Stéphane Susana

A Roundup of Constrained Writing
on the Web

The interest in hypertextuality, combinative engines, and automatic production of texts by computers always appeared obvious for Oulipians – members of The Workshop for Potential Literature – all writers of literatures with constraints.

By: Stéphane Susana

If, at the beginning, they did not have the standard hardware to carry out their projects, they traced the way, proposing examples, assembling specifications, producing working schemes so that these projects could exist potentially.

Raymond Queneau’s 100,000,000,000,000 Poems (which led to the Oulipo’s creation in 1960) seems a perfect example: each of these poems is produced from a combination of 10 primary sonnets, from which verses are randomly chosen.

This work was initially published on paper, a single sonnet printed on every right-hand page, with the verses cut out in paper strips. Neglecting this material presentation, the prestigious French edition, La Pleiade (which produces complete works of canonical writers), presents Queneau’s sonnets as a series of ten, one after the other, without concern for their combinative possibilities.

It seems to be increasingly difficult to apprehend such works on paper – in fact, with such works we may have reached the material limits of the printed book.

Jacques Roubaud – also a member of the Oulipo – has written three autobiographical novels. Parts of these can be read linearly; a significant portion, however, termed “interpolations and bifurcations,” are given in an elaborate tree structure of chapters, reference material, and commentary, anticipating hypertext possibilities. Conquered by the Internet, Roubaud has announced that the fourth section of his memoir is to be edited by way of electronic texts.

For now, all these Oulipian works – and many others – have found with the Internet an ideal support for potential writing. Here, I present a short survey of writing produced under constraint and its criticism, each of which more and more invests the Web.

introduction to literature under constraint

FORMULES, Revue des littératures à contraintes
This established French review explores Oulipo texts, works of many authors, essays, and debates. On this site, one will find the synopsis of the first three issues of the review, some fundamental texts defining the term “constraint,” and projects for electronic writing under constraint.

La page OULIPO, Philippe Bruhat
Dedicated to the Workshop for Potential Literature, featuring a complete bibliography with links.

OPLEPO, the Italian “OPificio di LEtteratura POtenziale”
Site of the Italian Oulipo: texts, projects, presentations, and topical discussions.

La page PEREC, Philippe Bruhat
Bibliography, extracts, links, and all kinds of information about Georges Perec, who is, with Italo Calvino, the most famous member of Oulipo.

electronic literature under constraint

ALAMO, Atelier de littérature assistée par les mathémathique et les ordinateurs
The ALAMO “Workshop for literature assisted by mathematics and computers” was created in 1982 by two Oulipians: Paul Brafford and Jacques Roubaud. It develops interactive software that assists users with literary creation (combinatorial literature, for exemple); creative and pedagogical programs are on display.

INFOLIPO, Informatique et Littérature Potentielle
Workshop for potential computer science.

SOLLILOQUE, A force de Croquer des cailloux dans les Nougats
Modern experimental literature (Oulipo, Fluxus, Dada, Surréalism, etc.)

FEAR OF POETRY, Associated Poets
Presents the research of the Portmanteau Poets and associates, in the form of a collection of poetry assignments with linked examples.

Anne-Cécile BRANDENBOURGER is a writer who for the past four years has developed a vast work on the WEB: interactive fiction whose intrigue and writing are forced into existence by an original use of hypertextuality.

ALPHA-BETA, Richard Barbeau
A site that collects the net art of Richard Barbeau, who resides in Montreal and has been working in the visual arts for the past 15 years.

This Is Not A Glossary
Quotation, extracts from the surrealist canon.

Mouchette is a teenage artist living in Amsterdam. Secret links, electronic texts, poems that reveal multiple faces of the artist, her fears and obsessions, and (in each case) her talent.

PHOSPHORE, Dennis des Chene
Exercises inspired by the Workshop for Potential Literature.

Cent mille milliards de poèmes, Raymond Queneau 
100,000,000,000,000 Poems is a sequence of ten 14-lines sonnets by Raymond Queneau. By combining the ten different possibilities for each verse, this site can interactively compose billions of different sonnets.

Un peu plus de 4,000 poèmes pour Fabrizio Clerici, Georges Perec
Based on the Queneau model, a generation of 4,000 poems by Perec, produced with drawings from Fabrizio Clerici which also obey the combinatorial rule.

Raymond Queneau’s “A Story as You Like it” — the original hypertext
First published on paper, this narrative has found its natural place on the web.

Les Perverbes, Nicolas Graner
An automatic text generator, which creates a “perverbe” (that is, a perverted proverb) by associating the beginning of one proverb with the end of another.

Karenina.IT Experimental Net-Zine
Site realisation (by Caterina Davinio) presents hypertext/visual incursions, which bring in the net and combine with telematic communication techniques typical of visual poetry.

Machines à écrire, A. Denize ed., Gallimard 
Commercial presentation of an excellent CDrom dedicated to electronic and combinatorial literature.

constraint-based literature

Ian Monk is a member of the Oulipo. This site presents samples of his work as the translator of Georges Perec.

Gef’s Oulipian Exercises, Gilles Esposito Farese
extremely varied texts by this very talented writer sucessfully explore the entire range of Oulipian constraints.

Textes à contraintes, Nicolas Graner
Many beautiful texts, accompanied by teaching explanations, make this an ideal site for an initial exploration of the field, or a classroom demonstration.

Les Jeux d’esprit, Alain Zalmanski.
Exhaustive site dedicated to Oulipo, Pataphysics, and mathematics. Numerous examples, texts, and information.

Mailing-list Oulipo
French mailing list: debates, information about OULIPO, texts with contraints, meeting dates, and chat.

oulipian games

Markov Page, Doctor Nerve
This page allows the writer to type in prose or poetry and then submit it to a Markov Chain engine, which munches through the writer’s text, performs a statistical analysis, and spits out statistically similar text.

French anagrams generator

English anagrams generator

Ambigram generator
Ambigrams are words or phrases that can be read in more than one way or from more than a single vantage point.

Word Play
Fun and games, with links to related sites.

works cited

OULIPO. OULIPO Compendium. Eds. Harry Mathews and Alastair Brotchie. Atlas Arkhive Six, 1999.

OULIPO. Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature. Ed. and trans. Warren F. Motte, Jr. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive, 1998.

Queneau, Raymond. 100,000,000,000,000 de Poèmes. Ed. Gallimard. Collection La Pleiade. 1997

Roubaud, Jacques. Le grand incendie de Londres, La boucle, Mathematiques. Ed. Le Seuil.

Formules. Formules, revue des littératures à contraintes. L’Age d’homme. Paris.


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