Meet The Oulipians

Oulipo (short for French: Ouvroir de littérature potentielle; roughly translated: "workshop of potential literature", stylized OuLiPo), a loose gathering of mainly French-speaking writers and mathematicians, was founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais. Seeking to explore the possibilities of incorporating mathematical structures in literary work, the Oulipians were described as "rats who construct the labyrinth from which they plan to escape."

Oulipian works are known for employing various techniques and constraints such as lipograms (writing that excludes one or more letters) and palindromes (words or phrases that read the same backward as forward), and the group remains the longest surviving movement in French literary history.

"Like the librarians of Babel in Borges’s story, who are looking for the book that will provide them with the key to all the others, we oscillate between the illusion of perfection and the vertigo of the unattainable. In the name of completeness, we would like to believe that a unique order exists that would enable us to accede in knowledge all in one go; in the name of the unattainable, we would like to think that order and disorder are in fact the same word, denoting pure chance.

It’s possible also that both are decoys, illusions intended to disguise the erosion of both books and systems. It is no bad thing in any case that between the two our bookshelves should serve from time to time as joggers of the memory, as cat-rests and as lumber-rooms." — Georges Perec

The Penguin Book Of Oulipo edited by Philip Terry

Brought together for the first time, here are 100 pieces of 'Oulipo' writing, celebrating the literary group who revelled in maths problems, puzzles, trickery, wordplay and conundrums.

Featuring writers including Georges Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, it includes poems, short stories, word games and even recipes. Alongside these famous Oulipians, are 'anticipatory' wordsmiths who crafted language with unusual constraints and literary tricks, from Jonathan Swift to Lewis Carroll.

Life: A User's Manual by Georges Perec

In this ingenious book Perec creates an entire microcosm in a Paris apartment block. Serge Valene wants to make an elaborate painting of the building he has made his home for the last sixty years. As he plans his picture, he contemplates the lives of all the people he has ever known there. Chapter by chapter, the narrative moves around the building revealing a marvellously diverse cast of characters in a series of every more unlikely tales, which range from an avenging murderer to an eccentric English millionaire who has devised the ultimate pastime...

A Void by Georges Perec

Anton Vowl is missing. Ransacking his Paris flat, a group of his faithful companions trawl through his diary for any hint as to his location and, insidiously, a ghost, from Vowl's past starts to cast its malignant shadow. This virtuoso story, chock-full of plots and subplots, shows the skill of both author and translator who impart all the action without a crucial grammatical prop: the letter 'e'.

W Or The Memory Of Childhood by Georges Perec

Written in alternating chapters, W or the Memory of Childhood, tells two parallel tales, in two parts. One is a story created in childhood and about childhood. The other story is about two people called Gaspard Winckler: one an eight-year-old deaf-mute lost in a shipwreck, the other a man despatched to search for him, who discovers W, an island state based on the rules of sport. As the two tales move in and out of focus, the disturbing truth about the island of W reveals itself.

The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

The Cosmicomics tell the story of the history of the universe, from the big bang, through millennia and across galaxies. It is witnessed through the eyes of 'cosmic know-it-all' Qfwfq, an exuberant, chameleon-like figure, who takes the shape of a dinosaur, a mollusc, a steamer captain and a moon milk gatherer, among others. This is the first complete edition in English of Italo Calvino's funny, whimsical and delightful stories, which blend scientific fact, flights of fancy, parody and wordplay to show the strangeness and the wonders of the world.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo--Tartar emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts the emperor with tales of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. Soon it becomes clear that each of these fantastic places is really the same place.

If On A Winter's Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino

You go into a bookshop and buy If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino. You like it. But alas there is a printer's error in your copy. You take it back to the shop and get a replacement. But the replacement seems to be a totally different story. You try to track down the original book you were reading but end up with a different narrative again. This remarkable novel leads you through many different books including a detective adventure, a romance, a satire, an erotic story, a diary and a quest. But the real hero is you, the reader.

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges was a literary spellbinder whose tales of magic, mystery and murder are shot through with deep philosophical paradoxes. In later life, dogged by increasing blindness, Borges used essays and brief tantalising parables to explore the enigma of time, identity and imagination. Playful and disturbing, scholarly and seductive, his is a haunting and utterly distinctive voice.

Locus Solus by Raymond Roussel

The wealthy scientist Martial Canterel guides a group of visitors through his expansive estate, Locus Solus, where he displays his various deranged inventions: a machine propelled by the weather, which constructs a mosaic out of varying hues of human teeth; a hairless cat charged with a powerful electric battery; a bizarre theater in which corpses are reanimated with a special serum to enact the most important movements of their past lives. Wondrously imaginative and narrated with Roussel’s deadpan wit, Locus Solus is unlike anything else ever written.

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar

Dazed by the disappearance of his muse, Argentinian writer Horatio Oliveira wanders the bridges of Paris, the sounds of jazz and the talk of literature, life and art echoing around him. But a chance encounter with a literary idol and his new work - a novel that can be read in random order - sends Horatio's mind into further confusion.

As a return to Buenos Aires beckons, Horatio's friend and fellow artist, Traveler, awaits his arrival with dread -the lives of these two young writers now ready to play out in an inexhaustible game of indeterminacy.