Literature and Science: L&M Seen as Two Great Potential Allies. An Approach

Serra, Màrius
Quaderns Divulgatius, 14 The founding texts of Oulipo specify that this literary group should be composed of four types of members: (1) those who compose literature but who are not mathematicians, (2) mathematicians who do not compose literature, (3) those who compose literature and who are mathematicians, and (4) those who are mathematicians and who compose literature. Oulipo specifies that types (3) and (4) are different because the conjunction "and" is understood as "as well as".
The first Oulipo meting was in 1960. The genesis of Oulipo cannot be explained without two models of inspiration, albeit in opposite senses. One the one hand was the group of mathematicians called Bourbaki, and on the other was the group of surrealists. Queneau tired of the orthodoxy of the surrealist group, took it as a counter-model. As a result, Oulipo is an open group, which grows by co-optation and from which nobody can ever be excluded. Since everything has a price, however, nobody can ever resign from Oulipo. Even the dead continue as members (Duchamp, Calvino, Perec, Queneau, for example).
This strict rule has only one exception - suicide - but only as long as the deceased leaves an explicit note saying that he or she wishes to be free of movements for the rest of eternity. The other counter-model is the group of formalist mathematicians, Bourbaki, which came appeared at the same time as surrealism. Humour was not very evident here, though it was completely consubstantial to potential practice. Oulipo, always in tension between relativism and belief, has two secretaries, one of whom is provisionally definitive and the other definitively provisional. The definition of potential literature comes from Raymond Queneau, "The search for new structures which might be used by writers as they please is what we call potential literature". The work of Oulipo members is to provide resources for literary practice.
The most basic concept which it has contributed to potential literature is that of "constriction", which is, in short, a condition prior to writing, a matrix, a restriction, a rule which has not been sanctioned by literary tradition. Two very popular examples are the lipogram (with Perec's La disparition, 1969, as its most important milestone, of some 300 pages without any word that contains the letter "e") and the "word to 7" (which consists in transforming the text with the aid of a dictionary, counting seven words starting from a given word). Two other key concepts of potential literature are "plagiary by anticipation" inverting the sense of the hands of the clock and parodying literary safaris which look for influences in the work of an author or artistic movement. Then there is the "clinamen" which supposes that there exists a solution following an established constriction, which will be deliberately ignored.
In 1988, Noël Artaud, the then President of Oulipo wrote the that "indisputable originality of Oulipo was in questioning the relations between mathematics and literary creation. Queneau appears as one of those rare contemporary writers who has emerged to reconcile mathematics and letters in his lyrical and fictional works ..."

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