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( O THE HUMAN COUNTRY, by Harry Mathews
(D) OULIPO LABORATORY, translators Mathew, White & Motte
(E) OULIPO COMPENDIUM, Mathews & Brotchie, ed.
(F) IMAGINING LANGUAGE, Rasula & McCaffrey,, ed.
(A) Cybernetics a n d Ghosts, Italo Calvino · 1-13
(B) Introduction to Oulipo: A P r i m e r of Potential Literature, W a r r e n Motte, Jr. · 14-2 s
(D> T h e F o u n d a t i o n s of Literature, R a y m o n d Q u e n e a u · 26-33
(Β) Luninal Poem, H a r r y M a t h e w s · 3 4
(B) Rule a n d Constraint, Marcel B e n a b o u · 3S-38
(O Clocking t h e W o r l d o n Cue, H a r r y M a t h e w s · 39-43
(Β ) from Mathematics in t h e M e t h o d of R Queneau, J a c q u e s R o u b a u d · 44-so
(Β) A Story a s You Like It, Raymond Q u e n e a u · si-s2
(Β) The T h e a t e r Tree: A C o m b i n a t o r y Play, Paul Fournel · 52-54
(Β) F o r a Potential Analysis of Combinatory Literature, Claude Berge · s s - e o
(Β) The Relation X Takes Y for Z, R a y m o n d Q u e n e a u · β 1 -62
(Β) C o m p u t e r a n d Writer, Paul Fournel · 63-64
(B) Prose a n d Anticombinatorics, Italo Calvino · 64-69
( ) D W h o Killed the Duke of Densmore?, Claude Berge · 70-88
(Β) Recurrent Literature, Bens, Berge & Braffort · β9-92
(Ο The Dialect of t h e Tribe, H a r r y M a t h e w s · 93-97
(c) Remarks of t h e Scholar Graduate, H a r r y M a t h e w s · 9β-103
( D ) H o w I W r o t e O n e of M y Books, Italo Calvino · 104-114
(F> Combinatorial Diagrams, J u a n C a r a m u e l de Lobkowitz · iis-ne
( F) W h e r e Signs Resemble Thoughts, Michael Winkler · 117-120
( Ε> 100,000,000,000,000 P o e m s , R a y m o n d Q u e n e a u · 1 2 1 - 1 3 0
(B) Endnotes & Glossary for Oulipo Primer* 131-141
Cybernetics and Ghosts

Lecture delivered in Turin and other Italian cities,

November 1967.

It all began with the first storyteller of the tribe.

M e n were already exchanging articulate sounds, refer-
ring to the practical needs o f their daily lives. Dialogue
was already in existence, and so were the rules that it
was forced to follow. This was the life o f the tribe, a
very complex set o f rules on which every action and
every situation had to be based. T h e n u m b e r o f w o r d s
was limited, and, faced with the multiform world and
its countless things, men defended themselves by in-
venting a finite n u m b e r of sounds combined in various
ways. M o d e s o f behavior, customs, and gestures too
were what they were and none other, constantly re-
Τ Η ! USBS O f LITERATURE Cybernetics and Ghosts

peated while harvesting coconuts o r scavenging for wild forward constructions that always contained corre­
roots, while h u n t i n g lions o r buffalo, marrying in order spondences o r contraries—the sky and the earth, fire
to create n e w b o n d s o f relationship outside the clan, o r and water, animals that flew and those that d u g b u r ­
at t h e first m o m e n t s o f life, or at death. A n d t h e m o r e r o w s — a n d each term had its array of attributes and a
limited were the c^ojees Φ^^Μ^^'
ώ β m o r c
repertoire o f its o w n . T h e telling of stories allowed cer­
complex t h e ^[ψ%$ρ*ϊβ $φφΆ w e r e forced, tain relationships a m o n g t h e various elements and n o t
to become i n ©fderrio master an e ^ ^ t o c r e a s i n g variety others, and things could happen in a certain order and
o f situations. The extreme p o v ^ - t f ideas about t h e n o t in others: prohibition h a d t o c o m e before transgres­
world then available t o m a n r ^ c h e d b y a detailed* sion, punishment after transgression, the gift o f magic
aU-embracmg code o f r u l e ^ ffHB;< *• ' ,
objects before die trial of courage. T h e immobile w o r l d

The stqryteMef began to r^^ordj w o r d s , n o t b e ­ that surrounded tribal m a n , strewn with signs o f t h e
cause h e t h o u g h t others imght're^^wirh other, p r e ­ fleeting correspondences between words and things, came
dictable w o r d s , b u t t o test the extent to which w o r d s t o life in t h e voice of the storyteller, spun o u t into t h e
could fit with o n e another, could give birth t o o n e a n ­ flow o f a spoken narrative within which each w o r d ac­
other, in order t o extract an ex|ia|iatiori o f t h e w o r l d quired n e w values and transmitted them t o the ideas and
from the thread of every possible j ^ c p ^ . n a i r r a t i v e , and images they defined. Every animal, every object, every
from the arabesque that n o u n s a n d Verbs, subjects and relationship took o n beneficial o r malign p o w e r s that
predicates performed as they unfolded from o n e a n ­ came t o be called magical p o w e r s b u t should, rather,
other. T h e figures available t o t h e storyteller w e r e very have been called narrative powers, potentialities con­
few; the jaguar, t h e c o y o t e , thetpu^ui, the piranha; o r tained in t h e w o r d , in its ability t o link itself t o other
else father a n d s o n , b r o m e r ^ l a w j f | uncle, wife and w o r d s o n t h e plane of discourse.
m o t h e r and sister a n d m o t h e r - n ^ - g ^ T h e actions these Primitive oral narrative, like the folk tale that has
figures could p e r i o r a l w e r e h l k ^ ^ r a ^ h ^ d : they been handed d o w n almost t o the present day, is modeled
c o u l d . b e b o m , die, copulate, ? j e ^ $ | i , ||unt, climb
o n fixed structures, on, w e might almost say, prefab­
t r e e * d i p b u r r o w s , eat a n d d e f i ^ t e , s i n o ^ vegetable ricated elements—elements, however, that allow o f an
fibers, m a k e prohibitions, t r a n s g j ^ fojR, steal o r give e n o r m o u s n u m b e r of combinations. Vladimir P r o p p , in
a w a y fruit o r other things—things; thj« were also classi­ the course o f his studies o f Russian folk tales, came t o
fied in a limiteil catalogue. Thelflpr$jja explored t h e the conclusion that all such tales were like variants of a
possibilities implied in his o w n language b y combining single tale, and could b e b r o k e n d o w n into a limited
and changing t h e permutations o f |hje figure* and t h e n u m b e r of narrative functions. Forty years later Claude
actions, a n d o f t h e objects o n which these actions could Levi-Strauss, working o n t h e m y t h s o f the Indians o f
b e b r o u g h t to bear. What emerged were stories, straight- Brazil, s a w these as a system of logical operations b e -

4 5
THS USES OF LITEKATURE Cybernetics and Ghosts
tween permutable terms, s o t h a * C O u J d b e studied narrative possibilities soon passes beyond the level o f
according t o the mathematical processes o f combina- content t o touch u p o n the relationship o f the narrator
J c ^ l arwlysis,, , .' j ι?. ' t o t h e material related and t o the reader: and this brings
'·, Mvm'*$φβfolk imagination is therefore n o t b o u n d ­ us t o t h e toughest set o f problems facing c o n t e m p o r a r y
less Jijte t h e o^ean., there is up. reason t o think o f it as fiction. It is n o coincidence that the researches o f t h e
being like a w ^ t e i tank p f s m i d j capacity. O n an equal French structuralists g o hand in hand (and sometimes
l ^ t f i f r i W R * m9^#^-Q£WFt* e> v
like those coexist in t h e same person) with the creative w o r k o f
tfm^m^m* mmtd^&$k-wfb from one
the ' T e l Q u e l " g r o u p . For the latter—and here I a m

paraphrasing statements b y o n e o f their authorized i n ­

9&&&-ΐψΦ&,ίΐ* what ^ h j ^ o ^ i ^ i c t e d on the
terpreters—writing consists n o longer in narrating b u t
<#Μβ#»5|ηί|ίγ p i P 9 W 4 W M i ^ unlimited in saying that o n e is narrating, a n d w h a t o n e says b e ­
comes identified with t h e very act o f saying. T h e p s y ­
«^Iwri^jj^ ^ w
chological person is replaced b y a linguistic o r even a
| s this t r u e only o f oral n a r r ^ i f e t p d ^ o n s ? O r can g r a m m a person, defined solely b y his place in t h e
it fee maintained o f literature i n ^ i t s γί$&γ of forms discourse. These formal repercussions o f a literature a t
arid eompfcjcities? A s early a* j j j h ^ j g g ^ , . the Russian the second o r third degree, such as occurred in France
formalists began t o make modern e g j ^ i u y i novels the with t h e nouveau roman o f ten years ago, for which a n ­
object analysis, bxealda|[ d ^ r a their complex other o f its exponents suggested the w o r d "scriptural-
structurjs into functional s e g ^ f g ^ ^ m c f today the i s m , " can b e traced back t o combinations o f a certain
ι s e m j o ^ c a | ' s c h o o l o f Roland p # ^ ^ J h a y i n g sharp­ n u m b e r o f logico-linguistic (or better, syntactical-
ened its kniffei o n t h e structure^ ( ^ a d v e r t i s i n g or o f rhetorical) operations, in such a w a y as t o b e reducible
w o m e n ' s § s ^ n inagazines,'" ig j& ^ ^ j p n g its atten- t o formulas that are the m o r e general as they b e c o m e
*m. W-mk^^mtofr immi^hni^ - Com
less complex.
mt^mmm$m *&
na»$w& « ό φ « * o f the
i to
t h e

Φ?ί* stojry : Naturaj|y enough, ^ m a t e r i a l that lends


itself heft ψ this k i n d o f treatment is still t o be found I will n o t g o into technical details o n which I could
m tjie various forms of popular fiction. If the Russians only b e an unauthorized and rather unreliable c o m m e n ­
Studied, fhe Sherlock H o l m e s stcjnes, today it is James tator. M y intention here is merely t o s u m u p the situ­
B o f l l l ^ h o provides t h e , s t r i i c j C | ^ ^ ; ^ | | » | h | a r m o s t
; ation, t o m a k e connections between a n u m b e r o f b o o k s
apt exemplars. , '." * ' ^ p ; , . · : ' ' ·"'"
I have recendy read, a n d t o p u t these in the context o f
B u t this is merely the first step in the g r a m m a r and a few general reflections. In the particular w a y t o d a y ' s
syntax o f narrative fiction. T h e c o p b t o a t o r i a l play o f culture looks a t t h e world, o n e tendency is emerging
THE USES OP LITERATURE Cybernetics and Ghosts

from several directions at once. T h e world in its various hundreds o f billions o f pieces) that n o t even in a lifetime
aspects is increasingly looked u p o n as discrete rather than lasting as long as the universe w o u l d one ever manage
continuous. I am using the t e r m "discrete" in the sense to m a k e all possible plays. But w e also k n o w that all
it bears in mathematics, a discrete quantity being o n e these are implicit in the overall code of mental plays,
made u p o f separate parts. T h o u g h t , which until the according t o the rules by which each o f us, from one
other day appeared t o us as something fluid, evoking m o m e n t t o the next, formulates his thoughts, swift or
linear images such as a flowing river or an u n w i n d i n g sluggish, cloudy or crystalline as they may be.
thread, or else gaseous images such as a kind of vaporous I might also say that what is finite and numerically
cloud—to the point where it was sometimes called "spirit" calculable is superseding the indeterminateness o f ideas
(in the sense o f " b r e a t h " ) — w e n o w tend to think o f as that cannot be subjected to measurement and delimi-
a series o f discontinuous states, o f combinations of i m - tation; but this formulation runs the risk of giving an
pulses acting on a finite (though enormous) n u m b e r f Q oversimplified n o t i o n of h o w things stand. In fact, the
sensory and m o t o r organs. Electronic brains, even if very opposite is true: every analytical process, every
they are still far from producing all the functions of the division into parts, tends to provide an image o f the
h u m a n brain, are nonetheless capable o f providing us w o r l d that is ever m o r e complicated, just as Z e n o of
w i t h a convincing theoretical model for the m o s t c o m - Elea, by refusing t o accept space as continuous, ended
plex processes o f o u r m e m o r y , our mental associations, u p b y separating Achilles from the tortoise by an infinite
o u r imagination, o u r conscience. Shannon, Weiner, v o n n u m b e r of intermediate points. B u t mathematical c o m -
N e u m a n n , and T u r i n g have radically altered our image plexity can be digested instantly by electronic brains.
o f our mental processes. In the place of the ever-changing Their abacus of only t w o numerals permits t h e m t o
cloud that w e carried in o u r heads until the other- m a k e instantaneous calculations o f a complexity u n -
day, the condensing and dispersal o f which w e at- thinkable for h u m a n brains. T h e y have only to count
t e m p t e d t o understand by describing impalpable o n t w o fingers to bring into play incredibly rapid m a -
psychological states and shadowy landscapes of the soul— trices o f astronomical sums. O n e of the most arduous
i n the place of all this w e n o w feel the rapid passage of intellectual efforts o f the Middle Ages has only n o w
signals o n the intricate circuits that connect die relays, b e c o m e entirely real: I refer to the Catalan m o n k R a y -
t h e diodes, the transistors w i t h which o u r skulls are m o n d Lully and his ars combinatoria.
c r a m m e d . Just as n o chess player will ever live long T h e process going on today is the triumph o f dis-
enough to exhaust all the combinations of possible moves continuity, divisibility, and combination over all that is
for the t h i r t y - t w o pieces o n the chessboard, so w e k n o w flux, or a series o f m i n u t e nuances following one u p o n
(given t h e fact that o u r minds are chessboards w i t h the other. T h e nineteenth century, from Hegel t o D a r -

ΤΗΪ USES OP LITERATURE Cybernetics and Ghosts

win, saw the t r i u m p h o f historical continuity a n d b i o ­ A m e r i c a n school led b y C h o m s k y is exploring the deep
logical continuity as they healed all the fractures o f d i ­ structure o f language, lying at the roots of the logical
alectical antitheses and genetic mutations. T o d a y this processes that m a y constitute n o longer a historical char­
perspective is radically altered. In history w e n o longer acteristic o f m a n , but a biological one. A n d e x t r e m e
follow the course o f a spirit i m m a n e n t in the events o f simplification o f logical formulas, o n the other hand, is
the world, b u t the curves o f statistical diagrams, and used b y t h e French school of structural semantics headed
historical research is leaning m o r e and m o r e t o w a r d b y A . J . Greimas. This school analyzes the narrative
mathematics. A n d as for biology, Watson and Crick quality o f all discourse, which may be reduced to a ratio
have s h o w n us h o w the transmision o f the characteristics b e t w e e n w h a t they call actants.
of the species consists in the duplication of a certain After a g a p o f almost thirty years, a " N e o -
n u m b e r o f spiral-shaped molecules formed from a cer­ FormaHst" school has been reborn in the Soviet U n i o n ,
tain n u m b e r o f acids and bases. In other w o r d s , the e m p l o y i n g the results o f cybernetic research and struc­
endless variety o f living forms can be reduced to the tural semiology for the analysis of literature. Headed b y
combination o f certain finite quantities. H e r e again, it a mathematician, K h o l m o g o r o v , this school carries o u t
is information theory that imposes its patterns. T h e p r o ­ studies of a highly academic scientific nature based o n
cesses that appeared m o s t resistant t o a formulation in the calculation o f probabilities and the quantity of i n ­
terms of n u m b e r , to a quantitative description, are n o t formation contained in poems.
translated into mathematical patterns. A further encounter between mathematics and lit¬
B o r n and raised on quite different terrain, structural erature is taking place in France, under the banner o f
linguistics tends to appear in terms o f a play o f contraries h o a x i n g and practical joking. This is the O u v r o i r d e
every bit as simple as information theory. A n d linguists, L i t e r a t u r e Potentielle (Oulipo), founded b y R a y m o n d
too, have b e g u n t o talk in terms o f codes and messages, Q u e n e a u and a n u m b e r o f his mathematician friends.
to attempt t o establish the entropy o f language o n all T h i s almost clandestine g r o u p of ten people is an off­
levels, including that o f literature. shoot o f the College de Pataphysique, the literary society
M a n k i n d is beginning to understand h o w t o dis­ founded in m e m o r y o f Alfred Jarry as a kind of acad­
mantle and reassemble t h e m o s t complex and u n p r e ­ e m y o f intellectual scorn. Meanwhile, the researches o f
dictable of all its machines: language. T o d a y ' s w o r l d is O u l i p o into the mathematical structure of the sestina in
far richer in w o r d s and concepts and signs than the w o r l d t h e w o r k of the Provencal troubadours and o f Dante are
that surrounded primitive m a n , and the uses o f the var­ n o less austere than the studies of the Soviet cybemeti-
ious levels o f language are a great deal m o r e complex. cists. It should n o t be forgotten that Queneau is the
U s i n g transformational mathematical patterns, the a u t h o r o f a b o o k called Cent Mille Milliards de poemes,

THE USES OF LITERATURE Cybernetics and Ghosts

w h i c h p u r p o r t s to be not so m u c h a b o o k as the rudi- T h e test o f a poetic-electronic machine w o u l d be its

mentary model o f a machine for making sonnets, each ability to produce traditional works, poems w i t h closed
o n e different from the last. metrical forms, novels that follow all the rules. In this
sense the use so far m a d e of machines b y the literary
H a v i n g laid d o w n these procedures and entrusted avant-garde is still too h u m a n . Especially in Italy, the
a c o m p u t e r w i t h the task o f carrying out these opera- machine used in these experiments is an instrument of
tions, will w e have a machine capable of replacing the chance, of the destructuralization of form, of protest
poet and the author? Just as w e already have machines against every habitual logical connection. I w o u l d there-
that can read, machines that perform a linguistic analysis fore say that it is still an entirely lyrical instrument,
of literary texts, machines that m a k e translations and serving a typical h u m a n need: the production of dis-
summaries, will w e also have machines capable of c o n - order. T h e true literature machine will b e one that itself
ceiving and c o m p o s i n g p o e m s and novels? feels the need to produce disorder, as a reaction against
T h e interesting thing is n o t so m u c h die question its preceding production of order: a machine that will
whether this p r o b l e m is soluble in practice—because in produce avant-garde w o r k to free its circuits w h e n they
any case it w o u l d n o t b e w o r t h the trouble of c o n - are choked b y too long a production of classicism. In
structing such a complicated machine—as the theoretical fact, given that developments in cybernetics lean toward
possibility of it, which w o u l d give rise to a series o f rnachines capable of learning, of changing their o w n
unusual conjectures. A n d I a m n o t n o w thinking of a programs, o f developing their o w n sensibilities and their
machine capable merely of "assembly-line" literary p r o - o w n needs, nothing prevents us from foreseeing a lit-
duction, which w o u l d already b e mechanical in itself. I erature machine that at a certain point feels unsatisfied
a m thinking of a writing machine that w o u l d bring t o w i t h its o w n traditionalism and starts to propose n e w
the page all those things that w e are accustomed t o c o n - ways o f writing, turning its o w n codes completely u p -
sider as the m o s t jealously guarded attributes of o u r side d o w n . T o gratify critics w h o look for similarities
psychological life, of our daily experience, our u n p r e - between things literary and things historical, sociolog-
dictable changes of m o o d and inner elatijons, despairs ical, or economic, the machine could correlate its o w n
and m o m e n t s o f illumination. W h a t are these if n o t so changes of style to the variations in certain statistical
m a n y linguistic "fields," for which w e m i g h t well suc- indices of production, or income, or military expen-
ceed in establishing the vocabulary, g r a m m a r , syntax, diture, or the distribution of decision-making powers.
and properties o f permutation? T h a t indeed will b e the literature that corresponds per-
W h a t w o u l d b e the style o f a literary automaton? I fectly t o a theoretical hypothesis: it will, at last, be the
believe that its t r u e vocation w o u l d b e for classicism. literature.

12 13
THE USES OF LITERATURE Cybernetics and Ghosts

of his. Literature as 1 k n e w it was a constant series o f

II attempts t o m a k e o n e w o r d stay p u t after another b y
following certain definite rules; or, m o r e often, rules
N o w , s o m e of y o u m a y w o n d e r w h y I so gaily that w e r e neither definite nor definable, but that m i g h t
announce prospects that in m o s t m e n o f letters arouse be extracted from a series o f examples, or rules m a d e
tearful laments punctuated b y cries o f execration. T h e u p for the occasion—that is to say, derived from t h e
reason is that I have always k n o w n , m o r e o r less o b ­ rules followed b y other writers. And in these operations
scurely, that things stood this w a y , n o t the w a y they the person " I , " whether explicit or implicit, splits i n t o
were c o m m o n l y said t o stand. Various aesthetic theories a n u m b e r o f different figures: into an " I " w h o is w r i t i n g
maintained that poetry w a s a m a t t e r o f inspiration d e ­ and an " Γ w h o is written, into an empirical " I " w h o
scending from I k n o w n o t what lofty place, o r welling looks over the shoulder of the " I " w h o is writing a n d
u p from I k n o w n o t w h a t great depths, o r else pure into a mythical " Γ w h o serves as a model for the " Γ
intuition, o r an otherwise not identified m o m e n t in the w h o is written. T h e ' Τ ' of the author is dissolved i n
life o f the spirit, o r the Voice o f the Times with which the writing. T h e so-called personality o f the writer exists
die Spirit o f the World chooses to speak to the poet, o r within the very act o f writing: it is the product and t h e
a reflection of social structures that by means o f s o m e instrument o f the writing process. A writing machine
u n k n o w n optical p h e n o m e n o n is projected o n the page, that has been fed an instruction appropriate t o the case
o r a direct grasp o n the psychology o f the depths that could also devise an exact and unmistakable " p e r s o n ­
enables us to ladle o u t images o f the unconscious, both ality" o f an author, o r else it could be adjusted in s u c h
individual and collective*, o r at any rate something i n ­ a w a y as to evolve o r change "personality" with each
tuitive, immediate, authentic, and all-embracing that w o r k it composes. Writers, as they have always been u p
springs u p w h o k n o w s h o w , something equivalent and to n o w , are already writing machines; or at least t h e y
h o m o l o g o u s to something else, and symbolic of it. B u t are w h e n things are going well. What Romantic t e r ­
in these theories there always remained a void that n o minology called genius or talent or inspiration or i n ­
o n
k n e w h o w to fill, a zone of darkness between cause
tuition is nothing other than finding the right r o a d
and effect: h o w does o n e arrive at the written page? B y empirically, following one's nose, taking short cuts,
w h a t r o u t e is the soul o r history o r society o r the s u b ­ whereas the machine would follow a systematic a n d
conscious transformed into a series o f Mack Haes o n a conscientious route while being extremely rapid a n d
w h i t e page? Even the m o s t outstanding theories o f aes­ multiple at the same time.
thetics w e r e silent o n this point. I felt like s o m e o n e w h o , O n c e w e have dismantled and reassembled the p r o ­
due to s o m e misunderstanding, finds himself a m o n g cess o f literary composition, the decisive m o m e n t o f
people w h o are discussing business that is n o business literary life will be that o f reading. In this sense, e v e n
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TUB USES OP LITERATURB Cybernetics and Ghosts

t h o u g h entrusted t o machines, literature will continue b y a mechanical device. B u t I a m sure that m a n y of y o u

pa b e a " p l a c e " of privilege within t h e h u m a n c o n ­ will remain rather unconvinced b y m y explanation,
sciousness, a w a y of exercising t h e potentialities c o n ­ finding that m y attitude o f oft-repeated abnegation, o f
tained in t h e system of signs belonging t o all societies renunciation o f the writer's prerogatives out of the l o v e
at all times. T h e w o r k will continue to be born, to be of truth, m u s t surely b e w r o n g ; and that under all this
j u d g e d , t o b e destroyed o r constantly r e n e w e d o n c o n ­ something else m u s t b e lurking. I already feel that y o u
tact w i t h t h e eye of the reader. W h a t will vanish is tie are searching for less flattering motives for m y attitude.
figure of t h e author, that personage t o w h o m w e persist I have nothing against this sort of inquiry. Behind e v e r y
in attributing functions that d o n o t belong t o h i m , t h e idealistic position that w e adopt w e can find the n i t t y -
author as a n exhibitor of his own soul in the p e r m a n e n t gritty o f practical interest, o r , even m o r e often, of s o m e
Exhibition of Souls, t h e author a* the exploiter of s e n ­ basic psychological motivation. Let us see w h a t m y p s y ­
sory a n d interpretive organs m o r e receptive than the chological reaction is w h e n I leam that writing is p u r e l y
average, . . . T h e author: that anadMoiustif p e p o j i a g c , and simply a process o f combination a m o n g given e l e ­
t h e bearer o f messages, t h e director of coascieijccs, t h e ments. Well, then, w h a t I instinctively feel is a sense
gi^er of lectures, t o cultural bodies. T h e rite w e are cdk of relief, o f security. T h e same sort o f relief and sense
ebrating at this m o m e n t w o u l d be absurd if we w e r e of security that I feel every time I discover that a m e s s
unable to give it t h e sense of a funeral service, seeing of vague and indeterminate lines turns out to b e a precise
the awdtor off t o t h e N e t h e r Regions a n d celebrating t h e geometric form; o r every time I succeed in discerning a
constant resurrection of t h e w o r k of literature; i f we series o f fcjcts, and choices t o b e made o u t o f a finite
wm whittle to introduce info this meeting o f o u r s n u m b e r o f possibilities, in t h e otherwise shapeless a v ­
t h i n g o f thegam οί"Λ«ββ faewl ft*ft»- at which the alanche o f events. Faced with t h e vertigo o f w h a t is
ancients re-established their contact with living things. countless, undassifiable, in a state o f flux, I feel reassured
' 'And s©'#e aiitbsr ->vv)i&fi*rrltott spoiled child b y w h a t is finite, "discrete," and reduced t o a system.
ig|»r*ne$*«t© gisre place to a mot® &oughtful ρίίμ»,- W h y if this? D o e s m y attitude contain a hidden element
^ j p q ^ - ^ f b ^ ' w j y f t - l ^ w that the'author is a raadhjae,, of fear o f d i e u n k n o w n , of t h e wish t o set limits t o m y
and ν $ fco^ b o w this machine w o r k s . ·'•''' .»«...!·· w o r l d a n d crawl back into m y shell? T h u s m y stance,
i' * ί ' ··,· : , . · • · . . . w h i c h was intended t o be provocative and even profane,
allows of the suspicion that, o n the contrary, it is dictated
b y s o m e kind o f intellectual agoraphobia, almost a f o r m
At this point I think I have d o n e e n o u g h t o explain o f exorcism t o defend m e from t h e whirlwinds t h a t
w h y it is w i t h a clear conscience and,, w i t h o u t regrets literature so constantly has t o face.
that I state that m y place could perfectly well b e occupied Let us attempt a thesis contrary t o t h e o n e I h a v e

16 17
THE USES OP LITERATURE Cybernetics and Ghosts

developed so far (this is always the best w a y to avoid t o say a rite. M y t h is nourished b y silence as well as b y
getting trapped in the spiral of one's o w n thoughts). D i d w o r d s . A silent m y t h makes its presence felt in secular
we'say that literature is entirely involved with language, narrative and everyday w o r d s ; it is a language v a c u u m
is m e r e l y the permutation o f a restricted n u m b e r of ele- that d r a w s w o r d s u p into its vortex and bestows a f o r m
ments a n d functions? B u t is the tension in literature n o t o n fable.
continually striving t o escape from this finite n u m b e r ? B u t w h a t is a language vacuum if n o t a vestige o f *
D o e s it n o t continually attempt to say something it can- t a b o o , o f a b a n o n mentioning something, on p r o -
n o t say, something that it does not k n o w , and that n o n o u n c i n g certain names, of a prohibition either present
o n e could ever k n o w ? A thing cannot b e k n o w n w h e n o r ancient? Literature follows paths that flank and cross*
t h e w o r d s and concepts used t o say it and think it h a v e the barriers o f prohibition, that lead t o saying w h a t could
n o t yet been used in that position, n o t yet arranged in n o t b e said, t o an invention that is always a reinvention
that order, w i t h that meaning. T h e struggle of literature of w o r d s and stories that have been banished from t h e
is in fact a struggle to escape from the confines o f lan- individual or collective m e m o r y . Therefore m y t h acts
guage; it stretches o u t from the u t m o s t limits of w h a t o n fable as a repetitive force, obliging it to g o back o n
can be said; w h a t stirs literature is the call and attraction its tracks even w h e n it has set offin directions that appear
o f w h a t is n o t in the dictionary. t o lead somewhere completely different.
T h e storyteller o f the tribe puts together phrases T h e unconscious is the ocean of the unsayable, o f
and images: the younger son gets lost in the forest, h e w h a t has been expelled from the land of language, r e -
sees a light in the distance, he walks and w i f e ; the fable m o v e d as a result of ancient prohibitions. T h e u n c o n -
u n w i n d s % m sentence t o sentence, and where is it fc& scious speaks—in dreams, in verbal slips, in sudden
ing? T o ifte" paint at which something n o t yet said, some? assoaations-*-with b o r r o w e d w o r d s , stolen symbols,
thing as yet only darkly felt b y presentiment, suddenly linguistic contraband, until literature redeems these t e r -
appears and seizes us and tears us t o p i e c ^ , like the £mgs, ritories and annexes t h e m t o the language of the w a k i n g
o f $>mm<a$tofS vfrch. T h r o u g h t h e forest o f fairy tale.. world.
the= vibrancy of m y t h passes like a shudder of wind. - T h e p o w e r of m o d e r n literature lies in its willing-
A M y t h the hidden p a n of every story, the buried
J S ness t o give a voice to w h a t has remained unexpressed
' part,, the region that is still unexplored hecause there are.• in the social o r individual unconscious: this is the g a u n t -
as yet n o w o r d s t o enable us to get there. T h e n a f r a t o r ^ l e t * t h r o w s d o w n time and again. T h e m o r e enlightened
voice in t h e daily tribal assemblies is n o t e n o u g h to relate o u r houses are, the m o r e their walls ooze ghosts. D r e a m s
the m y t h . O n e needs special times and places, exclusive of progress and reason are haunted by nightmares.
meetings; the w o r d s alone are n o t enough, a n d w e need Shakespeare warns us that the triumph of the Renais-
a whole series o f signs w i t h m a n y meanings, which is sance did n o t lay the ghosts of the medieval world w h o
18 19
THE USES OF LITERATURE Cybernetics and Ghosts
appear o n the ramparts at Dunsinane o r Elsinore. A t the writings connected with aesthetics h e did n o t give us
height of the Enlightenment, Sade and the Gothic novel any pointers w o r t h y o f his genius. It was a Freudian art
appear. A t o n e stroke E d g a r Allan P o e initiates the lit­ historian. Ernst Kris, w h o first put forward Freud's study
erature o f aesthetacism and the literature of the masses, o f word-play as the key to a possible aesthetics of p s y ­
n a m i n g and liberating the ghosts that Puritan America choanalysis. Another gifted art historian, Ernst G o m -
trails in its w a k e . Lautreamont explodes the syntax of brich, developed this notion in his essay on Freud a n d
d i e imagination, expanding the visionary w o r l d of the the psychology of art.
G o t h i c novel t o t h e proportions of a JUst J u d g m e n t , Ι α , T h e pleasure of puns and feeble jokes is obtained
automatic associations of w o r d s and images t h e Surres- b y following the possibilities o f permutation and t r a n s ­
alists discover an abjective u t i o n a l e totally o p p o s e d t o formation implicit in language. We start from the p a r ­
that o f o u r intellectual logic. Is this die t r i u m p h of the ticular pleasure given b y any combinatorial play, a n d at
irrational? O r is it the refusal t o believe that the irrational a certain point, out o f the countless combinations o f
exists, that anything in the w o r l d can be considered words w i t h similar sounds, o n e becomes charged w i t h
extraneous to the reason of d u n g s , even if something special significance, causing laughter. What has h a p ­
eludes the reasons determined, b y o u r historical condi­ pened is that the juxtaposition of concepts that w e h a v e
tion, and also eludes limited a n d defensive s t a l l e d r a ­ stumbled across b y chance unexpectedly unleashes a p r e -
tionalism? conscious idea, an idea, that is, half buried in or erased
So here w e are, carried off into an ideological land­ from o u r consciousness, o r maybe only held at a r m ' s
scape quite different from the o n e w e t h o u g h t w e h a d length or pushed aside, buf powerful e n o u g h to appear
decided t o live in, m e r e w i t h t i e relays of d i o d e s o f in the consciousness if suggested n o t b y any intention
electronic c o m p u t e r s . B u t are w e really all that far away? o n o u r part, b u t b y an objective process.
T h e processes o f poetry and art, says G o m b r i c h ,
are analogous to those of a play o n w o r d s . It is t h e
IV childish pleasure o f the combinatorial g a m e that leads
the painter to try out arrangements o f lines and colors,
T h e relationship between combinatorial play a n d the poet to experiment with juxtapositions of w o r d s .
t h e uncgnscious i n artistic activity lies at the heart o f A t a certain m o m e n t things click into place, and o n e o f
o n e of the m e a t convincing aesthetic theories currently the combinations obtained—through the combinatorial
in circulation, a formula that draws u p o n b o t h p s y c h o ­ mechanism itself, independently of any search for m e a n ­
analysis and the practical experience of art and letters. ing or effect o n any other level—becomes charged w i t h
W e all k n o w that in matters o f literature and the a m an unexpected meaning or unforeseen effect which t h e
Freud w a s a m a n of traditional tastes, and that in his conscious m i n d w o u l d not have arrived at deliberately:

20 21
TUB USES OF LITERATURE Cybernetics and Ghosts

an unconscious meaning, in fact, o r at least the p r e ­ U n t i l n o w it has generally been said that the fable
m o n i t i o n o f an unconscious meaning. is a " p r o f a n e " story, something that comes after m y t h ,
So w e sec that the t w o routes followed b y m y ar­ a corruption o r vulgarization or secularization of it, or
g u m e n t have here c o m e together. Literature is a c o m ­ that fable and m y t h coexist and counterbalance each
binatorial g a m e that pursues the possibilities implicit in other as different functions of a single culture. T h e logic
its o w n material, mdjjpen^ent o f die personality o f the of my argument, however—until some m o r e convince
poet, b u t it is a g a m e that at a certain p i n t is invested ing new demonstration comes along t o blow it s k y -
w i t h an uncxpeeted meaning, a meaning that is n o t pat­ high~—leads t o the conclusion that the making o f fables
ent o n the linguistic plane o n w h i c h w e w e r e w o r k i n g precedes t h e making o f myths. Mythic significance is
b u t ^ ^ | ^ : i a . = r | o ^ a i M t h e f : | « v « ^ ' activating some¬ something o n e comes across only if one persists in p l a y ­
thing that o n that second level is o f great concern t o the ing around with narrative functions,
a u t h o r o r his soefety, Tba-ykmtmt'mfidito-am p e r ­ Myth tends t o crystallize instantly, to fall into set
form all the permutations possible o n a given material, patterns, t o pass from the phase o f m y t h - m a k i n g i n t o
bujifhe foetie. result w S h e .the p a i t M i * «ebet*ef o n e that o f ritual, a n d hence o u t of the hands of the narrator
ο £ φ ο τ $ -permwtaeions on. a m a n eiwtewed w i t h a c o n ­ into those o f t h e tribal institutions responsible for t h e
sciousness a # d an unconscious, that is, a n emnirieal and preservation and celebration of m y t h s . T h e tribal system
historical m a m It will b e the shock that occurs only if of signs is arranged in relation t o m y t h ; a certain n u m b e r
the writing machine is surrounded b y t h e hidden ghosts of signs become taboo, and the "secular" storyteller c a n
o f ^ in<Mittdjjal a i ^ ;·.»ι.=·. .v- .
: mike 1Q djrest use o f t h e m . H e goes o n circling a r o u n d
'•^!|©retttin t»t!h^
; beee*aaijues ihem, inventing n e w developments in composition, until
impetWrbaW? t p m a k e bis permutations ©fjagaar* a n d in the course o f this methodical and objective labor h e
t o u c a n j i w r f i ^ a i o m e n t eojaes-when-' one ^fejrfen* s^d.denly gets another flash o f enlightenment from t h e
cent little tales explodes .jjatQ a m&te'WI&to'twffa - mity&m1 fhe forbidden. A n d this forces t h e tribe
ftjg|I§« Ofe
signs once more.
Within thjpf general context, the function o f litera­
/ jWt'VKt κ·.· ι, : U tfcir ·.». ' j ·,·. ι . ,· . . - ·, ture varies according t o t h e situation. For long periods
->·, .." V of time literature appears t o w o r k in favor of consecra­
tion, the confirmation of values, the acceptance o f a u ­
I a m aware that this conclusion o f m i n e contradicts thority. B u t at a certain m o m e n t , something in t h e
the m o s t authoritative theories about the relationship mechanism is triggered, and literature gives birth t o a
between m y t h and fable. m o v e m e n t in the opposite direction, refusing t o see

32 23
THE USES OP LITERATURE Cybernetics and Ghosts

things and say things the w a y they have been seen and m e n achieved the critical spirit, and transmitted it t o
sajd until n o w . collective t h o u g h t and culture.
This is the main t h e m e o f a b o o k called Le due
tenshni (The Two Tensions), w h i c h comprises the p r e -
viously unpublished notes o f Elio Vittorini (Milan: II VI
Saggiatore, 1967). According to Vittorini, literature until
n o w has been t o o m u c h the "accomplice of n a t u r e , " that C o n c e r n i n g this double aspect o f literature, h e r e ,
is, o f the mistaken notion of an i m m u t a b l e nature, a t o w a r d the end of m y little talk, it is relevant to m e n t i o n
M o t h e r N a t u r e , whereas its t r u e value emerges only an essay b y the German poet and critic Hans M a g n u s
w h e n it becomes a critic o f the w o r l d and o u r w a y o f Enzensberger,. *'Topological Structures in M o d e r n L i t -
looking at the w o r l d . In o n e chapter that m a y well state e r a t u r e , " w h i c h I read in the Buenos Aires magazine Sur
his definitive position, Vittorini seems b b e starting (May-June 1966}. He reviews the numerous instances
from scratch o n a s t u d y o f the place of literature in of labyrinthine narratives from ancient times u p to Borges
h u m a n history. A s soon as writing and b o o k s are born, and Robbe-Grillet, o r of narratives o n e inside a n o t h e r
h e says; the h u m a n race is divided into a civilized p a r t —
like Chinese boxes, and he asks himself the meaning o f
t h e part o f the race that long a g o took t h e s t e p into the modern literature's insistence on these themes. H e evokes
Neolithic A g e — a n d a n o t h e r part (called savage) that got the image of a w o r l d in which it is easy to lose oneself,
stuck in t h e Paleolithic, and in w h i c h d i e Neolithics to get disoriented—a world in which the effort of r e -
could not even recognize their ancestors: a part o f h u - gaining one's orientation acquires a particular value, al-
manity'that d u n k s that things have always been the w a y m o s t that of a training for survival. " E v e r y orientation,"
they 'are,' j m t as they think that masters and servants he writes, "presupposes a disorientation. O n l y s o m e o n e
h a v e always existed- Written literature is b o m already w h o has experienced bewilderment can free himself of
laden o f consecraefeti, o f supporting m e1
it. B u t these games p f orientation are in turn games o f
es(bibli||e4 order o f things;-' l l B B J ^ d a d t h r t it discards 1
1 disorientation. Therein lies the«MaseinatieH-an4 thten^
exrfejnejy sjks%ly;%i-the course o f m i l l e r m t y b c t o m u n g
1 risM: rhe labyrinth is made so that whoever enters it

W^pkwe&i a private d u n g , enabling poets a n d writeis vM siray and get lost. B u t the labyrinth also poses t h e
o w n personal troubles and raise t h e m 1 visitor fa challenge: that he reconstruct the plan o f it a n d
todxcievel o f consdousness: Literature gets t o 1 ^ point, J dissolve its p o w e r . If h e succeeds, he will have destroyed
I^fciil b f m e a n * o f 'coiwWnatorial games thai sfit
1 1 t h e labyrinth; for o n e w h o has passed through it, n o
a otSttjW'''monsent 'become 'ehaiged «rith pwconscwua - labyrinth exists." A n d Enzensberger concludes: " T h e
subject matter, a n d a t last find a voice for these. A n d it m o m e n t a topological structure appears as a m e t a p h y s -
if b y this road t o freedom opened u p b y literature m a t ical structure the game loses its dialectical balance, a n d

THE USES OP LITERATURE Cybernetics and Ghosts

literature turns into a means o f demonstrating that t h e the o n e from w h i c h n o escape is possible. H i s reasons
w o r l d is essentially impenetrable, that any c o m m u n i ­ are explained in the passage I shall n o w quote:
cation is impossible. T h e labyrinth thus ceases t o be a
Ι Π succeed in mentally constructing a fortress from which it
challenge t o h u m a n intelligence a n d establishes itself as
is impossible to escape, this imagined fortress cither will be
a facsimile o f the w o r l d and o f society."
the same as the real one—and in this case it is certain we shall
Enzensberger's thesis can b e applied t o everything never escape from here, but at least we will achieve the se­
in literature a n d culture that today—after v o n N e u ­ renity of blowing we are here because we could be nowhere
m a n n — w e see as a combinatorial mathematical game, else:—Or it will be a fortress from which escape is even more
T h e g a m e can w o r k as a challenge t o understand t h e impossible than from here—which would be a sign that here
an opportunity of escape exists: we have only to identify the
w o r l d o r as a dissuasion from understanding it. Liter­
point where the imagined fortress does not coincide with the
ature can w o r k i n a critical vein o r to confirm things as real one and then find it.
they are and as w e k n o w t h e m t o fee. T h e b o u n d a r y is
n o t always clearly m a r k e d , and I w o u l d say that o n this A n d that is the m o s t optimistic finale that I h a v e
score t h e spirit in w h i c h o n e reads is decisive; it is u p managed t o give t o m y story, t o m y b o o k , and also t o
t o the reader t o see t o it that literature exerts its critical this essay.
force, a n d this can occur indepcndjnfly ojf the aider's
I think this is t h e meaning o n e m i g h t give t o m y
m o s t recent story, which comes at the end o f m y book
Ί zero. I n j b i s ' s t o r y w e see Alexandre P u m a s taking his
novel The Count of Monte Cristo from a supernovel that
contains all possible variants o f the life story o f E d m o n d
Paixt&' In their dungeon E d m o n d Pantos and the A b b o t
f$m $β, over t h e plans for their escape a n d wonder
, which o f the possible variants is fte right one. T h e Abbot
Faria digs tujttjnels t o sscapp from the castle, b u t h e a l ­
ways goes wrong and ends u p in ever-deeper cejls, Q n
the basis o f Faria's mistakes Dantes tries to d r a w a m a p
o f tt»e castle. While Faria, b y the sheet n u m b e r o f his
attempts, ©ames close t o achieving t h e perfect escape,
P a n g s m o v e s toward imagining t h e perfect p r i s o n -

26 27
Acknowledgments m Introduction

^ Microhistory

' f o r grants that facilitated the completion of this project^ I thank A e A ^ r - In September of I960, an exceptionally diverse group met at Cerisy-la-
ic?n Council of Learned Societies and the Research Council of the Um- Salle on the occasion of a colloquium devoted to the work of Raymond
• S ^ b ^ U n c o l n . I am grateful to K e i f t B ^ y t o p ~ Queneau. The title of these proceedings, "Une nouvelle d6fense et illus­
' ^ o t e his Mallarmo translations, and to Samuel Solomon for his trans
a u tration de la langue frangaise," was in many ways exemplary: if it recalled
. 'ζπηη of Radne I appreciate the kindness of all the Ouhpians who re- the P16iade and its poetic manifesto, it also announced another group, the
' • ^ i ^ i S e s p e c i r i l y Noel Amaud, Marcel B6nabou, Ross Ouvroir de Littorature Potentielle, For it was at Cerisy, on the initiative of
^•Eihers Tnd Harry Mathews, who patiently and generously supphed Queneau and Fran§ois Le Lionnais, that the Oulipo was conceived. It was
C e n S r s i m e S r y information. Finally, I should like to offer my born two months later, on 24 November 1960, to be precise, the day of its
• W s ! «£Zps by now redundant) thanks to Noel Arnaud, for prov - ld
^first official meeting. The ten founding members came from various dis­
ing this book with a Foreword. ciplines: writers, mathematicians, university professors, and pataphysi-
'cians. The group began as a subcommittee of the College de Pataphy-

sique (although, early on, the official affiliation with that group would be
dropped), under the title, "Sominaire de Literature Exporimentale " But
"at, their second meeting, the more modest and (to their way of thinking)
. more precise title was adopted: '.Ouvroir de Littirature Potentielle." Since
then, the Oulipo has pursued its research with admirable assiduity. In the
last twenty-five years, several more people have joined the group; today,
,the Oulipo includes twenty-five members. 2

In its first years, the Oulipo worked in voluntary obscurity. During its
first decade, the group's public activities were relatively rare: a presenta-
] tion of their work to the College de Pataphysique in 1961, a special issue
*of Temps Miles devoted to the Oulipo in 1964, and, in the same year, a
^'semi-public meeting" of the group recorded for Belgian radio. In its first
'decade, however, various members of the Oulipo individually published
texts which were in large measure inspired by that group's work, notably
Jacques Bens's 41 Sonnets irrationnels (1965), Jacques Roubaud's €
f(1967), Jacques Duchateau'sZinga8 (1967), No'tl Arnma's Poimes Algol
(1968), and Georges Perec's La Disparition (1969).
It was in 1973, with the publication of La Littirature potentielle, that
the Oulipo began to affirm itself openly. The collection offered a repre­
sentative sampling of Oulipian production, including theoretical texts and
exercises. All are relatively short, and as a group they exemplify the two
"principal directions of Oulipian research: analysis, that is, the identifica­
tion* and recuperation of older, even ancient (but not necessarily inten-
^tipnal) experiments in form; and synthesis, the elaboration of new forms.
s/Es Frangois Le Lionnais puts it in the "First Manifesto": "Anoulipism is
f 1
2 Introduction
devoted to discovery, Synthoulipism to invention. From one to the other
there exist many subtle channels." With the publication of La Littirature
potentielle, the Oulipo's timidity slowly began to erode, and the group
began to participate in colloquia and programs of various sorts: a presen­ structures and to ί ^ Π ο Λ ΐ π , ° U , l p o s
« o a l i s
*> discover new
tation at Reed Hall in 1973, at "Europalia 75 France" in Brussels in 1975, It is obviouT then t h a t o l l ? 3 S m a
" n u m b e r
o f

on France-Culture Radio in 1976, at the Centre Pompidou in 1977, at the vocation fc^J^^^J^ ° ^ ° " °'
f U P S

Fondation de Royaumont in 1978, and at the Festival de la Chartreuse de precisely, one might bZTcZL^n f e n d e r l t s
Parameters more
Villeneuve-Ies-Avignon since 1977. poimes (one hundred t h o ^ h ,1 8 C m M i l k
Milliards de
Three important texts have appeared in recent years. In Oulipo 1960¬
1963 (1980), Jacques Bens, the first "provisional secretary" of the group, meates the Oulipian entenmv ™ »\ vl,ι f 111
collection and per-
published the minutes of the Oulipo's monthly meetings from 1960 to nal Oulipian text ^ ° W h k : 14 m a y b e r e
« * * e semi-
a r d e d a

1963. These documents are both interesting and amusing: if they furnish
material for future literary historians, they also testify eloquently to the
those of the t r a d S a , ^ T f ^ l ^ ^ ™ n d r i g o r o u s t h a n
ludic spirit that has consistently animated the group. Atlas de littirature
potentielle (1981), a collective effort, responds to La Littirature poten­ semble: each line of h le a c m f combinatory en-
e y c o n s t l t u t e a

tielle; like the latter, it includes both theoretical texts and illustrative ex­ logoe in the nZ X " lf^ > '* ^ m o - b
e d by

ercises, offering an update on Oulipian activity since 1973. In La Biblio- reader can add any of ten d i f f e r e n t / , f ° "nes, the f t h e t e n first

thique Oulipienm (1981), Slatkine has collected and reprinted the first or one hundred "ossibfe co^t f ^ t h e r e e x i s t t h e r e f o r e ™\
sixteen volumes of the Oulipo's "library." This series was created in 1974 the sonnet b ^ t o ^ l ^ S ^ ^ 5 " ° " « *· t W l i n e s G i v e

on Queneau's initiative; it consists of texts written by members of the a whole are of t h o 7 d e r & ° h e
f P
«V the collection as
S S l b l l l t o f f e r e d

Oulipo and published privately, the edition of each volume being limited in its potent ^ l ^ ^ l tfcT^ ^ T h e text
to 150 copies. The texts included in La Βibliotheque Oulipienm are inter¬ sets of ten elements each; t h Γ a s 1 ΓΓ"" ° P r d u C t o f f o u r t e e n

mediary forms; that is, they fall somewhere between the short exercises
of the previous collections and longer works such as Perec's La Vie mode this kind, the reader will n e c e s s a r i a n — W l t h a w o r k o f

d'emploi and Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler. But like tical problems Ouenea, h S · f " f rtam number of prac-
C 0 U n e r 8 ce

these other writings, each text in La Bibliotheque Oulipienne results from thornj - n g
a S
& the L s t
the application of a given Oulipian principle or theory. cording to his calculations if ο π Γ γ Ι η " d s . Ac- f e a d l n g d e m 2

day, two hundred d ^ ' ^ ^ J T * ' * hours a

a i a m

ries to finish the t e x , FS Uonl Τ " ^ ^tu- a m i l l i o n

One Hundred Trillion Poems notes the same problern St t ™ f ' work, m h l S p o s t f a c e to t h e

this technical he w o r ^ * m a m e r :

Of what do Oulipian theories consist? The purpose of the present collec­ sents, itself a t o n T a ^ S i S οίΐίϊΖΊ " r e ­ y W h a n d s

tion is to respond to that question and to give the English-speaking reader written since the i n v e n t " of w r S fT* P^PUlar n Vds S busi has 6 V e r y t h i n
m a n

ingress into the Oulipian labyrinth. The texts have been chosen to provide letters, diplomatic ^ ^ ^ t ^ ^ ° ° ' "ess
a sampler of Oulipian poetic theory, from the polemical language of the the wastebasket, a n d 1 * 3 5 ' '™ ™ into Φ d r a f t s ώ Γ 0

early manifestoes to the more elaborate formulations of a startling literary

aesthetic. v l S l S Z l ^ V : ^ T ° ° a
- Edi­ f r e a C t i n S : W h 6 r e c e r t

Many of the texts included herein were either produced or inspired by tion, others will Β ^ ί ^ Γ ^ α Ζ Τ ^ ^ ° " Μ P e t i c i n n o v a

Raymond Queneau (of whom Roland Barthes said, "His entire oeuvre ness. Polemics of this s l ^ ^ m n o u Z T ^ ^ ^ " mad

embraces the literary myth"); more than any other, Queneau nourished often, the latter draws (or e Z 2 T P n t a I text; very t h e e x e n m e

and directed the evolution of the group. Queneau's definition of the Ouli­ Principal dtodJ^SZ^?* .P * force therein The
b e t t e r a r t o f

po's work is, moreover, succinct: potential literature is "the search for new tally important ^ n o t Z T ^ ^ ^ «N"
whole problematic may be, it will S f t ^ M ^ .
Introduction 5
aspects of their work would seem necessarily to be in contradiction. In
fact, this is not the case, the apparent problem residing in the word "tra­
dition": the Oulipo manifests enormous respect for the experimentalist
tendency within the tradition of literature. Its members have pointed out
its execution, stands as the foremost: moo ^ ^ t 0 and paid homage to writers from Lasus of Hermione to the Grands Rhe-
First of all, it responds amply to the anai,yuc &
toriqueurs, from Rabelais to Roussel: these they consider to be their direct
recuperate and revivify traditiona c o n i n g o f w h i c h i s
antecedents, qualifying the work of those writers, slyly, as "plagiarisms
far less ancient form than, f ^ ^ ^ f i m p o s e s nonetheless a by anticipation," thereby suggesting the desire of the Oulipo to inscribe
offered by Harry M a t h e w s V U m m a ^ > ^ J ^ outset but a t t h e
itself within a certain literary tradition. Georges Perec's "History of the
multiplicity of constraints.that f - , ° " J W i s e l y this "use" that
e o f c r Lipogram," for instance, testifies to the importance he accorded to tradi­
become highly ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ S ^ ^ ' given that
tion in the production of La Disparition, a 300-page novel written without
the letter E. This example, perhaps more clearly than another, shatters the
separates the ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ Z ^ X is not surprising that
apparent paradox I alluded to, for as Perec's essay suggests, La Dispari­
TJSSZ U ^ X ^ o called the death of the Mlade and tion, received as resolutely avant-gardist, is in fact merely the most recent
the rondeau "disasters.'* , faithfully reflects the
d i m e s
manifestation of a venerable literary tradition that can be traced back to
In addition, the ^ , ^ ^ Γ ^ obvTouT intent behind it being to the sixth century B.C.
"synthetic" aspect ο Oul pian woA * e 0
^ ^ ^ ^ f o r m >
In that same essay, Perec protests "a critical misappreciation as tena­
elaborate a new poeticfarm; ^ ^ ^ o n i b t a a i D r y sonnet, erects a cious as it is contemptuous":
given its basic material, the " W i y a u a ^ F . r e m a i n e s s e n Exclusively preoccupied with its great capitals (Work, Style, Inspi­
"whole system of ^ t a - c o n s t r a m ^ i f j t o e m d i J ^ m d r i n e ) , the rhyme ration, World-Vision, Fundamental Options, Genius, Creation, etc.),
tially intact (the combinatory » ^ being me literary history seems deliberately to ignore writing as practice, as
s c J m e and ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ Ά « « « β . Each work, as play. Systematic artifices, formal mannerisms (that which,
SS£ « ^ ί ϊ ϊ ^ ί ^
of being coherently m i ­ in the final analysis, constitutes Rabelais, Sterne, Roussel . . . ) are
grated into a quasi-infinity of derived ****** ^ iceberg,
h u l k i n g
relegated to the registers of asylums for literary madmen, the "Curi­
This leads to a final conclusion about^ his ext. , k s b u l k
osities": "Amusing Library," 'Treasure of Singularities," "Philologi­
cal Entertainments," "Literary Frivolities," compilations of a mania­
the Cent Mille Milliards
^ZlZu!T^^ (the quantity cal erudition where rhetorical "exploits" are described with suspect
Its reader can accede to a certain n u m b e r « e n ^ o n h complaisance, useless exaggeration, and cretinous ignorance. Con­
depending on the degree of the reader s mmauve or pe F er- d e t straints are treated therein as aberrations, as pathological monstrosi­
A or her « « « ^ ^ * S ^ ^ to I lifetime of dffi- ties of language and of writing; the works resulting from them are not
mine their exact number. But it is * ™ theoretically
f t h e s o n n e t s even worthy to be called "works": locked away, once and for all and
gent reading, one can read only a s™liponion ^.^ without appeal, and often by their authors themselves, these works,
^ ^ ^ ^ X ^ n
T h g

"engendered by the anything else, in their prowess and their skillfulness, remain paraliterary monsters
justiciable only to a symptomology whose enumeration and classifi­
cation order a dictionary of literary madness.
Perec, like the other members of the Oulipo, is aware that the notion of
literary madness is often invoked in order to suppress innovation and thus
Literary Madness and the Canon
to maintain the hegemony of the canon. The Oulipo's attitude toward the
concept is thus somewhat ambivalent: on the one hand, relying heavily on
systematic artifice and formal mannerisms in their own literary praxis,
they are open to accusations of literary madness, accusations intended to
SMS g « K S S C * « - — "
6 Introduction
Introduction 7
confine them and their work in the literary ghetto. On the other hand, they
profess interest in literary madmen and, more generally (for obvious rea­
sons), in literary marginalia of many sorts. The problem perhaps lies in
the definition of literary madness and in the rhetoric in which the notion
is couched. Queneau, who studied literary madmen in the 1930s at the
Bibliotheque Nationale with a view toward elaborating an encyclopedia of
folie liner aire, preferred the term "heteroclite." Andrd Blavier, whose Les
Fous litteraires (1982) follows Queneau's initiative, insists that "the ap­
pellation 'literary madman' is used nonpejoratively." For the purposes of
his work, moreover, Blavier establishes several criteria for literary mad­ thllVtt^T^ ° ^I'T or, more properly, t h
/ W e i g h t f ώ ε c a n o n

ness: the writer in question must be afou avire (an "established madman," fof d i t " 1 T f i , n
^arantee it, is oppressive. And
W 1 C h C O d ) f y a n d

which may seem to beg the question); he must have been entirely ignored
norms T r ^ t ^ t "* Τ<
' ° *^onal tary u b v e n i o n f

by the critics and the general public; his work must have been published HT\fth? ] g
* 0"lipian enter-
y e a m m g a l S 0 e c h o e s w i t h i n t h

in printed form; and, finally, he most probably was a rich bourgeois, since fne so i ^ ^ T T mainstreams genu- b C i n g e X d u d e d fr0ra t h e

he would have had to pay the publication costs himself. was u t The f n ' * * ' ^
r ^ 8
«cliioa, i n c l u s i o n rather t h a n

Jean Lescure, in his "Brief History of the Oulipo," alludes to a discus­ letter bu 'is no 1 ™ P ° « legitimate than the
S e m i m e m i s p e r h a s m

sion that focused upon the notion of literary madness: »at er, but it is no more insistent in the Oulipo's work where oatentlv

The position of the Oulipo in regard to literature is determined in

, memorandum # 4 , minutes of the meeting on 13 February 1961, in
the following form: Jean Queval intervened to ask if we are in favor "anSys^ I " t ' T ^ ^ " P-adox in Oulipian 3 C u r i o u s

v S - w i 'F ΐ ' Q" 6

' s work on literary madmen Bfc
h a n d e n e a u

of literary madmen. To this delicate question, F. Le Lionnais replied vier s Les Fous litteraires, and Perec's "History of the L i W ^ n » f
very subtly:
—We are not against them, but the literary vocation interests us
above all else.
And R. Queneau stated precisely:
,—The only literature is voluntary literature.
We shall have occasion to return to this notion of "voluntary literature";
for the moment, suffice it to say that it is linked to the notion of writing as believed to be e n d S y n e w h a ^ i n T f y
' t h a t 3 s t r u c t u r
« we
praxis. It is through this more than anything else that the Oulipo lays its jn the past, s o ^ s ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
claim to sanity: Georges Perec, asked by an interviewer how he faced the
risk of madness while writing, responded that he had been accumulating
experiences of literary "madness" for years without having the impression - ^ ί ά Ι α Γ Λ Ώ ^ 0 0
· T h U S J U S t l C C 15 d 0 n e
" a n d
is rewarded
that he was doing anything "madder" than, quite simply, writing. 3

cific citL r
C q B e r e t U m
f t 0 t h i s n 0 t i o n
> ^ d e n n g it somewhat more spe-

Tradition and Experiment

The Oulipo's relation to the literary establishment is thus problematical.
Frangois Le Lionnais addresses this question with ironic relativism:
The truth is that the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Modems is per­
manent. It began with Zinjanthropus (a million seven hundred and pulse. This seems clear for instant in uTi ? i r r e d e n t i
s t im-
Introduction 9
edly would have put normative literary hierarchies into question, through
savant juxtaposition of the marginal and the mainstream. But it must be
noted (a commentary on this whole problematic as eloquent as any other)
that the project has thus far failed to bear tangible fruit; centunes ago when a nn^ntioi . ·. 8 e o r r o r r a
- N m e
or ten
Our first labors immediately indicated the desire to inscribe the Ou-
lipo within a history. The Oulipo didn't claim to innovate at any
price. The first papers dealt with ancient works, works that might examination of the sonnet- f ,·, · , , ',nrm t to an u c no i U s e f f o r

serve as ancestors if not as models for the work we wanted to begin. Roubaud notes that "the Ω i n ' ? ^ Choice." b e C 3 U S e o f
± i s

This led us to consider according a good deal of our efforts to an Queneau ^ 1 m e S s o f ^ T ™ * *°

strain*" AnH aT7
C O n s t i t u t e s for

demonstration' according to con-

H.L.E., orHistoire des littiraturesexpirimentales. Here, wesawthe
notion of experimentation or exercise reappear; at the same time we - w e a s t e w££%T " ^ ^ "^Z i n t h e

were beginning to realize that which distinguished us from the past: larme's sonnet, I tH d l m e n s
j f s , as Queneau's experiments on Mai-

potentiality. . . . It's because we had the profound feeling that we w i , 1

, s h o w
- T h
* l a t t e r a u t h o r

were not an absolute beginning but rather that we belonged to a tra­ firmlv in „iι λ P
P n laboratory: with poker" face
t h e 0 u l l i a

dition that the Oulipo decided to bring together texts for an anthology firmly m place, Queneau informs us that "Mallamrfi\ZZF
high-grade material, like the fruit % in genetic?." V e r y

of experimental literature.

In the "synthetic" dimension of the Oulipo's work, devoted to the elab­

oration of new poetic structures, an analogous problem presented itself: The Workroom
cultural resistance to innovation. As Frangois Le Lionnais puts it in the
"Second Manifesto": "But can an artificial structure be viable? Does it
have the slightest chance to take root in the cultural tissue of a society and
the group ultimately chose to call ISlSi r1^ ° ' ne insofar a s

to produce leaf, flower, and fruit? Enthusiastic modernists are convinced

of it; diehard traditionalists are persuaded of the contrary."
three principal meanings- it dlnnt^u ™ > has F r e n c h w o r d o w

On this point, "analysis" would seem to inform and encourage "synthe­ assemble J w o r t * S a b ? ? ° ° , * e nuns
r m l n a C O n v e n t w h e r e

sis," as the Oulipo once again turns to the sonnet, that touchstone of ex­ in needlework, and ? ^ * ^ women engage h e r e i n d i

periment in poetic form. Jacques Roubaud pertinently notes that "the first
sonnet, at the moment of becoming a sonnet, is not a sonnet but a Sicilian
clothes for the poor L d ^ Z J T ? Ζ™ ^ Μ θ ' ά ο make l a d i e s

"workroom" t h u . T e s not lltZu ^ ^ word ( t h eE n

variant of the Provengal cobla. It is only with the thousandth sonnet (or
more or less—in any case after many sonnets) that the sonnet appears." it. the Oulipo's intent o n 1 ^ Ζ ^ ^ 7 ^ ί ^ " ^ I n c h o o s i

Roubaud further states that the sonnet, like other traditional constraining group in the last twenty-five years i Z t 1 ^ * ^ p r o d u c e d b v

forms, is imperialistic, for it progressively "invades everything." He ar­ ical. Jean Lescure, in his "Brief m Z of h ^ l ' ° ΐ S ^ ^
y M l y S U g g e s t s

gues that this process of multiplication is diametrically opposed to the why the original appellation was c W d ΐ P

purest concept of potential literature, and warns his "fellow members it conjures up stud farms ΖάUmSt, that b o t h e r e d u s i n

against the temptations thereof; "Oulipian constraint, on the contrary, can trary, flattered the modest testeΓΪ.ΓίΓ^ - " o u v r o t r m t h e c o n

deeds: out of *°*"« g

°° d

tend toward multiplicity (toward which, seemingly, it is tending) only in

ceasing to be Oulipian." the ou to the //." n d m o r a l s
> w e
consented to join
Multiplicity comes in many colors. Roubaud, I think, speaks for the w o t ^ ^ V v ^ r 1
^ ^ ^ r d a t e d to
* e
verb ouvrer, "to
majority in suggesting that the Oulipo not multiply examples of each new ^ f J Z ^ ^ ^ ^ S ? ? * * * W 0
° ' d
poetic structure it derives; to do so would be, in a sense, to forge the very
would have it, "a person who 1 Τ T"' w o r k e r
* ' - ^ Larousse
sort of chains it is trying so diligently to break. But Queneau's Cent Mule
workforanemplo^L:. i l S ^ t * . ^ ^
Milliards de poemes is surely multiple and at the same time, as we have
the final level of O u l i p i a n t o i o S f S . * ' ' h a s 'S t r a v e d f r o m « h c r t , n o n e c a n d e t e

seen, quintessentially potential. Thus, whereas the sonnet leads Roubaud

Ae etymon in a striking manTr a S f ° Γ

mg manner, applied to an individual literary text, for

10 Introduction
instance, it connotes far more than a mere "work"; applied to a body of
texts produced by an author, it suggests completion, consecration, canon­
ization if you will. When Perec, for instance, criticizes the literary estab­
lishment for its disdain of writing "as practice, as work," he is implicitly
opposing ouvroir to oeuvre, labor to inspiration, collective effort to indi­ strain,* of v o c ^ L S ' * Κ
^ Λ
0 t h C r l i k e

vidual genius, the artisan to the artist.

chapters, f * " **> k

The notion of the artisanal nature of literary work is central to Oulipian

of general versification, c o n s t r S T n L l £ Γ Τ """"?· ° C n S , r a i n , s

poetics. Jacques Roubaud says, "The claim to craftsmanship reflects an

rondeau or the sonnet), etc " « ( a s l n t h e c a s e o f t h

affirmation of amateurism; it is a voluntary archaism." Here, "voluntary"

is a key word: Queneau, it will be recalled, invoked it in a discussion of
literary madmen as the sine qua non of literature. And the Oulipo's claim
minimal V ' c Z i n T , ^ & Σ ΐ Ζ ^ ^ * " **· •1

to. craftsmanship is intimately, related to the concept of "voluntary" or

"conscious" literature, just as it starkly opposes the myth of literary inspi­ second, an intermediate level i „ c l S „ f . ' " h C h t h e M t

ration. Jean Lescure speaks of Queneau's attack on literary inspiration in literary norms; ftird.TrSteΚ™ m d

Odile, and suggests its importance for the Oulipo as a whole: minify imp^ed s , l ^ Γ ί ώ * ° ~ ^ ft"?""
level and remain readable- n » r t ™ * '™ ' « the min mil
0 s k

If I may refer to the henceforth famous dictum in Odile, we can add diate level. . i , i f Ζ m E S l e T e Γ Ι Γ ^
8 u ™ * ™- i n t

to this notion the considerable consequences resulting from the fact whatthey refer torn u s i n g T ^ d S L t ^ T " ' ** " 5

that: The truly inspired person is never inspired, but always inspired.
What does this mean? What? This thing so rare, inspiration, this gift
of the gods which makes the poet, and which this unhappy man never
quite deserves in spite of all his heartaches, this enlightenment com­
ing from who knows where, is it possible that it might cease to be
capricious, and that any and everybody might find it faithful and
compliant to his desires? The serious revolution, the sudden change ficulte vaincue. It rapidly k o n T Z * ° f t l l e a e S t h e t i c
W' o f

this simple sentence introduced into a conception of literature still as a hierarchy; increa's^ £ S E £ £ £ • C a n
J» R e i v e d
wholly dominated by romantic effusions and the exaltation of subjec­ increases-here is the i L of S t h tl · Ρ
l ™ ° P S e d
n e c e

Τ * » . F r a n k s Le U o n S ^ ^ ^ ° " f S
tivity, has never been fully analyzed. In fact, this sentence implied
the revolutionary conception of the objectivity of literature, and from
that time forward opened the latter to all possible modes of manipu­
lation. In short, like mathematics, literature could be explored. r i c h k h e i p s a

And explore it the Oulipians have, from the pyramids of rhopalic verse to rules that are more or less c o n s t r a i n / d l f f i C U l t y i m p o s e d
the bas-relief of Poe's tomb. As "analysis" nourishes "synthesis," one of
the Oulipo's principal goals becomes clearer: as Queneau puts it, the Ou­ gram, the palindrome, or the V ^ Z ' ^ Z I T ' ? °" lip

lipo intends to elaborate "a whole arsenal in which the poet may pick and mere examples of acrobatics and d S 1 " * Τ y five) a r e

choose, whenever he wishes to escape from that which is called inspira­ gnn, since they could never heir, tn^Tl ," ^ry 8m o r e t h a n a

tion," an elegant formulation of the Oulipo Militant. Never? Indeed feTjS S f ^ ^ ^ W ° r k s o fa r t

Breaking . r e c o r d s o n e o f ΐ I Γ "° ^s. a t a c r o b

can in itself serve t j S y t h e I T T ^ g structures

C O n s t r a i n i n

Formal Constraint its semantic aspect c m ^ l Z T * f « derives from

e e 0 t l 0 n t h

overbed, ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ not oe
Erecting the aesthetic of formal constraint, then, the Oulipo simultane­
If the Oulipo is unanimous in Dromon™ n,.
ously devalues inspiration. As Frangois Le Lionnais notes, there are many
- ,s, however, some tntema, o Z S t ^ ^ ~ J
12 Introduction
from any given constraint, Queneau, as Roubaud sees it, calls for unicity:
once a constraint is elaborated, a few texts are provided to illustrate it. ^ I S ^ — ^ «y be formulated in the
The group then turns to other concerns, and the texts thus engendered are
disseminated to the public. Roubaud himself, we recall, cautions against Axiom; Constraint is a principle, not a means.
the proliferation of texts resulting from a given constraint; for him, "the
ideal constraint gives rise to one text only." Most severely doctrinaire of
all would seem to be Le Lionnais, characterized by Roubaud as an "ultra" iaSy μ ^ ° f t h e

because of his insistence that the only text of value is the one that formu­ rigorous formal « £ S * of
l i b e r a t i n

lates the constraint; all texts resulting therefrom, preaches Le Lionnais, typographical sign, of the ^ c o r o n \ " Ή * * °
b a > <* 8 8 0 0 f t h e l e £ t e r

must be banished to the limbo of the "applied Oulipo." Roubaud argues decisive operation, something like c o n s t o f n f ' S > ore o b j e c t i v e m

everything becomes possible." T t e 3 δ Ξ ο f h * Γ ° ' after w h i c h

that Le Lionnais's position neglects the deductive aspect of the method,
and postulates that "a constraint must 'prove' at least one text." smce it seems so strongly c o u n t e r t t u S η ?*a S-
< e t , c i $ S t a r t l i n

members appear to be Γ ^ fellow P e r e c a n d

Regarding the nature of the constraint itself, though, there seems to be

widespread agreement. As Roubaud puts it, "A good Oulipian constraint Production might serve as a cJebZU ' ° e r a b l e poetic
W h S e consid

is a simple constraint" Of course, this does not mean that the application f as to suggeft that wri ^ ^ ^ ^ " T ^ Soes so e v e n

of the constraint will be simple; neither does it mean that the text resulting or him than writing according" t o " syTtem oT fo ' m p r o b l e n a t i c a l

from it will be simple. Consider the case of Georges Perec's La Dispari­ for the moment intend to write poefrv ,f "I don't C o n s t r a i n £ :

tion, the novel written without the letter E. What could be simpler than saints. . . . The intense dTffi ulty ^ bv t h ^ V ^
S U C h C o n
the decision to exclude a letter of the alphabet from a text? Patently, this palls in comparison to the terror I wouWfr!?? ° ° P « ·· •Λ f r o d u c t i o

constraint is simple and thus—another leap of faith—elegant. In the pas­ Granted that formal consent Γ° I ,Wntlng freely."*
sage from conception to application, however, simplicity engenders com­ f t , Paul Β π ώ Λ ^ Π ^ Ϊ Ξ J * ^ a r k of the Oulipian
plexity: as Perec himself notes, "the principle of the lipogram is childishly Jourcknianlitemture.'^TheaJlusir o f f , ° P° as "non-
u l l s w o r k

simple; its application can prove to be excessively difficult."

mem that "everything w h i c h I ™ 7 1 Zt^T tonish- t 0 h i s as

co^ln? L\ "
a d
Roubaud postulates "two principles sometimes respected in Oulipian
« not poetry is s e . " Braffort's > g hich e v c r , t h i n

work": first, that "a text written according to a constraint must speak of pr0

ironic, but it nonetheless advances tte Ξ ' 8

S highlya m u s i n a n d

this constraint," and second, that "a text written according to a mathema- ditional taxonomy is to^^^^f "! 010
that tra-
tizable constraint must contain the consequences of the mathematical
n o

theory it illustrates." He cites La Disparition as an example of the first

3 amorphous texts and texts ^ ^ ^ Η Γ * " * b e t w e e n

principle, and suggests that it is precisely in this, rather than merely in its offer a concrete illustration of this one h S
- " To S c o n s t r a i n t s

length, that the text differs from all previous experiments in the lipogram: Disparition resembles Harry M a t h e J ^ " "^"f ' ' that La f o r i n s t a n c e

than it resembles Eug^Grand^ol L Γ!? ^ m o r e c l o s

In what does the Oulipization of this constraint, as old or almost as Poimes is fundamentally more slmili £1.5°
nT MUliards

old as the alphabet, consist? In this, which is a fundamental trait: vmtefs ni ght traveler" or Ζ Z t , V t ^ *
a ^ l f °n a
that, as opposed to the different plagiarists who use the lipogram as a Chtmeres. Through all these pyrotechnics thenl >™ * ' 1 5 t 0 N e r v a l s

becomingly modest and o u t S S o S ? ^ j ^ * " " ^ * «<>**

process of translation (Nestor of Laranda and the Iliad), process of
lapidary formulation thereof- "What thl η rP has offered a
L e s c u r e

mnemotechnics, moral or metaphysical formulary . . . the constraint

therein is at once principle of the writing of the text, its developmen­
was that these constraints are felkkous Llt ° ™rate t 0 d e

itself." reiicitous, generous, and are in fact literature

tal mechanism, and at the same time the meaning of the text: La
Disparition is a novel about a disappearance, the disappearance of
the e; it is thus both the story of what it recounts and the story of the
constraint that creates that which is recounted. This highly involuted Mathematics
aspect of constraint (which is undoubtedly not proper to Oulipian
constraint, but which is in this case practically pure) is a direct con-
14 Introduction
Introduction 15
of Oulipian constraint is mathematical. At the center of the group's poetics
is the idea of the essential analogy of mathematics and literature. Much of
their work may be seen as an attempt to demonstrate the complementarity
Pascal and d'AkrtStZZ^ ^ W h o
~ l i k
of these two modes of discourse, which are thought by many to be mu­ themselves both as w r i t e r ^ f o r l ^ i S * ^ "g^hedm d d i s t i

tually exclusive. While the reciprocal relations of music and literature perhaps, W Lewis Carroll a n J J ? ο , d 3 8 m a t h e
™ t i c i a n s . Outside,
have received a considerable amount of attention—one could catalogue
examples from Orpheus to Doctor Faustus—the same is not true of math­
ematics and literature, although some suggest that mathematics is the link ^ e amalgam of poetical mspiration ^ J ^ t ^
between literature and music, and music is what poetry aspires to. Argu­
ably, the connection between architecture and literature (which seems of £ <3£ t ^ S S f * " f ^ " Η * * * * - the case i S S i U l

clear, for instance, in the architectonic elegance of fixed form poetry, and
is demonstrably insistent on the thematic level in many works whose for­
well as ^ f * ^ ^ ^ ^
Braffort, whose fields of s p e l S I ^ ^ Bcffie^andfod
mal organization would appear to be less rigorous, the most salient ex­
^ i S ? h theorTand a r S c i a S
ample being Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris) is essentially a connection be­
tween literature and mathematics. find L W h e r e a s ^ u S ^ ^ - " 8 * β Λ ω
***** l o i c a l

ulated around m e m o e ^ * often artic-

In spite of this resistance, the notion of the analogy of mathematics and
literature has always existed on the margins of the latter, and this aspect
- d . ft. the Oulipo J t S S ^ ^ ^ S Z ^ ^ ^ ^
members are conscious of working ° ' Ρ d lng so l t s

of the Oulipian enterprise has a certain number of authoritative anteced­

etics, yet they remain c o n Z e d S Ζ ^ Σ ^ η Τ Τ ^ °'
ents. Pythagoras, for example, taught that number was the essence of all
things, and that any relation, from natural relations to those occurring in the most apparently amathematical ilZf Υ,™ e v c n teTSSSS
music and poetics, could be expressed mathematically. Plato, in the Meno elemental level of this function- «τΕΤή V " ™ very S e l f n o t e d a

mathematics he may be,' ^ e t h l s s o 2 Ϊ Γ "


and the Republic, argues that geometry is the foundation of all knowledge:"
this belief, and the consequences for aesthetics that arise from it, revived order to compose J a l e x a n d n n e · ° " * C U n t Ρt 0 t w e J v e

in the neo-Platonic disputes of the Middle Ages. In the Renaissance, the

aesthetics of mathematics and the mathematics of aesthetics are clear in
-SSS^^roihof Τ β
i f e i f l B o u r b a k i ' s UU-
the work of Leonardo.. Later, in France, Descartes, Pascal, and d'Alem- fte group in the essential stance of
^ bert were both writers and mathematicians. In GermahyrSchopenhauer
latter could be mathematized a n ? W , ? S if * e
l a n g u a e a s

(in World as Will and Idea) suggested the similarity of poetical and math- over, in a very β ρ ^ & ^ Τ * ? 8 b e
^ m a t i z e d , more-
t>. ematical conceptualization. Lautreamont, in his Poesies, argues that "po­ C
- * W ^ ^ fo™«late a series of
etry is geometry par excelle7rce,'*usirig'that notion in a global and singu-

,ν larly vituperative attack on Romanticism. But it is perhaps Lewis Carroll

who best achieves what Frangois Le Lionnais refers to as the "amalgam"
of the drafting of a m k e m S tex wh Τ " ΎΤ ' ^ "<
i st h e e ivale

of mathematics and literature: that is, the conscious application of one to

the other, the exploitation of their potential for interpenetration. In our to the x i a t i m e t h o
a 0 m C ! f ° r
f m a l i z e d a c c o r d i
meats is obvious-they of comlX · 1 u ™ te-
m t m t
o fthese sta

.) own century, Valiryjtudied mathematics as "a model of acts of the mind,"

• and ^i^madyj^MsJ^idLof^Sffiff^S' declares that "poetry is a sort
of Hterary ί - Ι ^ - ί ο ^ ^ ^ ^ & Τ °" "*»
sponds very closelv to n,,ii„i ' y
y expose corre-
meor t n e

of inspired mathematics." Finally, the mutual complementarity of litera­ e

Present c o L ^ S Ϊ Χ Γ ^ ° * ^ * f l n e

ture and mathematics has been elaborated at some length by Scott Bu¬
march from simple mumScZ£Tfa2Z^l ° d
S$ S U g g e s t Λ β l o n

chanan, in Poetry and Mathematics, although it must be noted that his lipo Privileges in its w o * combina ° « Caut Β °"
. point of view betrays a distinct bias" toward mathematics.

tial Analysis of Combinatory Literature" Ζ « ^ - m F o ra P o t e n

Frangois Le Lionnais situates the Oulipo's contribution to this tradition binatorics, suggesting theLnnZT't f ° ^ of corn-
& Τ & ά 3 d e f i n

as follows; "Visited by mathematical grace, a small minority of writers poetics: g g

° g h e i m p r t a n c e o f
discipline within Oulipian
16 Introduction
Introduction 17
One has to wait until 1961 for the expression combinatory litera­
ture to be used, undoubtedly for the first time, by Frangois Le Lion­
nais, in the postface to Raymond Queneau's CentMille Milliards de
poemes. Literature is a known quantity, but combinatorics? Makers
of dictionaries and encyclopedias manifest an extreme degree of cow­
ardice when it comes to giving a definition of the latter; one can established, is demon mblv Λ , Ϊ Γ , m a l h c m
" ^ discipline
i s now
hardly blame their insipid imprecision, since traditional mathemati­
some of the s , T d S n d ο η ' Γ ^ ^ κ ' " ^ «« e

cians who "feel" that problems are of combinatory nature very sel­ m o

leged locus for the i n K m l ! Tf λ ·' ° * s offers a privi- c o m b l M

dom are inclined to engage in systematic and independent study of

the methods of resolving them.
In an attempt to furnish a more precise definition, we shall rely on - W o n of compiei i o m b t n a t ' o S « Γ ΐ ο Γ ^ Ξ Γ Τί ™Κ
the concept of configuration; one looks for a configuration each time
one disposes of a finite number of objects, and one wishes to dispose was its lack
them according to certain constraints postulated in advance; Latin the Oulipo, a s ^ Z t Z ^ j T ^ v ^ h a v e
^ d forc h a n

squares and finite geometries are configurations, but so is the ar­ Writer: The CenJ p o m p i d o u S r i L ^ > • 1
"Computer and
rangement of packages of different sizes in a drawer that is too small, Hpo in the future p S s i v e i v Ι ^ ι Γ Γ η ^ t 0 S U g g e s t
t h a i t h e

or the disposition of words or sentences given in advance (on the — n o f m e ^ ^ ^

condition that the given constraints be sufficiently "crafty" for the
problem to be real). Just as arithmetic studies whole numbers (along
with the traditional operations), as algebra studies operations in gen­ Aleatorics and Anti-AIeatorics
eral, as analysis studies functions, as geometry studies forms that are
rigid and topology those that are not, so combinatorics, for its part, s l ^ ^ Hterati to
studies configurations. It attempts to demonstrate the existence of noted that it is bfcause of t ΐ"* - it must be m d i t s g h o s t

configurations of a certain type. And if this existence is no longer in mechanistic - o d ^ ^ to the

doubt, it undertakes to count them (equalities or inequalities of count­
stitutes thus another arm in the a r s e n J t h l Γ ™ P r con- C c o m u t e

ing), or to list them ("listing"), or to extract an "optimal" example

inspiration and, in a broaiersen« 1 7 , ^ * a g a U 1 S t A e n o t i o n

from them (the problem of optimization).

Oulipo: the aleatory m i n o f Λ ε

It is thus not surprising to learn that a systematic study of these Prise is as a sustained attack on fte w " g * °""pian enter-
C O n S d e n e
problems revealed a large number of new mathematical concepts, maximal motivation o f ! literary Γ ' λ π ' " T " ' ' Τ*** f o r

easily transposable into the realm of language, and that the pruritus exercises in highly constraining tbrm^nf' f > short t h e i r W O r k f r o m

of combinatorics has wrought its worst on the Oulipian breast. application of OuhpTa" ZTy tZ^ &
Ζ Τ ** r e $ U l t m g f r o m

for a mythological V m k i e i a n Z f
V e of a nostalgic longing
Here, it should be noted that Oulipian aesthetics rejoins the critical conscious literature rmvh^S ^ on voluntary or m s i s t e n c e

avant-garde: in the mid-1960s, critics such as UmbertoEco and B. A. the position ^ ^ ^ ^ "r?? ^ «P^sesM
J a C q u e s B e n s

Uspenski began to apply the name "combinatorics" to the permutational rence of the * ^ < ^ * ? ^ ^ ^ v e r hidden their abhor-
phenomena in certain narrative forms (these phenomena and their combi-
'The Oulipo is S & S S » d t C l 0 t t e i e S :

natoric nature having of course been pointed out, much earlier, by Vladi- with a straight fac"Twh,Vh u™T P
u u i l
Claude Berge affirmed one day
i a n

jnirJPropp, but without using the magic word). The term gradually came shake, M a k V n ? ^
to acquire the critical vogue that it enjoys today. Many of the essays in the
ter of chance. We know perfectly w n e ^ Z ^ T ™ ^ 1 n o t a mat
present collection testify to the Oulipo's concern with combinatorics: Que­
don't know whether it will happen " * '™ 8 h a p p e n
' b u t w e

neau's "A Story as You Like It" and "The Relation X Takes Y for Z," Italo
Calvino's "Prose and Anticombinatorics," Paul Fournel's "The Theater voi£%££Z£. metfeT' ^ f ° 3
Q — a u ' s notion of
d U S S i n 0 f

ry literature. The intentional, voluntary character of constraint Ζ

18 Introduction Introduction 19

which he insistently alludes time and again is for him indissolubly linked Before soliciting any other sort of potentiality, I would like to re­
to this lively refusal of the frequent equation of chance and freedom." The spond to an objection that came to my mind as we went along "It is
seeming paradox we noted in Oulipian aesthetics, the belief that systems well known," one might object, "that Raymond Queneau constructs
of formal constraint—far from restricting a writer—actually afford a field his novels with obstinate and laborious rigor, and cannot tolerate
of creative liberty, is again apparent here. Queneau affirms, "The classical leaving anything to chance (he himself says it). How can one recon-
playjwjcigh.t.who writes.his.JSgedy observing a certain,.nujnpM.M.iamih^
rules .is freerthan the poet who writes that .which comes into his headland £™ϋ!Γ/ 8 '
8 0 Γ
incertitude, the approxima­ Λ ε v a u e n e s s ώ ε

tions that necessarily accompany potentiality?"

who is the slave of"oihef rules"of which he is ignorant." The QueneTllin
I believe, actually, that the contradictions'exist solely in appear­
vision of liberty is classical in this sense, insofar as its enabling condition
ance. Or rather that there is no contradiction: it is the problem that is
is lucidity. His attack on the aleatory springs in part from his reaction 11-formulated. For the writer never claimed that he detested incerti­
against the surrealists, a group with which he was briefly associated and tude.itself but.merely that incertitude born of chance, which is not at
from which, like many others, he was summarily excommunicated. The all the same thing.
surrealists erected the aleatory and the psychological construct based on
it, the unconscious, as a means of transcendence; it becomes rapidly clear On the other hand, it might very well be the same thing, and in any
that Queneau*s aesthetic is diametrically opposed to theirs. His attack on case the distinction that Bens draws is too nice to be of much practical
chance reflects, says Roubaud, "rejection of the mystical belief according
to which freedom may be born from the random elimination of con­ i pTssTw^of ! T f h e d
w i l e m p h a p s o n e s t a g e i n Λ ε

straints." is passed when Oulipians realize that a throw of the dice will never abolish
And yet, in this play of terms—in which "aleatory," "random," "inspi­ suc h ;,K
°f °i least
p° ™ < * S J T S ^ e r
a s p e c t o f e t i c s

ration," and "ignorance" are opposed to "conscious," "voluntary," "con­ 5 Pnl? ° ? P 1 C 1

the cllnamen. In Lucretius's accoun
n :
r a b i l i t a t i o n o f

of Epicurean atomic theory, the clinamen atomorum, or swerving o f T e

straint," and "lucidity"—tensions and even contradictions exist, for the
aleatory cunningly seems to insinuate itself even where efforts to exclude
T2L ΓΤ m t U m ; - m
P* of t h e T d e l The

random, aleatory'nature of the swerving of the atoms as they fall is pos-

2 1 6 9 3 ) i s e S s e n t i a l rt

it are most diligent. Roubaud recognizes this and tries to explain it, using
as an example Queneau's fascination with the series of prime numbers cntus s model Thus, the random is opposed to the deterministic and he
(called by Francois Le Lionnais "those rebel angels"): he argues that Que­
neau became interested in them precisely because they "imitate chance ^ ™ q
z z τ T s
°τ i o c u s
' a n d c o n s e
while obeying a law"; consequently, chance is exorcised, since it is rec­ mmZ^a "if£Γϊ ^ m e n has been °7 l g h
°" t W 0 m i l l e n n i a
' te

ognized for what it is and thus is mastered. His argument suggests a far S 3 ! η f 1
y a surprising variety
d e C 3 d e m c n t i c a l d i s c o u r s e b

of people and made to serve a surprising variety of purposes Harod

thornier question going directly to the heart of Oulipian poetics; what if Bloom has used ,t extensively, as has Michel Serres, who passes it along
the law itself is aleatory—for instance, the mathematical law that permits ο Jeffrey Mehlman; Ren* Thorn engendered a polemic articulaSl around
us to engender the series of prime numbers or, analogously, the system of he concept in which Edgar Morin, Henri Allan, and Ilya PnRmhLmt
constraint through which an Oulipian text is generated? Speaking specifi­ ncipated.* (It is both astonishing and perversely rewarding to note
cally of the Oulipian aesthetic of formal constraint, Roubaud is forced to
admit a contradiction: "Queneau *s attitude (and that of the Oulipo) toward
traditional constraints, if it is less bold and naive than Bourbaki's, reflects llfodjtryT S e e m S b e C n t r a n S m i t t e d
' M i
^ y - o u g h , by
nonetheless the inherent ambiguity of the procedure: on the one hand, the
eminently arbitrary character of constraints is revindicated; at the same expTa^on" "
explanation of the clinamen. °Inr a discussion ^ Lamost
° of his novel,ί $


e W h h 3 S f u m i s h e d

time traditional constraints are marked as arbitrary, but, precisely because d empot-z text elaborated according to several very rigomuTsy terns S
they are traditional and solidly anchored in history, they guard a power of
fascination that situates them elsewhere, beyond the arbitrary . . . it is
^ A a t a
— v e eLent(" Ζ Tr ί
difficult to get out of this."
Jacques Bens touches upon the same problem in a discussion of Que­
More fundamentally, this chapter must disappear in order to break the
neau's work:
symmetry, to introduce an error into the system, because when a s y s
20 Introduction
tem of constraints is established, there must also be anticonstraint
within it. The system of constraints—-and this is important—must be
destroyed. It must not be rigid; there must be some play in it; it must,
as they say, "creak" a bit; it must not be completely coherent; there
must be a clinamen—it's from Epicurean atomic theory: "The world
functions because from the outset there is a lack of balance." Accord­
ing to Klee, "Genius is the error in the system"; perhaps I'm being
too arrogant in saying that, but in Klee's work, it is very important. 9

of skin, while the others fir λΞΪΓ J ? ? S t

" P8 w a y t h e first
How are we to interpret this new "swerve" in Oulipian theory? Is it the neau was callingfof fern I S Τ * " * ώ- ^ **"
layer Wh

flaw in the system, rather than the system itself, that assures creative lib­ - e reader, is w l a t ^ o S b X I ^ L I Ξ£ΐ ? ^ ° f

erty, just as the clinamen assures free will? Is this the final victory of the texte dejouissance, or text o™2Zm„T Τ t 0 d e s i
* n a t e a s
aleatory over the motivated? Is it the first note of a tocsin and, if so, for
whom tolls the bell? In any case, probably not for the Oulipians: their
regenerative powers, one notes with reassurance, are astounding. Italo
Calvino, for one, is extraordinarily sanguine; in concluding his essay
"Prose and Anticombinatorics," he brings this whole problematic full
circle, suggesting that the computer, that scourge of the aleatory, be placed
at the service of the clinamen: "This clearly demonstrates, we believe,
that the aid of a computer, far from replacing the creative act of the artist,
However, if we return to the matter at h „H τ
permits the latter rather to liberate himself from the slavery of a combi­ ion—we will recall that th.fiZ

, ™ — I m e a n
> t 0
our on-
natory search, allowing him also the best chance of concentrating on this
tnatwhichi KSSSSSΖ a t e o f p o t e
f t i a l i t y i s A e

'clinamen' which, alone, can make of the text a true work of art." Sh

for discovery. f ^ S n ^ S ^ S ^ ^ ^ "Τ***""*

Scriptor Ludens, Lector Ludens SET to
~ one
S T A i
Even at its most polemical, even at its most ferociously doctrinaire, the
Oulipo's work over the past twenty-five years has consistently been ani­
mated by a most refreshing spirit of playfulness. The Oulipian text is quite
explicitly offered as a game, as a system of ludic exchange between author " is, but it is largely m t S a i d t h , l S '
£ ^ **· 3 A n d

and reader. Jacques Bens declares that "a potential work is a work which For serious and J l a y f u l S n t ^ not f f Τ " " Τ " * * * " - p r o p o s e d

is not limited to its appearances, which contains secret riches, which will­ work: they are, In Λ i n t ^ T l ™ ^ " ° P°' U l i s

ingly lends itself to exploration." Used here to suggest the ideal process of And although this posture S mI*.
S O f °
r e C
P^ative. C a l l y i m

reception, the key word is exploration, especially in view of the fact that Play, the Oulipians hold fas to he nSl™ t , T ί * * "mere" W o r k a s

the Oulipo uses the term to characterize its own efforts in the process of this question, Jacques ^ S ^ ^ ^ ^ ? ^ ^ - ^sing A d d

production. The parallelism thus implied privileges the reader, and this is fundamentally innovative natoe ? Γ \ ? U h p i m
> S "sW o r k r a n t e d

indeed another central concept in Oulipian theory. Says Bens, "For Que­ rious finahty of any of L Ξ π · , 1 3 " ° S e l f
" * *- fa n y s o

eliminate research t h u n d o ? S t £

P e"f S p e c t i v e s ^ a i n to
S C i e n t i f i c d

neau (I repeat: for him), there is no, or very little, literature without a
a S

reader." And Queneau himself demands the reader's participation, refus­ dudes that its ο ^ ^ Ι ^ , Γ ^ «* eon-
ing on behalf of the latter any possibility of passivity toward the literary ™y be noted that Q^ZoJnlt r l ^ ^ T " - "* h e

text; "Why shouldn't one demand a certain effort on the reader's part? ratrve (in the case of those Γ η 2 ° f 'nationally pejo-
f n

the Oulipo." Indeed, to^rtn^V* ^bels) marginahzanon of

refusing it, Queneau embraces the notion:
22 Introduction

I will insist, however, on the qualifier "amusing." Surely, certain of

our labors may appear to be mere pleasantries, or simple witticisms,
analogous to certain parlor games.
Let us remember that topology and the theory of numbers sprang
in part from that which used to be called "mathematical entertain-
ments," "recreational mathematics." I salute in passing the memory
of Bachet de Meziriac, author of Problemes plaisants et delectables
qui se font par les nombres (1612—not, as Larousse says, 1613),
and one of the first members of the French Academy. Let us also
remember that the calculation of probabilities was at first nothing
other than an anthology of "diversions," as Bourbaki states in the
"Notice Historique" of the twenty-first fascicle on Integration. And
likewise game theory until von Neumann.
Francois Le Lionnais foresaw the same problem and attempted to de-
fuse it in the "First Manifesto," employing a judicious (and entirely char-
acteristic) mixture of humor and polemic; "A word at the end for the
benefit of those particularly grave people who condemn without consid-
eration and without appeal all work wherein is manifested any propensity
"for pleasantry. When they are the work of poets, entertainments, pranks,
and hoaxes still fall within the domain of poetry. Potential literature re-
mains thus the most serious thing in the world. Q.E.D."
But this aspect of Oulipian poetics cuts far deeper than either Queneau
or Le Lionnais suggests. At its heart is the belief that play is central to
literature and, in a broader sense, to the aesthetic experience; in this, Ou-
lipians fervently concur withjoiianjlujzmga, who asserted that "all po-
etry is born of play," extending his argument"from poetry to culture itself.
And play they do, as often as not with the tropes of their own discourse;
the forbidding Oulipian "arsenal" of literary structures alluded to previ-
ously becomes in Le Lionnais the "Institute for Literary Prosthesis," a
charitable institution (and thus an entirely logical annex of the ouvroir)
devoted to helping congenitally handicapped authors or those unlucky
enough to have been maimed in the literary wars. This, then, is the atti-
tude they adopt toward their own enterprise, an attitude whereby, through
recourse to irony and humor, the temptations of self-sufficiency are reso-
lutely kept at bay. A definition proposed by the group in its early days
illustrates this attitude nicely, and will perhaps serve as a convenient point
of conclusion for these introductory remarks:
Oulipians: rats who must build the labyrinth from which they propose
to escape.
6 ^

Raymond Queneau

The Foundations of Literature

(after David Hiibert)

Translated by Harry Mathews

Bibliothique Oulipienne
After atcencUng a lecture in Halle by Wiener
(not Norbert, obviously) on the theorems of
Desargues and Pappus, David Hubert,
waiting in the Berlin station for the train to
Koenigsberg, murmured pensively: "Instead
o f points, straight lines, and planes, it would
be perfectly possible to use the words tables,
chairs, and tankards." This reflection gave
birth to a work that appeared in 1899, The
Fmdamentah of Geometry, in which the author
established in definitive (or provisionally
definitive) fashion the axiomatic system of
Euclidean geometry (and o f several others
besides). Taking this illustrious example as
my model, I have here set out an axiomatic
system for literature, respectively replacing
the expressions "points," "straight lines",
and "planes" o f Hubert's propositions with

Raymond Queneau Ue Foundations of Literature

"words," "sentences," and "paragraphs."

For some time now a translation o f The

Fundamentah of Geometry has been available in
English (Open Court, Townsend, New
(axioms o f connection)
York, 1950); the reader can easily refer to
the original formulations. It should be noted
that Hilbert presents five groups o f axioms: 1,1—A sentence exists containing two given work.
those of connection, order, parallels,
COMMENT: Obvious. Example: given the
congruence, and continuity.
two words "a" and "a," there exists a
sentence containing these two words — "A
violinist gives the vocalist her a."

I, 2 — No more than one sentence exists containing

two given words.

COMMENT: This, on the other hand, may

occasion surprise. Nevertheless, if one con-
siders the words "years" and "early", once
the following sentence containing them has
been written, namely "For years I went to
bed early," clearly all other sentences such as
i "For years I went to bed right after supper"
or "For years I did not go to bed late" are
merely pseudo-sentences that should be

Raymond Queneau The Foundations of Literature

rejected by virtue of the above axiom. do not all behng to the same sentence.

SCHOLIUM: Naturally, if "For years I went COMMENT: A paragraph consequently com-

to bed right after supper" is the sentence prises at least two sentences.
written originally, "For years I went to bed It is to be noted that the manner in which
early" becomes the sentence to be excluded die axioms I, I through I, 4 are formulated
by virtue of the axiom I, 2. In other words, contradicts axiom I, 2, since all four require
no one can write A la rechercVe in temps perdu for their articulation the words "words" and

twice. "sentences" whereas, according to the said

axiom, no more than one sentence con-
I, 3 — There are at least mo words in a sentence; at
taining them should exist.
hast three words exist that do not ail belong to the same
sentence. It is therefore possible to formulate the
following metaliterary axiom;
COMMENT: Thus there are no one-word
sentences. "Yes," "No," "Hey," "Psst" are Axioms are not governed by axioms.
not sentences. In regard to the second part I, 4 b —• Every paragraph contains at host one word.
of the axiom: the implicit assumption is that
COMMENT: Therefore "Yes," "No," "Hey,"
the language used comprises at least three
Psst," which according to I, 3 are not
words (a truism in the case of French and
sentences, cannot by themselves constitute
English) and furthermore that the possible
existence of a sentence comprising all the
words in a language (or all words less one, or 1,5 — Not more than one paragraph exists containing
less two) is excluded. three words that do not belong to the same sentence.

1,4a — A paragraph exists including three, words that COMMENT: As in I, 2, the question of

Raymond Queneau The Foundations of Literature

unicity is thus raised, here that of the para- and adjectives, for example).
graph. In other terms, if three words that do
(See the comment on theorem I.)
not belong to the same sentence are used in
one paragraph, they cannot be reused in I, 8 — At host jour words exist that do not belong to

another paragraph. But what if — as may be the same paragraph.

objected — they all belong to the same sen- COMMENT: This means that a "text" con-
tence in the other paragraph? An sisting o f a single paragraph does not
impossibility, according to this axiom. deserve the designation "text"; that,
I, 6 — If two words in a sentence belong to a para- furthermore, the language (French, English)
graph, all words in the sentence belong to the paragraph.
contains sufficient words (four at least).

COMMENT: N o comment required. (See as well the comment to I, 3.)

I, 7 - Ij two paragraphs have one word in common, In commenting on axiom I, 7, we did not
they have still another one in common. explore all the consequences that can be
drawn from it (as well as from other axioms
COMMENT: T o comply with this axiom, a
already considered). W e introduce forthwith
writer must, if in a new paragraph he uses a
the first theorem demonstrated by Hubert:
word that has already appeared in the
preceding paragraph, obligatorily use a THEOREM I. Two discrete sentences in the same

second word that has appeared in the pre- paragraph have at most one word in common; two

ceding paragraph as well. The obligation is discrete paragraphs either have no word in common or

easily acquitted in the case o f such words as ehe they have one word in common and no word in

articles, auxiliary verbs, etc.; it is clearly anti- common outside this sentence.

Flaubertian in regard to signifiers (nouns COMMENT: If the two paragraphs have one

8 9
Raymond Queneau The Foundations of Literature

word in common, they must in fact have a

second (I, 7 ) ; but in that case these two
words determine the sentence and, according
to I, I, this sentence is unique. The two SECOND GROUP OF AXIOMS

paragraphs therefore have one sentence in (axioms o f order)


W e thus come back to a more Flaubertian II, I — If a word in a sentence is situated between
conception. The repetition o f a word already two words taken in a particular order, it is also
used in a preceding paragraph requires the situated between them when these two words are taken
repetition o f the entire sentence —· a in reverse order,
crushing obligation. It is just as well — and
COMMENT: A truism.
far more prudent — to avoid any repetition
of the word. Flaubert complies with this II, 2 — If two words are present in a sentence, there
axiom scrupulously. exists at host one other word so situated that the second
word appears between it and the first word.

COMMENT: This may occasion surprise.

The reader is -requested to refer to the
comments on theorems 3 and 7 for fuller
insight into the question.

II, 3 - O f three words in a paragraph, one is

situated between the two others.

COMMENT: A careful investigation of litera-

10 II
Raymond Queneau The Foundations oj Literature

ture will unearth a few sentences to which And

this axiom does not apply — for example, in THEOREM 7. Between two words of a sentence there
Chapter XCVIII o f Tristram Shandy. exists an infinity of other work.

II, 4 — Given three words in a paragraph that do mi COMMENT: N o doubt a reader surprised by
all belong to the same sentence; given a sentence that does axiom II, 2 will deem his surprised justified.
not contain these words hut belongs to the same para- T o overcome his astonishment and under-
graph; if the latter sentence contains a word of the stand these theorems he need only admit the
sentence determined by two of the same words, it will existence o f what we shall call, following the
always contain a word in common with the sentence example o f traditional projective geometry,
determined by one of these words and the third. words" U ••nLes.J.
COMMENT: T o elucidate this axiom, let us words." Every sentence contains an infinity
go back to Hubert, who formulates it "more of words; only an extremely limited number
intuitively: a straight line that enters a o f them is perceptible; the rest are infini-
triangle exits from it as well" (p. 7 of the tesimal or imaginary. Many thoughtful
English translation). minds have had a premonition — but never
a clear awareness - of this. N o longer will
W e leave the reader the task of identifying
it be possible for students of rhetoric to
or inventing paragraphs true to this axiom.
ignore so crucial a theorem. Linguistics may
Hilbert subsequently establishes several
benefit from it as well.
theorems, among them

THEOREM 3 . Where two words are present, the

sentence in which they appear includes at least one word
between these two work.

12 13
The Foundations of Literature
Raymond Queneau

W e leave to the reader the task o f trans­

posing the axioms of congruence and

AXIOM OF PARALLELS The process o f transposition might be pur­

\ (Euclid's axiom) sued still further. Curiously enough, once
the domain o f conic sections is reached,
there more need of transposition. W e
Given α sentence and a word that does not belong to this find ourselves immersed in rhetoric. There is
sentence; in the paragraph determined by the sentence no talk o f anything but ellipses, parabolas,
and the word, no more than one sentence exists that and hyperbolas, all figures of speech well
contains this word while having no word in common known to writers, even if in our day ellipsis
with the given sentence. is rare, the parable has been neglected (for
COMMENT: Given the sentence "For years I nearly two thousand years), and hyperbole is
went to bed early," and the word common coin.
"awakening," in the paragraph that includes
them, there is one sentence and one only
that contains the word "awakening" and no
word belonging to the sentence "For years I
went to bed early," namely: "This belief-
lasted a few seconds after my awakening."
Thus the opening paragraph o f i t la recherche
du temps perdu follows Euclid's axiom at least

A Note on the Translations

also be aware that all ellipses in the translated texts are the authors' rather Harry Mathe
than mine.
Granted that the purpose of the collection is to acquaint the Anglo-
phonic reader with the principal aspects of Oulipian poetics, most of the
texts herein deal withJiterary theory. Another consideration conditioning
this choice derives-from the Oulipo's own insistence on rigorous form: if Liminal Poem
their theory does lead to practical demonstrations, the texts of this sort
; resist translation in a way that the theoretical texts do noj. Think, for to Martin Gardner
' example, of the problems posed by the translation of Harry Mathews's
"Luminal Poem" from the original English into any other language. Still, Ο
texts like "Prose and Anticombinatorics," "The Rciatioft 3ζ Tales Y for t ο
Z," "A Story as You Like It," and "The Theater Tree: A Combinatory man's
Play" should furnish the reader with some idea of the sort of text that stern
I might result when a given aspect of Oulipian theory is appjif^. poetic
; Finally, and most important, in spite of any eventuj|l jlp|si^}iies that thought
tfiraight omejfWise be remarked, I hope the present ^ i j ^ k w t . . ^ w ^ p i ^ « publicly
for the reader that which has consistently nourished ray o s p re^#hg of recklessly
the Oulipo: the pleasure of the text. imaginative
Harry Burchell Mathews
Jacques Denis Roubaud
Albert Marie Schmidt
Paul Lucien Fournel
Jacques Duchateau
Luc Etienne Perin
Marcel Μ Benabou
ι Michele Metail
Italo Calvino
Jean Lescure
Noei Arnaud
Ρ Braffort
A Blavier
J Queval

Rule and Constraint 41

Marcel Bonabou tain techniques. Even the most rabid critics of formalism are forced to
admit that there are formal demands which a work cannot elude. Respond-
ing to those who were trying to confound inspiration, liberty, chance, and
the dictates of the unconscious, the terms that Raymond Queneau em-

ployed in 1938 ate well known: ". . . inspiration which consists in blind
obedience to every impulse is in reality a sort of slavery. The classical
playwright who writes his tragedy observing a certain number of familiar
rales is freer than the poet who writes that which comes into his head and
Rule and Constraint who is the slave of other rules of which he is ignorant" (Le Voyage en
Grece, p. 94).
Now it is actually in the passage from the rule to the constraint that the
stumbling block appears; people accept the rule, they tolerate technique,
Constraint, as everyone knows, often has a bad press. Alt those who es- j but they refuse constraint. Precisely because it seems like an unnecessary
teem the highest value in literature to be sincerity, emotion, raflisni, or I rule, a superfluous redoubling of the exigencies of technique, and conse-'
- auttiepticity mistrust it as a strange and dangerous whim.'-1 quently no longer belongs—so the argument goes—to the admitted norm
* Why bridle one's imagination, why browbeat one's liberty through the but rather to the process, and thus is exaggerative and excessive. It is as
voluntary imposition of constraints, or by placing obstacles in one's own if there were a hermetic boundary between two domains: the one wherein
path? Even the' most kindly disposed critics pretend to see in the use of the observance of rules is a natural fact, and the one wherein the excess
constraint nothing more than a game, rarely innocent but fundamentally of rules is perceived as shameful artifice.
vain. The only merit that they might accord to it is that it provides, for a It is precisely this boundary, wholly arbitrary, that must be challenged
few linguistic acrobats, for a few verbal jugglers, the circus in which they in the name of a better knowledge of the functional modes of language
may display their virtuosity. All the while regretting, of course, that so and writing. One must first admit that language may be treated as an ob-
much ingenuity, work, and eagerness had not been placed in the service ject in itself, considered in its materiality, and thus freed from its subser-
of a more "serious" literary ambition. Difficiles nugae, as was generally vience to its significatory obligation. It will then be clear that language is
said even in the last century of anagrams, palindromes, and lipograms, in a complex system, in which various elements are at work, whose combi-
order to stigmatize them, these venerable exercises whose antiquity and nations produce words, sentences, paragraphs, or chapters. Obviously,
persistence in the corpus of European literary traditions ought to have nothing prevents us from studying the behavior, in every possible circum-
preserved them from sarcasm and banter. And even today, there are un- stance, of each of these elements. On the contrary: it is only in this manner
doubtedly certain learned dons in whose eyes neither the Alexandrian that experimental research into the possibilities of language can proceed.
poets, nor the Grands Rhetoriqueurs, nor the poets of the German Ba- And the role that may be assigned to constraint immediately becomes
roque, nor the Russian formalists will ever And grace. In the name, of apparent: to the extent that constraint goes beyond rules which seem nat-
course, of the sacrosanct liberty of the artist, which nothing must shackle; ural only to those people who have barely questioned language, it forces
in the name of the imprescriptible rights of inspiration. the system out of its routine functioning, thereby compelling it to reveal
- "Certain types of constraint, however, seem to have escaped from this its hidden resources.
discredit. For four centuries, we have been very comfortable, apparently, Constraint is thus a commodious way of passing from language to writ-
' with the laws of prosody—with the fact, for instance, that an alexandrine ing. If one grants that all writing—in the sense both of the act of writing
has twelve syllables, that a sonnet has fourteen lines, whose rhymes are and of the product of that act—has its autonomy, its coherence, it must be
disposed according to a very precise order. And we do not hesitate to admitted that writing under constraint is superior to other forms insofar as
admire in Malherbe or Valory the scrupulous respect of a demanding it freely furnishes its own code.
canon. In fact, it is rather difficult, except for proponents of "automatic All these obstacles that one creates for oneself—playing, for example,
writing," to imagine a poetics that does not rely on rigorous rules and, on the nature, the order, the length, or the number of letters, syllables, or
more generally, a literary production that does not involve the use of cer- words—all these interdictions that one postulates reveal their true func-

Rule and Constraint 43

tion; their final goal is not a mere exhibition of virtuosity but rather an from our emprise. Michel Leiris seized this point perfectly, regarding the
exploration of virtualities. method used by Raymond Roussel, of whom he said: "His voluntary sub-
The work of Georges Perec furnishes an exemplary demonstration of jugation to a complicated and difficult rule was accompanied, as a corol-
everything-that concerns so-called "literal" constraints. As a matter of lary, by a distraction regarding all the rest, leading to a raising of the
fact, in Perec one notes a sort of fascination for the letter. Conscious that, censure, the latter being far better skirted by this means than by a process
to quote J. RoubaucT« beautiful expression, "each page is a bed where such as automatic writing. . . . Juggling apparently gratuitous elements,
letters he," Perec produced several of his texts through diligent work on in which he himself trusted, he created true myths, insofar as they are all
letters: on their presence, their absence, their repetition, their order of very authentically symbolical" (Brisies, pp. 59-60).
occurrence in words, or even their form. Thus, die exclusion of a vowel Thus, it is not only the virtualities of language that are revealed by
engenders an extraordinarily rich novel whose functioning is entirely gov- constraint, but also the virtualities of him who accepts to submit himself
erned, down to the last detail, by the consequences of this disappear¬ to constraint.
ance* The inverse constraint, which consists in using only the vowel e, Curious reversal: here, we are far from the wise praise of classicism
presides at the birth of exceedingly strange festivities at the bishop's pal- toward which these few remarks seemed at first to be directed. In fact,
ace in Exeter, involving the derangement of senses and sexes (Les Reve- one must examine how things really come about.
nentes). And it is on still another literal constraint that are based the ver- Rules, so cherished by the classics, were principally used as a means of
tiginous variations which fill the two collections La Cloture and channeling eventual overflowings of a poorly controlled verbal flood. Va-
Alphabets, that of the heterogram: each verse employs the same set of Idry could thus, in his lecture on poetics at the College de France on 10
different letters, whose permutations produce the poem. Not without hu- December 1937, say of the rules of traditional prosody that they are "like
mor, Perec sees in this play of constraints the beginning of a new poetic waves," and that "vague ideas, intuitions, impulsions comb therein."
art, capable of replacing the rhetorical vestiges still in use in most modern Linguistic constraints, for their part, granted their arbitrary exigencies,
and contemporary poetic production. directly create a sort of "great vacuum" into which are sucked and retained
It is useful to note in passing, nonetheless, that the petition of bank- whole quantities of elements which, without this violent aspiration, would
ruptcy of traditional rhetoric had been filed, in less temperate terms, by a otherwise remain concealed.
contemporary poet: "Rhetoric, why should I recall your name? You are no It is thus the paradox of writing under constraint that it possesses a
longer anything but a colonnaded word, the name of a palace which I double virtue of liberation, which may one day permit us to supplant the
detest, from which my blood has forever banished itself" (F. Ponge, Mith- very notion of inspiration. We recall, once again, the fundamental remarks
odes pp. 182-83).
t of R. Queneau on this theme: ". . . it must be noted that the poet is never
In progressing from the letter to the word, the techniques of Raymond inspired, if by that one means that inspiration is a function of humor, of
Roussel inevitably come to mind, and his way of exploiting to the limit temperature, of political circumstances, of subjective chance, or of the
the evocative power of the word he chooses: sometimes it is the disloca- subconscious. The poet is never inspired, because he is the master of that
tion of an utterance; sometimes the bringing together of a given pair of which appears to others as inspiration. He does not wait for inspiration to
words that creates an object (imaginary), described with the utmost pre- fall out of the heavens on him like roasted ortolans. He knows how to
eisiohf an event (wholly as imaginary) recounted in minute detail. The hunt, and lives by the incontestable proverb, 'God helps them that help
unforgettable rails en mou de veau, which so impressed the first readers themselves/ He is never inspired because he is unceasingly inspired, be-
of Impressions d'Afrique, is only the most striking example of this apti- cause the powers of poetry are always at his disposition, subjected to his
tude of language in creating myths. Roussel, like Mallarme, elaborates will, submissive to his own activity . . ." (Le Voyage en Grice* p. 126).
from the sole lexicon his own universe; and from the arbitrary choice he Since its creation in 1960, the Oulipo has endeavored to explore, to
imposes upon himself, he brings into being a second nature. inventory, to analyze the intimate processes and resources of the language
This paradoxical effect of constraint, which, rather than stifling the of words, of letters. This exploration is naturally based on the use of
imagination, serves to awaken it, can actually be explained very readily. constraint, either through the use of ancient constraints pushed to the far
TH^ choice of a linguistic constraint allows one to skirt, or to ignore, all limit of their possibilities * or through systematic research in new con-
these other constraints which do not belong to language and which escape straints. Recourse to the axiomatic method, the importance of mathemat-
MSM-ACEMBNT (repetition)


OBJECT acrostic 1 crasis

abbreviation uutogram \ 1
paragram prosthesis acronym 1
anagram aphaeresis
(printer's er- I epeothesis signet I
palindrome syncope
1 parage chronogram 1
pig Latin elision
metathesis cryptography 1
LETTER belle absente
constraint of
the prisoner

lipophoneme alliteration
phonetic palin­ rhyme -
alphabetical 1 homoeuteleu
drama I ton

diaeresis acronym J
haplography stuttering
I Javanese stut-
syllabic paltn- liposyllable alliteration
1 tering
1 drome (Precious rhyme
1 gemination
1 spoonerism (conlstraint)
| echoUlia

\ \ -

Mathews Ί AJ mdonvmy redundance liponym epanalepsis "de-portman­ haikuiution portmanteau

/ forJtfcm
pleonasm La Rien que la
Toute la (Le
teau word"

(Lescure) ism Lionnais) defective tmesis

word palin­ LSD. rhyme
drome translation
inversion aMonymic

reversion perverbs (Ma­ interpolation ellipsis reduplication Rottssellian proverbs on syntagmatic

inversion thews) encasement brachyiogia procedure rhymes amalgam
anastropbe proverbs zeugma (phonk dislo­ edges of poem (Doukipu-
SYNTACM aphorism cation) oonktan)
homophony hendiadys

Mathews's Al­ homophony tireur k la ligne coupeur i la leitmotif dislocation citation

SENTENCE gorithm hokwhyme larding ligne refrain tireur a la ligne

Mathews's Al­ tireur a la ligne censure plagiarism resume

gorithm anthology

•^ical concepts, the utilization of combinatorics are the principal paths of General Table: The Three Circles ofLipo*
, this research,
'.·, The Oulipo of course does not seek to impose any thesis; it merely seeks
to formulate problems and eventually to offer solutions that a^low any and
.everybody to construct, letter by letter, word by word, a text. To create a displacement
structure—Oulipian act par excellence—is thus to propose an as yet un­ II
discovered mode of .organization for linguistic objects. character
The accompanying table offers a systematic and analytic classification
of elementary linguistic and literary operations; it is complementary to the
table elaborated by R. Queneau in 1974, which appears in Atlas de Utter-
ature potentielle (pp. 74-77) under the title, "Classification of the Works
I of the Oulipo."
I The intent of my table is to try to assign a place within a given ensemble
I to as many linguistic manipulations as possible, with neither generic dis¬
tinction nor hierarchy. Therein are included Oulipian and pre-Oulipian
constraints, as well as popular verbal games and figures of classical rhet-
;. one.
j In order to elaborate this table, the various linguistic objects susceptible duration
y of manipulation first had to be isolated, from the simple to the complex: syntagm
'h the letter (or typographic sign), the sound, the syllable, the word, the addition
';·'.·' group of words (or syntagm), the sentence, the paragraph. The table stops sensation
μ at the paragraph, but nothing would prevent us, of course, from working sentence
-' on the page, the chapter, the book, even the library. . . . subtraction
Next, the various operations to which the linguistic objects may be sub¬ emotion
, mitted had to be identified. For the time being, eight have been isolated: paragraph
displacement, substitution, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, multiplication
] deduction, contraction. But it is certain that other means of identifying thought
; and naming these sorts of operations are possible. Thus, for example, in
his general theory of rhythm, J. Roubaud postulated the following cate- page
I gories: concatenation, imbrication, encasement, encroachment, permuta- division
1 tion, effacement, parenthesage. memory
\ Granted that the table seeks to account for the thousand and one means chapter
: of arranging language, there can be no question of giving a concrete illus­ I: Circle of linguistic objects
tration for each line here. Definitions and examples may be easily found II: Circle of semantic objects
in consulting, on the one hand, Atlas de littiraturepotentielle, and, on the III: Circle of operations
other, B. Dupriez's dictionary, Gradus: Les procidis littiraires (Paris:
Union G6n£rale d'Editions, 1984).

'.. A. ' ·

: The chronogram — a centuries-old literary form — follows a

simple but demanding rule: w h e n all letters corresponding to Roman
numerals (c, d, i, I, m, v, and*) are added together, they produce a sum equiva­
lent to a specific year of the Christian calendar. The single words memory and
memento are thus chronograms of the year 2000 (m χ 2); so are J moment for
feasts & prayers (m χ 2) and A year to pay homage to the dead (m χ 1 + <*x 2). Both
the title and text of this work are examples of chronograms of the current year.

January starts: sun here, stars there. So what joys & fears has the New
Year brought us?

• In the Irkukst penitentiary ironworks the night shift is finish­

ing its stint, skirting weighty pig-iron ingots as it regains the prison
• In Pienza, Ernestina is heating tripe florentina for thirteen.
• In Sing-Sing, wearing surreptitious attire, spiting the surpris­
ing North Irish negotiations &· shrinking tensions, Phineas, retiring
Bishop of Ossining, with the authorities' requisite inattention, is to­
night anointing fifteen Fenian ("Fighting Irish") priests in a rite of
injurious piety.
170 HARRY MATHEWS Clocking the World on Cue 171

• Bibi is shirring pigeon eggs in Saint Etienne. interpretations of Rossini's quainter offerings, interspersing arias &·
• In Brighton, gregarious Brother Ignatius is getting high quaff- ariettas with his "Nizza" (singer & piano), his "Raisins' & "Noisettes"
ing his fifth straight Irish whisky. (piano), his first sinfonia (strings), & his roguish "Iphigenie" (bass trio).
• In Pretoria, gritty Erwin Higginson (age eight), ignoring fa- • In Tirana, inept Hussein is paying fifty-eight qintars to fortify
tigue & injuries, is winning his point in a bruising nineteen-eighteen his Istrian wine with Bosnian raki.
tiebreaker against Fritz Spitzfinger (age nine) by returning a wristy • In the wintry outskirts of Port, Father Tiki Haakinen — enter-
spinner hip-high & without hesitation whipping it fair, Spitzfinger prising & itinerant Finnish priest — is repairing hi-fi wiring for a 1

then batting it high into the rows to bring the fifteenth prestigious parish benefit.
Witherspoon Tennis Initiation Tourney to a breathtaking finish. • In spite of its threat to her ingratiating Gibson waist, Rikki, in
• In Fuji, pursuing a hashish high with Quentin, Kenny is perus- Zanzibar, is insisting on heaping & eating piggish portions of spa-
ing sporting prints by Hiroshige & Hokusai. ghetti & fig pie.
• Arising at eight in Brisbane, Ian, aspiring historian of propi- • Postponing inopportune issues & putting first things first,
tious' intuitions, enjoys the benign aberration that, by getting a grip Kiwanis, Rotarians, & Shriners are putting their agonizing unity in
on his Utopian fusion of Augustinian with Einsteinian reasoning, he writing, signing a proposition that reasserts their opposition to athe-
is attaining a genuine gnosis. ists, bigotry, euthanasia ("outright assassination*), heroin, pinkos, the
• In Etrurian Tarquinia, Gigi is eating spaghetti with pepperoni. Spanish Inquisition, superstition, & unfairness in business arbitra-
• In Austria, zipping past the Inn, ignoring warning signs, Pippo tion.
Peruzzi, first-string Ferrari whiz, big winner in Spain & Argentina, is • Fate, or perhaps the outrage of one hurt spirit, separates father
steering his touring bike (pistons & turbine whirring, its stunning & son for many years of harsh regret.
furnishings genuine Pinin-Farina) in brisk pursuit of fiery Zizi, his • In Antibes, bulging on pastis is getting Winnie higher than nine
Hungarian skier, itinerant antithesis, antagonist, tigress, priestess, si- kites.
ren, obsession, happiness, wife. • In Kiruna, in white tie, sipping a Perrier, Fafnir Grieg, high
• Bobbie is sitting with Bert in a Parisian bistro, in whose noisy priest of Ibsen initiates, is testing his register & intonation in pains-
interior untiring opportunists are satisfying pretentious ninnies with taking preparation for his fiftieth signature interpretation of the pro-
inferior white wine. tagonist in Ghosts.
• Heroin originating in Iquitos is winning first prize with tertiary • In Gorizia, Anita is working up an appetite for anitra triestina
bargaining arbitrators in Tijuana. ironing sheets.
• Bonnie is frying onion rings in Triffin (Ohio). • At Trinity, Robin is boating with his tutor, Isaiah Singe. Isaiah
• In antique Poitiers, Antoinette is refreshing her guests with is asking if Robin thinks he is going to finish his thesis (Affinities with
172 HARRY Μ ΑΤΗΒW S Clocking the World on Cue 173

the Orient: Inquiries into spurious intewretatkmofU0zin Ariosto, Ossian thinkers, Zenia insists o n the inferiority of Fourier's "inanities,'"
& Krope>tkm)i within his t r a M t o r y s p a n of years. · Wittgenstein's "gibberish,*' & Austin's "asininities."
• In Bingen, penurious Winston is spiking his uninspiring Pepsi • High-intensity spirits inspire high-intensity spirit in noisy Kirin.
with Steinh|gtr. • In an unSnspiring quarter of Trier, Ohioan Josiah, a boisterous
• Business-wise Erika O'Higgms is sitting in Pittsburgh squinting nineteen, is infuriating Swiss Inge, a serious thirty, by persisting in
with attention at t h e infuriating fine print in a n IRS opinion assign­ attributing the first apprehension of the Einstein shift to Igor Sikorsky.
ing Irish pension benefits she is %epaKiattog. The apmm questions • In a ristorante i n Torino, sheepish Antonio's superstitious hesi­
h e r attestation separating foreign benefits, eartifefs as insurer in tation between arrabiata spaghetti & risotto with fun$hi both intrigues
Tangier & those in fringe proprietary rights in Eritrea; pinpoints gains & irritates patient Giorgina.
transpiring t h r o u g h inquiries into unwritten h u t p r o p t i e u s negotia­ • In Ottawa, thirteen Inuit Situationists are signing treaties with
tions in Haiti; &> reinstates profits inherent in eight-figure operations the nation's highest authorities guaranteeing that their tribes & re­
she is authoriring in Bisk {Siberia). gions inherit proprietary herririg-fishing rights outright & in perpe­
• In Bonaire (Georgia), h u n g r y Josiah is weighing into his pip­ tuity.
ing-hot grits & grunts. • In Whitby, seagoing Binar, finishing his fifteenth pink gin, in­
• Rehearsing Rienzi in h e r Gorki isba, Anastasia thinks of Patti sists he is quite fine.
singing in I Puritani, of Kipnis in Boris, of Kiri Te Kanawa's Rosina in • In Twinsburg (Ohio), w h e n a nitwit intern, threatening to irri­
a Gottingen Figaro. gate h e r intestines with his "own unique quinine infusion," brings
• In Ostia, engaging Ethiopian waiters trigger big tips b y squirt­ out a giant syringe, Queenie, a patient with hepatitis B, her weary
ing nips oi grappa into porringers of out-of-season fruit. inertia shattering at the threat of this aggression, begins reiterating in
• Batting against t h e Orizaba Ήgres in Irapuato, rookie Juanito shrieks of irritation & anguish, "No penetration without representa­
Arias first whiffs in eight straight opportunities before Wtting a ninth- tion!"
inning zinger & satisfying the inhabitants' hopes of winning the • Ski-touring in Bennington, Jiri spits out bits of unripe kiwi in a
Zapatista Series. fit of pique.
• Zarie is biting into rabbit thighs in Barbizon. • Supine in Biarritz, Tristan — unsparing onanist — is perusing
• Zenia, passionate Aquinist, is pursuing a n ingenious hypoth­ Gautier's pornographies, whose swift prurient inspiration stiffens his
esis, assigning the origins of Aquinas's interpretations of Gorgias to waning spirits.
an "Osirian" genesis arising in t h e writings of inquiring Egyptian • In Rosario (Argentina), fiery Antonio is assuaging his thirst
priests, an origin that the Sophists reinstate, or so Zenia infers in her with sweetish Rhine wine.
ingenious synthesis. Questioning the suppositions of post-Aquinist • Ianthe, in Berkshire, is initiating with requisite ingenuity her
174 HARRY MATHEWS Clocking the World on Cue 175

inquiry into "Oppositions fr affinities in the autobiographies of Gib­ • In Fife, Inigo Higgins finishes writing his iniquitous Jottings on
bon, Twain, & Frank Harris." Kinship Etiquette in Barrie, Rattigan, Brame, & Pinter.
• In the AJn, Fifi is eating pike patties. • Gauging his position in the whitening Pakistanian heights, Piotr
• In their frigate-repair station in H a w a i i engineer's assistant eats his fiftieth fig out of its tin.

Rossetti is preparing to assassinate his superior, Ensign Fink, for gra­ • Its gregarious parties gathering at a transient staging-point, ship­
tuitous insinuations about his inferior IQ. ping in the Bering Straits, either freight or passenger, is stationary
tonight—engines quiet, neither jib nor spinaker astir. As the fortieth
• Anisette fizzes are w t a n t a g the night in Springs, whither Henri
ship nears, persistent skiffs begin sprinting through the nippy waters,
is steering Bettina in his antique Hispano-Suiza.
swapping ostentatious rations & surprising potations & ferrying a ro­
• Rehearsing Griffith's reinterpretation of the Qresteia, Saint Rita
tation of seafaring prostitutes out of Tientsin, Biak, Iquique, Teresina,
is pursuing Sinatra — a horrifying Aegistheus. r-τ t h e n knifing Frank
Kauai, Tenerife, Piraeus, & Hoboken.
in his upstairs bathing unit. Arguing about t h e fe$PI»ssian & Arian
• In Whitefriars, Pip infers that he is gaining genuine insights by
heresies, Ignatius, Athanasius, & Boethius irritate an otherwise pa­
sharing a firkin of Guinness with Brian.
tient Hypatia. Portia is propositioning lago. Tweetie, Isaiah, & Sophie
• In Perugia, unwise Arrigo Panin is preparing a presentation
Goering are intoning Britten's (or is it Griffin's?) "Fair Oriana.' With
that, straining notions of affinities to their breaking-point, risks irk­
Thisbe furnishing her k n o w - h o w to position the pair, King Henry
ing (or boring) knowing trainees in his Institute for Insight & Orien­
the Fifth is trying to insert his uninteresting penis into a twittering
tation by arguing that it is appropriate to attribute Hopkins's inspira­
m a n i a . The White Rabbit appraises Pippa passing with irony and
tion to Whittier, Stein's to Browning.
• Faith is refrigerating nineteen stingers & braising nine satiating
. In Saint-Quentin, Pierre is into his fifth pinkish Pinot Noir.
portions of bison brisket in Topperish (Washington).
• Writing finis to his reign in the prize ring in Ashanti, Nigeria,
• Hiking in the interior of Shikoku, Kirk is sustaining a tiring Iris
-Tiger" Titus (Niger) is forfeiting a bruising fist fight to his Ibo heir,
with aspirins & interesting attributions of Finnegan's epiphanies.
Tobias, thus ratifying his apparent superiority.
• Sophie & i t i e n n e , in an Iberian setting, are swigging refresh­
. In a quaint inn In Rieti, K M & Brigitte sniff quasi-appetizing
ing pints of sangria gratis.
brain fritters hissing in swine fat. • In Sabine, righteous Sheriff Winthrop Prior, feinting a right, is
• Fishing in Touraine, Irwin is unkinking Eugenia's rig & fitting banging a furious fist into a hirsute rapist's ribs & a punishing thigh
it with spinners. Their skiff sits in a quiet bight where feisty, spiky into his iniquitous groin.
pike are rising & biting. First strike! It is raining. • Georgianna is nourishing nine aging kittens in Big Sur.
• Uriah, Iggi, Jennifer, Tabitha are hitting the Pinot Grigio in a • Benign skies in Arizona. At a prairie spring, Tintin is watering
wine bar in Waikiki.
17$ HARRY MATHEWS Clocking the World on Cue 177

his proprietor's thirty-eight Jfet-string ponies they're skittish p o ­ Justina tightens her grip. Gratifying Justina's appetite for kissing with

nies, stirring, neighing, biting, nosing bitten withers, Rising high in ingenious bites, in his benign yearning Ira using his weight tips h e r

his stirrups, rejns tight against bit, quirt hanging at his wrist, Tintto posterior hither, baring Justina's piping fig. Into this engaging shrine

spits; sitting, h e tips a sparing ration into its Z3g^g wrapping* Prairie Ira insinuates his inspissating thing, a n insertion that ingratiates writh­

rahhlts thinking: rain. Harriers beating their wjags to thin bright air. ing Justina, toquiring in its penetration of h e r gripping, shifting pith,

Tintin thinking: this night's attire f—,wh>te shirt, sjring.tie <— is right w h o s e stunning twinges infuse Ira with stinging fire. He begins pant­

for w p i t i n g his engaging sefloiita. His pinto *&taqjtes|? pisses. ing, his sfaews stiffen, h e hisses, Justina shrieks. It's brief, it's nifty, it's *
insane. Supine & sweating, Ira & Justina sigh faint sighs, kiss, grin, &
r Sipping saki to Gifu, Roshi is g e t ^ quite.
sink into unworrying, transitory night.
» Zigzagging in n % ^ r e ^ e i g b t s , . f l ® " * . s ^ t i ^ y ^ . i n frosty

Keewafto, Nettie is fantasizing a n i n g e a o t i s j b ^ ^ • In the Tsinlting zoo, unhesitating hippos, giraffes, kiwis, p e n ­

"Proserpine." ! •<•) ^%||||?· ΐί:

? guins, tortoises, porpoises, & tigers are ingesting big propitiatory por­
tions of grain, onions, fruit, ginger, fish, & pig.
• I n Pistoia, tiny Pierino, stripping a t h t o ϊί^φί&Β&$ skin off
• O n Thirteenth Street & First, Antoine & Honoria are sharing a
the shining ribs of a spit-roasting pig, bites into it grin.
pizza & a knish.
• Within sight of eternity, Keith Asquith, wintering fa Antigua,
is taking unsparing pains t o surprise, spite, &· p u n i s h his nowise • Aries & Sirius are shining in Tunisian skies,

ingratiating Yorkshire heirs — "The shits!"

• In Iowa abstainers are abstaining. & so our New Year has begun.

• I n Austin, Ira & Justina, a striking pair, registering at first sight

n o antipathies b u t intriguing affinities, wishing to kiss, interiorize
their inhibitions, banish their hesitations, skip propositions, & kiss,
hip against hip, A swift shifting into a pertinent interior to quit their
attire: whipping off pigskin trainers, unbuttoning Ira's shirt, stripping
off Justina's T-shirt, unzipping h e r tight-fitting skirt & his khakis,
unhooking her brassiere, ripping away panties & briefs, ignoring trin­
kets, skin to skin "Wait," interrupts Justina, insisting, "first this
joint," to forthwith initiate brisk intakes &· a n instantaneous high.
Kissing again, Ira's fingertips graze with finesse Justina's hair, ribs, &
thighs. Justina seizes his wrists & entwines his waist between jitter­
ing tibias. Straining, Ira nips h e r tits. Thrashing, h e r nips stiffening,
^"""^C4LcuLf 'Ter)F icnriu
5 :
— CJA^ hfW
Oulipian practice is undemooSMjere as being-^eformalized, though ad-
mitting of a descriptive systematicib^i^aj^ne same time the possibility of
a formal syntax is foreseen, of a "fotS^ion" from which the practical,
thus "naive," procedure would be^tfiifted toward an activity of "models."

^ 14_ Proposition 9: Oulipian work is amusing. Here again the reference is

obviously of mathematical order. "Let us remember that topology and
theory of numbers sprang in part from that which used to be called 'math-
ematical entertainments,' 'recreational mathematics' . . . that the calcu-
lation of probabilities was at first nothing other than an anthology of 'di-
versions,' as Bourbaki states in the 'Notice Historique' of the twenty-first
fascicle on Integration." 29

This means that Oulipian work is regarded as fundamentally innovative,

as being situated on the cutting-edge, that it cannot avail itself of any so-
called serious finality of any of the criteria serving today in scientific do-
mains to eliminate research that unduly jostles accepted perspectives, this
on behalf of existing smoothly functioning machines. Where the criteria
are: What good is it? Who guarantees it? What problem does it solve?
That it enters thus inevitably into the category of "play." It may be noted
that Queneau does not refuse this often intentionally pejorative (in the case
of those who distribute the labels) marginalization of the Oulipo.
Indeed, it is clear that one cannot respond to the question of "utility" or
to that of "seriousness" if one is not already both useful and serious (and
thus incapable of posing oneself that question); that at the same time it is
not necessary to affirm this seriousness, this utility, as an unverifiable pos-

15. Proposition 10: Oulipian work is craftsmanlike. Queneau's commen-

tary seems here to mask something: " . . . this is not essential. We regret
having no access to machines." I would take it in a slightly different man-
ner, and machines would be irrelevant. It seems to me, according to the
status implied by propositions 9 and 10 (and Queneau's own positions,
enumerated in propositions 1 to 7), that it is a case of a trait which is, on
the contrary, essential. The claim to craftsmanship reflects an affirmation
of amateurism; it is a voluntary archaism (and perhaps, here again, an

16. One will not be surprised to find, then, that the Oulipians, in their
Oulipian work, whether they be mathematicians or not (or "and not"),
very generally satisfy the conditions of propositions 8, 9, 10: this is prop-
osition 11.
17. CONSTRAINT. The Oulipo's first manifesto introduces, in opposition of what it recounts and the story of the constraint which creates that which
to inspiration," the Oulipian operative concept of constraint—"Every lit- is recounted. This highly involuted aspect of constraint (which is undoubt-
erary work begins with an inspiration (at least that's what its author sug- edly not proper to Oulipian constraint, but which is in this case practically
gests) which must accommodate itself as well as possible to a series of pure) is a direct consequence of the axiom of the Oulipian constraints,
constraints and procedures that fit inside each other like Chinese boxes. which may be formulated in the following manner:
Constraints of vocabulary and grammar, constraints of the novel. . or Axiom: Constraint is a principle, not a means.
of classical tragedy . . . constraints of general versification, constraints (This axiom has a corollary which we shall evoke further on: see 27.)
of fixed forms (as in the case of the sonnet), etc" *—and proposes as one
Moreover, La Disparition incorporates several e-lipogrammatic texts
of the Oulipo's goals the search for constraints in ancient or in contempo- written by other Oulipians—in particular, this one (a- and e-lipogram-
rary, though non-Oulipian, works (anticipatory or synchronous plagia- matic) by Queneau:
risms): this is anoulipism; the putting into play of these or new constraints "Ondoyons un poupon, dit Orgon, fils d'Ubu. Bouffons choux, bijoux,
m Oulipian works is synthoulipism. The status of constraint is thus fun- poux, puis du mou, du confit; buvons, non point un grog: un punch.
damental. It should be noted that it is not posed as being a priori different "36
from that of constraints elaborated by tradition, as the first manifesto
clearly demonstrates. 20. A methodical organization of constraints, resembling that which clas-
sifies the chemical elements (Mendelejeff's Table), and known as Quene-
18. Let us choose, for example (Queneau himself, who alludes to it first lejeff's Table, has recently been elaborated by Queneau."
in his paper on potential literature, invites us to do so), the lipogram a
The columns of the table classify the constraints, the lines classify the
hpogrammatic text is a text wherein is lacking, for whatever reason, one elements upon which they operate (the lipogram appears in column IV,
or more letters of the alphabet used to write it (generally, letters of alpha- line a). * This systematic classification brings out, as is only natural, sev-

bets not used in writing the text will be lacking also). This constraint, eral blank spaces, which must, through some sort of Oulipian alchemy, be
which goes back to most ancient antiquity, presents most rigorously the filled. On the other hand, the table, prolonged by transquenellian ele-
qualities Queneau insisted on for the Oulipian text, which we presented ments, is in the process of being enlarged, and the new table will undoubt-
above (propositions 8, 9, 10 of sections 13 to 15): it is naive, amusing, edly have an enumerable infinity of lines and columns.
craftsmanlike; most important, a great Oulipian virtue:
Proposition 12: A good Oulipian constraint is a simple constraint. 21. ANTI-CHANCE. Proposition 13: The Oulipo's work is anti-chance.
"The suppression of the letter, of the typographical sign, of the basic Presenting potential literature, Queneau takes great pains to specify:
prop, is a purer, more objective, more decisive operation, something like "we are not concerned with . . . aleatory literature." 39

constraint degree zero, after which everything becomes passible."* The intentional, voluntary character of constraint to which he insistently
alludes time and again is for him indissolubly linked to this lively refusal
19. The lipogram, abundantly pre-Oulipian (and undoubtedly peri- ) of chance, and even more so to the refusal of the frequent equation of
through various plagiarists, became Oulipian with the publication of La chance and freedom.
Disparitian, a novel by G. Perec: "qui, d'abord, a fair d'un roman
"Another entirely false idea in fashion nowadays is the equivalence
jadisfait ou il s'agissait d'un individu qui dormait tout son saoul " «3
which is established between inspiration, exploration of the subconscious,
In what does the Oulipization of this constraint, as old or almost as old and liberation; between chance, automatism, and freedom. Now the in-
as the alphabet, consist? In this, which is a fundamental trait: that, as spiration that consists in blind obedience to every impulse is in reality a
opposed to the different plagiarists who use the lipogram as a process of sort of slavery. The classical playwright who writes his tragedy observing
translation (Nestor of Laranda and the Iliad)* process of mnemotech- a certain number offamiliar rules is freer than the poet who writes that
mcs, moral or metaphysical formulary . . . the constraint therein is at which comes into his head and who is the slave of other rules of which he
once principle of the writing of the text, its developmental mechanism, is ignorant."* 0

and at the same time the meaning of the text: La Disparitian is a novel In this fundamental text (from 1938), the attack, of course, is on surre-
about a disappearance, the disappearance of the e; it is thus both the story alism; for all of that, it is hardly less of current interest. This constant
W Mathematics in the Method of Raymond Queneau Mathematics in the Method of Raymond Queneau 89

attitude must be directly related, it seems to me, to the fascination always attaches such and such a meaning to the words or signs of this text or
exercised on him by arithmetical series that imitate chance while obeying rather none at all; only the correct observation of the rules of syntax
a law. In the article on j-additive series already cited, he remarks, about

matters. It is thus that the same algebraic calculation may, as everyone

a series of this type previously studied by Ulam, "it gives the impression knows, serve to solve problems involving kilograms or francs, parabolas
of great 'irregularity'"; the finest example of this is obviously the series or uniformly accelerated movements. The same advantage, and for the
of prime numbers. The exemplary value of such series lay for him in the

same reasons, accrues to any text drafted according to the axiomatic

fact that it is a case of exorcised chance, since recognized as such, thus method. ..."
mastered insofar as possible. The refusal of "automatism" is thus for him
One might say that the Oulipian method imitates the axiomatic method,
in no way the rejection of mechanical procedures, but only of those that
that the former is a transposition of the latter, a transfer to the field of
are mechanical merely through ignorance. Moreover, to the extent that all
literature (like language) is subject to automatisms, he is irritated by the
Proposition 14: A constraint is an axiom of a text.
illusion of thinking that they may be avoided by simply deciding to act as
Proposition 15: Writing under Oulipian constraint is the literary equiv-
if they did not exist; jamming, etc.; proposition 13 thus means the rejec-
alent of the drafting of a mathematical text, which may be formalized
tion of the mystical belief according to which freedom may be born from
according to the axiomatic method.
the random elimination of constraints. 43

Undoubtedly this is only an ideal situation, for two reasons. First, in

spite of the undeniable classification progress represented by Quenelejeff's
22. I will now take two Oulipian examples that are situated in this per- Table, it is clear that the domain of the formulation of constraints, as
spective: the Sonnets irrationnels by Jacques Bens, and Mezura.
44 4S opposed to that of axioms (inscribable in the "unique source" of sets, for
In each case the sequence of the decimals of the number ir, an example example), remains strongly unhomogeneous, its heterogeneity easily sur-
of this acknowledged and thus tamed chance, is given as constraint, on passing that which existed in the nineteenth century between the "obvious
the one hand to determine the division into stanzas of that which is still truths" of geometry (syntactic and semantic "truths" of ordinary language)
called a sonnet, on the other hand to govern the disposition in segments and the even then "freer" (as Bourbaki notes) formulations of algebra (ver-
within that which is still called a verse of a poem. That there results a sificative "rules," for example). Second, and still more important, even if
nonregularity disavowing that of the reference (fixed form on the one the "axioms" of an Oulipian constraint may be established with sufficient
hand, metric on the other) is undeniable, but this reference to chance does precision (as in the case of the lipogram), what will play the rather pri-
not change the fact that the nonregularity is hot accidental: it results from mordial role of deduction in mathematics? What is an Oulipian demon-
the decision to use it, thus is predetermined, thus is constrained. It is stration?
furthermore supremely difficult, as any computer will tell you, to extract One may think that a text composed according to a given constraint (or
spontaneously from one's head nonregular series, and even series that are several constraints) will be the equivalent of a theorem. It is a fairly inter-
non-grossly-regular. Rigid mechanisms, very poor from the combinatoric esting hypothesis. It is nonetheless true that the foreseeable means of pas-
point of view, will appear: the gesture of freedom will lead to stuttering. sage from the Statement of the constraint to its "consequences," the texts,
remain in a profound metaphorical vagueness,
This question never ceased to preoccupy Queneau; clearly, if the histor-
23. THE AXIOMATIC METHOD. The Oulipo's constraint method leads ical possibility (a question of relative chronology) of disposing early on of
one inexorably to think of another, particularly in favor during the 1940s current developments in the logic of the theory of categories and linguis-
to the 1960s (the Oulipo's incubation years), the axiomatic method. Let
tics (multiple deductions: according to a formal system, according to the
us listen to Bourbaki: 46

language) had been given to him, he would have furnished decisive prog-
"Strictly speaking, the axiomatic method is nothing other than the art ress in the effort to answer this question. In spite of everything, we have
of drafting texts whose formalization is easy to conceive. This is by no two indirect testimonies to this preoccupation.
means a new invention, but its systematic use as an instrument of discov-
ery is one of the original traits of contemporary mathematics. It matters
24. First (see 28 for the second), the constant fascination exercised on him
little whether the formalized text is to be written or read, whether one
(and partly because of him on the Oulipo) by a form, that of the sonnet;
Matnemaucs in me meuiuu ui nayiimjiiu ν " " " » " *'

the writing of sonnets, the hundred thousand billion poems, whose basic
Underneath the good-natured, pragmatic certitude, one sees the diffi­
element is the sonnet, and certain manipulations and transformations
culty arise. Between systems of axioms, considered purely from the for­
brought to these "most sonnetlike of all sonnets," the sonnets of Mal- mal point of view, there is hardly a reason to choose. The reasons for the
larmeV are all proof of this, among other proofs.
choice: "commodity, utility, fertility, beauty . . ." which vary according to
Now it is well known that the form and the practice of the sonnet in the needs of the mathematical schools, are, finally, solidly anchored in the
many languages make it appear as a poetic model of deduction, as "poetic historical situation and the state of the tradition. Queneau's attitude (and
reasoning"; this is true not only of the articulation of the discourse of what that of the Oulipo) toward traditional constraints, if it is less bold and
a sonnet says, but also, simultaneously, of the formal, rhythmic organi­ naive than Bourbaki "s, reflects nonetheless the inherent ambiguity of the
zation itself. The Oulipian exploration of the sonnet constitutes for Que­
procedure: on the one hand, the eminently arbitrary character of con­
neau a practical means of approaching the problem of "demonstration" straints is revindicated; at the same time traditional constraints are marked
according to constraints as arbitrary, but, precisely because they are traditional and solidly an­
chored in history, they guard a power of fascination that situates them
25. An Oulipian work has come close to a possible answer. I am referring elsewhere, beyond the arbitrary . . . it is difficult to get out of this; and
to G. Perec and M. Binabou's A.P.F.L. (Automatic Production of French considerations outside the problem, the valorizing justifications of the type
Literature). 32
developed "innocently" by Bourbaki in the passages quoted, threaten.
"Method: One chooses two utterances that are as different as possible.
In each of these two utterances, one replaces the significant words with 27. It is undoubtedly the necessity of situating oneself, of distinguishing
their definition to obtain a quotation 'a la maniere de. . . ·.* After a series oneself from tradition, which explains one of the strange characteristics of
of transformations, the two original utterances result in a single text!' The the Oulipian method: the tendency—not really explicit but strongly en­
example (partially) treated would result in an Oulipian demonstration of couraged, as far as I can judge, by Queneau—toward unicity. It works
the equivalence of the following two utterances: like this: a constraint having been defined, a small number of texts (only
' "Utterance I: The presbytery has lost none of its charm, nor the garden one, in some cases) are composed by deduction from this axiom, which
its brilliance. then ceases to preoccupy the Oulipo; the former then enter either into the
"Utterance 2; Workers of the world, unite." public domain or into that of the "applied Oulipo" (whose status is but ill-
It has been conjectured that, according to this method, any two utter­ defined).
ances in a language are always equivalent, that is, that according to this Proposition 16: The ideal constraint gives rise to one text only. (In fact,
mode of deduction, language is tautological. there even exists a tendency, which might be qualified as ultra, for which
every text deduced from a constraint must be classed in the "applied"
26. The Oulipian method, like the axiomatic method, runs into a wholly domain, the only admissible text, for the Oulipian method being the text
natural, if insidious, difficulty, that of the relation between arbitrariness that formulates the constraint and, in so doing, exhausts it. This, it seems
and tradition. Let us listen again to Bourbaki, in the presentation of his to me, is to omit the deductive aspect of the method. Proposition 16a: A
book on topology: constraint must "prove" at least one text.) 53

"The choice of the axioms to be imposed on the surroundings is ob­ Here, we are at the very antipodes of the functioning of traditional con­
viously rather arbitrary, and historically it has caused long gropings . . . straint. The latter presupposes multiplication, and even demands it. To
the system of axioms finally chosen responds to a considerable extent to return to the (very typical) example of the sonnet, a sonnet is something
the present needs of Analysis, without falling into an excessive and vain that does not exist. The first sonnet, at the moment of becoming a sonnet,
is not a sonnet but a Sicilian variant of the Provencal cobla. It is only with
And still again: "The first efforts to define that which the properties of the thousandth sonnet (or more or less—in any case after many sonnets)
sets of points and of functions have in common were carried out by that the sonnet appears. Moreover, an efficient traditional constraint tends
Frechet and F. Riecz, but the former, beginning with the notion of enu­ toward imperialism: when the alexandrine triumphs in French prosody, it
merable infinity, did not succeed in constructing a commodious and fertile invades everything. French tends to become alexandrine (and non-alexan­
system of axioms. . . " * s
drine, to organize itself in relation to the alexandrine). Oulipian con-
straint on the contrary can tend toward multiplicity (toward which, seem­ sitions (propositions 1 to 16, conjectures 1 and 2, the axiom about con­
ingly, it is tending) only in ceasing to be Oulipian. straint) has a sole finality: literature. It remains to furnish some hypothesis
about the "why," in order to better elucidate the "how."
fon 2f?w"f U
LITERATURE." To use in Oulipian fash-
™ N S 0 F
The solution, undoubtedly, is not unique. We shall choose this one: a
i J i i T " ° P° of axioms for lit- m r d e r 1 0 c o m s e a sentence in Batons, chiffres et lettres, from 1937. 61

ί ΐ ϊ ϊ ί. f- °ί «y texts, published S P f 0 j e c t i n o n e
h i s v l a s t Proposition 17: There are no rules after the moment when they outlive
in the Bibliotheque Oulipienne in March 1976:* their value.
The exhaustion of tradition, represented by rules, is the starting point
Les Fondements de la litterature
in the search for a second foundation, that of mathematics.
d'apris David Hilbert
Proposition 18: Mathematics repairs the ruin of rules.
Tf d
f u ^ n i e n t a l texts of the axiomatic
i S i n a C t 0 n e o f t h e
The problem of "value" is to be put in parentheses.
l e s from*. R O o T f ^ f " ΐ" Geometrie' ^ "rst edition of which
dates from 1899. In this work, whose impact was very great, Hubert de­ 33. Once the "shift" has been made, from the rule to the constraint by
scribed for the first time in a detailed, rather than circular, manner the
axiom, mathematics then furnishes another concept of substitution: for
oZ,'" °h > Τ ^ ' " 3
« ™ explicit system of axioms, b c g i n n i n w i t h
replacing "form." After the 1937 statement that we used for proposition
gueneau in his introduction speaks of Hubert's starting point:
17, Queneau wrote:
After having listened at Halle to a paper presented by Wiener
David Hubert, waiting for the Konigsberg train in the Berlin station, mur­ "But forms subsist eternally."
mured pensively:'Rather than points, lines, andplanes, one might just as The notion then substituted for this "eternity," leaving the question of
well use the words tables, chairs, and drinking glasses.'"" "eternity" in darkness, is of course the keystone of the Bourbakian edifice,
the notion of structure.
30 The principle adopted by Queneau, after Hilbert, is the following-
Taking my inspiration from this famous example, I present here a system 34. STRUCTURES. Structure, in its Quenellian and Oulipian sense, has
of axioms for literature, replacing in Hilbert's propositions the words only a minimal relation to "Structuralism." Ideally (like constraint in re­
^Zgraphs!"^ "**' * ' > Sentences,- and n s p e a i v e l words
spect to axiom), it refers to the Bourbakian structure: the object in the
mathematical case is a (or several) set(s) with something "on it" (one or
The result, armed with all the unshakable coherence furnished by Hil- several algebraic laws, proximities in topology . . . ); in the case of the
U f ί,' 15
y surprising in its linguistic intuition.
c o n s i s t e n t J
Oulipo, the object is linguistic, and its structure is a mode of organiza­

JSJ7?*? * ^en given, and a word not

3 X i 0 m : A s e n t e n c e Ηανίη
tion. This structure will satisfy one or many conditions: axioms in one
atTiZl*ll ' ** Paragraph determined by the sentence
m t e n c e i n case, constraint in another. Thus, a set armed with a law of composition
which L T ' It J ' ° "8
Ms wordS m h e m St 0 n e s e m m c e includi will have a monoid structure if this law obeys the axiom of associativity;
a text will have a lipogrammatic structure if it obeys the constraint of the
b?^v Γ T ° fi * « sentence'"* may
d C m m m W i t h the rst ive

same name. It is clear, and this is an important point, that the Oulipian
^ m e r e l y the Quenelhan translation of an obvious truth, "Euclid's Postu­
notion of structure is not entirely distinct from that of constraint, many
late ; nevertheless, its "literary" pertinence causes some perplexity structures (traditionally) remaining implicit: must a lipogrammatic sonnet
"TheoremT: C m
*emselves. Thus, this corollary to
X q m n a t S i m p o s e

be examined in the same manner as a lipogrammatic novel? A topological

-J J2
""Τ" Ι™ "* " °f : Peeves only a very
1 1 m i n f i n i t y w o r d s m e group is, certainly, a group and a topological space, but its operation and
few of them, the others being in the infinite or being imaginary."™
its topology are not indifferent one to the other. How may we approach,
in Oulipian fashion, this link in the case of the lipogram, for example,
31. Why? What for? and in that of the sonnet? The neutrality of the conventionality of the props
(texts, poems, stories . . .) is without doubt an obstacle in the develop­
32. THE RUIN OF RULES. The "what for" is clear: recourse to mathe­ ment of the Oulipian notion of structure. In this sense, one understands
matics accordmg to the modalities we have just described in a few propel why Queneau never wrote an "Oulipian novel."
Mathematics in the Method of Raymond Queneau 95

u t ^ n t ^ T - °f l to be that of "struc- m C f l C i e n t m c t h o d s e e m s
pears in the Oulipo's very name: potentiality. The Oulipo is potential lit­
S T ' L' 8 ^ucture, is "interpreted" in a a r m e d W l t h a
i v e n

erature because the givens of a structure are those of all the virtualities of
ex 'tin. in ° ^ *e t e x " S T ; f t h C S e t Λ β d a t e o f d

ex sting in the set are converted into proceduresforcomratoo * T t . v ?

t u c t c
free objects, if they exist, of all the virtualities of the texts that realize it,
necessarily multiple; the unicity of the Oulipian text actualizing a con­
HI progress, written from a Latin bi-square. 63 straint (Proposition 16) being then envisaged only on the condition that
this text contain all the possibilities of the constraint—texts and virtual,
potential readings: multiplicity again but, unlike that which traditionally
JL1 i n^n X
;, P ^ " ^ . of the celebrated Cent Mille Mil-
i n a t i 0 n i n
t h i s
results from the multiplication of examples, implicit and, at the outside,
tinet passage
t s t « etrom
Z mathematics
m l f " to its^ literalization
° ««* book's p i c e i n r m i t t 0 S m e o n
imaginary multiplicity (Proposition 16a), exhausted by the very gesture
that announces or writes the structure.
rhvmL" S T ? * T
" written, using the same
t h i S P ipkl
te S O n n e t s

n^mes. The structure is such that every v e r i S everv

base sonnet may be smoothly interchanged with any oth^situated ί 38. An explicit trajectory leads thus from mathematics, as reading and
practice in writing of this practiced mathematics: this, in great part, is the
ten possible independent choices. There are f o u r ^ S ^ S I S creation and the advance of the Oulipo. We shall not go any further here;
thus, wtualiy, 1.0- or one hundred thousand b i H i S l P that is, to search for the invisible mathematics in the more visible part of
Queneau's work: novels, poems—not that it cannot be found (at least
t e n ^ T * " f ^ * ^ » Proceed b y l X y : let us take f 3 C t η ί ?

ten letters; let us then take certain letters among theseHwfhoTmd ™ partially), but because its dissimulation is a necessary part of Queneau's

them o after the other; let us call the result of this a S We^o K project and of his method. Let us leave this unmasking to others, and until
n e

impose upon the "words" thus constituted the n e c e S y o T t o r t a g t 2 later. Let us merely try to elucidate its meaning.
dictionary whatever The "procedure" works freely and f l i f h T s ^ o ^
mg to the number of letters which one accepts in a "word ™a m^e o H e t 39. THE MEANING OF COMBINATORICS. We have, above, justified
the "recourse" to mathematics as a consequence of the "collapse of rules "
oTmonoLstruaur " °" *™ «^> l
object" Granted this, it remains to understand the why of the combinatoric choice,
of the arithmetical bias. Why, anywhere one looks, does one almost al­
™ !U t
°h e
n C n
thousand billion" as "free object" of
S i d e r t h e n u n d r e d
ways find whole numbers in Queneau?
sonnet structure as the book, metaphorically, of free s t r i c t *
Whence for this reason also its importance: for let us try in a n a l o g
fash,on something very similar with fsonne, by Baud" ate S i 40. A piece of evidence: "// was intolerable to me to leave to chance the
number of chapters in these novels. Thus, Le Chiendent is composed of

wh refaH h ° , e n e
V e r S e
** a n 0 , t e r
( - t h i s same S n t t o r X 91 (7 x 13) sections, 91 being the sum of the first thirteen numbers and
*t,?n .Γ" " 111
r e s p e c t i n
g t h a t
*hich makes it a sonnet ( i t s ^ u c its 'sum* being /, it is thus both the number of the death of beings and
that of their return to existence, return which I then imagined merely as
syntactic Λ , 7 , „ T , J J' whose nature is principally d l f f i c u , t , e s
the irresotuble perpetuity of hopeless grief At that time, I saw in 13 a
each Γ "hundred thousand billion" really , S W h 3 t A e

beneficent number, because it denied happiness; as to 7, / took it, and

ZcZ~^,f f verisimilitude, the sonnet
t h C
n S t r a i n t s o f s e m a n t i c
may still take it, as a numerical image of myself since my last name and
,hZ κ Γ Ϊ [° 'y) «ng«e sonnet all possible s o n n S
f m ( v i r t u a l

my first and middle names are each composed of seven tetters, and 1 was
hrough all the substitutions that respect it. The proposedI S L ? ?f ί
imposes a choice, or rather proposes to i m n n J J . ? ^ '. S o n , l f 11
born on a 21st (fx 7)Γ
the other possibilities JLZu * . P° · oes not eliminate propos s t0 i m s e ο η β d
Another piece:
dom» w i t H f ' «frontation of structural "free- h l C n e x p a n d l t : c
"—Look here, that is awfully idealistic, what you're telling me. ;

i b t i r * ° < " linguistic or other) in which^t f hc m i l i c

—Realistic, you mean: numbers are realities. They exist, numbers do!
They exist as much as this table, sempiternal example of philosophers,
3?. We may now situate this key concept of Quenellian work, which a - P
infinitely more than this table! Bang!
—Couldn't you make a little less noise, said the waiter"* 7
• Μ<ϋ* ° J " b
° e r i c a l , or rather numerological iden
i 0 U S i n t e s i t y f t h i s num

S T n l ? ^ f * of the e x t r T S S f Ό I t
i d e l t h e

toncai t n n s reality of numbers: all that evokes" a specter which a!

i n 1 C

ready made an ins.dious appearance in section 4 in S n L l o n w t o

i-additive series: indeed, let us remember the f n i i n J l ~ 1 , Γ
quoted a b o v e " „ ,, 1 , "i« iollowing remark, already
F r
r c
m e m D e r

7 „ J!* ™ ' < »** ^wover w/A pleasure Fibonacci'* mJ

r = y

bers now Fibonacci's numbers, which are constructed ( T Z n ^ Z

aously points out) according to a procedure analogous to ώ on X h
he s working, have, it is well known, the particularity ο S i w T t
t ^ l ^ ^ V -er-resurgenfold
* Δ £ 2 % £ £ ί M

2 ^ Γ ; η V η ^ « i v e number ζ Ζ t w o

smes tends toward a limit, called goldin number. One may then allow
2 ! t 0
° * '
^ «udy or the p ^ e c f o ? fteT
S e a t i n

addit ve series, something "additional to" their pmductioi S e r e n e s di?

ferem from the secrets o f their enumeration: the search fora7ewmui
Phcty of limits (or of non-limits, when the series is intermptedf l a Z h e

golden, but made of some other precious element, "rare earth" of estheT
,»cs: an eminently ironical multiplication of the truth o f b e a u ^

42. This still: "There areforms of the novel that impose all the virtues of
the Number on the material proposed and, springi^f ^ZVnZre ro S

. Z 7 't U g h t e r a n d m o t h e r
of all the elements it polarizes, a struc ure


aymond Queneau if you prefer gloves of another color, go to 8
if this color suits you, go to 10
8. In bed, they wore blue velvet gloves.
if you prefer gloves of another color, go to 7
if this color suits you, go to 10
9. Once upon a time there were three peas rolling along on the great
highway. When evening came, they fell fast asleep, tired and worn.
if you wish to know the rest, go to 5
A Story as You Like It if not, go to 21
10» All three were dreaming the same dream; indeed, they loved each
other tenderly and, like proud mirrors, always dreamed similarly,
if you wish to know their dream, go to 11
This text, submitted at the R\rH - , if not, go to 12
11. They dreamed that they were getting their soup at the soup kitchen,
PotentieUe, inspire^pZZ^
w a s * Utt*at™ and that upon uncovering their bowl they discovered that it was ers soup.
computers, and by progrZne/tZ'hZ fr * ** Smn to
Horrified, they woke up.
the "tree" literature p lsTd bTprL'- r° V""* r0P « » a n a l o o u s

if you wish to know why they woke up horrified, consult the word
meeting. proposea by Frangois Le Lionnais at the 79th
"ers" in Webster, and let us hear no more of it
if you judge it a waste of time to investigate this question further, go
'«T*4* * . •tape*? to 12
'f no, go to 2 12. Opopoi! they cried when they opened their eyes. Οροροϊ! what a
dream we dreamed! A bad omen, said the first. Yessir, said the second,
^XStFJT ^ ° * * ~
*™y * - P o l e s ?
that's a fact, and now I'm sad. Don't worry like that, said the third, who
was the sharpest of the three. We must comprehend rather than despair; in
if no, go to 3 short, I will analyze it for you.
' JSfS«Τ/" "* ~» ° "» — f
«*». bushes , if you wish to know the interpretation of this dream right away, go
to 15
«f no, go to 21
if you wish on the contrary to know the reactions of the other two,
go to 13
13. You bore us to tears, said the first. Since when do you know how to
. their nostrils, and ο Γ ο ο Μ ^ ί Ζ ^ Τ ^ t h e h o l e s
analyze dreams? Yes, since when? added the second.
if you prefer another d e s ^ t f o n ^ t o T ° g
h a r m n i
° U S
* °™*-

if you too wish to know since when, go to 14

5 ^ " d e s c r i p t i o n suits you, go to 5 if not, go to 14 anyway, because in any case you won't learn a thing
14. Since when? cried the third. How should I know? The fact is that I
practice analysis. You'll see.
if you too wish to see, goto15
^ . Κ ι ' ϊ ϊ ί ^ ί ^ * * « — ^ a y s dream and if not, go to 15 also, for you will see nothing
15. Well then, let's see! cried his brothers. Your irony doesn't please
1 0
know these dreams, go to Π me a bit, replied the other, and you'll not learn a thing. Moreover, during
7. Theh-cute ^ a b
° U t k
' °
g 1 0
7 this rather sharp conversation, hasn't your sense of horror been blurred,
wore blSk^vi?^) ^^ 1 C
° V e r e d i n S t o e k i n
S s
*«d in bed they or even erased? What use then to stir up the mire of your papilionaceous
unconscious? Let's rather go wash ourselves in the fountain and greet this
gay morning in hygiene and saintly euphoria! No sooner said than done
they slip out of their pod, let themselves roll gently to the ground, and trot Paul Fournel^
joyously to the theater of their ablutions. in collaboration with Jean-Pierre;
if you wish to know what happens at the theater of their ablutions go
to 16 '6

if you do not wish to know, go to 21

16. Three big beanpoles were watching them.
if the three big beanpoles displease you, go to 21
if they suit you, g o t o 18
17. Three middling mediocre bushes were watching them. The Theater Tree:
if the three middling mediocre bushes displease you, go to 21
if they suit you, goto 18 A Combinatory Play
18. Seeing themselves voyeurized in this fashion, the three alert peas
who were very modest, fled. '
if you wish to know what they did after that, go to 19
if you do not wish to know, go to 21 Principle: At the outset, the objective was to produce a play using the
19. They ran very hard back to their pod and, closing the latter after structure of the tree. The problems encountered in a project of this sort
them, went back to sleep. are numerous, and some of them appeared practically insoluble. A "tree"
if you wish to know the rest, go to 20 play would, more particularly, demand an almost superhuman effort of
if you do not wish to know, go to 21 memory on the part of the actors.
20. There is no rest and the story is finished. We thus elaborated a new graph which gives the audience all the ap-
21. In this case, the story is likewise finished. pearances of the tree, but avoids the disadvantages for the actors:

1st choice

2nd choice

3rd choice

' 4th choice


Directions for use: The actors play the first scene, then invite the audi-
ence to determine that which follows, in choosing between two possible
scenes (II and III). The modalities of this choice should be determined in
function of the locality; the audience in a theater way, for example vote Scene 4: The masked man is the queen's lover. The princess faints. The
by a show of hands; in the ease of a radio play, ^ t e l e p h o n e , etc The king, beside himself wift rage, commands that the instruments of torture
essential point is that the vote should not take too much tine. be brought to him.
In the example which we have elaborated, the autfieaee will be asked to
choose four times, which means that there will be five scenes in the play. —Will he kill his wife? (see scene 6)
Given that our "tree" contains fifteen scenes (four of which do not lead to —Will he challenge the lover to a duel? (see scene 7)
choices), sixteen different plays of five scenes each may he engendered
In order to produce these sixteen plays in traditional fashion, one would Scene 5: The hero avers that he is the king's son. The princess faints.
have to write eighty scenes (16 x 5), We have* 'mmfWntnaatd sixty- The queen demands proof and perfidiously asks that the young man be
seven scenes. • .·'.•· > v

thrown into the noble-pit in order to determine if he is a blueblood. The 1

king fails to recognize the absurd character of the situation, and accepts.
The Theater Thee; In order that the structure be trnrnediately recognized Only the princess can save the masked man:
by the audience, we have tried to construct simplf plpfs and intrigues, for
which the choices offered to the audience are b o * real and functional. —Will she awaken? (see scene 8)
—-Will she remain unconscious? (see scene 9)
Scene 1: The king is unhappy; misfortune m t ^ g f t f t e 'palace. The
queen returning from a journey, cannot comfort hum, He is unhappy for Scene 6: The king puts his wife in the torture machine. He will use this
one of the following reasons, between which the audience will choose: device to eliminate her.

—His daughter the princess has lost her smile, (see scene 2) —Would you like a happy ending? (see scenes 10 + 14)
—The princess has been kidnapped, (see scene 3) —Would you like an unhappy ending? (see scenes 11 + 15)

Scene 2; The princess appears upon the stage. She is unhappy. The king Scene 7: The king challenges the lover to a duel. In the course of the
offers a reward to him who will make her smile again. The queen, step- fight, the queen is killed.
mother of the princess, rejoices secretly. The candidates come and go with
no success. The masked hero arrives; the princess smiles. —Happy ending? (see scenes 10 + 1 4 )
The king and the queen argue. The king learns that the queen has a , —Unhappy ending? (see scenes 11 + 15)
over, by whom she is pregnant, and the queen learns that the king has a
lost son. Is the masked hero: Scene 8: The princess awakens. She demonstrates the absurdity of the
situation to her father. In a fit of rage, he forces his wife to test the device;
—The king's son? (see scene 5) she dies.
—The queen's lover? (see scene 4)
—Happy ending? (see scenes 12 + 14)
Scene 3: The queen wails hypocritically in the presence of the king. —Unhappy ending? (see scenes 13 + 15)
With the pnncess gone, the child whom the queen is carrying will reign.
In the forest, the enchained princess falls in love with her kidnapper, Scene 9: The princess does not awaken. The king, before throwing his
and asks him to take her back to the palace as proof of his love. At the son intothe noble-pit, wishes to see if it is in working order, and throws
palace, the king and queen argue. The queen has a lover, by whom she is his wife in. She dies.
pregnant, the king has a lost son. During this argument, the masked man
and the pnncess arrive. Who is the masked man? —Happy ending? (see scenes 12 + 14)
—Unhappy ending? (see scenes 13 + 15)
—Is he the king's son? (see scene 5)
—Is he the queen's lover? (see scene 4) Scene 10: The queen is dead. The king and the lover are relieved. In
1 6 2 T h e
Theater Tree: A Combinatory Play

fact, the lover had seduced the queen in order to get into the palace R„.
he loves the princess. He is sad, however, to be he" b r o l ^ ^

—Go to scene 14.

Scene U: The lover, mad with rage, kills the king.

—Go to scene 15.

Scene 12: The king recognizes his son. The hero and the princess are

Z S Z S S £ ~ * ** l o v e M c b
* * - * ™ "
—Go to scene 14.

Scene U: The hero, mad with rage, kills the king (he loved the queen).

. —Go to scene 15. :

J l l ! te : I n f
Vl t h r 0 U g h a com
P h c a t e d play of marriages and adop-
marry m
«5 are thuffrS

hefSlin'rt? 6 R
M " , f - g d ad
Ρ™<*« kills the hero and throws
S f κ 6 n 0 W e
' " P ( $ h e i s
if ^ spectator wishes to
b u t

Sis Lln- r e
s t C
T b
r k
10 s e e fte pla
* Treason
ror tnis rejection is explained in scene 14).
^ E ^ « ofjwssible combinations: 1-2-4-6-10-14; 1-2-5-8-12-14;

rh. ri!^
°i h
i S
« this cannot pretend to replace
V i 0 U S
t h 3 t a resum s u c h

the ngorous coherence we have tried to maintain throughout^ play

Claude Berge

For a Potential Analysis

of Combinatory Literature

When, at twenty years of age, Leibniz published his Dissertatio de Arte

Combinatoria, he claimed to have discovered a new branch of mathe-

matics with ramifications in logic, history, ethics, and metaphysics. He

treated all sorts of combinations therein: syllogisms, juridical forms, col-
ors, sounds; and he announced two-by-two, three-by-three, etc., combi-
nations, which he wrote: eom2natio, comSnatio, etc. . . .
In the field of plastic arts, the idea was not entirely new, since Breughel
the Elder several years before had numbered the colors of his characters
in order to determine their distribution by a roll of the dice; in the field of
music, people were beginning to glimpse new possibilities, which were to
inspire Mozart in his "Musical Game," a sort of card index that allows
anyone to achieve the aleatory composition of waltzes, rondos, and min-
uets. But what about literature?
One has to wait until 1961 for the expression combinatory literature to
be used, undoubtedly for the first time, by Francois Le Lionnais, in the
postface to Raymond Queneau's Cent Mille Milliards de poemes. Litera-
ture is a known quantity, but combinatorics? Makers of dictionaries and
encyclopedias manifest an extreme degree of cowardice when it comes to
giving a definition of the latter; one can hardly blame their insipid impre-
cision, since traditional mathematicians who "feel" that problems are of
combinatory nature very seldom are inclined to engage in systematic and
independent study of the methods of resolving them.

In an attempt to furnish a more precise definition, we shall rely on the

concept of configuration; one looks for a configuration each time one
disposes a finite number of objects, and one wishes to dispose them ac-
cording to certain constraints postulated in advance; Latin squares and
finite geometries are configurations, but so is the arrangement of packages

of different sizes in a drawer that is too small, or die disposition of words
ν*\ or sentences given in advance (on the condition that the given constraints
C*"^ be sufficiently "crafty" for the problem to be real). Just as arithmetic

studies whole numbers (along with the traditional operations), as algebra nations factorial couplets like:
studies operations in general, as analysis studies functions, as geometry Ehr, Kunst, Geld, Guth. Lob, Weib und Kind
studies forms that are rigid and topology those that are not, so combina­ Man hat, sucht, fehlt, hofft und verschwmd'
torics, for its part, studies configurations. It attempts to demonstrate the
existence of configurations of a certain type. And if this existence is no
longer open to doubt, it undertakes to count them (equalities or inequali­
ties of counting), or to list them ("listing"), or to extract an "optimal"
whence 3,628-fw P^ms, α grammatically correct (if
n w o r f ω

example from them (die problem of optimization). changes sucht to Smht J » » £ f ^ be "« factorial," that is, the
w d

It is thus not surprising to learn that a systematic study of these prob­ permute, the number of possibilities wouw
lems revealed a large number of new mathematical concepts, easily trans- number:
posable into the realm of language, and that the pruritus of combinatorics
has wrought its worst on the Oulipian breast.

Although the first complete literary work of frankly combinatory nature

is the Cent Mille Milliards de poimes, and although Raymond Queneau
and Francois Le Lionnais are the cofounders of the Oulipo, created simul­
taneously, it should not be deduced that combinatory literature is the
Oulipo. Ricciolus, etc · w a i t u n t i l 1 9 6 5 for Saporta to
If one dissects Oulipian tendencies with a sharp enough scalpel, three
currents become apparent: the first Oulipian vocation is undoubtedly "the w r f t f a ^
search for new structures, which may be used by writers in any way they
in any order, according to the whim of me reader
see fit," which means that we wish to replace traditional constraints like
the "sonnet" with other linguistic constraints: alphabetical (Georges Per­
Finally, in 1967. the Oulipo stated that. no ^gJJ^JJa nis

ec's poems without e), phonetic (Noel Arnaud's heterosexual rhymes), to come from pure, - b
^ ~ proposes
syntactic (J. Queval's isosyntactic novels), numerical (J. Bens's irrational collection of poems, € (Galhmard, won. " * w r e
ll- b u t w e

sonnets), even semantic. - the reading of the 361 texts that compose it in four ditterent
The second Oulipian vocation, apparently unrelated to the first, is re­ determined orders.
search into methods of automatic transformation of texts: for example, J.
Lescure's S + 7 method. poems. We call thus a text wmcn π *- elements that were not
Finally, the third vocation, the one that perhaps interests us most, is the verses, words), and which one recites using oniy C J C

transposition of concepts existing in different branches of mathematics juxtaposed in the original text. „ elements, the w i t h

into the realm of words: geometry (Le Lionnais's poems which are tan- This type of poetry is called F.bonacc an « J b
^ .. - 1
F i b o n a c c i s

gentical among themselves), Boolian algebra (intersection of two nov­ number of poems one can engender is none other than
els by J. Duchateau), matrical algebra (R. Queneau's multiplication of Number":
texts), etc. . . .
It is within this last current that combinatory literature is situated. Let P« - 1 +777—iy + 2!(^3j7 3!(«-5)!
us sharpen our scalpel a little bit more and cut up a few specimens. Here is an example, whose origin is easily recognizable:
The roughest form, the Stone Age of combinatory literature, it must be Feu filant,
noted, is factorial poetry, in which certain elements of the text may be deja sommeillant,
ι ίο

benissez voire Figure 1

Principle of the graph of the Cent Mille Milliards de poemes (not all of
je prendrai
the arcs and vertices have been drawn)
une vjeille accroupie
vivcz les roses de la vie! 3

Unfortunately, it is difficult to invent texts that lend themselves to such

manipulations or rules for intervals that permit the conservation of literary

In the Cent Mille Milliards de poimes, Raymond Queneau introduces

ten sonnets, of fourteen verses each, in such a way mat the reader may
replace as he wishes each verse by one of the nine others that correspond
to it. The reader himself may thus compose 1 0 - 100,000,000,000,000

different poems, all of which respect all the immutable rules of the sonnet.
This type of poetry could be called "exponential," for the number of
poems of η verses one can obtain with Queneau's method is given by the
exponential function, 10". However, each of the hundred thousand billion
poems may also be considered as a line drawn in a graph of the sort
indicated in figure 1. According to this point of view, it should be noted
that the reader advances in a graph without circuits; that is, he can never
encounter the same verse twice in a reading respecting the direction of the
For this reason, in 1966 we proposed the dual form, the antipode: that
is, poems on graphs without cocircuits. Without wishing to define a cocir-
cuit here, let us say that these graphs are characterized by the property
that, beginning from a given point, one can always end up at a point
determined in advance.
Let us consider the simplified example of figure 2.
Other pathway procedures were proposed by Paul Braffort and Francois
Le Lionnais at the 79th meeting of the Oulipo. This principle is also be­
hind Raymond Queneau's "A Story as You Like It." This text, submitted
at the Oulipo's 83rd working meeting, draws its inspiration from the in­
structions given to computers, the reader at each moment disposing of two
continuations, according to whether the adventures of the "three alert
peas" suit him or not. Presented in the form of a bifurcating graph (figure
3), imbrication of circuits becomes apparent, as do converging paths,
etc. . . . whose properties might be analyzed in terms of the Theory of
Graphs. [See figure 4 for additional Queneau graphs.]
Finally, it should be noted that in his Drailles (Gallimard, 1968), Jean
Lescure travels pleasantly through a graph of order 4:
Feuille de rose porte d Ombre
Ombre de feuille porte rose
ΙΆ) tor a Potential Analysis or C o m b i n a t o r y Literature tiOT 8 VWSIUUU nttmrnfmrn' «..«— «

Figure 3
Feuille, porte 1 Ombre d'une rose
Feuille rose a 1'ombre d'une porte Bifurcating graph representing the structure of Raymond "A
Toute rose ombre une porte de feuille Story as You Like I t ? Lettres Nouvelles, July-September 1967. (We owe
this sagittal representation to Queneau)
Another form of literature, which may lend itself to schemas rich in
combinatory properties, is what has come to be called the episodic story.
Since Potocki's famous novel, Un Manuscrit trouve ά Saragosse, espe­
cially since the episodic novels of Eugene Sue, certain authors have imag­
ined characters who relate adventures in which figure other garrulous he­
roes who in turn relate other adventures, which leads to a whole series of
stories embedded one in the other. In his poems, Raymond Roussel went 6

so far as to embed progressively six sets of parentheses [see figure 5],

Figure 2

In order to describe or count the agglomerations of parentheses in a

monoid, the Polish logician Lukasiewicz established the toes ofamadv
ematical theory; it is to this theory that werefermfigure6 where we
represent the structure of thefirstcanto of Raymond Roussel s Nouvelles
Tm^lnsd'Afriiue by a bifurcating arborescence. It may be remarked
that this arborescence is much less complex than that offigure7 for n-
stance . . . which seems to open the door to a newfieldofresearchfor
The verses corresponding to the arcs arriving at the same point (or leaving from the same
point) were chosen in function of a very precise constraint; for example, those thai end up * m l o ^ d not conclude this little inventory without menfioning bi-Latin
at point D contain the word "man"; those leaving from point D have the same grammati­ HteSureand the work begun within the Oulipo by the author widrJacques
cal structure, etc. . . . Using this figure, the reader may choose a priori the point of de­
parture and the point of arrival, and look for "the shortest path." He can also construct Roubaud and Georges Perec. Since Euler, combinatorics has been inter­
"Hamittonian Poems," which correspond to an itinerary in which each point is encoun­ ested i Latin bi-squares; a Latin bi-square of order η is a table o i n x «
tered once and only once. Thus, the Hamittonian Path BABC gives:
"No no says the offended lady I am not looking for the man who spits in the pitcher." ; t S » different letters and η different numbers, each square
One can even construct quasi-Eulerian poems, traveling through the figure without Sntaining a letter and a number, each letter figunng o n l y «
passing twice by the same arc, and in maximizing the number of arcs used; fundamental, fine and each column, each numberfigunngonly once m each line and
purely mathematical concepts from the Theory of Graphs furnish thus so many constraints
. . . and the number of texts that may be constructed using the same figure is infinite! each column.
Graphs of the Ternary Relation: X Takes Yfor Ζ (paper delivered by • «.* r.: * of the parentheses in Raymond Roussel,
Tree representing the embedding
Raymond Queneau at the 26 December 1965 meeting of the Oulipo)
Nouvelles Impressions d'Afrique, canto I (the encircled numbers
LUNATIC ASVLUM represent the number of the verse wherein the parentheses are opened or
Ο closed)

Each person Β 0+-<^\ Ο Three lunatics

takes himself for V\ taking them-
himself and takes
CO- Q % Ο f o r N a
the others for ·» Icon
what they are
(as the occupant knows . to run the elevator)

... Each person Prince's son *Q Ο £
• S : V>. takes himself for ™- • χ .*'"'
V #

Wmseif and mis- Poor slob

Λί\ Λ Λ takes the identity
C (J*.'. o f
t h e t w o
Foster father
aware of these- 0·'— J>.ziQ (power of the retoucher! she changes into a sister)

A confuses doubles Β
and C

(everyone. . . . . a heavy weight)


Jocasta's son Ο

Oedipus Q f . i M . Q u 5 P
iocasta <3'-«Ot+HO

at home

Cosinus at
the dentist's

Madame X
r u r a roientiai Analysis of Combinatory Literature
For a Potential Analysis of Combinatory Literature 125

Figure 6
Figure 8
Representation by means ofa bifurcating arborescence of the preceding
astern ofparentheses ^ P^edmg ne
Specimen of the Latin bi-square of order 10; the letters represent a
characteristic attribute: A = violent lover, Β - stupid as an ox,
C - rascal; etc. . . . The numbers represent the dominant action of the
character: 0 « does nothing. 1 - steals and assassinates, 2 = behaves
in a strange and inexplicable way; etc. . . .

Mrs. Demaison

Count BeUerval
Mr. Demaison

Mr. Member

Don Diego


Story number 1 A, G, F, E, I. H. B, D.
s H. Bi A, G, F, J, I. c, D»
s I. H. c. B, A» G. D
* E. F,
4 J 4 I. H, D. c, B. A, E. F» G.
6 V Jt I. H. Ei »» c, F. G, A,
Figure 7 6 D, c, Λ h H, F§ Er G. A, B.
Representation by means ofa bifurcatin* , ι , . Λ Λ 7 F, E, D. J. H. G, A B, _c._
/ uj u oijurcating arborescence of another svstrm I· t

of parentheses: [( )]{[( ^ J wwer system 8 c, Dt E. F 4 G» A. B» H, I. J«

9 F. G. A. B, c, D, I. J| H,
10 G» A. B. c, D
* Ει F, h H. It

These 10 stories contain thus all the possible combinations in the most
economical fashion possible. Moreover, they are the result of a century of
arduous mathematical research, for Euler conjectured that a Latin bi-
square of order 10 could not exist, and we had to wait until 1960 for Bose,
Parker, and Shrikhande to prove him wrong. . . ?
A Latin bi-square of order 10 is reproduced in fi „~ ο ·. • 0 It is clear that the contribution of combinatorics to the domains of
an extremely rare specimen, and * S « £ l " 2 * f ' ' ! 1 S m o r e o v c r
words, rhymes, and metaphors is more complex than it seems, and that it
to exist. We thus proposed to write 10 , 1 1 . / • « »™ow o n l y t w o
n is far from the anagrams of the Rhotoriqueurs or the stammerings of the
of the table) w h e r e i n S » i J S S ^ T ( r e
* c 10 lines
p r e s e n t e d b v
Protean poets.
of the table). Each c h S A a ^ u t f , f f ^ (
y 10 columns 6 b

corresponding square; h t t t i o n ^ h k ^ * the l c t t e r

» e corresponding square ^ r m m e d by the number of

h k e w , S e

essary to the progress of our woric, has also written a series of n r n

Raymonil ukeneau
M m

L°IrSf 1
C t I 0 t h a t
account for the
respectm order to remain "logically" and
Τ1ι>8 clearlydewoa^tes, we believe, that t h e ^ u K k C S ! ;

SET!? r ^ l
n i
* slavery of a combinatory search, allowing him
f t o m

also the best chance of concentrating on this ' ^ i n a w " £ Π ο Γ

can make of the text a true work of art. '
The Relation X Takes Y for Ζ

As Paul Braffort remarked during the meeting of 14 January 1966, the
ternary relation "X takes Y for Z" may be represented by a multiplication:
XY m' 2 . The "graphs" of 26 December 1965 (see Claude Berge, "For a
Potential Analysis of Combinatory Literature") will be replaced by multi­
plication tables (see II for the difficult cases).

Normal Situation
a b c
a a b c
b a b c
c a b c

Vaudeville Situation
a b c
a a c b
b c b a
c b a c

J Μ Am S Al
Jupiter J Μ Am s Al
Mercury J Μ Am s Al
Amphitryon J Μ Am s Al
Sosia Am S Am s Al
Alcmene Am S Am s Al

i n e Keiauuii λ iwm» ι ι
154 \ ^=^SS K^kUon
X Thkes Y for Ζ
a b c η
If every character takes himself for himself (that is, if a = a, b = b,
2 2

etc.) and takes no other for himself (that is, if ax Φ a, bx Φ b, etc.), Τ η b c a

there will result only one possible situation for two characters, 12 for 3 b a η c b
characters, 108 for 4, and, more generally, (n - 1)" ~ , η for η characters
c a b η c
(n > 2). η 0 0 0 0
Consider the following interesting theorem.
The multiplication table of a group (Abelian or not) corresponds to the Another convention might be that η (fictive) would take a, b c. for
following situation: nobody takes himself for what he is, nor takes the what they are and, on the other hand, that a, b, c would take « for what
others for what they are, with the exception of the unity-element, which he was. One would then have:
takes itself for what it is and takes the others for what they are. η
a b c
In other words, the multiplication table of a group corresponds to a
situation both vaudevillesque and mad, as seen by a lucid observer (the a η b c η
author for example). b a η c η
Commutativiry of the multiplication: The muMplieation is commutative c a b η η
when ab = ba = c, that is, when Paul takes John for Peter and John also η a b c η
takes Paul for Peter (always in the case where nobody takes himself for
somebody else). Oedipus
Exercise: Find concrete examples of this situation in French or foreign
literature, theater or novel. a b c d
Exercises: Find concrete situations corresponding to the following - a b b c d
son of Jocasta
semi-groups proposed by R. Croisot in "Propriites des complexes forte et - b 0 b c d
symetriques de demi-groupes," Bulletin de la Sociiti Mathematique de at C b a c d
France, vol. 80 (1952), pp. 217-227. = d 0 b c d
a b c d a b c d
a c c d a a a a a a Exercise: Find a formulation of this situation without zero.
b c c d a b a a a c
c d d a c c a a a a
d a a c d d a c a b
a b c a b c
a a b c a a c c
b b c c b c b c
c c c c c c c c

We have assumed until now that the multiplication was defined globally,
which is not always the case. When there are isolated points in the
"graph," we may assume that the product is then 0.
Three madmen (a, b, c) take themselves for Napoleon (n) and each of
them takes the two others for what they are:
Prose and Antkornbinatorics 141

are this numerous, he may take soundings of his work. The computer in
Paul Foumel this case serves as an assistant in the definitive fine-tuning of the text.

Algorithmic Literature
Same application in the domain of algorithmic literature: Dominique
Bourguet has programmed Raymond Queneau's "A Story as You Like It" 4

so as to facilitate its reading. In this brief text, die reader is repeatedly

invited to choose what follows in the tale through a system of double
Computer and Writer questions. The elements of narration being very short, the game domi-
nates the reading of the text itself. This is unfortunate, since all of these
The Centre Pompidou Experiment possible texts have real charm. The computer first of all "speaks" with the
reader, proposing the different choices to him, then prints the chosen text
"cleanly" and without the questions. The pleasure of play and the pleasure
of reading are thus combined.
When the literary project of the A.R.T.A. was launched, rapid efforts had
In the same spirit and according to the same principles, a medieval tale
to be made to establish a basis for a possible agreement between computer
was programmed by Jean-Pierre Enard and Paul Foumel, and the 720

science and literary creation. Christian Cavadia entrusted the whole of


fairy tales of a work group directed by J, P. Balpe will be programmed.

the project to Paul Braffort (logician, computer scientist, and writer),
whose first goal was to educate the public and the writers themselves about
this new undertaking.
Aided Creation

After all of this, the relation work-»computer-»reader must be replaced by

Aided Reading other sorts of relations in which the author plays a role (without necessar-
ily stripping the reader of his role). Among the different projects submitted
At first, work was brought to bear on preexisting literary material. There by authors to Paul Braffort, one may already find examples of very differ-
are, in fact, a few combinatory or algorithmic works that may be read far ent types of relations.
more easily with the help of a computer. Here, the machine performs a
simple task of selecting and editing.
Type 1: Author->Computer->Work
Combinatory Literature In this type, only creation is aided. The computer is an integral part of the
. drafting process and its work serves to elaborate the definitive text. Italo
The Cent Mille Milliards de poimes by Raymond Queneau furnishes ma-

Calvino proposes lists of characters, constraints, and events to the ma-

terial particularly favorable to this type of experiment. It consists of ten chine, asking it to determine through progressive refinement who may
sonnets composed such that each verse of each of them may be combined indeed have done what. The author thus chooses to work on material that
with any of the other verses in the ten texts, which gives a total of 1 0 K

the machine allows him to dominate. 6

sonnets. The printed collection is very prettily conceived, but the manip-
ulation of the strips on which each verse is printed is sometimes tedious.
The computer, though, makes a selection in the corpus in function of Type 2: Author->Computer->Work-*Computer-+Reader
the length of the "reader's" name and the time which he takes to type it
The computer intervenes on two levels this time. For one of the chapters
into the terminal, then prints the sonnet, which bears the double signature
in the Princesse Hoppy, Jacques Roubaud elaborates, with the help of a
of Queneau and his reader. 3

machine, a chapter which the reader must read with this same machine. 7

The author himself may profit from this process: when the combinations
rrose ana Anucomwnatorics

He will be called upon to solve a series of enigmas, and the machine will Italo Calvino
furnish him with clues (inspired by the game of cork-penny) as to his
groping progression in the text.

"type 3: Author~*Computer-*Meader-*Computer-*Work
With this third type we enter into the domain of projects that are more
distant and more technically complex. In Marcel Binabou's "artificial
aphorisms," the author furnishes a stock of empty forms and a stock of Prose and Anticombinatoms
words destined to fill them; the reader then comes along to formulate a
request, and, following this reqqest, the machine combines words and
forms to produce aphorisms. 8
The reader's participation is limited, but it nonetheless necessitates a The preceding examples concerned the use of the computer as an *i£ to
few elementary flexions in the resultant text. In spite of-everywing, one literary creation in the following situations: u ' #

may affirm that the author dominates his aphorisms; this 'The structures chosen by the author are relatively few in number, but
is not so in the case of &e S . S . A Y L I . j^hbrf ^tQfy As You Like It) the possible realizations are combinatorily exponential.
project. '.* :•··•'''''··. Only the computer may realize a number (more or less large) of these
The goal of this enterprise is to produce diversified short stories in very potentialities. . ,.
large quantities according to the precise and various wishes formulated by On the contrary, the assistance of the computer takes on an anncombi-
the reader (he may choose the length, the theme, the decor, the characters, natory character when, among a large number of possibilities, the com-
and the style). puter selects those few realizations compatible with certain constraints.
Beginning with a few homosyntactic short stories, Paul Braffort and
Georges Kermidjian attempt to establish an extremely supple general os-
sature and a stock of "agms," minimal unities of action or description. Order in Crime
Their exact description is in permanent evolution, but one may say,
roughly, that they are the intermediary unities between the word and the I have been working for some time on a short story (perhaps a novel?)
sentence, which in theory ought to permit one to avoid bom the pitfalls of which might begin thus:
grammar and the feeling of suffocation provoked by sentence types that
recur incessantly (as in the work of Sheldon Kline). Each of these agms The fire in the cursed house
receives specific attributes which will come into play according to the In a few hours Skiller, the insurance agent, will come to ask for the
reader's wishes. computer's results, and I have still not introduced the information into the
The interest of this project is triple; first, it allows one to produce short electronic circuits that will pulverize into innumerable impulses the secrets
stories, and this is nice when one likes producing short stories; second, it of the Widow Roessler and her shady pension. Where the house used to
enables one to elaborate a particular grammar prudently, step by step; stand, one of those dunes in vacant lots between the shunting yards and
third, it allows one to constitute a stock of agms that may be used on other the scrapyards that the periphery of our city leaves behind itself like so
occasions. But it is a long-term project that is only beginning. It will take many little piles of trash forgotten by the broom, nothing now remains but
patience, work, and time ( = money). 9
scattered debris. It might have been a cute little villa beforehand, or just
as well nothing other than a ghostly hovel; the reports of the insurance
company do not say; now, it has burned from the cellar to the attic, ana
nothing was found on the charred cadavers of its four inhabitants that
might enable one to reconstitute the antecedents of this solitary massacre.
A notebook tells more than these bodies, a notebook found in the ruins,
entirely burned except for the cover, which was protected by a sheet of victim of a criminal plot carried out with the imprecision and insouciance
plastic. On the front is written: Accounts of horrible acts perpetrated in that apparently characterized his behavior, proof of fraud would relieve
this house, and on the back there is an index divided into twelve headings, the company from payment of damages.
in alphabetical order: To Bind and Gag, To Blackmail, To Drug, To Pros­ But that was not the only policy mat the company was called upon to
titute, To Push to Suicide, To Rape, To Seduce, To Slander, To Spy Upon, honor after the catastrophe: the Widow Roessler herself each year renewed
To Stab, ToStrangle, To Threaten with a Revolver. a life insurance policy whose beneficiary was her adopted daughter, a
It is not known which of the inhabitants of the house wrote this sinister fashion model familiar to anyone who leafs through the magazines de­
report, nor what was its intent: denunciation, confession, self-satisfaction, voted to haute couture. Now Ogiva too is dead, burned along with the
fascinated contemplation of evil? All that remains to us is this index, collection of wigs that transformed her glacially charming face-how else
which gives the names neither of the people who were guilty nor those of to define a beautiful and delicate young woman with a totally bald
the victims of the twelve actions—felonious or simply naughty—and it head?—into hundreds of different and delightfully asymmetric characters.
doesn't even give the order in which they were committed, which would But it so happened that Ogiva had a three-year-old child, entrusted to
help in reconstituting a story: the headings in alphabetical order refer to relatives in South Africa, who would soon claim> tte < η » » « > money
page numbers obscured by a black stroke. To complete the list, one would unless it were proved that it was she who had killed (ίο stoat 10
have to add still one more verb: To Set Ablaze, undoubtedly the final act Strangle?) the Widow Roessler. And since Ogiva had even thought to
of this dark affair—accomplished by whom? In order to hide or destroy insure her wig collection, the child's guardians may also claim this mdem-
what? nization, except if she were responsible for its destruction.
Even assuming that each of these twelve actions had been accomplished O f the fourth person who died in the fire, the giant Uzbek wresder
by only one person to the prejudice of only one person, reconstituting the Belindo Kid, it is known that he had found not only a diligent landladym
events is a difficult task: if the characters in question are four in number, the Widow Roessler (he was the only paying tenant in the pension) but
they may represent, taken two by two, twelve different relations for each also an astute impresario. In the last few months, the old woman had in
of the twelve sorts of relations listed. The possible solutions, in conse­ fact decided to finance the seasonal tour of the ex-middleweight cham­
quence, are twelve to the twelfth power; that is, one must choose among pion hedging her bets with an insurance policy against the risk of contract
solutions whose number is-, in the neighborhood of eight thousand eight default through illness, incapacity, or accident. Now a consortium of pro­
hundred seventy-four billion two hundred ninety-six million six hundred moters of wrestling matches is claiming the damages covered by the in­
sixty-two thousand two hundred fifty-six. It is not surprising that our over­ surance- but if the old lady pushed him to suicide, perhaps through slan­
worked police preferred to shelve the dossier, their excellent reasoning dering him, blackmailing him, or drugging him (the giant was known in
being that however numerous were the crimes committed, the guilty died international wrestling circles for his impressionable character), the com­
in any case with the victims. pany could easily silence them.
Only the insurance company needs to know the truth, principally be­ My hero intends to solve the enigma, and from this point of view the
cause of a fire insurance policy taken out by the owner of the house. The story belongs thus to the detective mystery genre.
fact that the young Inigo died in the flames only renders the question that But the situation is also characterized by an eminently combinatory as­
much thornier: his powerful family, who undoubtedly had disinherited and pect, which may be schematized as follows:
excluded this degenerate son, is notoriously disinclined to renounce any­ 4 characters: A, B, C, D.
thing to which it may have a claim. The worst conclusions (included or 12 transitive, nonreflexive actions (see list below).
not in that abominable index) may be drawn about a young man who, All the possibilities are open: one of the 4 characters may (for example)
hereditary member of the House of Lords, dragged an illustrious title over rape the 3 others or be raped by the 3 others. ,
the park benches that serve a nomadic and contemplative youth as beds, One then begins to eliminate the impossible sequences. In order to au
and who washed his long hair in public fountains. The little house rented this, the 12 actions are divided into 4 classes, to wit:
to the old landlady was the only heritage that remained to him, and he had
f to incite
been admitted into it as sublessee by his tenant, against a reduction of the
already modest rent. If he, Inigo, had been both guilty incendiary and appropriation of will to blackmail
[to drug
1 4 0
Frose and AnUcoroMnatories

to spy upon no longer needs to impose the same will on Β by another means (but he
appropriation of a secret to brutally extort a confession from may, etc.).
to abuse the confidence of Reversibility is possible, obviously, between two different wills.
to seduce
sexual appropriation to buy sexual favors from Order of sequences
to rape
In each permutation, after an action of murder has taken place, the victim

( to strangle
to stab in the back
to induce to commit suicide
may no longer commit or submit to any other action.
Consequently, it is impossible for the three acts of murder to occur
in the beginning of a permutation, because no characters would then be
left to accomplish the other actions. Even two murders in the beginning,
would render the development of the sequence impossible. One mur­
Objective Constraints der in the beginning dictates permutations of 11 actions for 3 charac­
Compatibility between relations ters.
The optimal case is that in which the three acts of murder occur at the
For the actions of murder: Μ A strangles B, he no longer needs to stab end.
him or to induce him to commit suicide. The sequences given by the computer must be able to reveal chains of
It is also improbable that A and Β kill each other. events held together by possible logical links. We have seen that the acts
One may then postulate that for the murderous actions the relation of of will and of secret can imply others. In each permutation will be found
two characters will be possible only once in each permutation, and it will privileged circuits, to wit:
not be reversible.
asexual actions: If A succeeds in winning the sexual favors of Β determines
through seduction, he need not resort to money or to rape for the same of a sexual appro­ an appropria­ fa murder
the appropriation
priation tion of will a sexual
of a secret
One may also exclude, or neglect, the reversibility of the sexual rapport of a murder that deter­ appropriation
(the same or another) between two characters mines
,h2»L may
tt n
P° " s t l a t e m a t
for the sexual acts, the relation of two or:
btrewMbk ^ ° n I y o n c e
Permutation, and it will not
i n e a c h

a murder
a sexual appropri­
J°^JT?? ° u riati
n f S e C m :
B's secret, this secret I f A
the appropriation
ation that deter­
may be defined in another relation that follows in the sequence, between of a leads to
mines, etc.
? ι £ £ Ζί Ζ ° ; r ^ D, or D and C), a sexual relation, or will
( r n C

an appropriation of
a relation of murder, or of the appropriation of will, or of the appropriation
a secret
of another secret. After that, A no longer needs to obtain theiame secret
from B. by another means (but he may obtain a different secret by a differ­ Each new relation in the chain excludes others.
ent means from Β or from other characters). Reversibility of the acts of
appropriation of a secret is possible, if there are on both sides two different
secrets. Subjective Constraints
For the appropriation of will: If A imposes his will on B, this imposi-
ZZH* T ? ? Τ! " "
P 3 8
^ Γ ) and B, or eveTbe-
0 b c t w e e n A
(° Γ ω ο
Incompatibility of each character with certain actions committed or sub­
tween Β and C (or A), a relation that may be sexual, murderous, the mitted to. The 12 actions may also be divided according to a second sort
appropriation of a secret, the appropriation of another will. After that A of system, classifying them in 4 subjective categories.
1*0 rruse una /vmicomoinmuncs
rrOSC UIIU /uiuvuuuniimm iw

acts of acts of disloyal acts that exploit tends to favor those solutions that are the most harmonious and
physical persuasion acts another's weak­ economical.
ness He proposes a model, such that:
to extort to incite to abuse the to buy good —each action be perpetrated by one and only one character and have
confidence graces
to rape ....··*" one and only one character as a victim;
to seduce to stab in the to blackmail —the 12 actions be equally distributed among the 4 characters; that is,
to strangle each of diem perpetrates 3 actions (one on each of the others) and is the
to induce to to spy upon to drug victim of 3 actions (each perpetrated by one of the others);
commit suicide
—each of the 3 actions perpetrated by a character belongs to a different
—Of A it is known that he is a man of enormous physical strength but (objective) class of actions;
that he is also an almost inarticulate brute. —the same as above for each of die three actions submitted to by any
A cannot submit to acts of physical strength, given character;
A cannot commit acts of persuasion. —between two characters there be no commutativity within the same
class of actions (if A kills Β, Β cannot kill A; likewise, the three sexual
—Of Β it is known that she is a woman in complete control of herself,
relations will occur between differently assorted couples).
with a strong will; she is sexually frigid; she hate$ drugs and drug addicts;
Is it possible at the same time to take account of the subjective con­
she is rich enough to be interested only in herself. '
straints and of the so-called esthetic constraints?
Β cannot submit to acts of persuasion.
This is where the computer comes in; this is where the notion of "com­
Β is not interested in acts that exploit another's weakness (she is not
interested in buying sexual favors, she does not touch drugs, she has no puter-aided literature" is exemplified.
motive for blackmail). Let us consider, for instance, 4 characters whom we shall call:
—Of C it is known that he is a very innocent Boy Scout, that he has a
great sense of honor; if he takes drugs, he vomits immediately; his inno­
cence protects him from all blackmail. DANI
C cannot submit to acts that exploit another's weakness.
C cannot commit disloyal acts. A very simple program permits us to engender selections of 12 mis­
deeds. Each of these selections might be, in theory, the scenario our hero
wry weak
f iS
^ " * t e r r i b l y
η»**™ *" woman and physically
8 1
is trying to reconstitute.
D cannot submit to disloyal acts. Here are a few examples of such scenarios:
D cannot commit acts of strength. SELEC1
An ulterior complication could be introduced!!!! ARNO BUYS CLEM
Each character could change in the course of the story (after certain CLEM EXTORTS A CONFESSION FROM ARNO
actions committed or submitted to); each might lose certain incompatibil­ ARNO CONSTRAINS ARNO
ities and acquire others!!!!!!!! ARNO EXTORTS A CONFESSION FROM BABY
For the moment, we forgo the exploration of this domain. CLEM RAPES DANI
Esthetic Constraints (or subjective on the
part of the programmer) CLEM POISONS ARNO
The programmer likes order, and symmetry. Faced with the huge number DANI EXTORTS A CONFESSION FROM CLEM
of possibilities and with the chaos of human passions and worries, he ARNQ ABUSES ARNO
6^ * ivsc atiu /uiuwuuiuuuiMll tva rrose ana Aniicuiuuunti««i«


The absurdity of these scenarios is obvious. In fact, the program used BABY BLACKMAILS ARNO
is completely stupid: it permits a character to commit a misdeed against DANI BUYS BABY
himself. BABY
The program can be improved in imposing: BABY RAPES DANI
—that autocrimes be excluded; CLEM CONSTRAINS DANI
—that each character figure only 3 times as criminal and 3 times as ARNO ABUSES BABY
One then obtains scenarios like the following: CLEM POISONS ARNO
This new program still comprises obvious insufficiencies.
DANI POISONS ARNO Thus, in the first scenario it is not possible for Clem to blackmail Arno
BABY THREATENS CLEM who has already been poisoned by Dani. In the second scenario, Baby
BABY SPIES UPON ARNO cannot rape Clem, because Arno has already cut the latter's throat, etc.
CLEM BLACKMAILS ARNO Paul Braffort, who ensures the development in computer science nec-
13Ζ Frose and Anticombinatories

essary to the progress of our work, has also written a series of programs
for selections that progressively account for the constraints our story must
respect in order to remain "logically" and "psychologically" acceptable
. T h i s clearly demonstrates, we believe, that the aid of a computer, far
from replacing the creative act of the artist, permits the latter rather to
liberate himself from the slavery of a combinatory search, allowing him
also the best chance of concentrating on this "clinamen" which, alone
can make of the text a true work of art.

to whom, in case the worst happened, h e wight entrust bis secret,

No one besides a very old lady shared his compartment. He strode
the length j>f his car but only TRAVELN
I governesses with
children %»d other hopeless cases we r e t o b e ^ i v unwisely he leaped
from the train onto the station pkifotTn* a t f | # | n g so felt a surge of
darkness within him. The p t o t f c a ^ f a s -enpty except for a young THE DIALECT OF THE TRIBE
rabbi Czegka staggered>ioward|iB^ a a i managed
to gasp out his discovery befoje hi? b e j i i|«^b ©^apsed, for Georges Perec

The rabbi w h o had, afthcpgjahe ν$Μ#βφ&- a good W of

r f i
German, was Nathan Milstein's f a t h e r , j ^ u p ^ to Odessa, h e re­
peated what he had learned to a professor at the St. Petersburg Con­ X hank you for the letter suggesting I contribute to the Festschrift
servatory, Boris Zaremba. (He was the great-uncle both of Boris in your honor. I have never doubted that in translating your w o r k I
Khaikui and, through a niece's Bulgarian marriage, Boris Christoff.) have been of service to our two cultures, but I am flattered to think

These facts supply a partial explanation of the excellence of Rus­ mat my general views on translation may be worth a hearing. I shall
sian violinists in the twentieth century, and clarify the origins of the be happy to contribute to the homage you are deservedly to receive,
controversial expression "Bratislava spiccato." not only for the privilege of collaborating in so distinguished an en­
terprise, but because I truly feel that the subject you have assigned
m e is a vital one. The longer I live — the longer I write — the stron­
ger becomes my conviction that translation is the paradigm, the ex­
emplar of all writing. To put it another way: it is translation that
demonstrates most vividly the yearning for transformation that u n ­
derlies every act involving speech, that supremely human gift. Of
course I am not saying that translation — at least not as I practice it
— takes precedence over other modes of writing. On the contrary: it
is its modesty that makes it so useful. But while it differs enormously
in substance from true writing (like your own), the difference is only
one of degree. One might then say that insofar as true writing is a
kind of translation, the text from which it works is an infinitely ardu­
ous one: nothing less than the universe itself.
8 HARRY MATHEWS The Dialect of the Tribe 9
By coincidence — only minds poorer than ours would call it Ms. Moon had spoken the truth; the language is, as you will see,
accident — I was, as you were writing your letter, engaged in radi- accessible enough, and I worked long hours at it. I made such progress
cally extending my knowledge of translation, in a way as appropriate as to expect by the end of a week to be able to produce an English
as it was unforeseen. rendering of Kalo Gap Pagolak. (Need I say that you would have been
I had returned for ten days to Fitchwinder University in order to the first beneficiary of this undertaking?) But there is more to any
continue my research on the Bactrian controversy. Our old friend language than its mechanisms, and inherent in the very utterance, of
Ms. Maxine Moon is still a librarian there; and it was she who brought Pagolak was something that kept the roughest translation beyond
to my attention the unexpected text that was to occupy me during my grasp.
the rest of my stay. This text was not in Bactrian, it was not about (The dictionaries turned out to be useless. They had been com-
Bactria—in fact it put the Bactrians quite out of my head. It was in, piled for traders and had only an arbitrary, mercantile utility. The
of all things, Pagolak, the speech of a small hill tribe in northern New problem, in any case, was not one of particular words.)
Guinea; and it had been transcribed for an article in an Australian As I became familiar with the text, which was an oral declara-
anthropological journal by one Ernest Botherby (bless himl). It was tion by the abanika or "chief word-chief* of the tribe, I began w o n -
entitled — by Dr. Botherby perhaps — Kalo Gap Pagolak, meaning dering why Dr. Botherby had not himself supplied a translation as
'magic transformation of Pagolak.' Ms. Moon, correctly, "thought it part of his article. He had done his other work scrupulously: his com-
would interest* me. The text, she said, was an account of a method mentary was packed with useful information; he had clearly taken
used by the Pagolak-speaking tribe to translate their tongue into the great care in transcribing the words of the speaker. Had he, too, en-
dialects of their neighbors. What was remarkable about this method countered some obstacle to Englishing the text? The better I under-
was that while it produced translations that foreign listeners could stood Kalo Gap Pagolak, the surer I became that Dr. Botherby, like
understand and accept, it also concealed from them the original mean- myself, had had no choice except to leave the abanika's declaration
ing of every statement made. intact. Was it after all so surprising for a language to resist ordinary
You will understand that once I had heard this much, it was procedures of translation when it was itself capable of extraordinary
impossible not to want to learn more. To translate successfully and ones? What could be more extraordinary than a method that would
not reveal one's meaning — what could be more paradoxical? What allow words to be 'understood* by outsiders without having their
could be more relevant? (Is anything more paradoxical than the act substance given away? It was true that the abanika claimed the power
of translation?) The crafty Ms. Moon had me hooked. She whetted of controlling this method for himself; but I was starting to realize
my craving with the remark that Pagolak was supposedly simple, how absurd such a claim might be. For it wasn't only those like the
with structures I could hope to master quickly, and abetted it by sup- abanika who had this power, but every last member of his tribe. The
plying two Pagolak dictionaries, one English, the other Dutch. method did not depend on individual decision; it was an integral part

10 HARRY MATHEWS The Dialect of the Tribe

of the language itself. No one speaking Pagolak could escape it. No nemes must take place. Here is a first demonstration of the "magic of
one attempting to penetrate Pagolak could elude it. changing," in one of its simplest forms. The words representing these
In a matter of days I found myself perfectly capable of under- changes (kabgap) sometimes involve namele and sometimes nalaman,
standing what the abanika was saying and perfectly incapable of re- according to whether the means or the end is invoked.
peating it in other terms, whether in English, or French—or Middle Now if halo gap is embodied willy-nilly in the act of speaking
Bactrian. The abanika's declaration, you see, was the very process of Pagolak, awareness of it is something that has to be learned. Young
transforming language mat I expected it to be about. It was not an males are schooled in this awareness during their initiation into man-
account of the process, it was the process itself. And how can you hood, or nuselek. Dr. Botherby, who underwent the initiation rite
translate a process? You'd have to render not only words but the (nanmana) so as to witness and record it, says that pain and privation
spaces between t h e m — l i k e snapshooting the invisible air under the make initiates highly receptive, so that they master namele rapidly.
beating wings of flight. An impossibility. All that can be done is de- The core of the instruction (afanu) is sitokap utu sisi. This phrase leaves
scribe, suggest, record impressions a n d effects. That is what Dr. an impression, approximately, of "resettling words in [own] eggs":
Bolherby did for his anthropological colleagues. It is the best I can do aptly enough, after the youngsters emerge from afanu through sitokap
for you. utu sisi into nuselek and its attendant privileges of ton wusi and aban
From beginning to end, the abanika % words concern the means metse, they claim to be emerging from boyhood (rather: "boybeing")
of bringing about kabgap, the "magic changing," the redirecting of like seabirds from chicken eggs (utopani inul ekasese nuselek ne sami
language towards foreign ears in a way that both provides clarity and sisinam) -~ dear Christ, it doesn't mean that — but can you perhaps
suppresses translation's customary raison d'itre—the commuiiieation intuit how tokkele (not "words," those words) return to their sisi to re-
of substantive content. You and I may know that such communication emerge in unexpected, unrecognizable forms?
is at best hypothetical, perhaps impossible; that translation may, Sitokap utu sisi — this will surprise no one familiar with the an-
precisely, exorcise the illusion that substantive content exists at all— cient Mysteries, the Kabbala, or modern linguistics — sitokap utu sisi
but what led a remote New Guinean tribe to such a discovery? Why requires sum (you cannot call it death—perhaps dying, the d y i n g . . . ) ,
should i^eare? narakaviri (like fire, like burning—fire-as-burning), and kot (not just
lyfy questions are rhetorical: the abanika speaks only of hows, s«t, but life tumultuously swarming out of the tropical dung, or words
not whys. Let m e acquaint you with some of his terms. The hermetic to that effect). The crux is narakaviri. The abanika makes this deafen-
transformation he articulates is associated with the word nalaman. ingly clear as he cries over and over nuselekka namele nanmana nalaman
More precisely: nalaman is the final result of the transformation, while nanasiluvo narakaviri — of course he is, as well, making a magical
the means of achieving that result is namele. As you can see, or better pun, magical in the incantatory repetition of the initial na, punning
hear, if "namele" is to become "nalaman," a redistribution of pho- in that it identifies the initiation of the young men (nanmana) with
12 HARRY MATHEWS The Dialect of the Tribe 13

the transformation of language they are submitting to (namek). tan; or with dup which signals that an utterance is almost nalaman.

Narakaviri ne se eleman again indicates the primordial role of fire- Mukesa dap alemok includes, in a polysemistic context, the proverb
being-burning, although sum and tor are never forgotten. (Examples: "Like jug, cork woman['s m o u t h ] / while moke sadapalemuk among
umani&suta kaksaviri nekkolim and tuku hot, hot kotavan.) But the mo- other things refers to a folksong in which "impetuous [husband] with-
ment of narakaviri is supreme — above all for us, for you and me, draws-from-vagina/ (Women are thought to create namek naturally,
writer and translator. Nusu tese alukan, you might say {but they would along with language; but as I hardly need tell you, they have n o
not say it, not in nalaman, because alukan is a foreign word, meaning mastery of it — no power of nalaman.) Similarly, where me ulemdka
"gold"). involves "burning the old field/ use olemaka leads to "burning (i.e.
Now, dear colleague, and companion, please look hard at these cooking) new fish.*
two short passages in Pagolak. Each points to narahmri, to this criti- Submit to the passages once again. Do you see how beautiful
cal moment in namek. The first enacts the way u p to it (pahanu), and this is? How brightly narakaviri colors the dawn sky? Brighter t h a n
the second the way <town from it (plot). You can enter these passages. any ukmaka! And n o w how bright and clear it must be that namek
What I propose is not reasonable, not unreasonable. Enter these two never be explained, or nalaman understood! Listen: awa nusekk kot
passages. You have no need for more knowledge. Your awareness is tak nalaman namek Pagolak! I promise to steal the book for you, from
equal to the task. This is a task: like all tasks correcdy performed, it this selfsame library — fuck Ms. Moon, since she won't let me Xerox
leads to revelation. Move (as I did) through the first passage to the it. I shall do this for you — what wouldn't I do for you? And even
last, become the bodily metamorphosis that this movement inspires, before you share the totality of the words, you — abanika yourself,
and you will have made the great lurch forward in your afanu, Then abanika esolunava — can partake of my tunaga (joy-as-it-becomes-
we shall walk in the light of nusekk together. joy), my utter nasavuloniputitupinoluvasan, as the birth-wording goes,
What you must provide is attention. Your attention must be ab- when alemok brings forth tupinohi who will some day come to nusekk.
solutely ready. More than that: you must expand it in a decorum of Such twenty-one carat alukan for our own namek and nalaman —
complete accessibility, in a ripeness as for dying, with the sense of a words into words, sparse scraps resurrected in the plenitude of
purpose vast but as yet unknown. Do not think, do not aire: Bel unentrammelled recreation! And 1 promise to turn to the composi-
Hist, pakanu: tion for your Festschrift as soon as this letter is mailed. Meanwhile,
Amak esodupelu mukesa dap alemok use dup ukmaka." (Repeat three nasavuloniputitupinoluvasan! And let me on this private occasion add a few
times.) last words, spoken out ofthe fullness ofmy mind and heart with admiration,
Last, plot: with devotion, with love: Amak kalo gap eleman nama la n'kat tokkele
"Amakesudupetumoke sadapalemuk use dup okmaka." (Ditto.) sunawa setan amnan umanisi sutu pakotisovulisanan unafat up lenumo
Helpful hints: don't bother with amah a conventional opening kona kale avmuloseakimbanasavuloniputkupinolu^s^ (II) abanika

esolunava efaka n o k o m u n e l p u t afanu nanasiluvo sitokap u t u sisi

n a m u n a n m a n a tes a w a nuselek kot tak nalaman. namele Pagolak
kama —

f1 \

X h e headmaster has asked m e to give you boys, briefly a n d in

plain language, a resume of m y work. I k n o w that as with all scien-
tific discoveries m i n e has been doubly misrepresented to the lay world
— b y half-comprehending news media o n one hand, by professional
journals with their confusing jargon on the other. Then there h a v e
b e e n the dust clouds of controversy shrouding further w h a t is essen-
tially not a difficult set of facts. And I'm glad of this occasion n o t only
because of the pleasure of paying modest homage to the school w h e r e
I acquired the first tools of scholarship, but because as regards t h e
controversy I w a n t to repeat — well, that is not quite honest, let m e
rather say assert, something that could not be admitted earlier lest
m y whole hypothesis be disgraced: Gartner was right. At least h e
was, as far as his m a i n claim was concerned, n o t wrong. I a m sorry
t h e old m a n is dead, dead before I could give h i m d u e credit.
Indeed w e m u s t start with Gartner's theory, which I n o w c o n -
sider proved: that the horizontal line, or dash, was a non-phonetic
symbol of the ancient Bactrian divinity, derived from its incarnation
as a snake. The discovery last m o n t h of some tablets from about 2500
B.c. furnish the proof. On t h e m the sign appears sometimes singly,
42 HARRY MATHEWS Remarks of the Scholar Graduate 43
often by twos, threes, and fives, almost always in arrangements of Except for o n e or t w o fragmentary examples, all t h e materials of
less t h a n seven. Previously w e h a d always considered such small t h e Early Second Period (tablets, seals, etcetera) show the dash as-
groups ^ f r a g m e n t s , or fakes. While it is t r u e that o n these tablets sembled into vertical groups of seven, so:
m a n y of t h e d a s h l i k e s t r o k e s v a r y c o n s i d e r a b l y f r o m strict
horizontality, this is nothing new, a n d in a n y case t h e deformations
h a v e n o significance — since there w a s b u t o n e sign, its shape could
deviate from t h e n o r m w i t h o u t danger of ambiguity. Is there a n y
chalk available? Good, let m e s h o w you —

Gartner, and all other scholars until myself have followed him, s a w
in these columns only a multiplication of the original symbol, a n d
a n d so forth: all o n e a n d t h e same thing.
t h e y c o n s e q u e n t l y i n t e r p r e t e d t h e m as m e r e reduplications or
So here w e h a v e without a n y doubt a people whose scriptural intensifications of its prime significance. In other words they saw in
apparatus comprised one symbol, a stylized pictogram of their god, t h e m only a quantitative transformation of identity. But the fact is,
arbitrary, particular, charged with connotations that w e cannot h o p e the dashes are not identical.
to disclose. This was Gartner's discovery a n d it is a fine o n e . But it
Again I must eliminate any thought of giving importance to physi-
ends w h e r e it begins, and its usefulness is limited to t h e very first,
cal variations of the sign. It is incredible h o w scholars persist in dash-
most primitive period of Bactrian written culture. For Gartner re-
ing d o w n this well-pounded dead-end street, even t h o u g h our oldest
fused to explore a n y possible extension, evolution, or modification
testimony o n the original Bactrians, a paragraph in Herodotus, e x -
of the initial significance that h e h a d rightfully attributed to the sym-
cludes all doubt o n t h e subject: "The few remaining Old Bactrians
bol. He would n o t even admit that t h e dash might have come to
say that until t h e time of t h e calamity they wrote with a single letter.
stand — and w h a t could be m o r e logical? — for t h e name of the god
Some attribute their demise to the a b a n d o n m e n t of t h e original prac-
as well as for t h e god himself; this would h a v e m e a n t acknowledging
tice." No, w h e n I say that the dashes w h e n grouped by sevens a r e
that the dash h a d gained a rudimentary phonetic power. Such obsti-
not alike, I m e a n simply this. The dash at the bottom is, uniquely, t h e
nacy led to t h e complete b r e a k d o w n of bis reasoning powers w h e n
dash at the bottom. The o n e above it is not at the bottom, and by t h a t
h e came to consider the Early Second Period of Bactrian civilization
virtue is unlike the first. The one above that is similarly distinct from
(about 2000 to 1850 B.C).
ζ > 44 HARRY M A T H E W S
Remarks of the Scholar Graduate 45

t h e t w o below it. So it goes t h r o u g h the topmost o n e .

(For convenience I shall henceforth let the first letter stand for its
If I can claim to have h a d a n original idea, this is it. It is certainly
class.) Next I discovered that vowels w e r e also determined by posi­
n o t o n e j h a t presupposes arcane knowledge of a n y sort, or a depar­
tion, that is, they were represented by the spaces between the dashes:
ture from c o m m o n modes of thought. B u t because it was n e w a n d
because t h e rest of m y hypothesis flowed naturally from it, it was
denounced as fantastic by m o s t of m y colleagues, a n d it brought m e
a K
years of dispute a n d abuse. I cannot go into all that a r g u m e n t here.
. e
Ultimately t h e confrontations w e r e useful, led m e t o n e w truths, a n d
helped m e refine those already discovered. I can only summarize the u
facts that issued from that long a n d difficult time, ornitting the some­ ο
times lucky, sometimes devious ways b y w h i c h I came to t h e m . ' a '
We have therefore a g r o u p of seven symbols identical in form
b u t distinguished from o n e a n o t h e r by position. It was highly prob­
able, once o n e h a d posited a phonetic significance to this differentia­ Finally, I learned that the symbols were to be read from the bottom u p :
tion (pictogrammatic and t h u s conceptional o'istmctions were excluded
b y t h e visual equivalence of t h e signs), that t h e ancient Bactrians like (a)
their neighbors indicated only t h e consonants of t h e words they tran­ k.
scribed; and while it was impossible to b e sure exactly w h i c h conso­ a
n a n t s were represented by t h e dashes, extrapolation from later texts I
was able to establish t h e classes of consonants that could b e assigned e
t h e m , thus: sh
k (h) t =(a)pafosutishelak(a)
1 (r) u
. sh (ch,j) s
t (d, n ) ο
_^ s (z) f
f <v) a
Ρ (b, m ) Ρ
46 HARRY M A T H E W S Remarks of the Scholar Graduate 47
This was — schematically, a p p r o x i m a t e l y — t h e written word. It was of t h e columns in a line determines theirs. It is a pity that this period
of course the written w o r d — n o o t h e r could be set d o w n , as a of Bactrian writing is so shortlived a n d that w e cannot with certainty
m o m e n t ' s reflection will show: there w e r e seven characters t o be say which of two possible forms this linear determination of m e a n -
sure, but only as a function of their place in a fixed sequence. Every ing took: w h e t h e r t h e words were all the same while their d e n o t a -
word (so to speak) h a d to begin with pa, continue with fo, a n d so tion silently varied; or w h e t h e r the words themselves changed with
forth — h e n c e only o n e word was possible. The u n i q u e case that their denotations. Although t h e latter alternative will seem m o r e rea-
defined t h e symbols w a s all they themselves could signify. Because sonable to us, there is n o particular evidence to m a k e us prefer it. For
of this singularity, I myself have n o doubt that t h e seven dashes stood instance, t h e Fobsuk Stele reads:
for t h e seven syllables of t h e Bactrian divinity. The first a n d only
word was t h e first a n d only n a m e , which was affixed to all things, so
that all things bore the n a m e of God.
• The first step in phonetic differentiation, which was albeit lim-
ited of crucial importance, was followed a r o u n d 1850 b.c. (Middle
Second Period) by a n e w development in Bactrian writing. Whereas
until t h e n only single groups of dashes are found, n o w several col-
u m n s appear o n the tablets a n d (another novelty) stones:

a n d w e k n o w from a Sanskrit version o n the back that the sense is

"God copulates with t h e soul of m o t h e r / but it is b y n o means s u r e
that, as m y colleague Piotrovsky states, the corresponding words are
mavozunijerah (of) m o t h e r
apafozunijlaka heart
amavosudishlah dig a well (in)
pafosutishelaka g o d

W h a t can this signify? Isn't t h e answer obvious? We n e e d only apply although of course this would be quite possible in the later texts from
o u r experience of the Bactrian mentality to guess that as t h e position which h e derives his interpretation. They m a y simply be:
of the dashes in a column determined their function, so the positions
Remarks of the Scholar Graduate 49
Stele, t h e . h a s in t w o of the four words M e n from the normal series
of vowels. This is in accordance with t h e subsequent evolution of t h e
Bactrian tongue a n d script. The unlimited possibilities of aligning
groups, w h i c h differed radically from t h e earlier dosed field of seven
characters, evidently took t h e lid off t h e scribes' inventiveness I n a
w h e r e t h e first (that is, rightmost) (a)pafosutishelak(a) w o u l d m e a n matter of t w o generations, by 1800 b . c , the system of uniform col-
"god," t h e second "copulate w i t h / t h e third " s o u l * a n d t h e last m a n s h a s broken d o w n ( l a t e Second Period). Groups w e r e divided
"mother." into fractions that represented a n increasingly various n u m b e r of pho¬
The question is n o t a n essential o n e . The fact is that trie first netic objects, including vowels, dipthongs, a n d syllables:
group in a line has a given meaning, t h e second wps&ya o n e , a n d so
9X1. 7
There w a s n o theoretical limit to t h e n u m b e r of columns that 6 "
could b e aligned, n o r was t h e line itself a practical limit: t h e Bactrians 5
soon learned to set rows of columns o n e above a n o t h e r to form a , 4
continuity. The longest text contains eighty-seven groups, in seven 3 _ '
a n d a half rows. The majority of examples, however, range from four . 2 :_

to seven columns. There are n o n e w i t h less t h a n four. This is because 1

t h e statements, w h a t e v e r their length, w e r e obliged to begin with
tch boor dir ha
t h e words "God copulates w i t h t h e soul of (the) mother," this was in
fact t h e cardinal sense of all declarations in the n e w writing, so that
These fractions lost m o r e a n d m o r e of their relation to t h e original
all its w r it te n utterances w e r e inevitably religious in n a t u r e or at least
given a strongly religious coloring by these opening words. I n fact w e Trilt, 0 1
*Γ ^ ° f C
° UTSe Ϊ Ο ώ €
" c r e d m e
^ s
of t h e
m a y say that w h e r e in t h e first period Bactrian writing consisted of
^ d i a g o n a l marks w e r e appended to the dashes to specify their func-
o n e divine n a m e that w a s identified with all things, in t h e second
period it consisted of a statement of o n e divine act that was identified mZ Γ/ *
3 S e V C n k V d S
° *"f W e r e
- r a i n e d until a
with all acts. The change corresponds t o that in religious belief from o w of
row o fcolumns:
f T h U S 3 TOW
° f h a d
^ ^ of a
a magical to a moral god, t o that in e c o n o m y from agriculture to

You will have noticed that in Piotrovsky's version of t h e Fobsuk


s ah f,v sh h k ο eh

This last reminder of its origins disappeared from t h e alphabet (for

such it n o w was) just before t h e destruction of t h e Bactrian state a n d
the dispersion of its people. The history of their preservation of t h e
script a n d its reemergence in Europe is the subject of m y next book
— a n d touching as y o u r attentive faces are, I don't plan to give away
a n y of its secrets today. But perhaps I m a y point out to you that ten
Bactrian characters survive in the m o d e r n international alphabet of
o u r o w n time; that they occupy the i r s t six positions in it, as well as
— a n d this is the most telling of all — the first a n d the last. This is
history's certain h o m a g e to t h e unapproachable superiority of the
Bactrians a m o n g the ancients in t h e d o m a i n of writing.
Of course Gartner would have n o n e of this. He railed o n to t h e
e n d of his life, poor m a n , against everything I wrote. He was ob­
sessed w i t h t h e shapes of t h e sign! He even called m e a "chauvinistic
liar"! The words are preposterous, b u t after all not surprising, corning
as they did — a n d this is something you boys should remember —
from a m a n of the West.

Michael Winkler

Where Signs Resemble Thoughts

A l l o f the "word-images" (ideographic images generated b y the spelling o f words) are produced

from the same configuration or matrix o f letter-points. T h e matrix is based o n a circle o f letters

organized around a pentagram o f vowels. E a c h o f the twenty-six letters o f the A l p h a b e t is asso-

ciated w i t h a specific point on the perimeter o f a circle. Lines are drawn to interconnect these

letter-points according to the spelling o f the w o r d printed b e l o w each image.

From the source of their origin.

the spelling of words recall mystical

shapes. Tht axial lines of

ancient Image link to the letters


of language. As becomes ideogram.

the miracle of coincidence makes

• «I
.-A ;·

of the thread of similarity

Michael Winkler

relates an inexplicable convergence. The magical

formula of archetypical design and rig«

method reveal the logical structures of

Where Signs Resemble Thoughts

intuitive process. This conjunction where

Signs resemble thoughts, defines the

of art the Of


Michael Winkler
ο 100,000,000,000,000 POEMS

D o n P e d r o f r o m his shirt has w a s h e d the fleas

J*c · • · · J>

T h e b u l l ' s h o r n s o u g h t t o d r y it like a b o n e

O l d c o r n e d - b e e f s rusty a r m o u r spreads disease

T h a t s u e d e f e r m e n t s is n o t a t a l l w e l l k n o w n

T o o n e s w e e t h o u r o f bliss m y m e m o r y clings

Signalling gauchos very rarely shave

A n icicle o f f r o z e n m a r r o w p i n g s

As sleeping-bags the silent landscape pave

Staunch pilgrims longest journeys can't depress

χ- •3>

W h a t things we did we went the whole darned hog

A n d played their m o u n t a i n croquet jungle chess

Southern baroque's seductive dialogue

Suits lisping S p a n i s h t o n g u e s for w h o m say s o m e

T h e bell tolls fee-less fi-less fo-less fum

ο 100,000,000,000,000 POEMS

rhe w i l d h o r s e c h a m p s the Parthenon's t o p frieze

>ince E l g i n l e f t h i s n o s t r i l s i n t h e s t o n e

f h e T u r k s said just take anything y o u please

Knd loudly sang off-key without a tone

3 P a r t h e n o n y o u h o l d the charger's strings

<- · · ^
r h e N o r t h W i n d b i t e s i n t o his a r c h i t r a v e
< « >

r h ' o u t r a g e o u s T h a m e s a t r o u b l e d a r r o w slings
< · · · · · »·

Γο break a rule Britannia's m i g h t m i g h t waive

< · - · - « · *··- >*

Hatonic Greece was not so

V piercing wit w o u l d sprightliest horses flog

< · — >•

Socrates w a t c h e d his h e m l o c k effervesce

< >.

%eir s c u l p t o r s d i d our b e s t o u r h u l k s t h e y c l o g

V i t h m a r b l e s o u v e n i r s t h e n fill a s l u m
< · ···— — >
o r Europe's glory while Fate's harpies strum


100,000,000,000,000 POEMS

A t snuff no C o r n i s h sailorman w o u l d sneeze

X · • · >•

H i s nasal ecstasy beats best C o l o g n e

X · * · · — ™ · • · * >•

U p o n his o l d o a k chest h e cuts his cheese

W i t h c h e r r y - p i p s h i s c o t t a g e floor is s o w n

T h e F r i s i a n Isles m y f r i e n d s are c h e r i s h e d t h i n g s

W h o s e o c e a n s t i l l - b o r n herrings m a d l y brave
X · · •·•>•

Such merchandise a melancholy brings

F o r b u r n i n g b u s h e s n e v e r fish f o r g a v e

W h e n dried the terrapin can n a u g h t express

S h a l l o t s a n d s h a r k s ' fins f a c e t h e s m o u l d ' r i n g l o g

W h i l e h o m e w a r d thirsts t o e a c h q u e n c h e d glass say yes

X - · - ·· · · >

L o b s t e r s for sale m u s t be o u r a p o l o g u e

On fish-slab w h a l e n o r s e a l has n e v e r s w u m

T h e y ' r e kings we're mammal-cousins hi h o h u m


ιοο,οοο,οοο,οοο,οοο poems

At five precisely out went La Marquise

for tea c u c u m
^ , e r
sandwiches a scone

pj native chauffeur waited in the breeze


X [ "
yfaich neither time nor tide can long postpone
pj yov it surprised us pale grey underlings
X" * " *
When flame a form to wrath ancestral gave

A daring baron pockets precious Mings

χ·· · ' "
Till firemen come with hose-piped tidal wave

The fasting fakir doesn't smell the less

In M a n summers Englishmen drink grog

χ····· · · · -
The colonel's still escuteheoned in undress

No need to cart such treasures from the fog

χ ·

The Taj Mahal has trinkets spice and gum

And lessors' dates have all too short a sum

Ϊ00,000,000,000,000 FOfAff

From playboy Chance the nymph no longer flees

χ >

Through snobbish growing round her hemline zone

His toga rumpled high above his knees

χ >

One gathers rosebuds or grows old alone

Old Galileo's Pisan offerings

Were pots graffiti'd over by a slave

X· —·*· >

The leaning linguist cameramaniac sings

X — >

Etruscan words which Greece and Rome engrave

Emboggled minds may puff and blow and guess

X · >

With gravity at gravity's great cog

X · · · - — — ··· - 5>

On wheels the tourist follows his hostess

X — ..........»....»...»•...»...««..».».».»»..»...»«..« — >

With breaking voice across the Alps they slog

Do bank clerks rule their abacus by thumb?

In cognac brandy is Bacardi rum?

ο 100,000,000,000,090 POIMS

He bent right down to pick up his valise


That hordes of crooks felt they'd more right to own

x- ·>

He bent right down and well what did he seize

x- • J>

The thumb- and finger-prints of Al Capone


Oh how oh how he hates such pilferings


Filching the lolly country thrift helped save

χ * · ·-"· · · ·—

He's gone to London how the echo rings

x ·· ··
Through homestead hillside woodland rock and cave
χ···· · - · ··•··-

The peasant's skirts on rainy days she'd tress

χ ·· · · —

And starve the snivelling baby like a dog

χ · ·

Watching manure and compost coalesce

χ · · · ·· «·*··

One misses cricket hearth and croaking frog

χ ···· · · ·

Where no one bothered how one warmed one's bum

x ·· ···>
Yet from the City's pie pulled not one plum
ο too,000,000,000,000 POEMS

W h e n o n e w i t h t'other straightaway agrees

χ ·

T h e a n s w e r is t h e y c o u l d b e t w i n s full-grown
x ·

Replies like this the d u m b s t r u c k brain m a y tease

N o r m a l o n e a i m s t o b e and s h a r e t h e t h r o n e

A n d yet ' t w a s h e t h e b e g g a r F a t e just flings

Rejecting ermine to become a knave

T h e fertile m o t h e r changelings d r o p s like kings

In purest cradles tha's h o w they behave

T h e g e n e a l o g i s t w i t h field a n d fess

W i t h q u i l l w h i t e - c o l l a r e d t h r o u g h his life will j o g

X · · ·•

T o p r o v e m a m m a a n a d u l t w i t h a tress

But I can understand you Brother Gog


A n d let y o u o f f f r o m y o u r o p i n i o n s g l u m

Α w i s e l o a f a l w a y s k n o w s its h u m b l e s t crumb

Prose took the minstrel's verse without a squeeze
x · ·
His exaltation shocked both youth and crone
χ ·

The understanding critic firsdy sees

X ·

'Ere meanings new to ancient tribes are thrown

x · · ······ «·

They both are right not untamed mutterings

That metred rhyme alone can souls enslave

They both are right not unformed smatterings

That every verbal shock aims to deprave

x · · ·
Poetic licence needs no strain or stress
x- ·· · · ···· · ·

One tongue will do to keep the verse agog

From cool Parnassus down to wild Loch Ness

Bard I adore your endless monologue

Ventriloquists be blowedjyo« strike me dumb
χ · · · · ·· ··—

Soliloquies predict great things old chum

ο ι ·ο, ··«,···,···,·«· roots

The acid tongue with gourmet's expertise

Licks round carved marble chops on snails full-blown

The showman gargles fire and sword with ease

X · · · » >-

While sharks to let's say potted shrimps are prone

X · · · .3*

The roundabout eats profits made on swings

Nought can the mouse's timid nibbling stave

χ · •···» · ··>•
In salads all chew grubs before they've wings

The nicest kids for stickiest toffees crave

χ · · · · » :
······· >•

The wolf devours both sheep and shepherdess

A bird-brain banquet melts bold Mistress Mog

χ · · · ·· — ·—>·

The country lane just thrives on farmyard mess

Whiskey will always wake an Irish bog

Thourfi bretzek take the dob from board-room dram


Fried grilled black pudding's still the world's best yum

ο 109,000,000,000,000 POEMS

The marble tomb gapes wide with jangling keys

x >
When masons clutch the breath we held on loan
x >
Forms shadowy w:th indecision wheeze
x ···· ·- ^
And empty cages show life's bird has flown

It's one of many horrid happenings

X — — : · · J-

With sombre thoughts they grimly line the nave

X ····- · 3>

Proud death quite il-le-gi-ti-mate-ly stings

Victorious worms grind all into the grave

χ · · >
It's no good rich men crying Heaven Bless
χ : >

Or grinning like a pale-faced golliwog

χ · · · >·

Poor Yorick comes to bury not address

χ ······ - — · · · >-

Well suffocate before the epilogue

Poor reader smile before your lips go numb

χ · · -········« — · * · >•

The best of all things to an end must come rj r a n s s q


I 3 0
Oulipo Laboratoryrlkgt from the BibliopKique Oulipienne. Trans.
Harry Mathews, Warren P^Motte, Ιτ.,^ά Iain White. Intro. Alastair Notes
Brotchie. London: Atlas, 193 des translations of Francois Le
Lionnais's "Two Manifestos" sa^s 3, 20,46, 62, 67, and 70 of
the Bibliotheque OulipienrW


1. In alphabetical order: Noel Amaud, Jacques Bens, Claude Berge, Jacques

Duchateau, Latis, Francois Le Lionnais, Jean Lescure, Raymond Queneau, Jean
Queval, Albert-Marie Schmidt.
2. The new members: Marcel Βέωοοϋ, Andrt Blavier, Paul Braffort, Italo
Calvino, Francois Caradec, Ross Chambers, Stanley Chapman, Marcel Du-
champ, Luc Etienne, Paul Foumel, Jacques Jouet, Harry Mathews, Michele Μέ-
tail, Georges Perec, Jacques Roubaud. It must be noted that the Oulipo draws no
distinction between living and dead members; Italo Calvino, Marcel Duchamp,
Luc Etienne, Latis, Frangois Le Lionnais, Georges Perec, Raymond Queneau,
and Albert-Marie Schmidt are now deceased.
3. See "Entretien: Perec / Jean-Marie Le Sidaner," L'Arc 76 (1979): 7. (All
translations are mine unless otherwise specified.)
4. According to some, the first utterance on earth, addressed by Adam to Eve,
was a palindrome: "Madam, I'm Adam." Although this theory may seem rather
esoteric to non-Anglophones, it rejoins a broader tradition of myth which postu­
lates the formal purity and rigor of original language. See Claude-Gilbert Dubois,
Mythe et langage au seii'ame Steele (Bordeaux: Ducros, 1970).
5. See "Deux Principes parfois respectes par les travaux oulipiens," Atlas de
Uttirature potentielle, 90. (For full references to Oulipian works, see the bibli­
ographies in the foregoing section, "Oulipians and Their Works")
6. "Entretien: Perec / Jean-Marie Le Sidaner," 8. In fact, only one of Perec's
poems, entitled simply "Un Poeme," seems to have been written freely. See his
La Cloture et autres poimes, 85.
7. See Paul Braffort, "Un Systeme formel pour l'algorithmique littiraire," Atlas
de littirature potentielle, 110.
8. See Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1973), 14-16, 19-45; Kabbalah and Criticism (New York: Seabury,
1975), 25-27, 36-37,54-55, 62-67,78-79, 86-89,122-23; A Map of Misread­
ing (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), 70-75, 84,95-99,106-09, 126,
149, 179, 195, 200; Poetry and Repression (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1976), 1, 16-21, 47, 66, 99-100, 124-26, 164, 183, 223, 248-49; Agon: To­
ward a Theory of Revisionism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 200¬
223; The Breaking of the Vessels (Chicago; University of Chicago Press, 1982),
23-31. See also Michel Serres, La Naissance de la physique dans le texte de
Lucrice: Fleuves et turbulences (Paris: Minuit, 1977), and "Lucretius: Science
and Religion," in Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy, ed. Josud V. Harari
and David Bell (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), 98¬
124; Jeffrey Mehlman, Cataract: A Study in Diderot (Middletown, Conn.: Wes-

196 Notes to Pages 19-23
Notes to Pages 28-33
leyan University Press, 1979), esp. 1-32. Essays from the Thorn polemic are
offered in Sub-Stance 40 (1983). Voulez vous que verti vous die?
9. "Entretien: Perec / Ewa Pawlikowska," Literatures 7 (1983): 70-71. Η n'est jouer qu'en maladie,
Lettre vraie que tragidie,
Ltche homme que chevalereux,
LIPO: FIRST MANIFESTO Orrible son que milodie,
Ne bien conseilli qu'amoureux.
1. How can sap rise in a debate? We shall leave this question aside, since it
arises "not from poetry but from vegetal physiology. (Shall I tell you the truth?
2. The Lettrists, as the name suggests, focused their aesthetics on the alphabet­ There is no joy except in sickness,
ical letter. See Isidore Isou, Le Lettrisme et Γ hypergraphie dans la peinture et la No truth except in tragedy,
sculpture contemporaines (Paris: Grassin, 1961), Les Champs de force de la pein­ No coward like a brave man,
ture lettriste: Nouvelles Pricisions sur la micanique, le [sic] matiire, le rythme No sound more horrible than melody,
et I'anecdote de I'hypergraphie (Paris: R. Altmann, I. Isou, 1964), and Ballets No wisdom except that of lovers)
ciselants polythanasiques, hypergraphiques et infinitisimaux (Paris: R. Altmann,
I. Isou, 1965). See also Maurice Lemattre, Le Lettrisme devant Dada et les ni-
crophages de Dada! (Paris: Centre de Creativitd, 1967) and Le Lettrisme dans le
roman et les arts plastiques, devant le "pop-art" et la bande dessinie (Paris:
~ 1 5
- Auguste Herbin S £ T
Centre de Creativito, 1970). The latter constitutes the first number of the review
Lettrisme, published by the Centre de Creativity. For a history of the movement, Barblan. See A bTrt S c h w e S ^ S BatiN* ^ V S " ' ^ ^ R e

see Jean-Paul Curtay's excellent La Poesie lettriste (Paris: Seghers, 1974), esp. 425. (WM) ' - Γ> J b B a c h
< N e w
Y o * Macmillan, 1935), I,
68-98. (WM)
3. The Russian mathematician A. A. Markov (1856-1922), principally known SECOND MANIFESTO
for his work in theory of probability. (WM)
4. Raymond Queneau's Cent MiUe Milliards depoimes, discussed in the Intro­
duction to the present volume. Boolian haikus: a literary application of the work
of the British mathematician George Boole (1815-64). See Francois Le Lionnais,
"Poemes booleens" and "Theltre boolean," La Littirature potentielle, 262-66
and 267-68. (WM)
5. "Crows, foxes" may be an allusion to La Fontaine's fable, "The Crow and
the Fox." Nonetheless, Francois Le Lionnais was genuinely interested in animal
language, and proposed to the Oulipo on 1 July 1963 that the group undertake to
write poems using only those human vocables understood by certain animals:
poems for dogs, for crows, for foxes, and so forth. This provoked the following BRIEF HISTORY OF THE OULIPO
exchange: 1. The College de Pataphysique takes its name from "DatanhvQ.v* » A . a-dlSC1 •
Jean Lescure: "One of my clients, who trains racehorses, told me one day plme proposed by Alfred Jarry, which he deZL^Jr.' "
that he often reads Baudelaire to his hoses, and they seem to adore it. . . ." Docteur Faustml' (II via) a ^ h ^ l n ^ . f e t o p i n i o n s d u

Raymond Queneau: "That's what's called doping. It's because of Baude­ spelled the word w k h m ω ω , t o i T ' " ^ 8
" h^self S o l u t i o n s J a r r v

laire that Off-Track Betting is going to Hell in a basket." "shocking physics " T h ^ C n S S 'f**** « ^taphysiqut, or t 0 S U g e s t

anniversaryoS^ the fiftieth U M a y

See Jacques Bens, Oulipo 1960-1963, 230-31. As to Algol, both Le Lionnais mmote7or? o n p £ i S 2 l 2 * "° « ^C e ) function is to c l u

and Noel Amaud experimented in the 1960s with Algol poems. See Le Lionnais, P

* PataphysiqueVnTlc^osSZl CotLtTpfT ?"" ™έ*<

"Ivresse algolique," La Littirature potentielle, 217-22; Arnaud, "Poemes algol,"
La Littirature potentielle, 223-27; and Bens, Oulipo 1960-1963, 54-55. (WM)
Stillman, Alfred Jarry (BosSn TVay^e ^983) r ^TS^J^ ^
members of the Oulipo held titles wimin ZcouL t ί , ? ° « f f o u n d , n

6. Afineautoreferential example of Villon's acrostics is furnished by the envoi for example, was a Transcendent *^>ysique: - Q u e n e a u

of the "Ballade des contre-ventes":

to the Baron Vice-CuratornSia™ J· f ?
$ &$
Λ β P r i v a t e G e n e r a l

° *Nm
CUrat r
Λ™»6 ls ^gent of General Pataphysics and
Λ β
198 Notes to Pages 3 3 - 4 8
Notes to Pages 48-60
the Clinic of Rhetoriconosis, as well as Major Conferant of the Order of the
Grande Gidouille. (WM) 3" siT-n S
, 0 A n d
" '-1.
H f e 8 0
558-59. (WM)
S h 0 r t Faus

2. See Noel Arnaud, "Et naquit l'Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle," in Jacques 3. See Brief History of the Oulipo," η. 1. (WM)
Bens, Oulipo 1960-1963, 8. (WM)
3. Raymond Queneau's first novel, published by Gallimard in 1933. (WM)
4. In the penultimate quatrain of his "Booz endormi," Victor Hugo rhymes POTENTIAL LITERATURE
Jirimadeth with se demandait. As the former place name figures in no known
atlas, it has been conjectured that Jirimadeth may be read as je rime ά dait, or "I
rhyme with dait." (WM) u n L X ^ d ^ m d
" U b l i s h e d
Bourbaki's'work Ζ ^ ^ ^ Ι ^ ^ ^ with set
5. According to Bens's minutes, this meeting took place not on April 5 but on
April 17. See Oulipo 1960-1963, 42-43. (WM) maticians in the Oulipo (WM)' a m a t e u r a n d
Professional mathe-
6. Again, according to Bens, the date of the meeting was not April 20 but April
28. See Oulipo 1960-1963, 45-52. (WM)
7. Lady Godiva was a female tortoise who lived in Francois Le Lionnais"s
garden. See Oulipo 1960-1963, 71. (WM)
8. Baudelaire, of course. "not," ^ ^ 7 ^ L ^ Τ °
8 ( -g- · "and,""or,"
f S e n t C n t i a l l 0 i c e

9. Years become centuries in Oulipospeak. (WM) of methodologiclMegant. (TM) ^ ******* as a model

10. Let us recall the names of the old ones; Noil Arnaud, Jacques Bens, Claude 4. The German mathematician George Cantor <isu<i ιοιβ* u c ,

Berge, Paul Braffort, Jacques Duchateau, Francois Le Lionnais, Jean Lescure, work on the theory of numbers. (WM) (I845-I918), known for his
Raymond Queneau, Jean Queval. Foreign correspondents: Andre Blavier, Ross 5. Literally "leaves," "sun," "fickle," "banks," "vermilion " "sleen " rwvn
Chambers, Stanley Chapman.

1. Queneau's attack was directed against Andre Breton and orthodox surreal­
ism; see also "Raymond Queneau and the Amalgam of Mathematics and Litera­ Will lovely, lively, virginal today
ture" and "Mathematics in the Method of Raymond Queneau." Queneau, dis­ Shatter for us with a wing's drunken bow
tressed by Breton's autocratic rule, left the surrealist group. Along with Jacques This hard, forgotten lake haunted in snow
Baron, Georges Bataille, J.-A. Boiffard, Robert Desnos, Michel Leiris, Georges By the sheer ice of flocks not flown away!
Limbour, Max Morise, Jacques Pre vert, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, and A swan that wasremembersit is he
Roger Vitrac, Queneau signed Un Cadavre, the 1930 pamphlet condemning Bre­ Hopelessly yielding for all his fine show
ton. Its language is very vituperative (if perhaps not quite as harsh as certain Because he did not sing which way to go
passages of Breton's Second Manifesto); the most commonly occurring epithets When barren winter beamed its apathy.
are flic (cop) and cure (priest). See Maurice Nadeau, Histoire du surrialisme
(Paris: Seuil, 1964), 131-37. (WM) His neck will shake off that white agony
2. Bdnabou is of course alluding to La Disparition. (WM) Space deals out to the bird that will deny
3. This diagram, previously unpublished, was furnished by Marcel Benabou as But not earth's horror where the plumes are clamped.
a complement to "Rule and Constraint." The three circles should be imagined as A ghost whom to this place his lights assign,
rotating freely; thus, in elaborating a given structure, any combination of linguis­ He stiffens in the cold dream of contempt
tic object, semantic object, and operation is possible. (WM)
Donned amid useless exile by the Swan. (WM)
THE COLLEGE DE PATAPHYSIQUE AND THE OULIPO 8. Here, I again rely on Keith Bosley (169-71):

While high her sheer nails offer up their pink

1. See "Brief History of the Oulipo," η. 1. The text here translated served as Agate this midnight, lanternary Anguish
the introduction to a body of work submitted by the Oulipo to the College de Upholds a crowd of evening dreams now sunk
Pataphysique. (WM)
In phoenix fires: no urn gathers their ash
Notes to Pages 61-67 201
200 Notes to Pages 6 0 - 6 1

Of bones and mangled flesh, dragged in the slush,

On sideboards in the empty room, no conch,
Of bloody strips, and limbs all shameless scarred. . . .(WM)
No cancelled trinket resonantly foolish
(The Master took it to the Styx to drink 10. The efficacy of transformations of this sort depends largely on the shock
Tears for the Void regards all else as trash). they produce as they run into the original: that is, the reader must ideally "hear"
But near the blank north casement a gold gash the original and the transformation simultaneously, and the latter must jar the
Gasps where perhaps painted unicorns lash former (this is also true of the S + 7 Method). To produce this effect, the untrans-
Fire cornering a nymph, dead, naked, lank formed part of the new text (in Queneau's example, the vocalic structure) must
follow the original faithfully. Granted this, literal translation of the passage would
In the mirror, while still in the frame's ambush not be effective. (WM)
Obliviously embraced, the septet wink 11. Named after Leonardo of Pisa, also known as Fibonacci, a thirteenth-
And forthwith in their distant fastness flash. (WM) century Italian mathematician, author of Liber Abaci. In a Fibonacci series, the
9. The entire text of Athalie's dream (from Racine's Athalie, II, v) is as follows: first two terms are chosen arbitrarily (although by convention they are generally
C6tait pendant l'horreur d'une profonde nuit. either 0 and 1 or 1 and 1); each term thereafter is the sum of the two preceding
Ma mere Jdzabel devant moi s'est montree, terms, for example, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, etc. Perhaps Fibonacci's
Comme au jour de sa mort pompeusement parte. greatest achievement was his popularization in the Western world of the Hindu-
Ses malheurs n'avaient point abattu sa fierto; Arabic numerals. (WM)
Meme elle avail encor cet eclat emprunte 12. According to Frangois Le Lionnais, Estoup was a stenography teacher in
Dont elle eut soin de peindre et d'orner son visage, the early part of mis century who, while doing research for a treatise on the
Pour reparer des ans l'irrdparable outrage. frequency of words, discovered a law. Raymond Queneau formulated the latter as
Tremble, m'a-t-elle dit, fille digne de moi. follows: "The place of a word in the list ordered according to frequencies is con-
Le cruel Dieu des Juifs I'emporte aussi sur tot. stant when multiplied by its own frequency." Queneau's evocation and attempted
explanation of this law at an early meeting of the Oulipo was met, according to
Je te plains de tomber dans ses mains redoutables,
Jacques Bens, by glassy-eyed incomprehension. See Oulipo 1960-1963, 42, 88,
Ma fille. En acnevant ces mots epouvantables, 90-91. (WM)
Son ombre vers mon lit a paru se baisser, 13. Text of a lecture delivered in M. J. Favard's Quantitative Linguistics Sem-
Et moi, je lui tendais les mains pour l'embrasser. inar on 29 January 1964. The activity of the Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle
Mais je n'ai plus trouve qu'un horrible melange having grown considerably since then, this report of its work is already dated.
D'os et de chair meurtris, et trataes dans la ^ On the Oulipo, see F. Le Lionnais, preface to Cent Mille Milliards de poimes;
Des lambeaux pleins de sang, et des membres affreux. . . . R. Queneau, Entretiens avec Georges Charbonnier; dossier 17 of the Cahiers du
Samuel Solomon's translation of this passage, from Jean Racine: Complete Plays Collage de Pataphysique: numbers 66-67 of Temps MiUs.
(N?w York Random House, 1967), II, 400, is as follows: 1 recall the names of the members of the Oulipo: Noel Amaud, Jacques Bens,
It was a brooding, horror-breathing night. Claude Berge, Jacques Duchateau, Lads, Francois Le Lionnais, Jean Lescure,
My mother Jezebel appeared before me. Jean Queval, A.-M. Schmidt, and foreign residents: Andre Blavier, Paul Braffort,
Arrayed in pomp, as on the day she died. Stanley Chapman, Ross Chambers, and Marcel Duchamp,
Her pride was quite untamed by her misfortunes, The reader will find a more developed account of the metrical analysis of lan-
Immaculate as ever were the unguents guage in an article (to appear) in Etudes de linguistique quantitative, no. 3, pub-
With which she never failed to deck her face lished by the Faculte de Lettres et des Sciences humaines of the University of
To hide the hideous ravages of time. Besangon. * ;

"Tremble," she said to me, "my worthy daughter.

You, too, the cruel Jewish God must slaughter.
I phy you, when in His fearful hands QUENEAU OULIPIAN
You fall, my child." With these words, big with dread,
Her spirit seemed to lean towards my bed; 1. Claude Simonnet, Queneau dichiffri (Paris: Julliard, 1962), 13-14.
And I, I stretched my hands out to embrace her. 2. Claude Simonnet, ibid.
Yet all I found was but a horrid mush
202 Notes to Pages 69-78
Notes to Pages 79-84 203
3. Paul Gayot, "Madagascar et Valentin Bru" Dossiers du College de Pataphy-
4. Paul Gayot, "A travers le Paris de Zazie et de Valentin Bru," ibid.
5. This article originally appeared in L'Arc 28 [1966] under the title "Littirature 1. Francois Le Lionnais, "Raymond Queneau et l'amalgame des mathema
Potentielle." aques et de la littirature," Nouvelle Revue France 2 9 0 ( ^ 7 6 γ Χ £ Ϊ
Queneau and the Amalgam of Mathematics and Litemture" appeared iZ7ou
RAYMOND QUENEAU AND THE AMALGAM vdleRevue Francaise prior to its publication in Atlas de liSraTe pountiZ.
31-36 " SeC C 0 Q J e C t U r e $ f a U S S e S e
" Λ έ 0 Γ ί β d e s
"ombres," Bords, Hermann, 1963,
1. Christian Goldbach was a Russian mathematician who conjectured In a letter 3. Bords, 34.
to Leonhard Euler in 1742 that every even integer greater than four could be 4. Bords, 82.
expressed as the sum of two odd prime numbers. His conjecture is an example of
"incomplete induction" since, although it has never been proved false, it cannot tJ'iSSlO^ ^!^ 1 mB0rdS
- lB
>" r i
« h t h e r e
" R-baud means
be verified for every even integer greater than four. The Prussian mathematician
R Klein (1849-1925) proposed the "Erlanger Program" in 1872. It drastically 6. Bords 12 ^ Atlas de littirature potentielle. (WM)]
p u D l l c a t l 0 n

modified the existing classification of geometry and remained the authoritative 7. Bords, 29.
model for nearly fifty years. It was finally rendered obsolete by the new geome­ 8. In the Proceedings of the Acadimie des Sciences.
tries that followed the general theory of relativity (1916). (WM)
9. Vol. 12, no. 1, January 1972.
2. The "Disparate Luncheons" (for instance, several years ago, the one with
Pierre Auger, Francois Jacob, Andre Lichnerowicz, Stanislas Ulam), the "Math­ 39 ·
S e C tot
* e series, in the article cited above,
S i x t e e n t e r m s o f

ematical Luncheons" (for instance, in the spring of 1976, with Henri Cartan,
Π. This is a conscious choice: see, for example, in the article on the j-additive
Nicolaas Kuiper, Casimir Kuratowski, Christine Phili), and other agapes. series, theremarkon page 64; "For s> = 1 we H k ™ , * additive w

3. He was an honorable member of the "Confrerie des Digustateurs de

Nombres," which I founded some years ago (but which has never met).
4. S, because s is the first letter of "sum." ιι. Reprinted in the 'Queneau" issue of L'Heme.
5. E. Waring (1734-98), an English mathematician specializing in number
theory, conjectured in 1770 that every integer η > 0 is the sum of a fixed least (W M)Γ '
I to W,
" 3 4
°· [ & e Q u e M a u
' s
" P o t e n t i a l
number g(s) of the jth power of integers 0. (WM)
6. Mathematicians who are richly informed about and passionately interested ΐϊ" l£tSS^Ϊ?l^.i,?llφ!i,tothe idea of mairical analysis. I do not know.
13. Reprinted in Cahiers de Γ Heme.
in art and poetry are far more numerous.
7. October third being both Janine's birthday and my own, we used to celebrate "E!k3ch2S Ζ f MHELA"CH0LY"JSAN,ALLUSION10 « ™ 1 * Nerval's sonnet
it by dining together with, at the most, our spouses; presents of ties and delica­ lia. (WM) * " m a l l u s i o n 1 0
Albrecht Diirer's Melancho-
cies, and quatrains ('October" rhyming with "sober"). 17. Notably, in the work of P. Braffort and J. Bens
8. See Francois Le Lionnais, "Poemes booleens," La Littirature potentielle, 18. The issue of 29 sable 93, 79.
262-66. (WM) 19. The quotation is from Pound's Spirit of Romance, ch. 2. (WM)
9. The allusion is to Andre" Breton and the surrealist group; see "Rule and 20. These are not the only "mutations" in the poem.
Constraint," η. 1. (WM) 21. In J. Roubaud, Etoffe (Zurich: G. K, Editions, 1974)
10. It is not a question of cadavres exquis. Queneau's patent guarantees, in 22. G. Perec, Ulcerations, Bibliotheque Oulipienne 1
addition to the conservation of the rhyme (which is not at all extraordinary), the
conservation of syntactic coherence (that is Oulipian) and aspires to the conser­ co^bi!l^nT' ^" ° S P UT
P° literature U M m a l y S e t e n t i e , l e d e l a

vation of a semantic atmosphere (which is Quenellian). combmatoire in Oulipo, La Littirature potentielle, "Idees," Gallimard and in
the same volume, Queneau's article, "La Relation X prend Y p T z - t l
11. It has already fostered works in France by Monique Bringer, Georges Guil- articles appear in the present collection. (WM)] 1

baud, and Jacques Roubaud, as well as works by American mathematicians. 24. Article cited, 63.
12. This article was originally published in Nouvelle Revue Frangaise 290 25. Bibliotheque Oulipienne 2.
26. See the book cited, note 23, principally Jean Lescure's historical article and
204 Notes to Pages 84-92 Notes to Pages 93-105 205

Francois Le Lionnais's two "manifestoes." (All three pieces appear in the present 61. In the article "Technique du roman," Batons, chiffres et lettres, 33.
collection. (WM)]
27. "Litterature potentielle," in Batons, chiffres et lettres, 317. C O S ' S L Hto^ - set,"
corresponds ! , » in its
' very great
" poverty.
" C n S e t e m i t e X t S e m S t 0 b e Λ β t e r m t h a t m o s t
28. Article cited, n. 27, 322.
29. Article cited, 323. J»; ^ "°n ?
™? *Ί^ 0 P° t e n t i e l l e d e
1* »«6rature combinatoire," LaLittt-
30. F. Le Lionnais, "Premier manifeste," in La Littiraturepotentielle, 20. P e S t£Z*'* l P e r C C S reSUUed i n U
' P^- S « also
V i e m o d e d em

31. See n. 27. [See also Georges Perec's "History of the Lipogram." (WM)] (WM)] P
° U r
d'emphi," L'Arc 76 (1979), 50-53.
32. G. Perec, "Histoire du lipogramme."
33. Lettres Nouvelles, 1969. thews's%oS.^(WM) ' ' «S S
e X P C r i m e n , S W i t h S h a k e S p e a r e s i n

34. La Disparition, 1. 65. Not counting the places that advertise it.
35. See the texts cited in nn. 27 and 32. 66 Batons chiffres et lettres, 29. The novels in question are Le Chiendent
36. La Disparition, 296. The disappearance of the e elicits an effervescence of Gueule de Pierre, and Les Derniers Jours. ««w«w.
punctuation. [Queneau's text also appears in La LittSrature potentielle, 98. 67. Odile, 33.
(WM)] 68. We are not attacking the indivisibility of the man and the work.
37. Queneau's table was published in Atlas de littirature potentielle, 74-77.' 69. See η. 11.
l°- SJ '"Technique du roman," in Batons, chiffres et lettres, 33.
i n

38. It is impossible for me to offer any more details, since these belong to the ™ originally published in Critique 359 [1977].
, s m i c l c w a s

39. Article cited, 322.
40. Le Voyage en Grtce, 94. HISTORY OF THE LIPOCRAM
41. See section 4,
42. See also the testimony of F. Le Lionnais in the Nouvelle Revue Frangaise: 1. Perec is alluding to Queneau's Cent Mille Milliards depoemes. (WM)
"A fan of whole numbers cannot help but yearn to confront the horrors and de­
lights of those rebel angels, the prime numbers." c o L - S η ' ' ' P P P « Φ* le fond de mon
1 , 1 1 2 : , L e j o u r n c s t a s l u s

coeur (The day is no more pure than my own heart). That this was the line Perec
43. This position remains of current interest, if one may judge from certain
recent oafish statements about the "Fascism" of language. 1982 (WM)
n WaS C m C d b y 8
^ Μ l e t , e r from h i m t 0 Λ
« editor in February
44. Gallimard.
m12 * <° * ^ffi^ult trifles / And it is the foolish toil of buffoons."
s h m e f u l 3 ν β

45. J. Roubaud, Mezura, Editions de Γ Atelier, 1976. Martial, Epigrams 11, 86, 9-10. (WM)
46. Introduction to the Poisie des ensembles. 4. "I sing of Demeter and Kore, the bride of Klymenos." (WM)
47. Editions Caracteres, 1958.
48. Editions Gallimard, 1961. J J ? ^ ?r i ' t W
y S
o t h e r s (Los dos
ftC S p a n i s h a l s o t d l a s t 0 f o f

^rmanos. . ), and La Dtsparition tells the story of a large family: would the
49. See La Littirature potentielle or Batons, chiffres et lettres. theme of brothers be somehow inherent to the lipogram?
50. See P. Lusson's work in the Cercle Polivanov on these questions. 6. Two translations are possible: "The enchantment struck down Apollo's son"
51. The other basic example is of course Raymond Roussel's Comment j'ai and I free Apollo s son from enchantment." (WM)
icrit certains de mes livres. 7. "And yet the R is a letter of the alphabet, a letter which recurs quite dften
52. See "La Littirature semo-dofinitionnelle," in La LittSrature potentielle, notwithstanding the paucity of our discourse. A letter which, although you mighi
123. ignore all the others, cannot escape you. Now, of course, one can repeat that old
53. Bourbaki, introduction to Topologie gonirale. and famous aphorism, NATURE IS CONQUERED BY ART" (WM)
54. Topologie gSnirale, ch. 1, 186. 8 "Various consequences of love, infiveexemplary tales, and new'devices for
55. F. Le Lionnais is the representative, and almost the only one, of this ten­ writing in prose and verse without one of the vowels," (WM)
dency. 9 "The vowel e is found in the majority of the most frequently used words in
56. Bibliotheque Oulipienne 3. the language, such as . . . father, mother, benevolence . levity jejune
57. Queneau, Les Fondements de la littirature d'aprisDavidHilbert, 3. pleasant, excellent. . . nevertheless . . . woe . . . t ' " (WM) z e s

58. Id., ibid., 4. 10 Literally (if not lipogrammatically) translated: "We camp in Malakoff, or
59. Id., 13. rafter, since Malakoff has entirely disappeared, neither seen nor heard, we camp
60. Id., 12. where it used to rise up, so insulting (Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!)." (WM)
206 Notes to Pages 105-17
Notes to Pages 117-26 207
11. See Queneau's L'Instant fatal. (WM)
12. "The ancient power of language surges forth in the Lord's Prayer," (WM) mi^^WW ^ "'™ 0 0 N
°- 1 ( P a r i 5 : S e u i 1
' 1 9 6 2
> w a s
Polished in
13. Efforts to locate the Conrad text and to identify the English female novelist
have thus far failed to bear fruit. Marcel Benabou suggested that Perec meant vieiik? 6 Ρ Ο β Π 1 B e r g C Η Μ t r a n s f o r m e d i s
H a n i ' s "Quand vous serez bien
D. H. Lawrence rather than Conrad, but this cannot be confirmed. On the other
hand, I am indebted to Bruce Kochis for an example of liponymy from Vladimir Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, a la chandelle,
Mayakovsky: in his "About This," a poem of 1,500 lines about love, Mayakovsky Assise aupres du feu, devidant et filant,
never uses that word. The first part ends with a rhyme that seems to call for the Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous esmerveillant:
word "love," whose absence is thus rendered conspicuous. See Mayakovsky, Ronsard me celebroit du temps que j 'estois belle.
trans, and ed. Herbert Marshall (New York: Hill and Wang, 1965), 161-215.
(WM) Lore vous n'aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Desja sous le labeur a demy sommeillant,
Qui, au bruit de Ronsard, ne s'aille reveillant,
RECURRENT LITERATURE Benissant vostre nom de louange immortelle.
Je seray sous la terre, et, fantosme sans os,
1. The authors wish to thank Bernard Jaulin and Pierre Rosenstiehl for their Par les ombres myrteux je prendray mon repos;
judicious advice. Vous serez au fouyer une vieille accroupie,
2. The authors are referring to Jean Lescure's S + 7 method. See La Littirature
potentielle, 143-54, and Atlas de littirature potentielle, 166-70. (WM) Regrettant mon amour et vostre fier desdain,
3. Among the eleven texts offered in "Exercices d'homosyntaxisme" (La Lit­ Vivez, si m'en croyez, n'attendez a demain;
tirature potentielle, 176-80), none is attributed to Latis. (WM) Cueillez dis aujourd'hui les roses de la vie.

η 7 ϋ ^ ί Γ ί ^ I?"? f
^ ^ r Helen (London: George Allen
6 S o n

and Unwin, 1934), translates the poem as follows:



COMBINATORY LITERATURE When you are old, at evening candle-lit
beside the fire bending to your wool,
1. Dissertatio de Arte Combinatoria, J.-E. Erdmann (1666). It is surprising to read out my verse and murmur, "Ronsard writ
note that this very rare work, written in Latin, has never to our knowledge been this praise for me when I was beautiful."
translated. We owe certain of the references we used in the inventory of combi­ And not a maid but, at the sound of it,
natory literature to Y, Belaval. Let us also cite another famous mathematician, though nodding at die stitch on broidered stool,
Leonhard Euler, who suggested principles for a Combinatory Art in his Lettres ά will start awake, and bless love's benefit
une princesse d'Allemagne sur divers sujets de physique et de philosophic, Steidel whose longfidelitiesbring Time to school.
(1770-74), 27.
2. One could mathematize the concept of configuration in defining it as an I shall be thin and ghost beneath the earth
application of a set of objects within an abstractfiniteset provided with a known by myrtle shade in quiet after pain,
structure; for example, a permutation of π objects is a "bijective application of but you, a crone, will crouch beside the hearth
the set of objects within the set ordered 1,2 n." Nevertheless, we are Mourning my love and all your proud disdain.
interested only in those applications that satisfy certain constraints, and the nature And since what comes tomorrow who can say?
of these constraints is too varied to allow us to use this definition as the basis for Live, pluck the roses of the world to-day. (WM)
a general theory.
3. "Honor, Art, Money, Property, Praise, Woman, and Child / One has, seeks, 6. See die study Jean Ferry devoted to him in the journal Bizarre 34-35 (1964).
misses, hopes for, and disappears." G. P. Harsdorffer (1607-58), a founder of the 7. Work on the literary applications of the Latin bi-square was pursued by
"Pegnitz Shepherds," a Nuremberg society, wrote a Poetischer Trichter (Poetic Georges Perec; in 1978 it resulted in his La Vie mode d'emploi. (WM)
Funnel) (1647-53) with which one could "pour" the art of poetry into anybody in MATHEWS'S ALGORITHM
six hours. See J. G. Robertson, Outlines of the History of German Literature
(Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1950), 83. (WM) ,. i / , t I'- ™ ι" "trature potentielle, 143-54 and Atlas de littirature poten­
S 5 Li

tielle, 166-70. Semo-Definitional Literature: "Littirature S€mo-Dennitionnelle"

208 Notes to Pages 126-61

or "L.S.D.," a process elaborated by Marcel B6nabou and Georges Perec; see La

Littirature potentielle, 123-40. (WM) ^
2 It is entirely possible to apply the algorithm to syllables. If we omit this • * · · · · · · · · · « 4 * · · * · · · « · **
example, it is only because its demonstration is somewhat fastidious.


Included here are names of Oulipian and pre-Oulipian poetic structures, as well
asfiguresof classical rhetoric (many of the latter occur in Marcel B6nabou's
"Table of Elementary Linguistic and Literary Operations"). In the few cases in
which Oulipian use of a term differs from general usage, this has been noted.
1 A R Τ A · "Atelier de Recherches et Techniques Avancees," or "Workshop
The reader may find examples of many of the structures in La Littirature poten­
of Advanced Studies and Techniques," a group working at the Centre Pompidou^ tielle and Atlas de littirature potentielle, referred to below as I and II, respec­
For a time, the Oulipo used A.R.T.A. equipment in• tively.
literature. Personal letter from Paul Foumel to the editor, 5 December 1983.
l\ ta"he sime spirit and using a very similar technique, Michel Bottin pro­ A short theatrical form in which the lines spoken by the actors homophonically
grammed the 10" poems contained in the XLIst kiss of love of Quinnus Kuhl- mimic the sound of a person reciting the alphabet. See I, 111-14.
Τ This story is published in Oulipo, La Littirature potentidte Gallimard's A three-dimensional verbal text. See I, 289.
-Idees" collection, 277. [It also appears in the present volume (WM). J ANAPHORA
5 A prototype of this text may be found in Oulipo, La ^a^epm^le Repetition of a word at the beginning of successive utterances: e.g., "I came, I
Gallimard's "Idees" collection, 281. [Appearing here as "The Theater Tree. A saw, I conquered."
Combinatory Play." (WM)] . „
6. See Calvino's "Prose and Anticombinatorics. (WM) ANASTROPHE
7. See Roubaud's La Princesse Happy ou le conte du Labr^:Βώ^Μque Unusual inversion of words or syntagms within an utterance; e.g., "Came the
Oulipienne 2 (ch. 1); Bibliotheque Oulipienne 7 (ch. 2); Change 38 (1980), 11¬
29 (chs. 3, 4). (WM) ANTIRHYME
8. See Benabou, Un Aphorism peut en cacher un autre. (WM) If one accepts the supposition that one may, for any given phoneme, postulate an
9. This paper was presented at the "Writer-Computer" meetings of June 1977. "antiphoneme"—that is, a phoneme having opposite, complementary, or sym­
metrical characteristics—it would be possible to create antirhymes, or couplets
ending in phonemes and their antiphonemes. Antirhyme is a special case of an-
tonymic translation. See I, 291.
1. The "noble-pit" (trappe ά nobles) is an allusion to Alfred Jarry's Ubu roi, ANTONYMIC TRANSLATION
III, ii. (WM) A process of textual production that involves the transformation of an utterance
into its contrary, along a given axis of symmetry. The latter may be situated at
any level: that of the individual word, of grammatical characteristics, or of the
general signification of an utterance. See I, 204-05; II, 165.
The omitting of a syllable or a letter at the beginning of a word: e.g., "bo" for
A form of acrostic encoding in which the letters of a given name appear, in or­
der, in the text. According to the most doctrinaire, the letters of that name, once
used, may not be used again in the text. Georges Perec practiced a special form
Glossary 211
210 Glossary

of the beau prisent, using only the letters of a given name to construct the text. GEMINATION
In the Oulipian lexicon, the doubling of the initial syllable of an utterance,
See II, 264, 291-92.
BELL.E ABSENTE A process that retains the rhyming parts of a poem to form a new poem. See
A form of acrostic encoding in which the letters of a given name are the only Queneau's "Potential Literature," and I, 185-203.
letters not used in the text. In verse forms, one letter may be excluded m each
verse: the name is thus progressively spelled out in absentia. See II, 213, 290¬ HAPLOGRAPHY
91, and Georges Perec, La Cloture et autres poimes, 73-76. An error through which a copyist deletes a segment of a text, due to the identity
of the initial andfinalelements of the segment.
BOOLIAN POEMS . . . . · , · . „, „
A process of textual production devised by Francois Le Uonriais, a literary ap­ HENDIADYS
plication of the work of the British mathematician George Boole (1815-64). See Afigureof speech using two nouns and the conjunction "and," rather than a
noun and an adjective, to express a given idea.
I, 262-68.
aS abridged expression: e.g., "And he to England shall along with you" (Ham­ A text in which no letter Is repeated. A "perfect" heterogram is also a "perfect"
let, III, in). pangram: a text of 26 letters using all the letters of the alphabet. Georges Perec
practiced a form called "heterogrammatic poetry" in which each verse of a given
text is an anagram of every other verse within that text. See II, 231-36, 337,
A text composed of passages from other texts. See I, 172-75, 209-14. and Perec, Alphabets, Ulei rations, and La Cloture et autres poimes.
A text in which certain letters, when placed together, form a date in Roman HOLOPOEMS
Following the principles of holography, holopoems are represented as images in
numerals. See II, 268-70. space. As the reader moves under (or over, or around) them, new words or
COUPEUR A LA LIGNE , verses become apparent. See I, 290.
[Cutter on the line.] A variation of the t i r e u r a l a u ο ν ε consisung of the
progressive suppression of alternate sentences in a text. See 11, 285. HOLORH ΥME
A form of homophonic verse. See 1, 237-38. See also homomorphism.
Contraction of two letters or syllables into one. HOMOEUTELEUTON
deportmanteau word . . , _. The repetition of a phoneme at the end of successive utterances; e.g., rhymed
The division of a portmanteau word into its original constitutive elements. verses,


In the Oulipian lexicon, the division of one syllable into two. A process by which new texts are generated, which imitate the structure of a
master text. The different types of homomorphisms are defined by the structure
imitated: homosyntaxism, homovocalism, homophony, etc. See I, 115, 176-80;
r ^ o f t « t u a l production that uses the first and last verses plus the first
0 P

II, 159-164.
and last words of the intervening verses of a given poem. See 1, 2Vl-»i.
Re^iton IttL end of an utterance of the word with which it began: e.g., "I A form of stuttering wherein syllables, rather than phonemes, are repeated. See
Jean Lescure's "Poeme pour begue," I, 116.
would like that, would I."
A form of t i r e u r a l a l i g n e elaborated by Paul Foumel. In his example, a
Insertion of a letter, phoneme, or syllable into the middle of a word. e.g., visi Queneau text is successively "larded" with 3, 1,4, and 1 new sentences (this
taring" for "visiting." series, of course, corresponds to thefirstfour figures of the number ir). See
212 Glossary
Glossary 213
[The nothing but everything the.] A text without nouns, verbs, or adjectives, a PORTMANTEAU WORD
structure proposed by Francois Le Lionnais. See I, 228-29. S e m a m k a l l y C
° n f l a
- t W 0
^ - r d s : e.g., . , m o g ,
A text in which a given letter (or letters) of the alphabet does not appear. See PROSTHESIS
Georges Perec, "History of the Lipogram," La Disparition, and Les Revenentes.
See also Ϊ, 77-100; II, 211-17. Liponyms, Hpophonemes, and liposyllables are
texts in which (respectively) a given word, phoneme, or syllable does not ap­
"Literature Semo-D6nnitionnelle": Semo-Definitional Literature, a procedure S +7
elaborated by Marcel B6nabou and Georges Perec. Various effects are obtained
through the substitution of the definitions of given words within a text for the tZlY ° ft C X t U a l t r a n s f o r m a t i o n
elaborated by Jean Lescure in which each
words themselves. See I, 123-40.
The transposition of letters or phonemes in a word: e.g., "modren" for "mod­
em." l S i " -T i , """ϊ !
f h C h
° S
l^ger than the segment
g m e n t f3 t e x t i s o n e l e t t e r

preceding it. Also called euryphallic verse and rhopalic verse. A number of van-
A written locution that reads the same backward or forward. Palindromes may
be "positive" or "negative": that is, composed, respectively, of an even or odd
, Π
" U S e X P a n S i
° '
n t h e
Ρ*" 1C
« S
' S e e
number of integers, See I, 101-06; II, 218-26. Phonetic palindromes, syllabic SPOONERISM
palindromes, and word palindromes are texts in which the reflected integers
are, respectively, phonemes, syllables, and words, rather than letters. See II, " t l ^ ^ T ^ S ^ P? S
* 1" two or more words: e.g.,
s i t i o n o f s o u n d

220-21. of tiZ Γ T < ^ a f t C r Λ β

- · Sooner (1844-1930)
R e V e r e n d W Α

°L"™ J * '
1 1
0 x f o r d
- re
«d for this sort of verbal lapsus. L French lit-
, 0 f S
r n e r i
r' thought to have
A text containing all the letters of the alphabet. Obviously, the "value" of a pan- ism primer E t l c n n e
's L
^trepet serves as a spooner-
A r t d u

gram increases in inverse proportion to its length. A "perfect" pangram is a text

of 26 letters including all the letters of the alphabet. See II, 231-32. SQUARE POEM
PARAOOGE ri^flf Uff^ i ^ f ^ b y
exploits all possible permutations of a
, h a t

The addition of a letter or a syllable to the end of a word. This addition may be given set of four words. See his Brailles, 277-84, and I, 155-65.
either functional (e.g., "drowned") or unnecessary (e.g., "drownded"). SYNCOPE
A printer's error consisting of the substitution of one letter for another. As Mar­ i s r s K i s i n
*· m i d d l e o f a w o i a o r
cel Benabou uses the word in his "Table of Elementary Linguistic and Literary TAUTOGRAM
Operations," it bears only a very distant relation to the Saussurian notion of
A text whose words all begin with the same letter. See I, 117.
A perverb juxtaposes thefirstpart of one proverb to the second part of another.. U n e , ] A
f 0 r m
^ Chateau. Consists of taking
e i a b 0 r a t e d h c s s

See II, 293-94, 344-45. ΓΓ„Τ I '

1 0 3 g
^ a t i n g a new sentence, then two new
V e n teXt a n d i n i

sentences ,n the interstices thus created, and so forth. See Duchateau LeTLt
POEMS FOR MOEBIUS STRIP ^upsdunreura la ligne en apocalypse lent, occupi a lire ToTaLdsZ''
A process elaborated by Luc Etienne, involving the disposition of a text on a demiham Faulkner, and II, 271-85. See also COUPEUR A LA UGNE and LARO-
Moebius strip. See I, 269-75.
214 Glossary

Insertion of one or more words between the parts of a compound word: e.g.,
"what person soever" for "whatsoever person."
A "^Ub^bf^lMaaw. See his Locutions introuvables. See also

^ f i g u r e l which a single modifier applies in different ways to two or more

words: e.g., "The room was not light, but his fingers were.