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Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature Paperback – March 10, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


"Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature is an important collection of Oulipian writing.... It offers a good deal of insight into the methods behind what is too often considered their madness, as well as showing much of the personal side of those involved with the Oulipo, especially in its early years. The material should be of interest to anyone involved in writing or, indeed, in reading, as Oulipian thought is applicable to almost all written material..." -- The Complete Review

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 221 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press (March 10, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564781879
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564781871
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Matt Briggs on August 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
Works of fiction contain a single plot, with all of its imaginable permutations, Tlon, Uglor, Orbiris, Tertius - Jorge Louis Borges

Warren F. Motte has collected a series of critical writing from The Ouvrior de Litterature Potentielle or Oulipo (The Workshop of Potential Literature), a primarily French group organized around Raymond Queneau and primarily concerned with methods of creating new literary structures. Their ideas offer a welcome relief to the staid and stale conviction that literary forms have been handed down from the ancients along with the rest of language, as if structures like sonnets or mystery novels are as intrinsically a part of language as vowels or nouns.

These essays illuminate the limited ways that contemporary fiction approaches the idea of form. In the limited framework of the short story structure, readers find great variation and even invention, but the actual form of the story seems as rigid a language structure as the blues are a song structure, tirelessly repeating the AAB structure into infinity; I asked my captain for the time of day. I asked my captain for the time of day. He said hed thrown his watch away.

A writer who wants to be free needs to confront the constrictions and value of literary form. Yet, literary form seems to come out of a black box, so much so that writing that somehow confounds formats, like Lawrence Sternes Tristam Shandy or Edwin A. Abbotts Flatland or more recently Ben Marcuss The Age of Wire and String seems to be inspired but frivolous oddities rather than the result of a literary method. The Oulipo, however, have developed a method for subverting expectations and for being as creative with form as writers are expected to be with content.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Zelie Nic on February 15, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Most people who purchase this book are probably English majors or academics. I picked this book up because I'm interested in the subject of Oulipo and its connections to 'apaphysics. Indeed, the forward to this book talks about how Oulipo began as an offshoot of 'apaphysics but, shortly after, lost any official ties with the aforementioned group.

Oulipo is a bit difficult to wrap your head around at first. It is a relatively new movement in French literature. It is not merely a collection of structualists (although an exception is made for Claude Levi-Strauss). The best definition for Oulipo that I can give you from what I've learned by reading this book is this: Oulipo is a workshop of writers who strive to create new forms of writing, based upon restrictions... constraints. They create a new form, provide a few examples, and move on.

How is this potential literature? A good example is "Cent Mille Milliard de poemes" or, in English "One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems." The collection itself is only ten sonnets... but each line can be cut&pasted into any of the other sonnets, which means that the number of possible poems becomes 10 to the 14th power, or One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems. Even the most ardent reader will only read a small handful of these poems within their lifetime. Therefore, most of the writing is, and will always be potential.

Of course, this is just one form and one example. That specific example was the where it started to really click for me. I'm still deep in the book, and I highly reccommend it. It might not be the easiest book to pick-up, but like I said earlier, most anyone picking this up is probaby familiar with the writers involved in Oulipo, or has read literary criticisms and other academic texts. This is not dense like Derridie, but none-the-less, it is a very academic minded book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Hunt on October 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
If you are curious about the inner workings of an infamous group of dedicated outcasts and writers with a passion for both elaborate and finite (read: calculated) creativity, I would suggest you get a copy of this book. I was engrossed from the beginning and kept finding historical "secrets" of these writing masters to titillate me. It was, simply, a glimpse at what is possible in writing.
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