- Poétiques oulipiennes: la contrainte, le style, l’histoirepar Christelle Reggiani
Christelle Reggiani begins her new volume with a reference to Marcel Bénabou: ‘Et je m’étonne un peu qu’aucun de nos contemporains n’ait encore songé à nous gratifier d’un beau volume qui parâıtrait sous ce titre alléchant: “Oulipo mode d’emploi”’ (p. 7). Poétiques oulipiennes, however, is not quite a user manual, but rather an historical, rhetorical, sociological, and stylistic exploration of the Oulipo. Reggiani raises pertinent questions, while elucidating unexplored avenues of Oulipian production, through a diverse assortment of nine independent chapters, some taken from Reggiani’s previously published articles. While at times this compositional method makes the volume seem less cohesive, Reggiani’s analyses are original and insightful, adding much to a larger discussion of the [End Page 268]Oulipo. The first part (‘Modèles et imaginaires textuels’) deals primarily with theoretical and historical aspects of the Oulipo, spending a great deal of time on the implications of the Holocaust in Oulipian poetics as well as what Reggiani classifies as an exaggerated importance of mathematics. The second part (‘La contrainte a-t-elle du style?’) is more grounded, focusing on stylistics in order to evaluate certain aspects of Oulipian production. The question is enticing: Can writing according to a predetermined rule be considered a style? What is the style of an Oulipian writer, whose works might be produced according to different constraints? The book is at its best when Reggiani engages with a specific text at length. For instance, while many scholars deal with Georges Perec’s La Disparition(Paris: Gallimard, 1969) only as a work of rhetorical acrobatics, Reggiani is able to say something original about its style. More close textual analysis might have grounded some of Reggiani’s theoretical arguments. At one point, for example, she claims that Oulipian poetics are an anti-Adornian reaction to the Holocaust, citing the lipogrammatic prose of La Disparitionas one attempt at verbal reinvention aimed to ‘“rémunérer le défaut” de la langue en faisant de la restriction des possibles linguistiques’ (p. 28). Immediately following, she cites the programmed destruction of the book exemplified by Raymond Queneau’s Cent mille milliards de poèmes(Paris: Gallimard, 1961) in the light of ‘l’âge de la reproductibilité technique non seulement de l’œuvre d’art, mais aussi du meurtre de masse’ (p. 29). Such quick and subtle readings of not only the Oulipo, but also Theodor Adorno, Maurice Blanchot, and Walter Benjamin are extremely provocative, and could indeed be the subject of an academic volume on their own. Reggiani acknowledges the generalizing nature of her study at the end, claiming that ‘l’ouvrage qu’on vient de lire ne constitue rien d’autre qu’un arpentage très partiel d’un territoire que l’on nommera en reprenant l’expression de Barthes, “histoire formelle” de la littérature. Il reste donc à prolonger le parcours, à préciser l’esquisse — en commençant par le corpusoulipien lui-même’ (p. 148). Indeed, such work is necessary, and perhaps Reggiani’s next book will be Bénabou’s anticipated user manual, adding more close readings to her already comprehensive theoretical and historical background.