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Oulipo, labyrinths, metaphors, and kōans

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

from “Into the Maze: OULIPO” by Mónica de la Torre

In the words of Raymond Queneau, Oulipo’s co-founder, Oulipians are “Rats who build the labyrinth from which they will try to escape.” Even if you’ve never heard of Oulipo, if you’ve written something beside e-mails, then you probably know what this metaphor means. You have an idea in your head, you start putting it down on the page, and as you go along you realize that it simply keeps getting muddier, to the point that you forget what you thought you wanted to say in the first place. Every word that you jot down brings to mind an onslaught of other words and ideas that lead you further and further away from your original intention. If you allow yourself to go wherever these associations take you, then you are practicing what the Surrealists referred to as “automatic writing”. If you think that you’d be cheating by considering the results as a poem, for instance, because the writing wasn’t thought out or transformative enough, then you’d be closer to the spirit of the Oulipo.

from vpfluke’s comment on Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual

The idea of life as a puzzle, and our living space as a puzzle, and that we must go all the way through the maze of our house or life is appealing

from Phil Brown’s “Reinventing the Landscape” (a review of Matthew Welton’s We Needed Coffee but… and Chris McCully’s Polder):

Reading this sequence I am reminded of Ted Hughes assertion that certain words are ‘meaningless hieroglyphs unless the stories behind the words are known’ (Myth and Education). In these baffling bombardments of famous names, Welton makes us as readers constantly skip from story to story, congratulating ourselves when we recognise a reference, scratching our heads when we are stumped, and eventually realising that the poem is deliberately entirely meaningless without the meanings we already possess.

The rest of this sequence more or less follows suit, with the lines rearranged into different structures. This sequence makes a bold and necessary point about art – we are never entirely reading something, so much as we are looking for something based upon our previous experiences. These ‘poems by themselves’ invite the reader to do just that – we cannot help but create our own meanings from the most basic of stimuli; why not literally give us an interpretive carte blanche?

He never appears to be trying something different to create the illusion of progress, but rather out of a belief that the only true meanings left to uncover exist in nonsense – apophenia never seemed so beautiful.

from Wikipedia: apophenia

Apophenia is the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. …

As narrative is one of our major cognitive instruments for structuring reality, there is some common ground between apophenia and narrative fallacies such as hindsight bias.

Wikipedia: kōan

from An Introduction to Zen

The koan is a riddle without a logical answer. To the casual reader some of these riddles, and the conversations which contain them, will seem utter nonsense.

from The Koan

These riddles of course defy logic, and that is just what they are supposed to do; they are designed to break down the rational intellect, just as LSD does, and thus provide the student with a new viewpoint.

Categories: metafiction, metaphor Tags: , ,