers, mathematicians, writers, and mathematicians)? They work. course, but WHAT  ? To advance the LIPO . course, but HOW  ?Inventing constraints. New and old constraints, and less difficult and too diiffficiles diiffiiciiiles. Literature is a Oulipian LITERATURE STRESS . AndAUTHOR oulipien, what is it? It is “a rat who built the labyrinth itself which he intends to leave.” A labyrinth of what? Words, sounds, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books, libraries, prose, poetry, and all that … I learn more? Reading.Reading what? First some basic works such as these, which give an overview of the production Oulipian theoretical and practical until 1981.

More here and there.

and some personal thots on other channels not our own.

I am usually constrained in this space not by the space itself (which theoretically is limitless), but by the duty to discuss books we publish and not those of other publishers. I will not say “competitors” as it’s silly to think of this as a competition with winners and losers. Besides, sadly we can only publish relatively few books (as opposed to every book) and that’s why this blog’s sidebar includes links to some of the small presses we admire.

But to be truly inclusive and democratic we would have to add a long string of university presses, such as Harvard University Press which published Daniel Levin Becker’s Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential LiteratureThis is not to say that commercial publishers have nothing to offer, but what they offer is rarely cutting-edge, experimental, daring, risky, etc., etc. University presses bring us  books that would otherwise never see the light of print. Books aimed at specialized audiences, cliques cults, cadres, and cabals. And bibliomaniacs such as myself.

Many Subtle Channels is of particular interest since next month we’re publishing an oulipian anthology (see previous posts) and we want our readers to be up to snuff. For writers interested in the experiments of Oulipo, there are two essential collections in English: Warren Motte’s Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature  and the Oulipo Compendiumedited by Harry Mathews and Alastair Brotchie. While these books are a feast for those in search of ideas and stratagems, Becker’s book offers a unique inside look at the workshop itself, featuring portraits of the participants and descriptions of what it’s like to be a living member. (Deceased members such as Perec & Queneau are actively covered, too.)

Channels is a mini history of Oulipo written by a member, and takes a critical (yet playful) approach to the subject. Yes, there is wordplay here and the footnotes must not be side-stepped. Here’s an example of what’s to be found buried within the footnotes:

“…  Dominque Miollan , Le Lionnais’s secretary…reveals that Le Lionnais didn’t actually have as many books as he claimed—a paltry 2,500 on chess problems, for instance. She also recalls that he had three cellars filled with books, each with a different name: le purgatoire (purgatory) contained books he might call upon at some later date; la guillotine (the guillotine) held books he no longer wanted but that might hold some interest for friends or associates; and le cimetière (the cemetery) was for books that ‘were definitively condemned and could be given out to anyone at all.’

Becker’s research and scholarship are impressive, and he places the group in proper context to the Collège de ‘Pataphysique and the Bourbaki collective.  He charts  the Oulipo’s evolution from  secret society in 1960 when it began exploring “potential literature” to its contemporary manifestation as traveling circus, i.e., the group’s readings and performances, as well as public tutorials.

Fascinating stuff here—deserving of a  toast. Cheers to Daniel Becker & Harvard University Press!

Discover more goodness in this special edition.

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