Lecture: Art Movement Oulipo: Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in a literature class. Professor: So today I'd like to discuss a group of experimental writers who started an important but relatively unobservable literary movement known as Oulipo. The term Oulipo comes from a combination of several French words, which are roughly translated as the workshop of potential literature. Um, the word potential is used because the writers are trying to expand the boundaries of traditional literature to create new literary forms. Now it seems strange, but the main way Oulipo writers expand those boundaries is by placing limits or strict rules sometimes incredibly strict rules, on their own writings. They think that following self-imposed restrictions actually leads to a kind of freedom and discovery. Suzanne? Suzanne: What kind of limitations? Professor: Generally they involve avoiding things that a writer normally would have to do when creating literature. like avoiding certain words or letters, or having a certain number of characters in the novel. There is a famous example from an Oulipo workshop experiment. It's a novel about 300 pages long by a fellow named George Perec. Perec's novel doesn't contain a single letter E. E is the most common vowel in probably any romance life, so this was quite a challenge. And in his next book E was the only vowel that Perec did use, no A, I, O, or U. Oulipo was founded in 1960. Most Oulipo writers are French, but there's one well-known American Harry Mathews. Now while Perec likes to let everyone know what restrictions he used, Mathews does the opposite. He does not reveal to his readers the restrictions behind his major works. Suzanne: But even if the rules wasn't disclosed, wouldn't it still be obvious if, like, what if Mathews had followed Perec's rule and didn't use any Es. Professor: Yeah, but not all rules are so obvious. In fact I couldn't even tell you the formal limitation involved in any of Mathews' novels. Suzanne: But if Mathews is following a rule, like, how realistic could his novels be? Professor: They are very realistic actually. You really get involved with the characters and their lives. They are so real that it probably never crosses your mind that he used some elaborate rule, like every chapter has to have 2 characters in it or something like that. Mathews says that before he created his rule, he wasn't able to write The subject matter was too personal, too emotional, but once he came up with a rule, he was able to write his novel. So what do you think of Oulipo? Would you read a novel inspired by this movement? Suzanne: I might get distracted trying to figure out the rule and lose track of the story. Professor: Um, unless the story is really engaging. Anyone else? Lewis? Lewis: I've always imagined that writing fiction is a really creative process, but like following some arbitrary rule? That doesn't judge. Professor: Using a limitation or restriction probably bothers a lot of readers and writers. Some writers are very critical. They think Oulipo is just a bunch of tricks, that nothing real comes out of it. And this criticism makes sense because, as you point out, there's this romantic notion that creativity, anything creative, just comes out of nowhere. You know, you're walking in the woods. This great idea pops up. You create something, and next thing you know it's in some museum or in a book. We don't like to imagine that, for example, a writer wakes up and says okay, I'm gonna roll the dice and if it comes up six then I'm gonna have six characters, if it comes up two I'm gonna have two characters. It just doesn't seem creative, but this is not uncommon in other genres of literature. For example, poetry written in the 17th and 18th century, the rules and restrictions are very strict, you know, how many rhymes there have to be, how many lines in a poem. And that's not so different from Oulipo, except that these writers kind of make a game out of it. I mean, I should point out that Perec and Mathews were trying to create masterpieces. They just wanted to explore what could potentially be literature. They saw themselves more as acrobats, people who are valued for specific skills, like writing a novel without the letter E. They didn't necessarily want to be recognized as a genius. Nevertheless, I believe they ended up with some fantastic works of literature.