Some of the entries are perhaps less interesting to writers than they would be to puzzle compilers or mathematicians. Having said that I think this book points the way to the future: Good writing often follows from observing some restriction. Over the centuries, 'natural' restricions have been removed or reduced. We can go back, but with restrictions of our choice not those inherited by convention. These restricions often produce completely new ways of writing. Removal may suggest a completely new way forward as well (a diferent form of de-restriction than we had ever thought of).
A strange name for a strange and intriguing book. Oulipo is a contraction of Ouvroir de Littérature potentielle, which roughly translates as `workshop of potential literature'. Oulipo is a group of French speaking mathematicians and writers who seek to create works using constrained writing techniques. One of its founders, Raymond Queneau is the author of Exercises in Style.
The book is a compendium of different techniques and approaches which are described, often with illuminating examples. It gives a fascinating glimpse into a host of different ways of thinking and looking at the world.
One of the most fascinating consequences of constraints is that, far from reducing ideas and opportunities, the introduction of constraints serves as the stimulus to new ideas.
Just take a look at the spam arriving with your email to see the creative lengths that spammers will go to, to get past anti-spam software. Or the lengths that car owners in the UK will go to, to construct words from the very limited patterns of letters and digits allowed on a number plate
The book opens with Queneau's `Hundred thousand million poems' Ten pages each of 14 strips of text, that can be combined to create this immense number of different poems. From there onwards the book is a treasure trove of ideas to change the way you see.
My personal favourite is `The Skinhead Hamlet' by Richard Curtis which uses the technique of substituting a vocabulary drawn from a radically different environment, in this case `skinheads', and applying it to Shakespeare's play. The language is inevitably strong, but it had me crying with laughter.
This is a book that will enliven parts of your brain that others simply cannot reach.
Fish. Well, that's what most people think of when they think of surreal literature, but this is more, much more, than that.
Until I discovered Georges Perec, and through him Oulipo, I was a happy consumer of mainstream literature. This book, though, has opened my eyes to the amount of literature that's out there that doesnt get the recognition it deserves.
Buy it. Read it. Hell, steal it if you have to, its worth a few months in jail for a life-changing experience isnt it?
More than surreal, more than literature, more than entertaining, more than mindfood, this compendium literally will open your eyes. Believe me, you will never look at the bookshelves in well known bookshops in the same way again.
Incidentally I wouldnt really condone stealing it, at least not when its as cheap as it is on Amazon now. Go on, treat yourself.
Probably the best way for an English Language reader to get a sense of what Oulipo does at its best--you get to see how much more than a stunt the whole endeavor is. It includes much hard-to-find material, including a translation (!) of Queneau's One-hundrerd-trillion sonnets, and some neat experiments in severe overdetermination. It also includes the wonderful Skinhead Hamlet, by Richard Curtis. (Oddly, the editors--Harry Mathews is one of the major members of the workshop--say they can't track him down, but he's the screenwriter for Four Weddings and a Funeral, so shouldn't be too hard to find.) Lot's of interesting material on Georges Perec, and also on an American writer who wrote a novel in which no word is used more than once--a kind of hyper-Flaubertian enterprise.
harry mathews and alastair brotchie have done something remarkable: structured a book according to its own logic. (rare, really.) the structure and content of this book will help clear the air of more than a few too-common brain farts, not the least of which is the opinion that formalism implies either exhaustion or conservativism. read this book. try some of the experiments. go get some of the other titles in the Atlas series. you will say fewer stupid things at parties, and care less about the times you do.