Family Vocation: Toward a Fictional Theory of Oulipian Influence

Jean-Jacques Frederic Poucel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In addition to being consistently productive, consistently innovative in their approach to writing, to theorizing, and to disseminating experimental literature, for fifty years now the Oulipo has been consistently a-political. Or so we might come to believe were we to listen to the group’s insistent refusal of ideology. And yet, beyond the fact that individual Oulipians have confirmed political lives, and beyond the implication of the cultural events in which the Oulipo has participated as a collective author, what is accrued in the accumulation of Oulipian works constitutes, within the Oulipo and among its readers, the fundamental basis of a living aesthetic, one in which what’s recursively communicated via the forms themselves betrays and insistently confirms a now stable set of moral imperatives. The memorializing of literature, the re-canonizing of the overlooked geniuses, the montage of the everyday, of its structures of feeling, into fascinating narrative and lyrical forms, each of these gestures that so preoccupies enthusiastic readers of the Oulipo, contribute that modernist aesthetic. To some degree, as the fourth generation of Oulipians takes up and expands the array of tools developed by the group, could there be something like a crise de conscience, could this aesthetic be becoming a vocation? The theory that each Oulipian is a character in a ‘roman oulipien’, a novel written according to the Quenelian pole of constraints, generates, among other discussions, a flourish of self-portraitures, a kind of familial oral tradition sustained, on the one hand, and more minimally, by the network of vignettes in Moments Oulipiens , and, on the other hand, more dauntingly, by the works themselves, by the variegated way they res pond to the challenge of realizing—in a coherent fashion (?)—the exponential potentialities accessed through the evolving familial relationship among Oulipian constraints and Oulipian forms. If indeed there has been an evolution in the way Oulipians understand their own becoming as Oulipians—“aprè s l’oulipien-rat, l’oulipien-taupe”—what group politics might we come to expect from this intentionally evolving novel? How might a key phrase about Buffalo itself help us understand the functions of these group dynamics?
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-48
JournalFormules: revue des creations formelles
StatePublished - 2012


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