Tuesday, September 10, 2013


The OuLiPo Compendium

My talk on OuLiPo last Wednesday went extremely well. That's what I think anyway... Obviously it's impossible to have an objective view of such things but I spoke for about an hour and a half without notes. Call me smug but I was quite pleased... My friend Hannah (she's a deep-sea diver) took this photo of the orange-juice-and-fondant-fancies aftermath. For some reason I am doing a weird and camp "cake dance" while chatting to one of the organisers...

OuLiPo is almost unknown in Britain. Why this should be so is something of a mystery. British writers just seem very resistant to experimenting with form. They are often unaware that the option to experiment with form even exists; and when they do take the plunge they tend to make it a rather dry exercise. One of the best things about OuLiPo is the playful aspect of the work produced: the results are nearly always humorous, quirky and (by necessity) original and unexpected.

Yesterday I received a parcel from Amazon containing a very remarkable book, namely a comprehensive anthology of OuLiPo writing from the 1960s to the present... Edited by Harry Matthews (one of the only English speaking members of OuLiPo) this anthology is packed full of cerebral delights that for the most part are inspiring and amusing.

One of the reasons I was attracted to the literature of the 'weird' in the first place is because it promised unfettered imagination and genuine originality; subsequently I was disappointed. Most 'weird' fiction is derivative, bland and conceptually timid. OuLiPo successfully achieves what the weird fails to do and for my money it is the most inventive 'movement' to appear in Literature and the work produced by OuLiPo writers is the most original, unexpected and genuinely imaginative that I have ever encountered...

For instance, one of the works included in the Compendium is One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems by Raymond Queneau. The title is no exaggeration. There really are 100,000,000,000,000 poems here, all of them coherent and different, but you have to cut each multi-function line of the ten sonnets into strips to get access to all the permutations... This conceit is an example of the sort of formal brilliance that never seems to occur to genre writers and is why I have a horror of regarding myself as a genre writer.

This is why I have been long wedded to the 'avant garde' as well as to genre fiction.
They can make a great blend. Interesting in the light of what I said about your story 'Story With A Clever Title' here: HERE

That looks like a great book, Rhys. Thanks.
Sorry, here: http://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/12871-2/#comment-6011

Thanks Des.
I think that the 'avant garde' is important, though often it produces gibberish, of course.

OuLiPo is the opposite of Surrealism, I realised yesterday, though sometimes the end results aren't dissimilar.

Am I right in thinking that Ex Occidente is going to release a story collection of yours after all? :-)
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