Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Introducing Oulipost

Assignment #1: Interview

I'm thrilled to be a part of Oulipost this month, as I've been longing for an excuse to write more Oulipo experiments. It's exciting and a bit nerve-wracking to be part of a public group experiment, but I plan on plunging into it as I plunged into learning Spanish in my late adulthood. Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) was founded in 1960 in Paris by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, writers who were also fans of math.

I first ran into Oulipo about a decade ago, and fell in love with the N+7 chance form.  In this form you choose a piece of text, identify all of the non-proper nouns, and then replace them with a word that's seven nouns ahead in the dictionary. Of course the type of dictionary you have, the similar words you discount as you're searching for the seven, etc. allow for some play in the chance factor. My favorite piece so far is based on The 23rd Psalm:  "The Loris is My Sherpa." I love the sound coincidences in this form, and also the way it reveals the power of syntax once the sense is knocked a bit out of kilter.

For this month I'll be using The Wall Street Journal, since I have a plentiful supply, due to a frequent flier consolation prize. The subscription runs out soon, but if needed I'll dip into the backlog.

My spirit Oulipian will be Italo Calvino, the wonderful Italian storyteller born in Cuba of Italian parents who were botanists and had immigrated to Mexico before he was born. When he was two, Italo returned to Italy with his scientific parents and hid his love of stories from them until halfway through university. It's his passion for the story, especially for the fabula--the fairy tale--that I share. He was invited to join Oulipo in the 1960s. I think of myself as an honorary member, too, at least for the period of Oulipost. And, I have this crazy habit of hiding important things from myself.

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