LINGUIST List 3.450

Tue 02 Jun 1992


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  1. "j.a.rea", OULIPO

Message 1: OULIPO

Date: Sat, 23 May 92 19:38:30 ESOULIPO
From: "j.a.rea" <>
Subject: OULIPO

OU.LI.PO is (was) a (real? virtual? imaginary?) organization, the acronym
standing for Ouvroir de la Litterature Potencielle, 'Workshop of Potential
Literature.' One place for more information is a paper presented by
Raymond Queneau at the 'Seminar on quantitative linguistics' on 29
January 1964, and reprinted in the collection of Queneau's essays _Batons,
Chiffres et lettres_, pp317-45 (Paris: Gallimard 1965). "Potential"
literature is created by "rules" or, if you will, "processes".

Write a novel without using the letter 'e' (sound familiar?), as did
Ernest Wright (_Gadsby_, 1939 (267pp)). Take a poem, keep all the
vowel phonemes intact, but rewrite it with different consonants (hence
different words, of course). Write a story, and then replace every
noun in it by going to the dictionary and substituting the seventh
noun listed after the noun in question in that dictionary for every
noun of the story (or do this with the verbs instead, etc.)

One of Queneau's works (_Exercices de style) takes an imaginary (or real)
incident (a quite banal one) and writes it up in about a page and a half
The "processes" then (transmogrified to what one would do in English) are
to rewrite this using only the simple past. Rewrite it again using the
conditional. Again using no verbs. Again using only dialogue (like a
playlet). Again in underworld slang. Again in high Shakespearean style.
Etc., for, say, fifty versions. Another (Cent mille milliards de poemes)
consistes of about 100 pages, each containing a sonnet, all having exactly
the same rhyme scheme. These are bound into a small book, each page, of
course, on top of the next -- but the pages are 'sliced' between each line
so that you can, say lift up line 3 of poem 1 and find line 3 of poem 7,
or poem 9, etc., which line now seems to be line 3 of poem 1. (I shall
let the mathematically inclined calculate how many different poems you
get by substituting 100 different versions of each line of a 14 liner
for all possible combinations. Queneau also liked mathematically
determined fixed forms, such as the sestina, which consists of six stanzas
of six lines each, but no stanza internal rhyme. The successive stanzas
use the same rhyme words as stanza 1, but in a different, and mathematically
determined order. (Invented by Arnaut Daniel in the 13th century, used
by Petrarch, Swinburne, Kipling and many others) Queneau did an article
on the formula in the "journal" _Subsidia Pataphysica_, which will remind
one of Ou.Li.Po (and Queneau)'s debt to Jarry, and of course to Surrealism.

Queneau also likes to write "phonetically" (On lrekone' pudutou, lfranse'),
(or for those innocent of French, "apibeursede' touillou" -- get a friend
who knows French to pronounce it). One reads Queneau (say _Zazie dans le
m'etro, for starters) at some cost, or as he has said, (in French)
"Knockout"! Much though this thread is into literature, Queneau, a quite
competent linguist and dialectologist, is busy doing things to language.
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Message 2: OULIPO

Date: Mon, 25 May 1992 09:21 EDTOULIPO
Subject: OULIPO

The best way to get a feel for what OULIPO did is to read their two books
still in print:
	--La litterature potentielle, Gallimard (Idees), 1973
	--La litterature potentielle: creations, re-creations, recreations
		Gallimard (Folio), 1988

The most interesting work, aside from what is in those books, is probably
Georges Perec's "La Disparition" -- a 300-page novel from which the letter "e"
was absent... and which Perec published without telling people that was the
case... and no one noticed. [Early publisher Denoel; now Gallimard.]

Although this is apparently unique, linguist Raimo Anttila mentions (in
Statistical Methods in Linguistics, 5, 1969, 46) that a speaker of the Savo
dialect of Finnish did not use any words containing "r" because she was
unable to trill it in the standard way and was laughed at.

Michel Grimaud
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