The OuLiPo


OuLiPo, the "Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle" or “Workshop for Potential Literature,” was co-founded in Paris the early 1960's by mathematician and writer Raymond Queneau and Francois Le Lionnais. Oulipian writers impose constraints that must be satisfied to complete a text, constraints ranging across all levels of composition, from elements of plot or structure down to rules regarding letters. OuLiPo thus pushes a structuralist conception of language to a level of mathematical precision; technique becomes technical when language itself becomes a field of investigation, a complex system made up of a finite number of components. The informing idea behind this work is that constraints engender creativity: textual constraints challenge and thereby free the imagination of the writer, and force a linguistic system and/or literary genre out of its habitual mode of functioning. The results of these experiments can be acrobatic. Famous Oulipian texts include Queneau’s Cent Mille Millard de Poemes, a sonnet where there are 10 possible choices for each of the 14 lines, thus comprising 1014 potential poems, and Georges Perec’s La Disparition/A Void, a novel without the letter e, which constantly refers to the vowel’s disappearance.

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