Since its inception in Paris in 1960, the OuLiPo — ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or workshop for potential literature — has continually expanded our sense of what writing can do. It’s produced, among many other marvels, a detective novel without the letter e (and a sequel of sorts without a, i, o, u, or y); an epic poem structured by the Parisian métro system; a story in the form of a tarot reading; a poetry book in the form of a game of go; and a suite of sonnets that would take almost 200 million years to read completely.
Here, we gladly present some excerpts — along with the corresponding explanations — of some pieces found in our newest release, All That Is Evident Is Suspect, edited by Daniel Levin Becker and Ian Monk.
Olivier Salon’s tribute to the city of Lille, home to an Oulipo-friendly writing workshop called Zazie Mode d’Emploi, is a lipogram variant called a bivocalism: like the city’s name, it contains no vowels besides E and I.
from “Invisible Cities: Lille”
Lille’s glimmering. It seems impressive. Lille stretches then Lille rises. Night’s ending, it’s high time! Lille’s sheer steeples rise, then it flicks its index finger right there, between these endless glimmers in the welkin’s deep immenseness. Lille’s merited its title: the spirit’s fertile residence. Let’s render visible its epithets: we’ll then see Lille’s endless riches.
Drizzle seems inherent here. Lille’s dwellers delight in drizzle. Respiring seems different when it’s drizzling: it inspires hidden virilities, sleep then seems simpler, while the lifeless find new excitement. Drizzle is Lille’s shepherd, it herds its ewes, its bellwethers, then its kids between its winding streets. Stress then switches sides; things seems serene, while even deserts seem fertile.
Steer between perils: they’ll then perish. Reject life’s prickles: they’ll then wither. Flee Brice de Nice, then seek different cities. Find this site, ye sincere ministers, here where delight is set in merriment.
This is the scheme in Rémi’s mind: he scribbles, he writes in his idle times, he even versifies. Lille is his destined center, despite the lightning SNCF strike. Then, even if Lille’s invisible, he still perceives its presence. He senses its spirit lingering there. He sniffs its essence. He thinks he’ll live his schemes here, then be the writer he senses he is. He’ll even find presses which will print his writings. The civil services there seem perfect. Lille is inscribing its sentences in his mind’s eye: settle here, sweet child. He heeds its cries. He then feels meek.
He peddles in its fine streets, then visits Hellemmes, with its edifices, its sights, its riches. He then finds himself in Fives, where he views life’s depressing, terrible side: pennilessness reigns here. Its pissed denizens screech filth between themselves, they belt then mince their enemies. Their invectives imperil entire existences. This is where men’s teeth seem set edgewise. He sees it in their sinister smiles. It’s skid street here! He visits Ennetières, Fretin, then Ennevelin, Nieppe, Le Bizet, Frelinghien, Willems, Leers, etc. Trip time!
He delves between Lille’s semihidden signs, its lines, its secret effects. Little bit, little bit, he feels tenderness rise within his chest. He heeds its birdies’ twitter. It’s the time when cherries ripen, he thinks. He then remembers the terrible effects cherries inflict when ingested with heedless greed. He spies the seedlings rising between the streets. He enters Pérenchies’s minster, which is ministering right then, with Père Vincent reciting his senseless rite, while the shrine seems deserted: mere seven decrepit wrinklies sit listening with rising bewilderment, while he blethers, they sign themselves then whisper ever deeper. Jeez! Rémi feels perplexed. Then whispers in his inner self: the devil sings the best ditties.
Time flies. It’s September’s first weekend, with picnic skies still glistening. Yes, the time is here when Lille’s denizens sell their bits ’n’ pieces in the street: vestiges reflecting preceding existences, terrible times. He digs midst these hills, finding decrepit silver services, tired dresses, ripped silk shirts, slit skirts, dishes piled high, simple pelisses, vests, depleted jerseys, debris, herb beds seeded with weeds, recipients filled with diverse ingredients, spices, etc., (dried) inkwells, (spent) pennies, mere litter between keyless spinets. He identifies five pristine jie services, which seem interesting. Yet he finds the price high, even excessive. He gets it lessened. He reflects, dithers, then picks the entire set.
Chill time is here: the citizens imbibe beer while chewing stewed shellfish with chips, then crème desserts. They drink wine, spirits, get disinhibited, then they feel free! These citizens delight in tippling gin fizzes. They get pissed like pigs in shit! The peelers (filth, feds) begin nicking them while the ER services predict drinking-illness epidemics, with dispiritedness, distress, the willies, then DTs.
Then the keepers begin descending their steel screens. The end is nigh.
Winter sets in, with its chills, its sleet, its icicles, its freezing mists. The streets fill with chic denizens dressed in minks, fishers, etc. Never pinch them!
In imperceptible steps, Lille inches itself deep within Rémi’s feelings.
He then meets Mireille, the diet expert. Clients fill her little premises, where they twiddle their fingers while expecting her dinner tips, in which she eschews tripe, vermicelli, rice, etc. preferring fresh greens, greens, greens. In her terms, the intestines find them enriching. It might seem weird, yet Rémi finds Mireille sweet. Then, likewise, her limbs begin trembling whenever she sees this impertinent yet sincere, intrepid yet gentle geezer. Their eyes meet, they kiss then sleep. Life’s simple when smiles, grins, then sweet whispers wipe the slightest evil intent.
In the end, Rémi’s feelings seem settled. His presence in this never-never sweep seems decided, destined even. It’s the perfect fit. He’ll stretch his legs then spend his wedded, writing life right here.
You can purchase All That Is Evident Is Suspect in our store.