Jacques Roubaud: ‘What is Oulipo?’

This talk gives an overview of the Oulipo’s activities from its foundation in 1960 up to 2014. Jacques Roubaud indicates some of the ways in which the Oulipo differs from earlier and contemporary literary groups in France, and explains how it operates and is organized. He discusses and exemplifies the key concepts of constraint and potentiality, specifying the role of mathematics in the Oulipo’s work, with special reference to the influential group of mathematicians known as Bourbaki. Two “extreme tendencies” within the group, represented by François Le Lionnais and Jean Queval, are distinguished.
Jacques Roubaud introduces Oulipo with a Harry Matthews reading from Writing & Society Research on Vimeo.

Bio: Jacques Roubaud, composer of poetry and retired mathematician, was co-opted into the Oulipo in 1966 on the suggestion of Raymond Queneau. He is the author of a six-volume cycle of memoirs published in French under the general title ‘le grand incendie de londres,’ of which the first three volumes have been appeared in English: The Great Fire of London, The Loop and Mathematics (Dalkey Archive, 1992, 2009, 2012). Inventor of various constraints, including the “baobab,” the “generalized Oulipian haiku,” and the “trident,” he was the first member of the Oulipo to respond to Georges Perec’s “The Winter Voyage,” setting in train the series that led to the group’s first collective novel. Three of his many books of poetry have been translated into English: Some Thing Black, The Plurality of Worlds of Lewis, and The form of a city changes faster, alas, than the human heart (Dalkey Archive 1990, 1995, 2006). His most recent publications are the collection of poems Octogone (Gallimard, 2014) and Description du projet (Nous, 2013).

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