Since its inception in Paris in 1960, the OuLiPo — ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or workshop for potential literature — has continually expanded our sense of what writing can do. It’s produced, among many other marvels, a detective novel without the letter e (and a sequel of sorts without a, i, o, u, or y); an epic poem structured by the Parisian métro system; a story in the form of a tarot reading; a poetry book in the form of a game of go; and a suite of sonnets that would take almost 200 million years to read completely.

Here, we gladly present some excerpts — along with the corresponding explanations — of some pieces found in our newest release, All That Is Evident Is Suspect, edited by Daniel Levin Becker and Ian Monk.

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These vignettes, translated by Cole Swensen, are taken from a collection of strange and fanciful short stories, subtitled Atlas Inutilis, credited to the Portuguese author Jaime Montestrela and translated into French by Hervé Le Tellier. In 2013, the stories and Le Tellier (and not the vanishingly retiring Montestrela) were awarded the Grand Prize for Dark Humor.

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Hervé Le Tellier
from Liquid Tales

Roberto Catanese of San Patamino (Sicily) was condemned to prison for life in February 1978 for having transformed the celebrated recipe for mozzarella pizza into Sicilian pizza by adding pieces of real Sicilians.

On March 11, 1676, just before the Battle of Thesinge (Holland), in which the army of Louis XIV confronted that of the Quadruple Alliance, the troops took up their battle formations under the orders of Louis de Bourbon-Condé and Georg von Derfflinger. Their formations were so perfect that the commanding officers were reluctant to disturb them by a battle. Which is why the Battle of Thesinge never took place.

Investigators at the Psychology Institute of Brooklyn (USA) have shown that Joan of Arc (1412–1431), known as “the Maid of Orléans,” did indeed hear voices, but, not understanding either Farsi or Wolof, she carried out (and rather badly, at that) only the orders given by the voice that spoke French.

The slowness of the wise people of Lomoka (Borneo) is legendary. Long unknown to the rest of the world, they were discovered by the French explorer Camille Rive in April of 1964. It wasn’t until February 2011 that a second expedition, this time American, led by Paul Armstrong, returned to their remote valley and found to their astonishment that the Lomokas had only made it to September 1967.

All the research undertaken by Brillat-Savarin from 1787 on, and later by the greatest chefs in the world, to discover the recipe, so beloved by the Hebrews, for “golden calf” has been in vain.

The inhabitants of the Hahiuta Plateau (Lower Nepal) are artists so accomplished that, like Michelangelo, they can see in the raw stone the fabulous sculptures that only their artistic genius could extract. And they can do this so well that they’re happy to leave it at that, admiring them in all their veined minerality, though to our naïve eyes their country seems to be littered all over with random chunks of rock.

Researchers at the Institute of Animal Ethology in Arcachon (France) have proved that an oyster’s awareness of its existence increases dramatically at the moment of the lemon.

On May 13, 1965, the municipal counsel of Pine Gulch, Utah (pop. 32,145) decided to expunge from the language all words having any reference to sexuality. Soon they were also eliminating many innocent words (from kangaroo to cloud) that were suspected of standing in for banished vocabulary. Then silence itself became suspect. Even today, it’s better to avoid Pine Gulch altogether and instead go through Bear Woods, taking State Route 204.

Just as people count using a base of ten because we have ten fingers, the inhabitants of the planet Vekon count on a base of 999 because that’s how many waving tentacles they have. For this reason alone, the Vekonians are much better at math than we Earthlings, but they also have 999 commandments to obey.

According to the medievalist Ludovic Pouchet (1887–1965), the Frankish warrior at whom Clovis yelled “Remember the Vase of Soissons!” as he smote him with his sword never, in fact, remembered anything again.

The inhabitants of the village of Slattamoylin (Ireland) are extremely afraid of ghosts, and so they make everyone on the brink of death sign a document promising that, once dead, they won’t come back to haunt the living. So far, the dead have kept their word.

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You can purchase All That Is Evident Is Suspect in our store.