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Many Subtle Channels Hardcover – 15 May 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (15 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674065778
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674065772
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 14.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 545,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A remarkable and accessible first book. [Levin Becker's] worthy subject is OuLiPo (Ouvrioir de Litterature Potentielle), which translates as Workshop for Potential Literature. Founded in 1960, OuLiPo counts among its past members such luminaries as Italo Calvino and Georges Perec. Other writers, though famous in Europe, are unknown here, but Levin Becker's account may change that. Serious about their fun, Oulipians do not take themselves too seriously; Levin Becker, only the second American member, doesn't either. In this rare alloy of autobiography, biography, history, humor, meditation, ode, shaggy-dog story, and treatise, readers will discover a book that arouses an appetite for a type of knowledge one didn't know one needed. The definition of "potential literature": "It's what you get when you go looking in language for meanings that aren't there, and find them anyway." As Levin Becker exemplifies, to delight and instruct is a purpose not limited to literature; it seems to be a way to live." -- Michael Autrey, Booklist, 15th April 2012

" Many Subtle Channels is Levin Becker's personal history of this literature and his tribute to the people who helped create it, including [Georges] Perec, Jacques Roubaud, Italo Calvino, and Marcel Duchamp...Levin Becker gets Oulipian obsessiveness on a gut level, and his delight in palindromes and lipograms (texts that, like the Perec novel [La Disparition], are entirely devoid of a particular letter) vividly comes to life in his writing. But the book's most revelatory moments come when Levin Becker suggests that this obsessiveness comes hand in hand with a deep need for guidance. Perec once said that "the intense difficulty posed by this sort of production...palls in comparison to the terror I would feel in writing 'poetry' freely." The constraints the Oulipians place on themselves and on each other are by nature arbitrary. Sometimes, the texts end up tricking unwitting reviewers--one unsuspecting critic missed the conceit of La Disparition completely and panned the novel for being "stilted"--but mischief, writes Levin Becker, isn't really the point. Oulipian texts existed for decades before the collective was formed and will likely continue even if the collective disbands. Random as Oulipian practices may seem, they actually embody one of the most fundamental challenges that all writers face--to test and push the boundaries of language." -- Atossa Araxia, Abrahamian Book Forum, 1st May 2012

" Essentially an account of the life and times of the Oulipo group, a Paris-based coalition of writers, mathematicians and artists that was set up in 1960 with the express intention of making life difficult for its members and readers. The clue to the real nature of the group is --Seth Lerer San Francisco Chronicle 20120610

"In this intimate and informative book, Levin Becker explores the history of Oulipo (short for Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle, or Workshop for Potential Literature), easily one of the most bizarre and charming literary movements of the 20th century. Claiming Italo Calvino, George Perec, Marcel Duchamp, and Raymond Queneau among its members, Oulipo is best known for its exploration of new and seemingly impossible literary forms...Originally tasked with organizing Oulipo's extensive archives, Levin Becker finds himself gradually inducted into the inner workings of the group before eventually being offered membership into the prestigious collective. From this unique position, Levin Becker excavates the movement's history from its creation in 1960 by an assemblage of French writers, mathematicians and eccentrics, to its present-day iteration...As he delves further into the past and methodology of Oulipo, Levin Becker's palpable enthusiasm for potential literature becomes infectious. One finishes this book not only with an appreciation for Levin Becker's prose and Oulipian literature, but also with an urge to attempt it." --Publishers Weekly, 6th April 2012

About the Author

Daniel Levin Becker is Reviews Editor for the Believer and has been a member of the Oulipo since 2009.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jan De Meyer on 18 Mar 2014
Format: Hardcover
Daniel Levin Becker, who became a member of the Oulipo in 2009, has written a highly intelligent, personal and informative book about the now 54 years old Ouvroir. If you keep wondering why a number of literary authors actually choose to work under constraints, then read this book. You'll get the whole history and prehistory of the Oulipo, you'll get to know its individual members and their contributions to the workshop, you'll get to know an astonishing number of the techniques that have been applied by those members, and you'll get an idea about potential future paths in making literature.

To be read (and relished) together with the OULIPO COMPENDIUM (edited by Harry Mathews and Alastair Brotchie) and WINTER JOURNEYS, the Oulipo's brilliant hyper-novel.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Witty 6 Sep 2012
By C. B. Hillman - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I was prepared to be less than enthralled with the subject matter of this book. Somehow the idea of writing books with various constraints, such as the omission of the letter "e," seemed silly to me. However, Levin Becker's book was so witty and well written that I am now inspired to try reading at least one Oulipian novel. Becker had memorable depictions of most (perhaps all) of the members of the Oulipo - from founders Queneau and Le Lionnais to Georges Perec (who wrote LA DISPARATION - a novel that completely omitted the letter "e" and followed this with LES REVENENTES that only used the "e" vowel) and every other member of this unusual literary group. I had never heard of the Oulipo and while I am still uncertain as to whether a novel written using various constraints could be as compelling as one just freely written based on one's experiences, I am intrigued enough to read a book written by an Oulipian and explore this group further.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
An unusual but gratifying read. 24 Sep 2013
By Marla Rathbun - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This unusual difficult topic is well handled by Mr. Levin, written knowledgeably, first-handedly, but with great accessibility and humor. I would not have read about the Oulipo had it not been written in this manner but I gained a lot and with enjoyment. .
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
excellent overview and starting off point 1 Jun 2012
By Jevon Jaconi - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Really enjoyed this book - had a great overview of group's history and what they do. In addition, many starting off points for one to do their own research and/or Oulipo-type acrobatics.
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