Many Subtle Channels
In Praise of Potential LiteratureBook - 2012
What sort of society could bind together Jacques Roubaud, Italo Calvino, Marcel Duchamp, and Raymond Queneau—and Daniel Levin Becker, a young American obsessed with language play? Only the Oulipo, the Paris-based experimental collective founded in 1960 and fated to become one of literature’s quirkiest movements.
An international organization of writers, artists, and scientists who embrace formal and procedural constraints to achieve literature’s possibilities, the Oulipo (the French acronym stands for “workshop for potential literature”) is perhaps best known as the cradle of Georges Perec’s novel A Void, which does not contain the letter e. Drawn to the Oulipo’s mystique, Levin Becker secured a Fulbright grant to study the organization and traveled to Paris. He was eventually offered membership, becoming only the second American to be admitted to the group. From the perspective of a young initiate, the Oulipians and their projects are at once bizarre and utterly compelling. Levin Becker’s love for games, puzzles, and language play is infectious, calling to mind Elif Batuman’s delight in Russian literature in The Possessed.
In recent years, the Oulipo has inspired the creation of numerous other collectives: the OuMuPo (a collective of DJs), the OuMaPo (marionette players), the OuBaPo (comic strip artists), the OuFlarfPo (poets who generate poetry with the aid of search engines), and a menagerie of other Ou-X-Pos (workshops for potential something). Levin Becker discusses these and other intriguing developments in this history and personal appreciation of an iconic—and iconoclastic—group.
The youngest member of the Paris-based experimental collective Oulipo, Levin Becker tells the story of one of literature’s quirkiest movements—and the personal quest that led him to seek out like-minded writers, artists, and scientists who are obsessed with language and games, and who embrace formal constraints to achieve literature’s potential.
Founded in 1960, Oulipo is a loose but exclusive group of mostly French-speaking writers, mathematicians, and artists seeking to explore new territory in literature through the use of constrained writing techniques. Originally a pataphysical subcommittee, notable Oulipans include novelist Georges Perec, poet/mathematician Jacques Roubaud, and painter Marcel Duchamp. Levin Becker became the youngest Olipan in 2009 shortly after he graduated from Yale. His history of this colorful and thought-provoking movement is written from the perspective of both an insider and educated admirer. He offers insight onto Oulipan philosophy, history, and technique. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)