Memory and Oulipian Constraints

Peter Consenstein

Department of French
Borough of Manhattan Community College


Although Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle — The Workshop for Potential Literature) does not want to be considered a literary school, or to overtly advance specific ideologies or theories, its goals portray an understanding of literature that merits outline and critique. Oulipo was founded in 1960 by François Le Lionnais and Raymond Queneau. The oulipians emphasize the use of formal constraints in their literary production in reaction to the emphasis placed on “écriture automatique” by the Surrealists. Although a mathematical equation is usually at the base of their constraints, oulipians also pay tribute to literary history by declaring all structures of all various genres of past eras open to innovation. In so doing, they define their relationship with French literature: it is one of direct innovation on the stockpile of texts of differing genres, and their goal is to offer new forms to future writers by elucidating the potential of past literary forms. In essence, they work actively with literary history and do not submit to its domination. By “working under constraint” they have raised their level of consciousness because — their dictum — if an author does not define his or her constraint, the constraint will in turn define their work for them. Such a level of consciousness controls how they are perceived, and received. Their relationship with the past, their work with literary genres, and their capacity to shape their own reception, outlines a relationship with literature with which postmodern theorists ought to be acquainted.


Oulipians innovate upon the architecture of genres not to “blur,” “transgress,” and “unfix” boundaries, but to grasp a genre’s potential.1 The oulipian notion of potenitality goes in two directions: on the one hand it attempts to build structures in a systematic and scientific manner; that which is potential is that which does not yet exist. On the other hand, oulipians strongly believe that potential and inspiration are codependent. By acting systematically and scientifically oulipians focus and clarify, not “blur,” their approach to genre transformation. Although the result may be a certain “unfixing” of boundaries, it is done in the guise of literary progress, of testing the relationship between expression and construct, and not on ideological grounds. The connection between inspiration and a scientific approach to literature was made by Raymond Queneau in his 1937 novel Odile.2 If, as I argue throughout my essay, the structure of oulipian works both recalls and further mutates past genres of literature, must their work then be considered postmodern, or, as Queneau argues, simply the work of a “true” poet?


Raymond Queneau, one of the founders of Oulipo, was one of many authors, such as Georges Bataille and Michel Leiris, rejected by the Surrealists. Passages from his 1937 Odile reveal hints of oulipian thought, a profound appreciation of mathematics, as well as a rejection of the Surrealist definition of “inspiration.” Odile‘s main narrator explains that the French language is simply incapable of expressing entities that exist in “other” worlds, worlds beyond daily experiences. Some people, states the narrator, believe that the world of “nombres et des figures, des identités et des fonctions, des opérations et des groupes, des ensembles et des espaces” (of numbers and figures, of identities and functions, of operations and groups, of sets and spaces), is simply a world of abstractions based upon Nature. They believe that once humans apply reason to the world of abstractions, they construct “une demeure splendide” (a splendid dwelling). The narrator denounces this point of view as the most vulgar possible, and declares that the world of equations is like the science of botany, because in a world independent from the human mind great discoveries are made. His concern, however, is for the language used to express them. Confusion, stemming from the mode of expression and not from science itself, leads to a lack of appreciation of scientific discovery. In fact, he concludes, logistics could be considered the “philology” of mathematics (26-28). In this obvious mixture of science and literature — logic and philology — it is easy to infer that philology must examine literature in a more “logical” fashion, determining if its accomplishments fulfill its premises. The formation of Oulipo fulfills his literary premise, it is his literary “logic.” Oulipians devise constraints, either from past literary forms or from mathematical conundrums, and attempt to realize their potential by applying them to a text. The constraint is the logic of the text; the text realizes the potential of a logical, pre-conceived, and pre-evaluated equation.


Further, Queneau addresses the notion of inspiration, held captive by the Surrealists, and submits it to his “philogogy.” He decries the opposition of inspiration to technique. “On peut difficilement tenir pour inspirés” (It is difficult to consider as ‘inspired’) he states, “ceux qui dévident des rouleaux de métaphores et débobinent des pelotes de calembours,” (those who unroll bobbins of metaphors and who unwind balls of puns). He examines Surrealist technique and determines that it does not realize its potential: metaphors and puns do not add up to “inspiration.” His initial thinly veiled reference to the Surrealists is followed by a more virulent attack:


Mais ils ont perdu toute liberté. Devenus esclaves des tics et des automatismes ils se félicitent de leur transformation en machine à écrire; ils proposent même leur exemple, ce qui relève d’une bien naïve démagogie. L’avenir de l’esprit dans le bavardage et le bredouillement!


(“But they have lost all their freedom. Having become slaves to twitches and automatic reactions, they congratulate themselves for having been transformed into typewriters; they even offer themselves as examples, which indicates a simply naive demagogy. The future of the mind resides in chatter and mumbling!”)


The author then discusses inspiration vis-à-vis the “true” poet. A true poet is above the “more” and the “less” of inspiration because he or she possesses both inspiration and technique, and here Queneau’s words are famous: “Le véritable inspiré n’est jamais inspiré: il l’est toujours; il ne cherche pas l’inspiration et ne s’irrite contre aucune technique, (he who is truly inspired is never inspired: he always is; he does not look for inspiration and is not bothered by any sort of technique) (158-159).3 Although in 1937 Queneau had not conjured up the term “constraint,” it is clear, through his concern for the potential of language and his understanding of inspiration, that he must trace a new path. It is also clear, in his definition of the “true” poet, that technical prowess is essential to artistic creativity. Again, is this postmodern, or is it in direct correlation with the original Latin definition of “artis” as a skill?4


In 1960, at Cerisy-la-Salle, at a conference dedicated to Raymond Queneau and that revived DuBellay’s famous “Défense et illustration de la langue française,” the initial group, first called S.L.E., short for “sélitex,” or “séminaire de littérature expérimentale,” was founded (Lescure, “Petite histoire . . . “). Original members include Noël Arnaud, Jacques Bens, Claude Berge, André Blavier, Paul Braffort, Ross Chambers, Stanley Chapman, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Duchateau, François Le Lionnais, Jean Lescure, Raymond Queneau, Jean Queval, Albert-Marie Schmidt, and the second wave of members includes Marcel Bénabou, Italo Calvino, Luc Étienne, Paul Fournel, Harry Mathews, Georges Perec, and Jacques Roubaud. Is Oulipo a unique movement? In Marjorie Perloff’s opinion, not at all. Her 1991 study Radical Artifice suggests that the application of “artifice” to text production is a world-wide phenomenon. She posits Duchamp’s readymades, and John Cage’s compositions as a contemporary “recognition that a poem or painting or performance text is a made thing” (27-8). Artifice, she contends, makes audiences aware of “how things happen.” Oulipians are exemplary of a form of artifice she terms “procedurality” (139), and I will illuminate their challenge to the literary world.


In my essay, two of the most famous oulipian works, Perec’s La vie mode d’emploi5 and Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler6, will be studied. Jacques Roubaud’s La Boucle, recently published, participates in his literary “project,” which I have studied in depth. La Boucle is also, I will argue, the fulcrum of oulipian efforts in that it exploits a constraint that is derived from the physiological act of memory, amplifying and embodying a principle oulipian goal which involves measuring the potential of past literary forms, and devising a constraint that not only realizes its potential, but also produces a work that is entirely new. Although genres are transformed by testing their potential, traces of the past are left behind; the past is remembered and modified at the same time. For that reason, La Boucle involves the telling of Roubaud’s life. Could it therefore be said that he is voluntarily participating in its destruction because he consciously modifies it? Does he commit a sort of literary suicide? The question of memory, its biological, psychological, and literary functions, are intertwined in Roubaud’s latest master constraint.


One cannot take lightly Roubaud’s recent declaration7 stating that we are living in both the “époque des têtes vides” (era of empty minds) as well as in the “époque des têtes refaites” (era of remade minds) (152-3). Although he is referring directly to the role of memory in contemporary society, he is also underlining yet another factor of postmodern transformation, that being the movement from the age of the written word to the age where the image dominates. By “empty minds” Roubaud underlines the distance between eras where texts and words filled the mind, through their memorization. By “remade minds” he refers to our era where hard drives, CD-ROMs, and video and cyber imagery, dominate. Why though does his declaration, with the use of the word “tête,” seem so personal?


Within the oulipian version of literature, as I will soon detail, personal “life” and the “life” of literature are one. However, based on the above declaration it could also be said that Roubaud espouses a traditional if not romantic notion of literature: one’s personal life is entwined with, both actively and passively, not only Nature in its enormity, but also the enormity of the body of works commonly understood as “literature.” The oulipian version of this relationship is expressed through pressing contemporary aesthetics. For example Bartlebooth, a central figure of Georges Perec’s La vie mode d’emploi understood that to conceive of a project that might describe “la totalité du monde” (the world in its totality) (156), a romantic concept, would in its enormity constitute its ruin. Nevertheless, Bartlebooth did construct a rigorous life-long project. Thus, a reversal occurs in that the development of a project, or a constraint, be it literary or personal, no longer needs to either reflect (mime) or modify the world, but it does govern one’s life. Such a project would be “restreint sans doute, mais entier, intact, irréductible” (restrained of course, but complete, intact, irreducible). This, in essence, is the underlying and sufficiently satisfying oulipian goal; to build bricks — lives, books — bricks that have personal, restrained, complete, intact and irreducible features, bricks that build on the edifice of literature. The constraint at work in La Boucle by Jacques Roubaud crystallizes these goals in a manner not yet seen, while at the same time it resonates with a transitory quality that obliquely reflects our epoch.


The personal side of Roubaud’s literary project must be emphasized: like many oulipian endeavors his project functions, and for him its function is nothing less than a life preserver. In the “avertissement” to the project’s first “branch,” Le grand incendie de Londres,8 Roubaud places his project at a par with his “existence,” he terms his decision to embark on the project “vitale,” in fact the project represents an “alternative à la disparition volontaire” (alternative to willful disappearance) (7). In terms of oulipian approaches to literature I am initially stressing the terms “project” and “function” and will later relate them to the act of memory, while at the same time I am strongly inferring that these are not simply cold, “scientific” machinations, the projects themselves are imbued with a personal conscience, and this is crucial when looking upon oulipian writing through a postmodern eye glass. Roubaud’s story itself is not my target of analysis, but the implicit meaning of the literary constraint that governs its narration will be. For example, Roubaud chooses to narrate his life story in the present in order to illuminate the difference between one’s life, which is forever in the past, and the telling of one’s “story” (réçit).


In essence an oulipian constraint is an act of memory as well as an assertive inscription of contemporary innovative artifice. The constraint Roubaud employs in La Boucle is an oulipian constraint par excellence in that it crystallizes and focuses on the actual physiological act of memory, its formalities. It is in a sense a “meta-constraint”9 because if a constraint records a model or a preliminary architecture of thought, or if it innovates upon a genre of literature, then Roubaud’s constraint crystallizes, gives literary form to, the recollection and reshaping of the past: memory.


The constraint employed in La Boucle is a tri-partite three dimensional framework. The work is divided into three main parts; the “récit” is followed by “incises” and then “bifurcations.” Within each of the three above named main divisions there exist three main constants: 1) each division contains six chapters, 2) each of the six chapters contains a limited, numbered, and repetitive set of sections, resembling a sort of complex metrical scheme, and 3) each of the sections contains a quasi-fixed number of paragraphs. Not only does the architecture of each of the three main divisions repeat itself, but so does the alignment of the subject matter. Chapter 1 of the “récit” is expanded upon in the first “incise” entitled “du chapitre 1‘” (in fact the numbered sections of “Chapitre 1” make explicit reference to the numbered sections of “du chapitre 1“). Chapter 1 and the incision entitled “du chapitre un” are then expanded further in “bifurcation A.” His autobiographic structure resembles the actual physiological act of memory, yet, from another angle, the tri-partite architecture also functions as a mnemonic device for helping to remember. Physiologically speaking, memory is itself a three stage process: an event is encoded, stored, then retrieved.


Studies on the function of the brain in the act of memory suffer from a sense of frustration because they reveal extremely high levels of complex brain activity, because of the fact that memory involves different physiological and psychological components. For example, scientists are not sure exactly where information is stored or its channels of transmission.10 Information itself can be categorized as “episodic” or “semantic” yet the two are intertwined. The above categories of memory refer to that which is consciously remembered versus “implicit” memory that accounts for “coordinates in space and time”11 (12). Semantic memory refers to “retention of factual information in the broadest sense,” providing information about the world that exists beyond one’s immediate circle of vision (13). Episodic memory refers to the “personally experienced past” and although it depends on semantic memory it “transcends” it. Above all episodic memory is “unique.” The synapses themselves are studied in relation to their “plasticity,” or their capacity to “vary their function, to be replaced, and to increase or decrease in number when required” (Thompson, 11). Given the various stimuli at work when memory is both encoded and retrieved, and that all five senses participate at various levels of intensity, the act of memory is complex indeed.


Roubaud’s complex constraint, which I believe portrays the manner in which the retrieval of memory sparks new memories, responds to an oulipian principle requiring that the text speak of the constraint being employed.12 The initial “récit” of chapter one, in this case memories of the author’s room as a child, his home, his backyard, neighborhood, childhood games, etc., is driven by detailed descriptions, in bold type on the page, of recalled images or flashes. Those images awaken new thoughts and reflections, which make up the corpus of La Boucle. In fact the first page and a half of the book, except for the first sentence, is in bold type. Subsequently, at the first section of the first “incision,” Roubaud returns to and muses upon the initial image. In the first incision he literally cuts into the initial image, attempting to draw sparks from it which he might use to ignite more memories, memories that define the importance of his life’s initial image. Finally, in “Bifurcation A” he returns once again to the bedroom of his childhood and finds himself able to evoke even more remembrances.


Reflecting the actual function of memory, Roubaud works to decode his encoded past, and thoroughly incurs the impact the present moment has on a past memory; hence his insistence on remaining in the present. For example, the book opens with the following sentence in regular font: “Pendant la nuit, sur les vitres, le gel avait saisi la buée” (During the night, ice had seized the mist) (11). “Le gel” has seized “la buée” (vapor, mist, steam). One agent of nature has transformed another: “Le gel” (frost) has taken that which pictorially represents the ephemeral, and has made it into that which is more solid, more manageable, more “real.” The tense of the verb “saisir” — the “plus-que-parfait” — also imbues the opening line with a sensation of “previous” time. The event took place before the immediate past, and, given that we are at the very beginning of the novel, a sort of pre-time is implied. The use of the “plus-que-parfait” renders the night of the first sentence a metaphor, a metaphor for an unknown time, mysterious and dark, looming and lengthy. The narration continues, in bold font, in an effort to succinctly situate and then examine the importance of the above incidence of memory, a memory that Roubaud calls his “souvenir premier” (40).


The description of the frozen moisture,


un lacis de dessins translucides, ayant de l’épaisseur, une petite épaisseur de gel, variable, et parce que d’epaisseur variable dessinant sur la vitre, par ces variations minuscules, comme un réseau végétal, tout en nervures, une végétation de surface, une poignée de fougères plates; ou une fleur. (11)


(“a network of translucid drawings, having some thickness, a slight layer of frost, variable, and since the thickness was of variable grades it engraved upon the window, these miniscule variations, like a biological network, full of nerve endings, a vegetation on a surfaceI, a handful of flat ferns, or a flower.”)


reveals a flower, (La fleur inverse is the title of the first chapter and one of his works on Troubadorian poetry13) a “réseau” (network), an important consideration in his theory of rhythm,14 and then finally the word “nervures” (nerve endings) an opening to ideas about synapses, brain functions, and the interconnection of memories. In the nine sections that compose the opening chapter, Roubaud explores the significance of his initial image in relation to the enterprise he has just begun, that of remembering. Much as frost transforms condensation, the act of memory transforms the event being remembered. When a memory is relived a destruction occurs that engenders the construction of a new world because the role the event played is reevaluated. The same could be said about Roubaud’s modification of the autobiographic genre of literature: reading La Boucle remindsthe reader of other autobiographies while also modifying his or her perception of them, and his or her future encounter with autobiographies.


The role of the flower functions within the same paradigm of destruction and construction. Roubaud’s relationship to the flower lies within a Troubadorian conception of love, expressed in a poetic voice: “Sous la voix, comme sous le gel de la vitre, il y a le néant nocturne des choses périssables et disparues” (Below the voice, like below the frost on the window, there is the nocturnal nothingness of things perishable and long gone) (23). Troubadorian love underlines a premise whose accomplishment or realization — the act of love — was not necessary. Lurking behind the joy of love was “le gel de l’accomplissement, la férocité du réel mélangé de mort. Il y a l’envers de la fleur d’amour. . . ” (the frost of accomplishment, the ferocity of reality mixed with death. There exists the other side of love’s flower. . .) In Roubaud’s memory of the frozen window lurks all that has been forgotten, and all that occurs as memory surfaces on the present pages of his novel.


When he returns to his initial image in the first “insertion” he reflects upon the use of the word “nervures,” and reinforces the accuracy of its usage. In the first insertion he discusses the use of the term in relation to the branches of his literary “projet.” The image of nerve endings returns in his discussion of the title of the second chapter “Le figuier,” a fig tree whose “nervures veinées” (veined nerve endings) (59) dominated the backyard of his uncle’s home. Since the fig tree existed as a living thing that broke into the kitchen of the house, it therefore “tenait son pouvoir de disjonction” (held its power of disruption). Roubaud suggests that the tree’s ability to dislodge the provencal hexagonal floor-tiles (“tomettes”) of the kitchen corresponds to the act of memory, since its power evoked his initial “prise de conscience de la dissymétrie” (consciousness of dissymmetry) (272). The fig tree worked to invade the memories, the floor-tiles, of the kitchen of the present, and effected his literary project by representing the multitude of directions his memory could travel. Its power of “dissymmetry” forced him to invent — and thus continue in the Troubadorian tradition of “finding,” “trouvére” — a new division of his novel, which he calls the “entre-deux-branches” (between-two-branches). Not only does the division satisfy numerological necessities of the novel’s constraint by crystallizing the need for a “frayage,” it also participates in the “la grande feuille de mémoire,” (the great leaf of memory) (276). Thus the initial image of condensation “seized” by frost, its “nervures,” participates in the construction of the novel, indeed the entire literary project, because it reflects the functioning of memory.


Memory is voyage in two directions:


. . .les déductions de la mémoire diffèrent sensiblement selon la direction choisie pour les exhiber. Et la compréhension du moindre souvenir est à ce prix. Ainsi, tout simplement, dans un voyage, le paysage du retour n’est pas, pour celui qui l’accomplit, identique à celui de l’aller. (30-1)


(“Memory’s deductions differ subtlely according to the direction chosen to reveal them. And the understanding of the smallest recollection reflects the choice made. Thus, simply put, while traveling, the countryside of the return trip is not, for the traveler, identical to the countryside as it was initially perceived.”)


Roubaud’s reference to the Troubadorian flower and his musings on the functioning of memory coincide, while at the same time reflecting a contemporary physiological understanding of memory. “Le parcours inverse suit le parcours direct comme son ombre, son fantôme. . . . Chaque image du passé est donc un double, révélé par le mouvement qui l’entraîne, qui sera seulement arbitrairement arrêté par la mise en mots” (The inverse trajectory follows the direct trajectory like its shadow, its ghost . . . Each image of the past is therefore doubled, highlighted by the trail of its movement, that will only arbitrairely be stopped when it is put into words.)


Information is processed in the same manner, but its retrieval, or reappearance are in a sense “plastic.” Roubaud’s constraint resembles the plasticity of synapses and challenges the genre of autobiography. Speaking solely on brain function in memory in an article entitled “Concepts of Human Memory” Endel Tulving states:


I use the term synergistic ecphory (P.C. — retrieval) to express and emphasize the idea that the outcome of an act of memory depends critically not only on the information contained in the engram (P.C. — encoding) but also on the information provided by the retrieval environment, or retrieval cues. “Synergistic” serves to remind us that ecphory, the main component process of retrieval, is governed by these two sources of relevant information, one derived from the past, the other one representing the present. (7)


The sum of the past and the present is the synergistic resultant of La Boucle‘s literary constraint. Roubaud’s insistence on writing an autobiography in the present, and not attempting to relive the past, touches upon the heart of his literary project; it is life confirming, and the constraint guarantees its transmission. The present effects the past, transforms the past, and the oulipian constraint that Roubaud has devised exemplifies that phenomenon; the synergy of the constraint, its reflux, loyally reflects not only the act of memory, but also its capacity to shape the present. The magnitude of a memory is forever transformed by its retrieval and integration into the present: a past event itself is unchangeable, but the perception of an event evolves. Memory is the locus of the “plasticity” of history. For this reason I have chosen to depict his constraint in the following manner:




The “depiction”15 that I have composed reflects both the actual composition of La Boucle as well as my own manner of perceiving its function. The “depiction” represents a cross-section of the novel; only the first chapter of each of the three main divisions of the text is depicted. If the work were to be depicted in its entirety it would unfold to the right in order to portray the remaining five chapters. Other than appearing something like branches of a tree, the expected correlation, I chose to represent the number of paragraphs per section as resembling, albeit crudely, nerve endings in the brain. Although they seem disconnected, that is not so, they belong to the construct of the text system. Not only can each of the sets of “nerve endings” act upon the one to its side — thus supporting the narration’s linearity — it also affects the “nerve ending” below it, in the corresponding chapter of the following division. I hope the above model gives a sense of how the “plasticity” of memory, with its intertwining stimuli, does in fact formally guide the construction of the text.16


In Georges Perec’s La vie mode d’emploi the puzzle functions not only as a central theme of the novel, or “novels” as indicated on the title page of the book, but also as a generating apparatus of its constraint(s).17 Perec adhers to the oulipian dictum that the constraint participate in a text’s story, whereas specific puzzles themselves reinforce the oulipian theories of literature I am discussing: literary constraint as the reconstruction, “aide-mémoire,” almost the resurrection, of a life. Harry Mathews, another member of Oulipo, speaking directly to Perec in an interview18 clearly stresses how the notion of constraint permeates the novel in that it functions both in the construct of the novel, as well as in defining the character of the main protagonists.


les trois personnages principaux du livre sont tous soumis à des contraintes: Bartlebooth se donne des contraintes pour remplir le vide de sa vie; Winckler ne choisit pas une contrainte mais en subit une dont il se sert pour se venger; enfin Valène choisit une contrainte ressemblant étrangement à la vôtre pour emplir non pas sa vie mais plus modestement sa toile. Celle-ci néanmoins, à la fin du livre, reste pratiquement vierge, dissolvant tout ce que je venais de lire et montrant que tout était à recommencer. C’est comme si tu avais mis en scène trois expériences yde la contrainte.(54)


(“The principal protagonists of the book are all under constraint: Bartlebooth gives himself constraints in order to fill the voids in his life; Winckler does not choose a constraint but submits to one in order to abstract vengeance; finally Valene chooses a constraint that strangely resembles your own in order not to complete his life, but his canvas. Nevertheless this final constraint, at the end of the book, remains practically unused, dissolving all that I just read and showing that everything had to recommence. It is as if you had intertwined three different realizations of a constraint.”)


Mathew’s comments are interesting in that he outlines “three experiences of constraint” within Perec’s novel, and all three relate to one’s life (it goes without saying that the different “experiences of constraint” contained within La vie . . . illuminate why it is a true “tour de force”). One of Perec’s protagonists, as Mathews points out, uses constraint to “fill the emptiness of his life,” another submits himself to a constraint to abstract revenge, and a third uses constraint not “to fulfill his life,” but rather “his canvas.” This third experience of constraint, states Mathews, demonstrates that “everything had to start anew,” thus emphasizing a constraint’s potential. Working under constraint, as Gilbert Adair,19 the translator of Perec’s La disparationdeclared, “turned out to be liberating in a certain sense, because it forced you down certain paths which you would otherwise never have taken” (17). The notion of constraint, of working under constraint, serves to construct both a life and a literary work in both practical and unseen manners.


While it is true that the notion of puzzle functions at different levels of the novel(s) I will delimit my study by first looking upon how what Bernard Magné has termed Perec’s “metaconstraints” (116), which I describe below, effect the entire construction of the novel. I will then discuss how the composition of the character Bartlebooth, the different states of mind attributed to him, his goals and his procedures, resemble the artisanal and technical work of Perec himself as author and as member of Oulipo, connecting yet again, constraint and one’s personal life. Perec’s own life, as his biographer David Bellos20 indicates, is engaged in remembering, and the subject of his literary work, from Les choses21, to La disparition22, to Tentative d’épuisement d’un lieu parisien23, involves recording, in exacting detail and for posterity, lives and places, both forgotten and remembered.


A fundamental architectural constraint of La vie. . . is a 10X10 square that superficially represents the facade of a Parisian apartment building in which live the occupants/protagonists of the novel(s). In order to touch upon all of the windows of the apartment building, and thus develop and interelate the stories of the building’s occupants, Perec utilized what is known in chess terms as the Knight’s Tour. The Knight’s Tour, usually performed on an 8X8 chessboard, allows the knight to go around the board touching every square. The author’s use of the Knight’s Tour on his 10X10 façade, a mathematical feat in and of itself, of a Parisian apartment building designates the order of the chapters: the order of the knight’s tour on the chessboard-façade, touching all the windows, dictates the appearance of the characters behind them. The depth to which the 10X10 square “constrains” the novel does not stop here.


Magné indicates that “each chapter of the novel can be likened to a syntagmata of 42 elements each of which has been selected from a paradigm of ten alternatives” (116). The sequence of the ten alternatives is always different because selection is made from the “Graeco-Latin bisquare,” a grid containing all the possible combinations of the first ten integers, encompassing the entire combinatory of the number ten. Said grid, a 10X10 box, corresponds to the grid within which Perec works to construct the order of his chapters because it too coincides with the façade of the Parisian apartment building. By overlaying the Graeco-Latin bisquare on the 10X10 chessboard-façade, the author determined the contents of each chapter. In fact, the entire list of 42 themes was constructed before the actual writing of the novel: “Au terme de ces laborieuses permutations, j’en arrivai à une sorte de “cahier des charges” dans lequel, pour chaque chapitre, était énumérée une liste de 42 thèmes qui devaient figurer dans le chapitre” (At the end of each of these laborious permutations, I arrived at a sort of “book of inventory” in which, for each chapter, a list of 42 themes that would figure in the chapter was enumerated) (“Quatre figures . . .” 392). The 42 themes were divided into ten groupings of four each, leaving room for two extra “themes.” These “themes,” not truly themes but possibilities of further permutations within the mechanics of the construction, were termed “faux” and “manque” which Magné has translated as “gap” and “wrong”; these further permutations underline the role of the “clinamen,” another important component in the theory of oulipian constraints.


The clinamen plays a role in oulipian constraints, in the reconstruction of genres, and in relation to recollection. A clinamen is an Epicurean notion formulated in response to early atomist theory as articulated by Democritus. It assures the creation of new forms because it represents a deviation from the norm; atoms could not create worlds unless, declares Epicurus, a minimal deviation occurs. Moreover, Epicurus’ notion of clinamen functions as an “un atome de liberté”; within his philosophy. The “atom of liberty” justifies “le mouvement volontaire des vivants et la responsabilité morale de l’homme” (the voluntary movement of living creatures, and the moral responsibility of man)24 (871). A clinamen can “justify” man’s moral responsibility by demanding of him the consciousness of will in deviating from societal norms.


The Oulipians hold dear to the notion of clinamen in relation to the constraint, their “raison d’être.”25 They hold dear to this notion for the same reason Epicurus did; the essential elements of their constraints must, in order to create a world (oeuvre, text) deviate from the norm in an arbitrary fashion so that the constraint is not constrictive, so that the contstraint maintains its creative potential.


As I have stated, the constraints in La vie . . . determine the interactions of the novel’s characters. Comparing the unfolding of Perec’s epic of a Parisian apartment house to the great nineteenth century novels by Stendahl, Flaubert, and Zola for example, it becomes clear that the origin of representation has shifted. No longer is the author attempting to imitate life, as did Zola’s in Germinal26 where the target of his mimetics is, as the sub-title proclaims, the “histoire naturelle et sociale d’une famille sous le second empire.” By inventing his own constraints, arbitrary and thus reflective of the author’s mind, Perec allows his own machinations to guide him to both artistic, and of course personal, discovery. His observations of society are no less personal than those of the great nineteenth century authors, yet the constraints reflect his inner pathways more self-consciously than does the narrative architecture of a Flaubert. Although ultimately both a Perec and a Stendahl, Zola, or Flaubert, depict society, and none would claim pure objectivity, Perec’s self-determined constraints propose another adventure. He understands that inspiration comes from within and he plays the role of a barthian “scriptor.”27 The clinamen guarantees a place for spontaneity, for further permutation, and also assures the novel’s future, and the unpredictability of (its) life. The mnemomics of the chessboard, as I shall later reveal, is a mnemotechnique that supports Perec’s own need to remember, for remembrance is the foundation of the future.


Research into the various constraints at work in La vie . . . began directly after its publication with the special 1979 issue of L’arc dedicated to Perec, which contained his “Quatre figures pour La vie mode d’emploi.” David Bellos, the English translator of La vie . . ., contributed his 1989 article entitled “Perec’s Puzzling Style”28 while Hans Hartje, Bernard Magne, and Jacques Neefs, also made important discoveries. It is only in 199329 that the publication, photographically reproduced, of Perec’s own “cahier des charges,” the notebook which divulges the exact elements of each chapter, occured. Until the publication of the “cahier des charges” the greatest difficulty for researchers had been to ascertain the alternatives or “rubrics” of the 10 groupings (alternatives) of forty-two “themes.” 30


Given the list of elements at work in Perec’s narration, the question concerning the definition of a “theme” within the context of oulipian constraints deserves reflection. It deserves reflection because the definition of a theme is here subsumed in the working of a constraint. In essence, the constraint determines the novel’s themes; the theoretical consequences of working under constraint are such that the novel is “constraint-driven” not “theme-driven.” An outcome of the oulipian credo could be termed a “constraint-theme,” and since the themes are “constraint-driven,” and integrated into predetermined configurations, they are more easily retrievable, more easily remembered, because of the inherent system of classification. The themes are the common denominators of both the novel and the protagonist’s “life.”


The list of “themes” that comprises chapter twenty three contains such elements as “thé,” “chat,” “triangle,” “manteau,” and “tapis de laine.” Respectively they belong to the categories “boissons,” “animaux,” “surfaces?,” “vêtements,” and “tissu (nature).” These “objects” can not be considered “themes”; they are “items” which must somehow be made to fit in to the story being told, they are the pieces of the puzzle that each chapter represents and they “disappear,” or take on a specified form, once the chapter is composed. As such, they belong to the conscious challenge the author presented himself, and they pertain as much to the world being described, as to Perec’s self-discovery through game theory. Once the chapter is composed the “list” is fully integrated into the story; the list itself “disappears” and diminishes in importance, and the novel continues to recount its epic tale.


As well, for Perec the person, the constraint must disappear. In fact, he viewed the importance of the constraint as minor after the novel’s completion. In an interview conducted in 198131 he stated that he simply no longer remembered the constraints he used, and that “d’une certaine manière, je m’en moque. Je veux dire que c’était très très important au moment où je le faisais . . .,” (in a certain way, I could care less. I mean it was very, very important when I was doing it . . .) however once he had resolved the complexities of his constraints, “cela n’a plus d’importance” (it was no longer important)(53). The completed novel is the philological result of the contraints logic. The whole, a sum of its parts, is the author’s ultimate gift, and the reader’s knowledge of the logic is not always necessary. Once a puzzle has been completed it is no longer a “puzzle”: a puzzle must puzzle.


I too entertained “une certaine idée de la perfection” (a certain idea of perfection) (157). Before I knew that the actual “cahier des charges” had been published I disassembled each of the chapters dedicated to Bartlebooth in order to resurrect the chapter’s original architecture, and to obtain a clear picture of the specific themes attributed to the protagonist. Even with such a picture, the puzzle was not solved, its pieces did not represent the final product: Bartlebooth. Knowledge of the elements that compose said protagonist provides insight into the construction of a narration, however it does not indicate, by any means, a mastery of the narration’s intent, which cannot be obtained through any single approach. Instead, it demonstrates a constraint’s limitations: a constraint acts only to indicate the bearings of a text’s directions and not its ultimate destination. It is the map towards discovery, it is not the voyage itself.


Any attempt to “analyze” the protagonists of such a novel through thematic dissection, is an exercise in futility; it is like attempting to grasp the intricacies of a puzzle by examining its pieces. Especially since the character of Bartlebooth embodies the dichotomy of art and life. Art represented Bartlebooth’s “mode d’emploi” for life itself: art was the blueprint, the “techna” for life, much like Perec’s constraints acted as the narration’s “mode d’emploi.” Bartlebooth simply “n’avait pas de soucis d’argent” (had no money problems) (154) and therefore had the leisure of leading life free of financial constraints; this does not infer that he was free of constraint, but he did have the leisure to design his own. Bartlebooth became himself through art. Valène, the artist who spent ten years teaching Bartlebooth the art of “aquarelle” (waterpainting) and who narrates a good part of the first of the five Bartlebooth chapters, declares that Bartlebooth demonstrates a “totale absence de dispositions naturelles” (a total absence of natural abilities) (154). It was not waterpaints that interested Bartlebooth, it was what he wanted to do with them; through art (technique) he would acquire a “natural ability,” reflecting Perec’s, and Queneau’s, view that constraint equals inspiration. Bartlebooth spent ten years learning how to translate onto paper the nuances of nature, he then traveled the world for twenty years, had his paintings transformed into puzzles, attempted to solve the puzzles for twenty years, and had them all restored to their original state of blank canvas; this was his life project, his life’s “constraint.” Perec too dedicated an enormous time period to his endeavor, signing La vie . . . “Paris, 1969-1978” (602). In the first Bartlebooth chapter a question was asked: “que faire?” (what is there to do?) and the answer was “rien” (nothing) (157): “rien,” the blank canvas, symbolized his goal. All he had was a “certaine idée de la perfection” and his life revolved around pursuing it, all the while acknowledging its impossibility.


In order to make his protagonist credible Perec too had a plan. Perec “constructed” Bartlebooth through the use of a pre-determined set of places, characters, dates, décors, allusions to exterior works, and various events and activities — his “alternatives”; these are the components of his narration. Perec revealed and then employed the tools of the art of narration to give life to a personality who lacked “dispositions naturelles.” Analogously, Bartlebooth dedicated his own life to the apprenticeship of an art, and then to making it disappear. Bartlebooth’s personality is revealed through his project, his approach to building a life. Perec’s personality, in his attempt to write a novel in “today’s fashion,”32 is revealed through the constraints he embedded in his tale. The method of his narrative art is Perec, and through his constraints he has guaranteed that he too will be remembered.


In Petit traité invitant à la dècouverte de l’art subtil du go,33 published in 1969 or the same year Perec started La vie…, the authors draw a parallel between the game of “go” and writing. The authors understand as “paradoxal” the fact that “on puisse s’adonner à un jeu qu’on ne maîtrisera jamais” (it is possible to abandon oneself to a game that one will never master) (41). Their incapacity to master the game entails commiting actions that players are doomed to “répéter servilement” (repeat servilely). The committement to playing a game of such tradition and subtility means that the players repeat actions “sans les avoir jamais vraiment assimilé;s, sans pouvoir en faire la critique, sans pouvoir en inventer d’autres, des coups parfois millénaires” (without having ever truly assimilated them, without the ability to analyze them, without the ability to invent others, moves that are sometimes a thousand years old). It is clear that Perec’s invented method of constructing persona, his “cahier des charges” composed of paradigmatic “themes,” is a shuffling of “thousand year old moves,” or narrative techniques and literary allusions overpowerfully pre-existent. For the authors of Petit traité . . . the weaving of black and white stones on the “go” board is simply the drawing of “des lignes, des réseaux, des zones agréables à regarder” (lines, networks, and zones that are pleasant to look at) (42). The beauty of the “go” strategies emanates from the fact that they are part of a “chemin infini,” an “infinite path”; the activity of playing “go” they state, can be compared to only one thing: “l’écriture.” Perec rearranged the “the thousand year old moves” of narration to put his mark on genre evolution, on the constructive signifiers of literature. In so doing he recalls the works of Raymond Queneau, who demonstrated in his famous Exercises de style34 that literary effects, whether they be the romantic style of the authors of the nineteenth century or the sensation of “écriture automatique,” are the results of a limited set of rhetorical and structural operations, and that any good artist-author-rhetorician could master them.


By spending his life in the pursuit of remembering (traveling the world in order to record — paint — the places visited), reconstructing, and then effectively forgetting (having his works destroyed), Bartlebooth made himself a “life.” The protagonist’s memory was governed by his self-imposed constraint in the same way that the narrator’s art — the ability to create a “personnage” and in this case to construct a “user’s manual” for life itself — was governed by lists of items that, after death, remain as the mementos of one’s “life.” Perec’s constraints allowed him to bring to the forefront the elements of narration that have been used through the centuries in the creation of fictive protagonists. Mimesis of an outside world becomes unnecessary stimulus as the technique of art (narration in this case), its “mode d’emploi,” becomes the source of memory that is being “mimed”; life does not imitate art, they combine to create, they contend with each other in a rhythmic fashion; art is life is art through unifying rhythm.


Perec once said: “I represent myself as something like a chess player and playing a chess play with the reader and I must convince him, or her, to read what I wrote and he must begin the book and go until the end”35 (26). The active participation of the reader, who mediates and thus becomes implicated in the novel’s constraints, is an essential element of the oulipian concept of literature. One of the best oulipian examples of the reader’s role is apparent in Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler.


If on a winter’s night a traveler is composed of twenty-two chapters; twelve numbered chapters interspersed with ten titled chapters. All of the numbered chapters have “you,” the second person pronoun, the reader, as their main character, whereas the titled chapters all represent incipits, the beginning chapters, of various novels by various authors including of course, If on a winter’s night . . .. The novel’s tension is built upon “your” search for the continuation of the novels that “you” have begun. Calvino’s work then, like the perecian puzzle, snares the literary analyst in a trap. If If on a winter’s night . . . recounts the tale of a reader’s encounter with novels that have no conclusion, then to capture the work in its finality is impossible. Without conclusions, Calvino’s novel becomes a reflection of the perpetuity of literature, and its analysis is the novel’s continuation. Any reading of If on a winter’s night . . . puts one in the position of the “you” of the novel who will always be searching, whereas the book itself does “end” with the reader finally married to another reader; the final scene finds one reader in bed with the “other” reader who is finishing Calvino’s If on a winter’s night . . . The novel is a tautological hall of mirrors that concerns the act of reading, while controlling it at the same time.


In his expository essay “Comment j’ai écrit un de mes livres,”36 Calvino indicates that the figure of a square is the model of the constraint that governs the numbered chapters, where “you” are the main protagonist. The constraint functions in the following manner: each corner of the square represents an element of the relationship between the reader and the novel, the reader and other readers, the reader and fake novels, the reader and the “author,” the “author” and the reader, the reader and the State, etc. “Your” various actions, and the relationships “you” are involved in, occupy the four corners of the square. The narration advances both clockwise around the square, and, at various intervals, opposing corners of the square interconnect, thus prolonging the narration. The number of squares per chapter increases by one until the sixth chapter; at that point chapter seven also comprises six squares, whereupon the number of squares per chapter decreases until, like the first chapter, chapter twelve is composed of one “square” of events.


The title of Calvino’s article refers intertextually to Raymond Roussel’s famous essay “Comment j’ai écrit certains de mes livres.”37 Roussel’s works have often been viewed by the members of Oulipo as pre-oulipian.38 Aside from the titles, the two articles contain similarities and differences. Both Roussel and Calvino limit the number of constraints they choose to discuss. Roussel discusses what he terms a “procédé très spécial” (11) (a very special procedure) at work in four texts: Impressions d’Afrique, Locus Solus, l’Étoile au Front and la Poussière de Soleils, whereas Calvino reveals only one of many constraints at work in If on a winter’s night . . . Both authors utilize poetic language: Calvino’s discourse is in quatrains and couplets, as I will soon detail, and Roussel explains that his procedure relates to rhyme (23). The initial similarities between the two articles indicate that, on the one hand, preliminary meditations of a text’s structure is not limited, in neither time or place, to Oulipo; on the other hand, poetic language is a language of constraint par excellence whose “procedures” can be applied to the construction of any genre of literature.


Michel Foucault, in his book Raymond Roussel,39 believes that the posthumous publication of Comment j’ai écrit . . ., works to “propager le doute” (propagate doubt) (13). By revealing the fact that a secret exists, Roussel undermines the reader by imposing a “informe, divergente, centrifuge” (shapeless, divergent, and centrifugal) (19) sense of anxiety. Said anxiety is provoked by Roussel’s use of “rhyme,” or what he himself termed “combinaisons phoniques” (phonetic combinations) (23). Words are imbued with a fragility different than the power of tropes; Foucault says they are both “animé et ruiné, rempli et vidé”; (animated and ruined, filled and emptied) by the sense that a second word exists, that there meaning is contained in both words, or neither, or a third, or none at all (20). Roussel’s essay is integral to his work because it reveals his procedure, includes biographical notes, as well as hommage to Jules Verne and to the imagination. Foucault attributes Roussel’s narrative acrobatics to the author’s view of perpetuity, to his need to know that the end is a return to the beginning, and finally to an expression of “folie.”


Calvino, however, is researching the cross-roads between science and literature, believing that a “wager”40, can exist between literary and scientific languages. Said “wager” would permit both parties to gain. Literature supplies the scientist with “imaginative courage in taking a hypothesis to its ultimate consequences,” while the the language of mathematics repairs the “disrepair that words and images have fallen into as a result of being misused” (37). Further, Calvino recognizes that the purpose of literature is not realized unless the reader approaches it with “critical reflection,” (36) and his expository essay “Comment j’ai écrit . . .” is part of his strategy to snare, and ultimately seduce, the reader. According to Carl D. Malmgren41 , Calvino is trying to “find a way out of” the “dead end for narrative” enacted by “postmodernist metafiction” (106). In fact, Patricia Waugh indicates that Calvino’s emphasis on the reader completes “Barthes statement: that the death of the author makes possible the birth of the reader.”42 By referring to Raymond Roussel, and by investing his reader with, in a sense, the authority of authorship, Calvino is committing a double act of memory. He invests his skills with the weight of literary precedence, and distributes his investment to his readers, his “stock” holders.


As I stated earlier, the structure of “Comment j’ai écrit . . .” strongly resembles a poem. Either four or six sentences follow each square. Each sentence describes the event or persona that occupies each of its corners; two other sentences are added each time opposite corners interrelate. Thus, the figure of a square precedes either a single “quatrain” (a sentence per corner) or a “quatrain” and a “couplet” (the opposite corners interrelating). In essence, the seventeen page article summarizes in a poetic fashion all the events that occur in the numbered chapters of If on a winter’s night . . . , and the constraint can thus be viewed as a fixed form of poetry, using traditional stanza composition. By embedding poetic conventions into his work, Calvino has invested it with a time-tested mnemonic device, limited and repetitive stanzas.


Calvino informs the readers, at the end of “Comment j’ai écrit . . .” that the squared model of constraint is an “adaption personelle” (personal adaptation) (44) of A. J. Greimas’ structural semiology. Calvino has, in a rhythmic and combinatory fashion derived from stanza structure, explored various permutations of the relationship between the reader, the book he and/or she is reading, and the completion of the various novels contained therein. By informing us that the particular square upon which he has chosen to model his constraint is no ordinary square, but the “same” model of a square used by A. J. Greimas to represent aspects of structural semiology, Calvino links his constraint to the manner in which the seme signifies. Thus, the constraint underpins not only the reader’s quest for the novel’s conclusion, but ultimately the novel’s meaning. By contrasting Calvino’s essay to that of Roussel, the difference between the possible gain stemming from Calvino’s “wager,” and Roussel’s injection of a “sense of anxiety” into his writing, can be clearly detected. Calvino plumbs the mine of literary creativity, whereas Roussel was seeking salvation.


Calvino’s constraint guarantees that the novel’s “completion,” in the sense of its ultimate meaning, is entirely dependent upon “you,” whether “you” be the reader of the novel or the reader in the novel. Calvino’s narrative trickery guarantees that literature cannot exist without “you”; his constraint has completely embedded the reader into the tale. Two key sentences in “Comment j’ai écrit…” underline the extent to which a reader “destabilizes” yet at the same participates in a novel’s meaning: “Le livre lu et le livre écrit ne sont pas le même livre” (The written book and the read book are not the same book) (37) and “Le livre lu par chaque lecteur est toujours un autre livre” (The book read by each reader is always another book) (42).


All the various permutations of the reader’s role, of the reader’s relationship with other readers, as well as with other authors, do not bring If on a winter’s night . . . to a conclusion, its meaning remains in eternal flux. A Wiley Feinstein43 finds that the “doctrinal core” of If on a winter’s night . . . is that the author finds himself in a “horrifying double bind.” This is caused by “readers, [who] in their demanding capriciousness and insatiability, are as impossible to live with as they are to live without” (152). Feinstein obviously makes reference to the difficulty men and women experience living with each other, and the “double bind” to which he refers is comparable to the eternal marriage whence there is no divorce, the marriage between author and reader. The cement of this marriage is literature, life, and memory. Both author and reader pursue the novel(s), and use it to embody and transform the need to tell, and to listen to, stories. Marriage, a complex binary operation par excellence based on shared and eternal memories — “till death do we part” — of stories told and heard, such that personal ones are indistinguishable from those shared.


As I previously suggested, the constraint in Roubaud’s La Boucle reflects the physiological act of memory, or, in reverse logic, the physiological act of memory has been transformed into a literary constraint: he has demonstrated how the present moment always renders memory plastic. Perec’s puzzling mathematics describe the virtually infinite combinatory (possibilities) of life’s events, and Calvino devised permutations that take into account the reader’s impact on the novel’s ultimate meaning. The reason that their constraints inscribe them indelibly into the present moment of literary history is that the constraint is a mnemonic device.


When Roubaud addresses questions within La Boucle that pertain to the autobiography as a literary genre he bemoans the demise of the “Arts de la mémoire.” He asserts that the novelist is a “victime inconsciente d’une mutation historique: l’extériorisation du souvenir” (unconscious victim of an historical mutation: the exteriorization of memory) (322). The Ars memorativa were memory techniques that underpinned not only erudition, but also both self-esteem and self-identity; they were the method by which one became learned, and constructed one’s inner library.


Mary Carruthers, in The Book of Memory44, not only describes mnemonic techniques of the past, but she too underlines their importance in relation to becoming learned. From her vantage point, medieval writers viewed learning as,


. . . a process of acquiring smarter and richer mnemonic devices to represent information, encoding similar information into patterns, organizational principles, and rules which represent even material we have never before encountered . . . (2)


During the eras she studies, memoria and mnemotechniques engendered more than what is presently viewed as “memorizing.” Memoria, the mother of the Muses, and subsequently the Ars memorativa, consists of elements, such as prudentia or meditatio, that are the backbone of a medieval scholar’s classical education. Said Arsdetermine one’s “education and character,” (187) and also maintain one’s ethical standards. In essence, Carruthers’ book examines the lofty and often metaphysical goals of the well-rounded medieval scholar, and, more importantly, the process by which said goals were achieved.


There are parallels between mnemonic devices of old and oulipian constraints. Amongst the many different mnemonic devices invented, two different elements of Roubaud’s constraint, the use of mathematics as well as the use of specified loci, are elements of many earlier memory tools. For instance, Carruthers offers the “numerical grid” as an example of an “elementary memory design.” The text to be memorized was divided into limited passages which were assigned numbers and then placed into imaginary “bins”; the “bins” were then formed into a diagram. Each numbered “bin” was “titled” with the text’s opening words. Highly ornate opening letters, common to medieval texts, served as visual means of remembering first sentences, thus stimulating the synesthetic traits of memory.


Similarly, Roubaud created a numerical grid of sorts to write La Boucle. Visually, he underscores the recollection of actual images (flashes) by using bold typefacing; his interjections, in fact the entire passage of “incisions,” is in a different font size. He reproduced, indented on the page and in an entirely new font, tracts of his grandmother’s journal. Now, when looking upon his constraints within the epistemology of a philological education, the connection between literary and personal lives, and both of their needs to remember the past, is clear. His constraint reflects the physiological act of memory by remembering the formal training of our literary forerunners.


Looking upon the constraints that govern La vie mode d’emploi by Georges Perec, two classical mnemonic tools are apparent; the first is “architectural mnemonics,” and the second is the chessboard. A manner in which one sets tracti, or other texts for that manner, to memory was to build a place to store them. Carruthers underlines the importance of places by referring to both Cicero’s Rhetorica ad Herennium, book III, and then Tully’s Ad Herennium: she determines that places should serve as background to memory, and these different backgrounds provide spacing. Such spacing was often specifically architectural. Carruthers finds that Tully used vocabulary from Roman architecture, such as “‘aedis’ (a house), ‘intercolumnium’ (the space between columns, a colonnade), ‘angulus’ (a recess), ‘fornix’ (an arch)” (139). By using the façade of a Parisian apartment block to construct a narrative, Perec has committed a specific architectural design to memory, and after having thoroughly “digested” his work, those apartment blocks can never look the same for the reader; their façades contain stories.


Carrruthers also reveals that Jacopo da Cessola, a Dominican friar from the 1300’s, wrote “an allegorical treatment of the game of chess” in what was one of “the most popular of late medieval ethical manuals” (144). The ethical texts to be memorized from the manual were placed into a grid, and the grid was precisely a chessboard “filled with images.” The form of the manual adopted the mnemotechniques familiar to medieval audiences, which was “the form of a grid filled with images, familiar . . . as a basic format for the page of memory.” Almost naturally then, Perec’s Graeco-Latin bisquare and the chessboard coalesce. The narration’s constraint allows it to be easily set to memory, much like the work of the Domincal friar Jacopo da Cessola. Drawing on contemporary — the apartment house — images, on ninteenth century narrative techniques, and medieval mnemonics, erec committed his story (history) to French cultural memory. He offered the reader grids, mathematical combinations, architectural space, façades, chessboards and chess pieces, as well as the spontaneity of clinamen, as stimuli for recording the “life” of a building. As such, the reader, implicated and invested in the process, commits his or her own life to memory, and reevaluates the various components that build stories, and lives. The grid-like combinatory, its architectural space, as well as the chessboard and its pieces, compose a novel that is the basis of life’s “mode d’emploi.”


Calvino’s constraint in If on a winter’s night a traveler starts with the figure of a box. As previously stated, the number of boxes increases, arrives at a plateau, and then decreases. On the opening page of the article “Comment j’ai écrit un de mes livres” an illustration of the boxes regularly increasing and decreasing resembles a bar-graph or a grid-like diagram. Much like in mnemotechniques of the past, limited information about the texts is contained within the boxes. Below the novel’s surface lies the fundamental building blocks of memory, the original grid to be filled with the profound texts of one’s memoria.


The interspersal of the incipits of novels and the reader’s pursuit of them, is also an act of memory; in medieval times the reader completes the book by committing it to memory. So does the reader of/in If on a winter’s night . . . Carruthers calls the act of reading in medieval times a “‘hermeneutical dialogue’ between two memories” (169). She emphasized the extent to which metaphors for eating, digesting, and even harvesting underpin meditatio, also related to the act(ion) of reading (168). Rumination and murmuring versus silent reading, legere tacite versus viva voce, are employed at different moments to assure the text’s committal to different levels of memory. Such active readings define a different sort of reader; a reader who is not an “interpreter” but the text’s “new author, or re-author” much like, “Petrarch has re-spoken Virgil; ‘re-written Virgil'” (168). When attempting to grasp Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, it is quite evident that there is only one author, Italo Calvino himself. But when attempting to analyze the narration, there exists many authors, fictive and even plagiarizers of fictive authors. And since the chapters where “you” are the main character sustain and represent the essence of the novel’s tension, it could easily be said that “you” are part-author of the book. Therefore, the dominant constraint of the novel demands that the reader assume the responsibility of “authoring” the novel, and of being a participant in the renovation of the genre. Calvino’s constraint actively engages memory. It acts to construct a novel where active reading functions as did the memoria of medieval scholars, by participating in meaning.


As early as 1967 in the article “Écriture et mass-media”45 Perec maintains that a “changement de fonction” is occurring in the arts that provides “un échange plus réel entre l’oeuvre et le spectateur” (a more concrete exchange between the work and the audience) (8). Mass-media, he affirms, offers the writer a space where “le simultané et le discontinu” (the simutaneous and the discontinuous) can create “irruption dans l’écriture” (irruption within writing) (9). Narration must no longer resemble the linearity of a river, models of writing can adapt the form of “l’arbre” (a tree), “l’épi” (a stalk), and “des tiroirs” (drawers) (9). Based on the new physical forms that mass-media offers to a writer, mimesis is no longer a necessity, and discontinuity as well as simultaneity can be fully integrated into a work. In other words, writing can, and must, embrace abstract thought. In order to clearly communicate such thought, a writer’s work depends upon exchange, whether it be between puzzle and puzzle-maker (La vie . . .), between reader and author (If on a winter’s night . . .), or between the past and the present (La Boucle). In the rejection of mimesis, and the adoption of the philosophy of writing under constraint, oulipian writers incur the responsibility of “falsifying” the past, portrayed by the various authors in If on a winter’s night . . . Even though they transform past texts, they do pay homage to their predecessors, they are “remembering” them, by encoding the present moment of literary evolution with contemporary versions of past literary endeavors.


Roland Barthes’ memorable essays, “La mort de l’auteur,” and “De l’oeuvre au text”46 consider the activity of contemporary textuality, and help situate the texts I am studying. Perec suggests that narration must no longer be linear, and can integrate “the simutaneous and the discontinuous” into its production, much like Barthes, in declaring the death of the author and the birth of the “scriptor,” declares that “il n’y a d’autre temps que celui de l’énonciation, et tout texte est écrit étenellement ici et maintenant” (64) (there is no other time than the moment of declaration, and all texts are written in the eternally here and now.) The eternal hic et nunc — Roubaud’s insistance on the present tense, for example — executes the perecian simultaneous and discontinuous, thanks to the postmodern, and/or oulipian, heightened sensitivity to the textual signifier. Barthes calls the signifier the “après-coup” (after-shock) of meaning because it cannot infinetly refer to an unspeakable signified, but it embodies, and plays, the text’s “jeu” (72) (game). The “game” corresponds directly with contemporary, Derridean, notions of “écriture,” with the oulipian constraint, and with the epistemology of mnemotechniques. After having considered three oulipian texts, can I not logically conclude that the constraints that reinforce genre architecture are a blueprint, the set of rules, the “mode d’emploi,” of the textual game played by author and reader? And participating in that game (a personal game of memory and addition?), contributes to both the past and the future of literary architectural evolution.


Our consciousness of literary evolution returns us in time to previous eras where form, and emphasis on exchange, predominated; to ancient Greek theater and the orality of the Odyssey. Which is why Calvino states that there is no true “original book.” To believe that an author, or a computer for that matter, could generate novels, or a new form of literature, is to believe that an original story exists, be it told or untold: “L’ordinateur-auteur de romans est un rêve comme le pére des récits” (The computer-novelist is a dream much like the existence of the Father of all stories) (33) he states in “Comment j’ai écrit . . .” No original tale exists, there are only innovations and replications of last genres and of past tales. In the chapter entitledy “Cybernetics and Ghosts” (The Literature Machine 3-27) he states that “the true literature machine will be one that itself feels the need to produce disorder, as a reaction against its preceding production of order” (13). Writers, he believes, are “already writing machines” (15)47 because they are always elaborating upon the architecture of preceding genres, always contending with and remembering the literary past.


Calvino offers what he terms a writer’s “combinatorial mechanism” (21) as a way of contending with the literary past, and expanding upon the barthian notion of the signifying game. In the mechanism’s search for the “new,” a permutation “clicks,” and then a “shock” (22) occurs. On the one hand, the “shock” takes the form of a text that “becomes charged with an unexpected meaning or unforeseen effect which the conscious mind would not have arrived at deliberately: an unconscious meaning” (21). On the other hand, the “shock” will not occur if the writer is not “surrounded by the hidden ghosts of the individual and of his society” (22). Even after the “click” and the “shock,” the process of evolution is far from finished because “Once we have dismantled and reassembled the process of literary composition, the decisive moment of literary life will be that of reading” (15). Then “The work will continue to be born, to be judged, to be destroyed or constantly renewed on contact with the eye of the reader” (16). Thus for Calvino, and I would add for the members of Oulipo in general, the “combinatorial mechanism” is human, societal, and cultural. The game of their “écriture,” based on the above metaphors, involves abstraction, and cannot be solitary; it includes the past, all of society, and the lives of the reader and the writer. As scientists and writers, oulipians use abstract means of self-discovery. Abstract paths are true to their nature, even if literature, and “littérateurs,” find them difficult to follow.


The ultimate goal of devising a constraint is to discover one’s unconscious, one’s inner life, through permutations of the past, through a conscious plunge into the combinatory of literature. Silas Flannery, one of the fictive authors in If on a winter’s night . . ., declares that “memory is true as long as you do not set it, as long as it is not enclosed in a form” (181); in other words the form cannot be hermetic, it cannot be infallible, and in a sense, such infallibility is impossible because “you,” the reader, are the ultimate variable, the clinamen of literature. “You” bring (your) life to the text by remembering, by making the game new through memory, by making the game worth playing.


I have stated that Roubaud’s constraint in La Boucle resembles the physiological act of memory. It functions as “meta-constraint” for the entire oulipian project, and although the oulipians pay strict attention to questions of language and to literature’s inner structures, their goal is to explore the humanity of abstract thought. As Calvino says, authors are already writing-machines. David Bellos, in his studies of La vie . . ., discovered a “giant reverse diagonal acrostic” (17) where Perec hid the word “âme” (soul). The author’s soul, an intangible yet essential element of his life, drives the novel’s constraint. A consciously determined constraint is the path, the philosopy, the “philological logic,” of self-discovery. Mimesis still drives the oulipian author, however their target of replication is no longer nature, but the structures of literature, and the application of abstract thought to the production of texts.


The oulipian constraint is a philosophical approach to life. Roubaud states that an essential perecian question is the eternal “que faire?” (what does one do?) and that Perec answers clearly: “rien” (nothing).48 For Perec the constraint was, states Roubaud, “la question-réponse décisive de la vie” (the decisive question-answer of life). Since “rien,” or zero for a mathematician, represented Perec’s solution to life’s equation, then the intrigue lies in how to arrive at nothing. The constraint remains the quintessential means — “la question-réponse” — at arriving at nothing, at guaranteeing that Bartlebooth’s paintings be reduced to virgin canvas, only after life was lived, only after the constraint was applied, only after as Roubaud states “d’immenses efforts” (58). A constraint represents a consciousness of life, and an acceptance of death, of worthlessness, but without Rousselian anxiety. By raising questions about “life,” about one’s soul, about mastery over the novel’s language and construct, Perec embraces what Bellos has termed “unpostmodernist concepts.” Is oulipian “écriture” postmodern in its romantic desire to discover the soul through literary adventure?


Cybernetic analysis offers a good foil for understanding oulipian work. David Porush in The Soft Machine49 views cybernetic fiction as “the diminution of the role of the human presence or persona in favor of some deterministic, clockwork fictional universe operating apparently through its own agency” (157). Also, he indicates that cybernetic fiction is composed of a “typical congruence between form and function, the concern with linguistic artifice, the constructedness or emphasis on structure for structure’s sake” which describes oulipian concerns. From the oulipian point of view, however, a machine already exists in all of us. The oulipian novel-machine now targets the self, it utilizes — La Boucle, for example — a physiological act as the target of mimesis, implying a new level of unity of book and self, book-self. In fact, the constraint can be considered constitutive of the self, an exploration of one’s capacity, of one’s potential: the constraint is the machine’s engine.


The book is a true “buckle,” La Boucle, highlighting the link between one’s inner machine and one’s consciousness. The search for machine-like qualities can end because “the author is already a writing-machine.” Oulipian textuality engages in a ludic exchange with literature, mediated by the constraint cum machine, forcibly modifying the economics and the stakes of individual cultural exchange. Much like culture can be seen as a field of commonalities and differences, so too can the structure of memory. Individuals process cultural information, remember it, makes it their own, in a machine-like way. Oulipian constraints are exemplars, equations, allegories, of the consciousness of process.


The oulipian consciousness of process can be seen as a plea. Roubaud’s comments about the “époque des têtes vides,” and the “extériorisation du souvenir,” reinforce this plea directed at a society that has been termed “post-literate.” It is a plea to respect the capacity to remember, to utilize the structures of literature as not only a means of reflecting on the architecture of thought, but as a means of constructing our own inner library, one where reader and author are co-authors.50 In earlier times the book was a tool to be integrated into one’s memory, it was to be added to a thinker’s “private” and interior “collection.” Roubaud calls the description of exterior objects, contemporary media, “lent” (slow), “morselé”; (in pieces), and a “multiplication de details prélevés crûment” (a multiplication of details crudely deduced). He contrasts them to what he calls a “vision globale” contained within a “réel intérieur.” The constraint in La Boucle, an interior adventure depicting Roubaud’s abstract understanding of memory, confirms that a life occurred, secures it, and inscribes that life in literary memory. The “extériorisation du souvenir” indicates, then, an historic reversal in thinking. The reversal in thinking is that instead of the medieval habit of permitting a well-organized memory to “complete” the book, our epoch searches for a method to reclaim, restore, and replicate the interior structure of memory so as to resurrect, secure, and inscribe our book. We stand on the threshold of allowing images alone to record our memories — images and bytes. To allow our “souvenirs” to remain “outside” or exteriorized, is the equivalent of weakening the use of language. With it goes the syntax and the organization of thought that language provides, that the brain provides. Roubaud works as a contemporary troubadour, finding and/or inventing new means of expression. I have termed his latest constraint a meta-constraint because it is a tool for remembering to remember.


The oulipians practice what Roubaud called “plagiat par anticipation” (plagarism by anticipation); time barriers are destroyed. An oulipian constraint is a constraint that must have a clinamen, a constraint that must be fallible, a constraint that guarantees an enormous flexibility of meaning, and finally it is a constraint that, if well construed, will always “disappear.” The foundation of the constraint is that it is an act of memory. Memory of literature, memory as an art form, memory that evokes what one of Calvino’s “authors” might term “la bibliothéque infinie.” If time barriers are destroyed, if the library is infinite, and if the constraint is a means of self-discovery, I then ask: is oulipian “écriture” postmodern, or simply the work of Queneau’s “true poet”?




1. See Marjorie Perloff’s “Introduction” to Marjorie Perloff, ed., Postmodern Genres, (Oklahoma: U of Oklahoma P, 1988) 3-10, as well as Ralph Cohen, “Do Postmodern Genres Exist?,” same volume, 11-27. An interesting quote from Cohen’s essay is pertinent to oulipian texts: “The generic concept of combinatory writing makes possible the study of continuities and changes within a genre as well as the recurrence of generic features and their historical implications” (14). The formal result of realizing a structure’s “potential” is often a mathematical combinatory. Within potential literature lies the remnants of the past, therefore a past memory accompanies innovation, and is in fact essential to it.


2. Paris: Gallimard, {1937}, 1964.


3. Jean Lescure, “Petite histoire de l’Oulipo,” in Oulipo, La littérature potentielle (Paris: Gallimard, 1973) 24-35 makes the following remarks concerning Queneau’s famous quote: “It has not been sufficiently noted what an important revolution, what a clear mutation, this simple sentence introduced into a conception of literature that was still given to romantic effusions and subjective exaltations. In fact, this sentence revealed a revolutionary concept of the objectivity of literature, and opened, as of that moment, literature to all possible kinds of manipulation. Simply put, like mathematics, literature could be explored” (28).


4. In Radical Artifice (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991) Marjorie Perloff asks, in relation to poetic structure: “. . . what happens after modernism?” (137). She suggests that “a prosody based on intonational contours” is the problem, and that the result is that contemporary poets, in what she terms “the most common postmodern practice,” “take the existing meters and stanza forms and [ ] treat them parodically” (138). A different approach to poetic structure, Perloff maintains, is “constraint or procedurality,” best practiced by Oulipo. She views the oulipian approach, “a procedural poetics,” as applicable to both “prose” and “verse” (her quotations, 139). Once Perloff has claimed oulipian “procedural poetics” to be postmodern, they conform to her own theoretical paradigm, and I ask if this too reflects the age-old academic tendency to label and compartmentalize?


5. Paris: Hachette, 1978.


6. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, {1979} 1981.


7. L’invention du fils de Leoprepes (Saulxures: Circe, 1993).


8. Paris: Seuil, 1989.


9. Although Bernard Magné, “Transformations of Constraint” Review of Contemporary Fiction XIII:1 (Spring 1993) 111-123, defines a metaconstraint as “a constraint which modifies a constraint” (118) I am referring to a constraint that serves as an overview of the entire oulipian project. If the constraint at work in La Boucle represents a formalization of the act of memory, then it is a metaconstraint in that all oulipian constraints serve the same purpose.


10. Richard F. Thompson, “The Memory Trace,” Richard F. Thompson, ed., Learning and Memory (Boston: Birkhauser, 1989) 11-13. Here Thompson states that “the greatest barrier to progress” in understanding learning and memory has been the “problem of localizing the neuronal substrates” (11). In relation to locating “the memory trace” he describes a process that might “involve a number of loci, parallel circuits, and feedback loops.” The following structures are thought to be implicated: “the cerebellum, hippocampus, amygdala, and cerebal cortex” (12).


11. See Endel Tulving, “Concepts of Human Memory,” Larry R. Squire et al, eds. Memory: Organization and Locus of Change, (New York: Oxford UP, 1991), 3-32.


12. Certain principles guide their work; in their texts “le mode de fabrication est tantôt indiqué, tantôt non.” (the means of production is sometimes revealed, sometimes not) (V) Oulipo, La Bibliothèque Oulipienne v.1, (Paris: Editions Ramsay, 1987). Two complementary principles are enunciated by Jacques Roubaud, who is also a Professor of mathematics: 1) “la définition d’une contrainte est écrite suivant la règle fixée par cette contrainte” (the definition of a constraint is written according to the rule established by said constraint) (IV), in other words a constraint defines itself as it implements its own rules. 2) that “un texte suivant une contrainte parle de cette contrainte” (a text under constraint speaks of that constraint) (90) Oulipo, Atlas de littérature potentielle (Paris: Gallimard, 1981).


13. See Roubaud’s works on troubadorian poetry which include the following titles: Les Troubadours (Paris: Seghers, 1971) and La fleur inverse (Paris: Editions Ramsay, 1986).


14. Not only does Roubaud define his theory of rhythm in the following terms: “La théorie du rythme abstrait est l’entrelacement d’une famille de théories ayant en commun une combinatoire séquentielle hiérarchisée d’événements discrets considérés sous le seul aspect du ‘même’ et du ‘différent'” (The theory of abstract rhythm is the intertwining of a family of theories that have in common a sequential and hierarchised combinatory of discreet events considered under the sole aspect of the “same” and the “different”), a definition put forth in the series of seminars he offered through the “Centre de poétique comparée,” a department of the “Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales,” but in an interview he goes so far as to state that “le fond essentiel de la mémoire est plutôt de nature rythmique” (the essential depth of memory is of a rather rhythmic nature) (100): “Les cercles de la mémoire — entretien avec Aliette Armel” Magazine littéraire, (juin, 1993) 96-103.


15. The “*” indicates that number of paragraphs within the section varies.


16. The structure of the rest of the novel is as such:


Chapters: 1 2 3 4 5 6
# of sections in “récit 9 + 9 + 11 + 6 + 6+ 6 = 50
# of sections in “incises 17 + 14 + 19 + 5 + 9 + 17 = 81
# of sections in “bifurcations 14 + 5 + 14 + 17 + 1 + 14 = 65
Total 40 + 28 + 44 + 28 + 16 + 40 = 196


The mathematical constraint of the novel reveals distinct numerological patterns. Said patterns exist both within each of the three main divisions — the “récit,” the “incises,” and the “bifurcations” — and across the divisions. The mathematical constraint thus governs the novel’s development in a linear manner and in a cross-sectional manner: on the one hand it could be said that it reflects the way an event is encoded in different areas of the brain and also the way an event is recalled, always stimulating various other memories. On the other hand it functions as a numerical grid functions in mnemotechniques, allowing the author to distribute and organize specific moments of memory in order to oversee the manner in which memories interplay, affect, and counter-affect one another.


17. Perec indicates in “Quatre figures pour La vie mode d’emploi” Oulipo, Atlas de littérature potentielle (Paris: Gallimard, 1981) 387-395 that of “trois ébauches indépendantes” (three independant outlines), (387) that I will soon discuss and that structure the novel, the third, which “allait devenir l’histoire de Bartlebooth” (was going to become the story of Bartlebooth) was discovered while working on a “gigantesque puzzle représentant le port de La Rochelle.” Perec decided that all of the stories contained in the novel would be built “comme des puzzles” which would render the story of Bartlebooth “essentielle” (388).


18. Georges Perec, “‘Ce qui stimule ma racontouze‘” TEM – Texte en main I (Printemps 1984) 49-59.


19. Lisa Cohen, “The Purloined Letter,” Lingua franca 5:2 (Jan.-Feb. 1995) 16-19.


20. Georges Perec — A Life in Words (London: Harvill, 1993).


21. Paris: Julliard, 1965.


22. Paris: Denoel, 1969.


23. Paris: C. Bourgois, 1990.


24. Jacques Brunschwig, “Epicure,” Dictionnaire de philosophes, v.1 (Paris: P.U.F., 1984) 866-873.


25. In my research I found many different references, by many different authors, to the clinamen, for example: Paul Braffort, “F.A.S.T.L. Formalismes pour l’analyse et la synthèse de textes littéraires” in Oulipo, Atlas de littérature potentielle (Paris: Gallimard [1988], 1981) 108-137, states that “Le rôle du clinamen se précisa peu à peu (mais ici de difficiles recherches sont encore nécessaires)” (The role of the clinamen will slowly become more precise (but here difficult research is still necessary)) (108-9) which gives an idea as to the importance and complexity of the clinamen in his own research; he continues: “Bref, on se proposait de plus en plus de rendre explicites les jeux de contraintes dont un auteur ne saurait se passer, afin d’y rendre possibles calculs et déductions rigoureuses (au “clinamen” près)” (110) (In brief, we were proposing more and more to make the constraining games that an author could not pass over more explicit, in order to make possible rigorous calculations and deductions (to the nearest “clinamen”).)


Italo Calvino, in “Prose et anticombinatoire” Atlas . . . 319-331, declares: “Cela montre bien, pensons-nous, que l’aide de l’ordinateur, loin d’intervenir en substitution à l’acte createur de l’artiste, permet au contraire de libérer celui-ci des servitudes d’une recherche combinatoire, lui donnant ainsi les meilleurs possibilités de se concentrer sur ce “clinamen” qui, seul, peut faire du texte une véritable oeuvre d’art” (This shows, we think, that the help of a computer, far from intervening as a substitute for the creative act of the artist, allows for, au contraire, his liberation from the servitude of combinatory research, giving him the greatest possibility to concentrate on this “clinamen” which, alone, can make of a text a veritable work of art) (331). This citation accords to the clinamen the status of the “creative act of the author” and, much like Epicurus indicates the clinamen’s capacity to create a “world,” Calvino’s terms this creation “a veritable work of art.”


Jacques Roubaud, “Air” Oulipo, La bibliothèque oulipienne, v.1 (Paris: Slatkine, 1981) 83, the poet describes the form of the poem he entitled “Air,” and dedicated to Raymond Queneau, in the following terms: “Une case vide — longueur des syllabes — dans la table est comblée, minimalement, par ce sonnet selon les règles et aussi quelque ironie. Un clinamen dans le compte des lettres, par absence et excès, dit le destinataire. Comme la parenthèse à la ligne en plus, coda.” (An empty space — the length of syllables — in the table is filled, minimally, by this sonnet written according to the rules as well as a little irony. A clinamen in the letter count, by absence and excess, says the addressee. Like a parenthesis with an extra line, coda.) Here Roubaud employs a clinamen in order to claim originality.


In the following haiku, Roubaud, “Io et le Loup — dix-sept plus un plus plus un haiku en ouliporime”, La bibliothèque . . .323-333, the poet purposely misspells the word “clinamen” in order to create a true clinamen which will coincide with the theme of the haiku, dedicated to Oulipo:


III: oulipo

(16)  xlinamen

L'hétérogramme est doux
		le lipogramme est prolixe
	le tautogramme cherche les hapax.
					(pour Jean Queval) (329)


Finally, Francois Caradec, “La voie du troisième secteur”, Oulipo, La bibliothèque oulipienne, v.3 (Paris: Seghers, 1990) 157-181, researches a “troisième secteur” which he calls “para-pata-littérature” (160) and declares that the clinamen shall play the role of a “frange” (fringe), or a condition which exists between two notions: “je retrouve le double d’une lettre datée du 20 octobre 1972 dans laquelle je me permettais, énergiquement d’ailleurs, un certain nombre de suggestions. Au nom du clinamen, je proposais la notion de ‘franges,’ parfois simplement par ‘usure’ sémantique, ‘franges’ qui permettaient à l’occasion de ‘frangir’ les limites imposées un peu arbirtairement par François Le Lionnais . . .” (166) (I discover the copy of a letter dated October 20, 1972, in which I allowed myself, even energetically, a certain number of suggestions. In the name of the clinamen I was proposing the notion of “fringe,” sometimes only by semantic “wearing away,” “fringes” allowed at that moment “to fringe” the limits imposed somewhat arbitrarily by François Le Lionnais. . .)


The preceding evidence supports the notion that the Oulipians cling to the clinamen as an obligatory stage in creating something “new,” in allowing a constraint to reach its potential.


26. Paris: Bibliothèque-Charpentier, 1928.


27. In fact, in La disparition Perec espouses the role of “scriptor” consciously. In the first paragraph of the “Post-scriptum” one reads: “L’ambition du ‘Scriptor,’ son propos, disons son souci, son souci constant, fut d’abord d’aboutir à un produit aussi original qu’instructif, à un produit qui aurait, qui pourrait avoir un pouvoir stimulant sur la construction, la narration, l’affabulation, l’action, disons, d’un mot, sur la façon du roman d’aujourd’hui” (The ambition of the “Scriptor,” his proposal, let’s say his concern, his constant concern, was first off to produce a product as original as it is instructive, a product that would have, that could have a stimulative power on the construction, the narration, the affabulation, the action, let’s say, in a word, on the fashion of today’s novel) (309).


28. PN Review 15:6, 68 (1989) 12-17.


29. Georges Perec, Eds. Hans Hartje, Bernard Magné, Jacques Neefs, Cahier des charges de La vie mode d’emploi, (Paris: CNRS Editions, 1993).


30. The forty-two elements at work in each chapter are the following: (16-20)


1) Position 2) Activité 3) Citation 1 4) Citation 2
5) Nombre 6) Rôle 7) Troisème secteur 8) Ressort?
9) Murs 10) Sols 11) Époque 12) Lieu
13) Style 14) Meubles 15) Longueur 16) Divers
17) Âge 18) Sexe 19) Animaux 20) Vêtements
21) Tissus (nature) 22) Tissus (matière) 23) Couleurs 24) Accessoires
25) Bijoux 26) Lectures 27) Musiques 28) Tableaux
29) Livres 30) Boissons 31) Nourriture 32) Petits meubles
33) Jeux et jouets 34) Sentiments 35) Peintures 36) Surfaces
37) Volumes 38) Fleurs 39) Bibelots 40) Manque
41) Faux 42) Couples




1) Position 2) Activity 3) Quote 1 4) Quote 2
5) Number 6) Role 7) Third sector 8) Spring?
9) Walls 10) Floors 11) Epoch 12) Place
13) Style 14) Furniture 15) Length 16) Diverse
17) Age 18) Sex 19) Animals 20) Clothing
21) Cloth (natural) 22) Cloth (material) 23) Colors 24) Accesories
25) Jewelry 26) Readings 27) Musics 28) Paintings
29) Books 30) Drinks 31) Food 32) Small furnishings
33) Games and toys 34) Feelings 35) Paint 36) Surfaces
37) Spaces 38) Flowers 39) Knicknacks 40) Wrong
41) Gap 42) Couples)


31. Georges Perec, “‘Ce qui stimule ma racontouze‘” TEM – Texte en main I (Printemps 1984) 49-59.


32. See note 27.


33. Pierre Lusson, Georges Perec, Jacques Roubaud (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1969).


34. Paris: Gallimard, 1947.


35. “The Doing of Fiction” Review of Contemporary Fiction. XIII:1 (Spring 1993) 23-29.


36. Oulipo, La Bibliothèque Oulipienne vol. II (Paris: Editions Ramsay, 1987) 26-44.


37. Paris: Jean-Jacques Pauvert, 1963.


38. See Francois Le Lionnais, “A propos de la littérature expérimentale,” Oulipo, La littérature potentielle (Paris: Gallimard, 1973) 246-249.


39. Paris: Gallimard, 1963.


40. “Two Interviews on Science and Literature,” The Literature Machine (London: Martin Secker & Warburg, 1987) 28-38.


41. “Romancing the Reader: Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a travelerReview of Contemporary Fiction 6:2 (Summer 1986) 106-116.


42. Quoted by Ian Rankin, “The Role of the Reader in Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a travelerReview of Contemporary Fiction 6:2 (Summer 1986) 124-129.


43. “The Doctrinal Core of If on a winter’s night a traveler,” Calvino Revisited — U of Toronto Italian Studies 2, (Toronto: Dovehouse Editions Inc., 1989) 147-155.


44. New York: Cambridge UP, [190] 1993.


45. Preuves 202 (déc. 1967) 6-10.


46. Le bruissement de la langue (Paris: Seuil, 1984) 61-67, 69-78.


47. Perec also has been called “une machine à raconter des histoires” Cahier des charges, 7.


48. Jacques Roubaud “Préparation d’un portrait formel de Georges Perec” L’arc 76 (1979) (54-60).


49. New York: Methuen, 1985.


50. See also Barthe’s statement in Le bruissement de la langue, (Paris: Seuil, 1984): “. . . le Texte demande qu’on essaie d’abolir (ou tout au moins de diminuer) la distance entre l’écriture et la lecture, non point en intensifiant la projection du lecteur dans l’oeuvre, mais en les liant tous deux dans une même pratique signifiante” (the Text asks one to try to abolish (or at least to diminish) the distance between writing and reading, not at all by intensifying the projection of the reader onto the oeuvre, but in linking the two together in the same signifying practice) (75).