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.
Correspondence with the Oulipo
Surely the most famous Oulipian whom nobody recognizes as such, Marcel Duchamp became a foreign correspondent of the Oulipo in 1962 (he was living primarily in the United States by this time) based on his enthusiasm for accounts of the group’s explorations published in the quarterly journal of the Collège de ’Pataphysique.
Boulogne-sur-Seine, 23 October 1964
Monsieur Marcel DUCHAMP
210 West 14th Street
5 rue Parmentier
C/O Arturo SCHWARZ
Via Gesu 17
Dear Marcel Duchamp,
Scarcely a (secret) meeting of the OuLiPo goes by without our bringing up your name and ruing your absence. Our Provisionally Definitive Secretaries swear up and down that they have written to you two or three times at least but perhaps their letters reached you too late.
This situation strikes us as entirely untenable and I have been tasked with writing you at the three addresses we have for you simultaneously, in New York, Paris, and Milan. Should you find yourself in these three places simultaneously when these letters arrive you need reply only to one of them.
I do not need to remind you that the OuLiPo—which I founded with Queneau four years ago and which is dedicated not to the elaboration of literary works but to the fabrication of literary structures that writers may use as they see fit—is also a Commission of the collège de pataphysique. Apart from a few foreign correspondents—all of them eminent—there are ten of us. We meet for lunch roughly once a month and would be delighted to have you among us during one of your next visits to Paris.
Just in case, I will tell you that our next meeting will take place on Friday, November 6, at 12:30 p.m. at a little restaurant located on the first floor of 40 rue de l’Université (very close to the corner of said street and rue du Bac). It would be a happy miracle if you were able to join us on that day. Failing that, it would be better to proceed the other way around and set a meeting date during a period when you will be in Paris and after having agreed with you upon a date that would not put you out.
Does this suit you and seem possible? We certainly hope so. I send my fond wishes along with Queneau’s, Noël Arnaud’s, and those of the other members of the OuLiPo.
p.s. Do you still find any time for chess?
François Le Lionnais
2 Nov. 64
28 West 10th Street
New York City
Dear Le Lionnais
Thank you for your 3 Oulympian cards and thank you for the invitation to the meeting on 6 Nov, to which I am replying, a bit late, with the unfortunate impossibility of being in Paris and of not being in New York on that day.
Will be in France next May or thereabouts and will send word when I arrive.
So all my sympathies and best wishes for Queneau, Noël Arnaud, and yourself and the Oulipo brigade.
Buy All That Is Evident Is Suspect over in our store.