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This interview is taken from PN Review 182, Volume 34 Number 6, July - August 2008.

An Interview with Jacques Roubaud Sophie Lewis


I first heard of the Oulipo at university. A couple of lectures about Georges Perec's startling novel La Disparition ('the disappearance', superbly translated under the title 'A Void') - famously about both the absence of the letter 'e' and embodying that absence - were enough to get me hooked on his writing. Then at Dalkey Archive Press I read more widely among the Oulipo's members. Raymond Queneau is probably next-best known of these, especially for his Exercices de Style ('Exercises in Style'), 99 retellings of the same brief, unexceptional incident, each in a different 'style', including different tenses, codes, invented dialects, points of view... ad absurdum. Then there is the American Harry Mathews, in whose novel Cigarettes each chapter is written from the viewpoint of a different pairing of characters. Are you getting the common factor? The Oulipo is about games, it's about making up rules, sticking to them and enjoying and learning from the literature that results. Ou-Li-Po - the name is a compression of Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, which means workshop or gateway to potential literature. But I thought all the fun had been had in the 1960s and the practice was essentially over.

It turns out that the Oulipo is alive and well and living in London - or almost. Paul Fournel, its president and also cultural attaché for books at London's Institut Français, invited a few available ...


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