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  • Raconter l'Oulipo (1960–2000): histoire et sociologie d'un groupe par Camille Bloomfield
  • Natalie Berkman
Raconter l'Oulipo (1960–2000): histoire et sociologie d'un groupe. Par Camille Bloomfield. (Littérature de notre siècle, 64.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2017. 596 pp., ill.

Camille Bloomfield's ambitious study aims to 'observer l'Oulipo pour ce qu'il est, c'est-à-dire un phénomène littéraire installé dans le champ, à la réception inégale mais à la diffusion indéniable' (p. 12). A quick glance at Virginie Tahar's extensive 'Bibliographie critique sur l'Oulipo' (in Formules, 16, 2012, pp. 343–415) suffices to reveal the hubris of this gesture, as Bloomfield is certainly not the first scholar to analyse the Oulipo or its history. However, as Bloomfield's study approaches the group from more than a purely literary standpoint, she paints a more nuanced picture in this amusing, engaging, and informative read. The Introduction is a dazzling display of erudition from a scholar who has spent the past decade immersed in archives, interviewing members of the group, forming her own OuXPo, and participating in almost every major event in Oulipian scholarship and public life. For instance, her assessment of the nature of the Oulipo archives as the result of an intentional, strategic act in self-definition is particularly keen. Chapter 1 lays the [End Page 322] theoretical and methodological foundations of the book, distinguishing between terms such as 'avant-garde', 'movement', 'school', and 'group' to situate the Oulipo amid other literary collectives. Chapters 2 to 4 are of a different nature, tracing the history of the Oulipo from the period leading to its founding (1950–60) to its first decade (1960–70), and then its subsequent expansion (1970–92). The epilogue defines the Oulipo as a 'groupe-monde', arguing that it constitutes a cultural phenomenon that has surpassed national borders. The main problem I anticipate with the reception of this volume is that, much like the Oulipo itself, it is written to appeal to a group of scholars who are already well acquainted with the group and its unconventional culture. This manifests itself most clearly in the analysis of the group's role in the curation of its own public image, which Bloomfield admits poses a great challenge for her study: 'Le problème est que cela a conduit à instaurer des réflexes critiques peu distanciés' (p. 13). While Bloomfield is conscious of a lack of critical distance, she rhetorically falls prey to it herself at times, for instance in Chapter 2 when she expounds upon the self-proclaimed metaphor of Oulipians as characters in an unfinished novel by Raymond Queneau, concluding that '[c]es personnages sont leur double littéraire, leur création collective la plus aboutie, la plus réussie peut-être. La fiction est ainsi réintroduite là où on l'attend le moins, c'est-à-dire dans les interstices de l'histoire' (p. 77). Luckily, this rhetorical slippage is kept in check for the majority of the study, as the structure of Bloomfield's project serves to relegate the group's 'discours officiel' to three 'intermèdes'. Given the breadth of Bloomfield's project, its interdisciplinary critical perspective, and its multifaceted conclusions, it should be considered one of the most important studies on the group to date.

Natalie Berkman
Institute Paris