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Many Subtle Channels

Many Subtle Channels

In Praise of Potential Literature

Daniel Levin Becker

ISBN 9780674065772

Publication date: 04/30/2012

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What sort of society could bind together Jacques Roubaud, Italo Calvino, Marcel Duchamp, and Raymond Queneau—and Daniel Levin Becker, a young American obsessed with language play? Only the Oulipo, the Paris-based experimental collective founded in 1960 and fated to become one of literature’s quirkiest movements.

An international organization of writers, artists, and scientists who embrace formal and procedural constraints to achieve literature’s possibilities, the Oulipo (the French acronym stands for “workshop for potential literature”) is perhaps best known as the cradle of Georges Perec’s novel A Void, which does not contain the letter e. Drawn to the Oulipo’s mystique, Levin Becker secured a Fulbright grant to study the organization and traveled to Paris. He was eventually offered membership, becoming only the second American to be admitted to the group. From the perspective of a young initiate, the Oulipians and their projects are at once bizarre and utterly compelling. Levin Becker’s love for games, puzzles, and language play is infectious, calling to mind Elif Batuman’s delight in Russian literature in The Possessed.

In recent years, the Oulipo has inspired the creation of numerous other collectives: the OuMuPo (a collective of DJs), the OuMaPo (marionette players), the OuBaPo (comic strip artists), the OuFlarfPo (poets who generate poetry with the aid of search engines), and a menagerie of other Ou-X-Pos (workshops for potential something). Levin Becker discusses these and other intriguing developments in this history and personal appreciation of an iconic—and iconoclastic—group.

Praise

  • Daniel Levin Becker's brilliant and entertaining book about the Oulipo combines meticulously researched history, a complete panoply of thumbnail portraits (he uses both thumbs), shrewd critical appraisal, and - bless him! - autobiography. If Oulipians are 'rats who build the labyrinth from which they plan to escape,' he has explored the subtle channels of the labyrinth and caught all the rats; and he movingly describes why he is happy to have become a rat himself.

    —Harry Mathews

Author

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

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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