At the beginning of my Monroe project planning, I intended to study the Oulipo and explore possible areas for expansion of this Paris-based literary group already well past its fiftieth birthday.
Basically, my project did not stray from this original question of the Oulipo’s survival and future.
Carried out together, my project entailed two major endeavors: gaining a deeper understanding of the Oulipo and trying to imitate Oulipian writing styles through my own writing.
Deeper understanding of the Oulipo entailed reading over 40 oulipian novels, poetry collections, articles, constraints, histories, and other writings by Oulipians and non-oulipians alike as well as interviewing a current Oulipo member (Olivier Salon) in Paris, attending an Oulipo public reading of works new and old, scouring grandes biblioteques in Paris, and listening to recorded interviews and analyses on the Oulipo.
Even with all of that research, a basic understanding of what oulipian writing is would not be complete without the challenging, meticulous, and immensely enjoyable attempts of imitating Oulipian constraints through personal writing.
For the experience that I gained while constructing constrained poems and stories opened my eyes to the truly Herculean effort required to develop and implement an Oulipian text, as well differing mindsets of an author connecting to an audience who may or may not be concerned with the process of writing as opposed to solely the finished product.
Given the time that I had, I chose to focus on eleven main Oulipian writing undertakings.
Half of my writings were inspired by well-known constraints developed by Oulipo members: including novel versions of Raymond Queneau’s combinatoric Cent mille milliards de poèmes, George Perec’s Beaux presents, Jacques Jouet’s Poème de metro, Harry Mathew’s algorithme, and George Perec’s seminal La vie mode d’emploi.
In the other half, I experimented with novel or modern constraints that I either developed or discovered outside of the Oulipo.
Justified by my reading and interview, I arrived at four conclusions for the Oulipo’s future.
1.) Keeping relevant with modernity will never be a problem for the Oulipo because, as Olivier Salon puts it, technology has no limit in its applicability for the Oulipo.
2.) L’éducation offers a fertile field for the Oulipo that has just barely begun to be toiled through its ability to provide lessons in writing, French Literature, and FLE (French as a foreign language).
3.) Many non-French languages have already produced oulipian writings, and all languages possess the capacity for this creative and methodic writing style even if not yet known as “constrained writing” or “potential literature”.
4.) Never will the infinity of potential literature be exhausted; In the words of Olivier Salon “La page oulipienne ne peut pas fermer” (the page of the Oulipo will never close).
Oulipo may remain an obscure word in the world of litertature, but its optimistic goal of expanding the writing and reading of humanity holds the potential to outlive its posterity.