Thursday, November 10, 2005

The New Edition of the Oulipo Compendium is Out

The Oulipo Compendium -- the best one-volume introduction to the French literary group the Oulipo and various related works and ideas -- which has been out of print for several years now, is back in print. It's been promised for some time, but I know it's really out since I received my copy today. The Oulipo Compendium is a wonderful book, a true joy, and I commend it to any of you interested in (quirky and experimental) literature. Below is a very brief explanation of what the Oulipo is, some information on the book, and links to online excerpts from the book.

The Ou-whatsis?

The Oulipo (an acronym of their full name, "Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle", which translates as "Workshop for Potential Literature") is a French literary group founded in 1960 by writer Raymond Queneau and mathematician François Le Lionnais; noteworthy members have included Italo Calvino, Georges Perec and Harry Mathews (the only American in the group and one its primary ambassadors to the English-speaking world). It is dedicated to the study of literary constraints and new literary techniques. Reviews of many Oulipian works can be found here. There seems to be fairly few good English-language introductory web sites on the Oulipo, but the wikipedia entry is a good place to start. If you read French, the group's official web home is here.

Information on the Book:

Oulipo Compendium 2005 3

The new edition is being published jointly by Atlas Press in the UK and Make Now Press in the US. The latter's web site is, unfortunately, still listing the book as "coming soon" with the price and ISBN unavailable. (Those at least I can help with: it's $36, and the ISBN is 0974355437.) Make Now seems to be a rather new, rather small press, and they are clearly a bit behind in their web presence. Atlas Press is an older, more established small press -- they published the first edition in 1998 -- and their web site is up and running. (And if your order from them before November 27, it's only £15 (although shipping from the UK is steep.)) Thus far the UK edition (ISBN 1900565188) seems to be available, while the US edition is not -- it's not listed on the US, for instance. (I got mine from an ebay auction offered by one of the people associated with Make Now Press -- I don't know why they auctioned off one copy but haven't yet started selling others.) Still, given that the US edition has been printed (and there's no question mine is the US edition, not the UK one), I can only presume that it too will be available in short order.

(Update: The U.S. publisher says in the comments: "The web site will be up and running in no time. You can not order the book from Atlas because they will direct you to me, As I hold the US/Canada sales rights.... The books are still on the sea, a week away from getting to me for sale.") (Further Update: The web site for Make Now Press has been updated, and you can now buy the new edition of the Oulipo Compendium from them directly (scroll down); it's unclear if it is being sold anywhere else.)

Oulipo Compendium 1998 2

There are informative reviews of the first edition by James Sallis, Warren Motte and the Complete Review; the third of these is the most comprehensive, and has links to more reviews and resources. A brief interview with the Alastair Brochie, one of the editors of the book (and one of the editors of Atlas Press) describing the new edition is here; the gist (from the "directions for use" in the new edition) is that "the factual parts (such as membership and bibliographies)" have been updated, while the "literary contents" are the same as in the first edition.

Selections, Excerpts and Included Texts Available Online:

While the book is wonderful, and I encourage you all to buy a copy, a generous number of selections, excerpts and included texts are online in various places. Here are some links.

There was a web site associated with the first edition ( which has online the introduction as well as a handful of abridged versions of some of the literature entries, including: N+7, Definitional Literature, Elementary Morality, Eye-Rhyme, Larding, Lipogram, Measures, Perverb, Poetic Redundancy, Rhetorical Repetition, Slenderizing, Univocalism. (A table of contents for these is here.) These are probably the best introduction to the tone and feel of the Compendium: if you like these, you'll probably enjoy the book.

The first item in the Compendium is Stanley Chapman's translation of Raymond Queneau's "Cent mille milliards de poèmes" ("A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems"); this is available online here, as are other translations by Bev Rowe (this site also has the French), an anonymous translator (another site with the French) and yet another anonymous translator. Of these versions, I think that Bev Rowe's site has the best layout/introduction to the concept, though Chapman's translation was approved by Queneau so might be preferred for that reason. This site only has the French text, but contains a good brief description of the work.

Ian Monk, a British member of the Oulipo, has a page of his Oulipian Writings online. Several of these are included in the Compendium, including his univocal translation of George Perec's "What a Man!" and his brief univocal essay, "Perec's Letterless Texts", which discusses three of Perec's works -- including La Disparition, a novel written entirely without the letter e, "The Exeter Text" a univocalism in e (which has been translated by Monk himself) and "What a Man!". This essay is a virtuoso performance; my favorite bit is where he quotes from La Disparition, transforming a passage which was a lipogram in e to a passage which is a univocalism in e. To give you a bit of the flavor, here is that passage in three forms:

On acquitta Rosa sous l'acclamation du public qui, par moult bravos bruyants, montra son approbation. Glupf s'avoua vaincu, mais jura qu'il aurait son tour, qu'un jour on allait voit qui commandait, qu'il vous foutrait tout ça à Auschwitz sitôt q'il aurait l'occasion.

(Georges Perec, La Disparition p. 294)

So, to a standing ovation, with a host of "hurrahs" and "bravos" and "attababys" from an approving public, Rosa is found not guilty. Poor Glupf admits to loosing -- promising, though, that only a fight and not a war is lost, that a day will dawn, a day on which Rosa will find out who is truly in command, a day on which Auschwitz will turn up its gas -- and strolls out whistling a military march.

(Trans. Gilbert Adair, A Void, p. 269)

Endless fevered cheers met Nell when she'd been freed. Glepf knew he'd been bested. He nevertheless yelled he'd be revenged. The bleeders'd see he led them. Whenever he felt he held the pretext, he'd see her sentenced then penned between Bergen-Belsen's cells.

(Univocalized by Ian Monk)

Also of note on Monk's site, although not in the Compendium, is "On G. Adair's A Void", Monk's lipogrammatic review of Gilbert Adair's lipogrammatic translation of Perec's lipogrammatic novel -- a basically negative review, which critiques it for insufficient accuracy (a critique which I can't judge, not knowing enough French, but which Monk makes a good case for.) Monk's English review was, in its turn, translated into lipogrammatic French here.

The Oulipo Papers:

One thing I am excited about is the announcement, in the new edition of the Compendium, of a series entitled the "Oulipo Papers". These will, apparently, be translations of various installments of the Oulipo's in-house pamphlet series, the Biblithèque oulipienne. These are limited edition pamphlets containing essays, poems, stories, etc, by members of the group. The French versions are collected and republished in facsimile editions, but so far English translations have been limited. Excerpts from some are translated in the Compendium. Atlas Press (the UK publisher of the Compendium) has also put out two volumes of translations, the Oulipo Laboratory, which contains a sample of six, and Winter Journeys*, which collect a series of variations on a short story by Georges Perec that various members of the Oulipo did which were published in the BO. But otherwise they've not been available. (I'm lucky insofar as the Cornell library subscribes to the series, and so has many (of the later ones) in their pamphlet form; but my French isn't really up to reading them (although a handful are actually in English, and I've read those.)) Details about the project are few; it's just mentioned briefly in the new edition (and here), but otherwise nothing seems to be released, not even on Atlas Press's web site. Still, something to look forward to!

* Perec's original story is online here; but the Atlas Press volume contains nine other stories by other members of the Oulipo too. Note that only the Atlas Press edition has the other stories: the Penguin Classics edition (which is called The Winter Journey, in the singular) contains just Perec's short story.


eirwenes said...

Wow, Stephen, my compliments on a fascinating blog entry. These links will keep me satisfied until the New Year, as I have no more book budget until then. I'm truly grateful that you would do all of this work, and then get the word out about your blog.

Ara Shirinyan said...

Dear Stephen.

I am glad that you recieved the book fine. The web site will be up and running in no time. You can not order the book from Atlas because they will direct you to me, As I hold the US/Canada sales rights. I sent you your copy from a limited Air shipment. The books are still on the sea, a week away from getting to me for sale. Hope that clarifies.
Ara Shirinyan

Joseph said...

There was a conference on the Oulipo recently here in Los Angeles, with several Oulipians in attendance. I posted my notes on my blog. Here's part 1. There are 3 more parts. Just thought you'd be interested.

Stephen said...

Ara: Thanks for the information! I'll try to post an update when the book hits the streets here. (If you email me, I will without fail.)

And, Joseph, thanks for link to your conference reports -- they're interesting reading.

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