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Old 7th Nov 2005, 5:21   #1
rick green
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Default Harry Mathews: My Life in CIA

Everybody thinks Harry Mathews, an American oulipan in Paris, works for the CIA. He figures ”if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” and starts acting the part. Hi-jinx ensues. This fascinating book blends memoir, oulipan experiment, the classical comedic trope of mistaken identity, and spy novel conventions with admirable ease. It’s hilariously funny and wickedly clever. For example, in the midst of espionage related mayhem, Mathews hooks up with a beautiful girl by the name of Marie-Claude Quintelpreaux. Friends of Mathews appear in the book, notably Georges Perec and Jean Tinguely (the former, a fellow oulipan, the later a renowned artist—he did the fountain outside the Pomipdou Center, with the wife he & Mathews had in common, Nikki de Saint Phalle). The book is full of impish fun; and the way Mathews integrates oulipan exercises into the narrative is exhilarating.

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Old 7th Nov 2005, 8:35   #2
HP
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Default Re: Harry Mathews: My Life in CIA

Ouli what, rick? Hangabaaaat .....Aha! (God bless Google). For those as iggerant as wot I is, Oulipan would appear to be the adjectival form of The - and I love this! - The OuLiPo! Found this on the 'Net:



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OuLiPo, the "Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle" or “Workshop for Potential Literature,” was co-founded in Paris the early 1960's by mathematician and writer Raymond Queneau and Francois Le Lionnais. Oulipian writers impose constraints that must be satisfied to complete a text, constraints ranging across all levels of composition, from elements of plot or structure down to rules regarding letters. OuLiPo thus pushes a structuralist conception of language to a level of mathematical precision; technique becomes technical when language itself becomes a field of investigation, a complex system made up of a finite number of components. The informing idea behind this work is that constraints engender creativity: textual constraints challenge and thereby free the imagination of the writer, and force a linguistic system and/or literary genre out of its habitual mode of functioning. The results of these experiments can be acrobatic. Famous Oulipian texts include Queneau’s Cent Mille Millard de Poemes, a sonnet where there are 10 possible choices for each of the 14 lines, thus comprising 1014 potential poems, and Georges Perec’s La Disparition/A Void, a novel without the letter e, which constantly refers to the vowel’s disappearance.
Hmm. So there you has it ..... A neat review and a nice new word (well, new to some, anyway!) Thanks rick :D
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Old 7th Nov 2005, 10:01   #3
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Default Re: Harry Mathews: My Life in CIA

Yes, I was going to add this to the other OuLiPo review rick posted today, but as Honey has started off the topic here... I read Richard Beard's Damascus a couple of months ago but never got around to posting a review. Beard is one of the few British writers following the OuLiPo way of doing things who is published by a mainstream publisher. Damascus takes its restrictions from the fact that all the nouns in the book (or all but six, I think) are taken from The Times newspaper of 1 November 1993. Now this is actually a fairly loose restriction, since today's multi-section newspapers have thousands of nouns in them every day, and reminds me a bit of Graham Rawle's recent A Woman's World, where all of the text is taken (literally cut-and-pasted) from women's magazines of the 1950s and 60s - again an almost limitless supply. I found that with Damascus, the conceit wasn't restricting enough to be impressive (unlike say Perec's e-less La Disparition/A Void, and despite the fact that Beard reminds us that "it’s worth saying that true to Perec’s vision of the OuLiPo, the originating constraints should, as far as possible, remain concealed. The novel should therefore read in an entirely conventional way"), and the story and writing wasn't compelling enough, in an entirely conventional way, to make it of sufficient interest to stand on its own.

Perhaps of more interest will be X-20: A Novel of Not Smoking, Beard's first OuLiPo book, which I have in my to-be-read pile. He says:

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I wanted the novel to share the same patterns as the inside of a smoker’s mind. Even stranger, the mind of a smoker in the process of kicking the habit.

To achieve this, I devised an OuLiPian system of structural constraints which determine both the mood and the plot of the story.

The novel follows the first 20 days of Gregory Simpson’s attempt to give up cigarettes after smoking 20- a- day for ten years. Every time he craves a cigarette, he occupies his hands by writing something down instead. The first chapter, the first day, has twenty separate sections of writing.

As Gregory’s cravings decrease, so do the number of times he needs to write something down. On the second day, the second chapter, he only thinks of smoking nineteen times, and writes nineteen sections. On the third day, eighteen, and so on. By the twentieth day, the final chapter of the novel, Gregory only craves a cigarette once in the day, and has only one final section to write to complete his story of (not) smoking.

Because he only writes when he wants a cigarette, everything Gregory writes down has something to do with smoking. The novel therefore recounts the story of his smoking life, and cigarettes turn out to have featured centrally at every significant moment.
The novel also, he tells us, has a subplot designed around the OuLiPo 'fetish number' 20. Mm.
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Old 7th Nov 2005, 10:39   #4
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Re Richard Beard: What an idiot! Anybody who has smoked/quit smoking can tell you that the notion of a smoothly progressive reduction in number of times one thinks of lighting up - starting from a mere twenty! - is so wrong, so ridiculous, so egregious an error.....words fail me. Did he bother to even talk to a smoker? Has he ever seen one?
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I wanted the novel to share the same patterns as the inside of a smoker’s mind.
Unbelievable.
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Old 7th Nov 2005, 10:51   #5
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Default Re: Harry Mathews: My Life in CIA

He is an ex-smoker himself:

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I used to love cigarettes. Really love them. Lived for them. It wasn’t so much the tar and the nicotine; it was the addiction which was killing me.
But yes, even to a never-smoker like me, the notion of a smooth arithmetic progression downwards seemed implausible. Still, it's just a fictional conceit innit?
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Old 7th Nov 2005, 11:00   #6
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Default Re: Harry Mathews: My Life in CIA

Can only hope and pray his thoughts when giving up were a darn sight more entertaining than mine during the same process. Mine seemed to consist solely of f*~ckars"*#shi%*bugg$r! - I need a cigarette, dammit!
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Old 7th Nov 2005, 11:07   #7
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