Oulipo Laboratory

REVIEW — Founded in late 1960 in France, at a colloquium on the work of Raymond Queneau, in order to research new writing by combining mathematics and literature (and also to just horse around) the Oulipo (The Ouvrior de LittÈrature Potentielle or Oulipo (The Workshop of Potential Literature)) expanded to include all writing using self-imposed restrictive systems.


Potential Literature, to me, seems an extension of Surrealism, which used the methods of literary production to critique modernism’s obsession with the literary artifact; instead of the myth of the artist alone in some garret painstakingly crafting a Work of Art, literature is automatically generated by timed writing, or mechanically generated by multiple authors with games like the Exquisite Corpse or pieced together in a collage of found text. The Oulipo extends this the critique of modernism by exploring ways that literature can be produced as a result of mathematical formulas, or by building complex rules that limit writer’s potential choices, or by the construction of new literary forms.

This book serves as a short introduction to the methods of potential literature several reprints from the groups pamphlet series, including François Le Lionnais’s Manifestos and Italo Calvino’s essay “How I Wrote One of My Books,” which served as the blue print for If On a Winter’s Nigh a Traveler.

Oulipo is a body of generative ideas rather than a critical or analytical method. It does away with philosophical underpinning in favor of just generating writing. Raymond Queneau regretted that writer’s didn’t use tools like other craftsmen. With word-processors, they do and this text supplies a range of techniques for extending mechanical writing beyond spell check. The muse has had her hard drive reformatted.

Oulipo Laboratory
Atlas Press, 1995
0 947757 89 9
$15.99 paperback

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