Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature

Warren F. Motte Jr (editor)

University of Nebraska Press 1986
A book review by Danny Yee © 1996 http://dannyreviews.com/
The Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or Oulipo, was a group of French writers and mathematicians devoted to the discovery of new literary forms (and the rediscovery of old ones), the conscious use of formal constraints, exploration of the connections between mathematics and literature, and a playful approach to writing. Motte has translated a selection of Oulipian essays from a variety of sources: the first and second manifestos (François Le Lionnais); a brief history of the Oulipo (Jean Lescure); three studies of Raymond Queneau and his use of mathematics; three pieces by Queneau himself; and — to mention a few of the better known names — essays by Italo Calvino (on anticombinatorial prose), Georges Perec (a history of the lipogram), and Harry Mathews ("Liminal Poem" and an explanation of Mathews's Algorithm).

Motte has done his best with this work to provide an accessible introduction to the Oulipo for English speakers, but it is not a complete success. Readers without a background knowledge of French literature will find many of the references obscure, while those without any mathematical background will find some of the essays totally incomprehensible. And many will dismiss the entire Oulipo as an exercise in frivolity anyway. But those to whom the idea of playing mathematical games with literature appeals should enjoy this volume greatly.

December 1996

External links:
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
- review and links at the Complete Review
Related reviews:
- more Oulipo
- more literary criticism
%T Oulipo
%S A Primer of Potential Literature
%E Motte Jr, Warren F.
%I University of Nebraska Press
%D 1986
%O hardcover, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0803230966
%P xiv,209pp