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the Complete Review
the complete review - anthology / Oulipo

Oulipo Laboratory
Texts from the Bibliothèque Oulipienne

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To purchase Oulipo Laboratory

Title: Oulipo Laboratory
Authors: various
Genre: Anthology
Written: (Eng. 1995)
Length: 174 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Oulipo Laboratory - US
Oulipo Laboratory - UK
Oulipo Laboratory - Canada
  • Texts from the Bibliothèque Oulipienne
  • With an Introduction by Alastair Brotchie
  • Prefaced by two manifestos by François Le Lionnais
  • With pieces by Raymond Queneau, Italo Calvino, Paul Fournel, Claude Berge, Jacques Jouet, and Harry Mathews
  • Translated by Harry Mathews, Iain White, and Warren Motte Jr.

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Our Assessment:

B+ : very nice, small collection of Oulipo pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Kirkus Reviews . 1/7/1996 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "An improbably enjoyable collection." - Kirkus Reviews

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Oulipo Laboratory collects several examples from the Oulipo's Bibliothèque Oulipienne (which now numbers over two hundred volumes) and these, along with the other pieces here offer a good, small introduction to Oulipian writing.
       The texts by founding fathers François Le Lionnais (two manifestos from 1962 and 1973) and Raymond Queneau (The Foundations of Literature (after David Hilbert)) are standard (and familiar -- but still worth reproducing here) introductions to the group and its principles -- of using restrictions and constraints in their writing, in which they see, as Alastair Brotchie puts it in his Introduction: "not limitation but potentiality". The other pieces illustrate a variety of ways in which Oulipo authors have put this into practice.
       Oulipo Laboratory is worth it just for Italo Calvino's essential gloss on his novel, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, his explanation of How I Wrote One of My Books, a neat, fully diagrammed clear outline of the book.
       Paul Fournel's Suburbia is a novel that includes the entire supporting apparatus of a book, from title- and copyright-page through dedication, table of contents, introduction (attributed to Marguerite Duras), footnotes, an index and even a list of errata -- everything, that is, except for the actual text of the novel proper, which remains invisible. The supporting material allows for some sense of the missing text, but it is entirely left to the reader to imagine what it actually is. It's a beautifully done piece.
       Jacques Jouet's The Great-Ape Love-Son plays (very, very seriously) with the idea of a 'great-ape language' (of less than 300 words) and translation from it, while Claude Berge's Who Killed the Duke of Densmore ? is an elaborate rule-filled variation on the whodunit, with entirely mathematical foundations (and resolution).
       Harry Mathews' The Poet's Eye (written in English) offers 'English eye rhymes' -- sonnets and limericks that 'rhyme' only as written -- so, for example:

Said a boy to an elderly bather
Who reminded him of his dear father,
     "Sir, the pit of your navel
     Is full of green gravel
And your ear's overflowing with lather."
       In presenting a few representative examples from the Bibliothèque Oulipienne this small volume is a useful complement to the Oulipo Compendium and Warren Motte Jr.'s Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature -- a triad of books each serving a slightly different purpose and offering a different perspective on the Oulipo. The Oulipo Compendium remains the essential starter volume, but this fine collection is also highly recommended -- one just wishes there were (much) more to it. Indeed, this was published way back in 1995 and another sampler is long overdue -- and one wonders why more of these pamphlets haven't been collected and translated (beyond the obvious translations challenges ...).

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 October 2011

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