Poetry News

Finalement, the Translated Dream Journal of Georges Perec

By Harriet Staff

perec dreams

There are some of you to whom in other lives we'd like to read 124 dreams of Georges Perec. Alas and good, you may read them yourselfves. The Melville House blog will help us on this one:

In fall, one’s thoughts turn to the battening-down-of-hatches, the finiteness of time, and in due course, constraints, and then, naturally, but also possibly as an escape from the lowering gloom, to the Oulipo movement. Whose youngest member Daniel Levin Becker is the translator of the forthcoming, never-before-translated La Boutique Obscure: 124 Dreams, Georges Perec’s extraordinary dream journal from the late 60s. (There will be dentists.) It has hypnotizing and beautiful cover, and something may or may not emerge if you move your head very quickly towards and away from the computer screen while focusing on the middle of it.

Levin Becker is the author of a recent book on the Oulipo, Many Subtle Channels, which was recently the subject of a three-part series by Matt Rowe on Three Percent (part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here), which describes Levin Becker’s introduction to the Oulipians:

The first third of Many Subtle Channels recounts his experience of discovering, meeting, and finally joining this strange group. Levin Becker first encountered the Oulipo as a Yale student, when George Perec’s story “The Winter Journey” was assigned in his French class. After college, he was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to go to France with a (he admits) ill-defined project to study the Oulipo. He soon found himself put to work as the group’s “slave,” organizing its archives; only after he had left France did he learn that he had been elected to membership himself. He invites us to “think of the Oulipo … as a search party for those of us who don’t know what we’re looking for.”

Rowe also draws attention to some little-known (at least to me) corners or associates or affiliates of Oulipo: OuMuPo, OuPeinPo, OuBaPo, OuTyPo, and OuWiPo, for music, painting, comics, typography and Wikipedia respectively; the Italian counterpart, OuLePo; past and present writers who wrote work we might consider Oulipian, but who aren’t actually members, like Jorge Luis Borges, Stanisław Lem, Milorad Pavić and, more recently, David Mitchell and César Aira.

Read Sal Robinson's full post here, and buy La Boutique Obscure in February. February! Our patience is excited. A bit more from Matt Rowe on Oulipo vis-a-vis conceptualism:

In the critical view, oulipian writing is often minimized as the creation of works under formal constraint. Perec’s e-less La Disparition (A Void) may be a compelling concept, but once you know the trick even it loses much of its luster. In this way, Oulipo Light tends toward in-jokes in textual form and the conceptual work which Marjorie Perloff and Matvei Yankelevich have recently debated. But the authors of such work don’t claim that it represents an unforeseen aesthetic summit. Rather, what Oulipian formal constraint allows is a kind of exhaustion of form, by pursuing it so doggedly that the unseen details of reality and narrativity come to the surface simply because everything else is off the table. Perec was a master at this, in his investigations of the “infraordinary” most accessible in English in the collections Thoughts of Sorts and Species of Spaces. This is also where Oulipian creation must come to terms with the tension between inserting itself into recognized genres and creating new generative forms. The more recognizable, the more easily a work may gain readership and popularity; the more sui generis, the more chance it will be successful as original literary creation. Does the Oulipo want to fit in, or stick out?

Originally Published: September 21st, 2012