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Oulipo (French pronunciation: [ulipo], short for French: Ouvroir de littérature potentielle; roughly translated: "workshop of potential literature") is a loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians which seeks to create works using constrained writing techniques. It was founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais. Other notable members include novelists Georges Perec and Italo Calvino, poet Oskar Pastior and poet/mathematician Jacques Roubaud.

The group defines the term 'littérature potentielle' as (rough translation): "the seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy."

Constraints are used as a means of triggering ideas and inspiration, most notably Perec's "story-making machine" which he used in the construction of Life: A User's Manual. As well as established techniques, such as lipograms (Perec's novel A Void) and palindromes, the group devises new techniques, often based on mathematical problems such as the Knight's Tour of the chess-board and permutations.

Contents

History

Oulipo was founded on November 24, 1960, as a subcommittee of the Collège de ‘Pataphysique and titled Séminaire de littérature expérimentale. However at their second meeting, this first name was withdrawn in favor of today's Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or OuLiPo, at Albert-Marie Schmidt's suggestion. The idea, however, preceded the first meeting by roughly two months, when a small group met in September at Cerisy-la-Salle for a colloquium on Queneau's work. During this seminar, Queneau and François Le Lionnais conceived of the society.

During the subsequent decade, Oulipo was only rarely visible as a group. As a subcommittee, they reported their work to the full Collège de 'Pataphysique in 1961. In addition, Temps Mêlés (French) devoted an issue to Oulipo in 1964, and Belgian radio broadcast one Oulipo meeting. Its members were, however, individually active during these years, and the group as a whole began to emerge from obscurity in 1973 with the publication of La Littérature Potentielle, a collection of representative pieces.

Oulipian works

Some examples of Oulipian writing: Queneau's Exercices de Style is the recounting of the same inconsequential episode ninety-nine times, in which a man witnesses a minor altercation on a bus trip, each unique in terms of tone and style.

Plaisirs singuliers by Harry Mathews (the only American member of Oulipo) describes 61 different scenes, each told in a different style (generally poetic, elaborate, or circumlocutory) in which 61 different people (all of different ages, nationalities, and walks of life) masturbate.

Queneau's Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes is inspired by children's picture books in which each page is cut into horizontal strips which can be turned independently, allowing different pictures (usually of people) to be combined in many ways. Queneau applies this technique to poetry: the book contains 10 sonnets, each on a page. Each page is split into 14 strips, one for each line. The author estimates in the introductory explanation that it would take approximately 200 million years to read all possible combinations.

Constraints

Some Oulipian constraints:[1]

S+7, sometimes called N+7 
Replace every noun in a text with the noun seven entries after it in a dictionary. For example, "Call me Ishmael. Some years ago..." (from Moby-Dick) becomes "Call me islander. Some yeggs ago...". Results will vary depending upon the dictionary used. This technique can also be performed on other lexical classes, such as verbs.
Snowball 
A poem in which each line is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer.
Lipogram 
Writing that excludes one or more letters. The previous sentence is a lipogram in B, F, H, J, K, Q, V, Y, and Z (it does not contain any of those letters).
Prisoner's constraint, also called "Macao" constraint 
A type of lipogram that omits letters with ascenders and descenders (b, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, p, q, t, and y).
Palindromes 
Sonnets and other poems constructed using palindromic techniques.
Univocalism 
A poem using only one vowel, although the vowel may be used in any of its aural forms. For example, "bone" and "cot" could both me used in a univocalism, unlike "sew" or "beau".

Members

Founding members

The founding members of Oulipo representing a range of intellectual pursuits including writers, university professors, mathematicians, engineers, and 'pataphysicians:

Members as of 2009

Note that Oulipo members are still considered members after their deaths.

See also

References

  1. ^ Lundin, Leigh; Grassiot-Gandet (2009-06-07). "L'Oulipo". Criminal Brief. http://www.criminalbrief.com/?p=7124. Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  • Mathews, Harry & Brotchie, Alastair. Oulipo Compendium. London: Atlas, 1998. ISBN 0-947757-96-1
  • Motte, Warren F. (ed) Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature. University of Nebraska Press, 1986. ISBN 0-8032-8131-5.
  • Queneau, Raymond, Italo Calvino, et al. Oulipo Laboratory. London: Atlas, 1995. ISBN 0-947757-89-9
  • The State of Constraint: New Work by Oulipo. San Francisco: McSweeney's Quarterly Concern Issue 22 (Three Books Held Within By Magnets), 2006. ISBN 1-932416-66-8
  • Lapprand, Marc. Poétique de l'Oulipo. Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1998.

External links


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

French

Abbreviation

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Oulipo

  1. Ouvroir de littérature potentielle - workshop of potential literature







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