I’ve been a fan of the Oulipo—a literary group founded by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais—since high school, so I was thrilled when Prem alerted me to the group’s reading at the New School a few weeks ago. Yale French Professor Jean-Jacques Poucel’s introduction stressed that the Oulipian model depended not only on constraints but on their verifiability:
Like any formal rule, a constraint must be verifiable, tested against the work’s “user’s manual,” while also evoking some notion of beauty, perhaps related to shape, economy or force — or, potentially, a surprising mixture of yet other features. As such, writing under constraint is not a virtual or imaginary game, but a set of concrete methods playfully developed in a real forum that values proven and intellectually satisfying results.
Readings included Ian Monk’s lipogrammatical bit of exotica, “Iris”; Anne F. Garréta’s lengthy but nonetheless fulfilling exegesis “On Bookshelves”; Hervé Le Tellier’s lovely, cryptic, “All our thoughts,”; Jacques Roubaud’s hilarious “Correspondence” from McSweeney’s 22; Harry Mathews’s hilarious “35 Variations On A Theme From Shakespeare”; and more. (For those new to the Oulipo, the works of Georges Perec and the Oulipo Compendium are both highly recommended.)
Update: Michael Silverblatt’s Bookworm podcast has a nearly identical program. Listen here.