cover image Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature

Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature

Daniel Levin Becker. Harvard Univ., $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-674-06577-2

In this intimate and informative book, Levin Becker explores the history of Oulipo (short for Ouvroir de Litt%C3%A9rature Potentielle, or Workshop for Potential Literature), easily one of the most bizarre and charming literary movements of the 20th century. Claiming Italo Calvino, George Perec, Marcel Duchamp, and Raymond Queneau among its members, Oulipo is best known for its exploration of new and seemingly impossible literary forms, such as Perec's A Void, an entire novel written (originally in French) without the letter "e," and a book of poems that would theoretically take a reader 190,258,751 years to complete. Originally tasked with organizing Oulipo's extensive archives, Levin Becker finds himself gradually inducted into the inner workings of the group before eventually being offered membership into the prestigious collective. From this unique position, Levin Becker excavates the movement's history from its creation in 1960 by an assemblage of French writers, mathematicians and eccentrics, to its present-day iteration. Levin Becker even offers insight into what the future of Oulipo may hold, noting the proliferation of "Ou-X-Po[s]," likeminded collectives that seek to discover new potential forms for other disciplines, such as music, cartooning, and even marionettes. As he delves further into the past and methodology of Oulipo, Levin Becker's palpable enthusiasm for potential literature becomes infectious. One finishes this book not only with an appreciation for Levin Becker's prose and Oulipian literature, but also with an urge to attempt it. (Apr.)