Différences de potentiel : histoire, poétique et esthétique de l’Oulipo (ANR DifdePo)

Responsable : Alain Schaffner

Project supported by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche->http://www.agence-nationale-recherche.fr/missions-et-organisation/missions/]

Project Manager : Alain Schaffner

Duration of the project : January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2015

Partners of the project :

Members of theEA 4400 in the project :

The project

Oulipo, “Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle” was founded a little over fifty years ago, in 1960, by the mathematician François Le Lionnais and the writer Raymond Queneau. This group specializes in the study of all of the possibilities offered to literature by structures born of mathematics and informatics. The success of the group has generated an impressive following in and outside France. A systematic analysis of Oulipo will allow us to scrutinize what may be the last avant-garde literary group existing in France, with an obvious international dimension (26% of its members are not French). The Oulipo group, whose works touch on all literary genres, seems to play for literature of the second half of the twentieth century a federating role equivalent to that of surrealism for the first half of the century.

Fifty years after its inception, in the midst of the “great digital conversion”, Oulipo appears to be one of the best sites for reflection and creation in the face of the current technological transition of literature. As a matter of fact, new technologies have not only revealed the relevance of Oulipian questioning, but also its productivity and necessity in the daily lives of millions of readers, be it on the internet, on tablets or in e-books. The “potential” dimension of Oulipo therefore represents also the potential for the renewal of our vision of literature as well as our methods of teaching it, ideally in large part devoted to humor and creativity.

The project title, “Différences de potentiel” (“DifdePo”), underlines the variety of possibilities provided by Oulipo’s research, the diversity of literary approaches typical of its members as well as the creativity resulting from the confrontation of opposing polarities… The project aims to create an international federation of researchers, all already working on Oulipo. We wish to put in place synergies that will allow us to get an overview of the group and its production in its different forms. We will emphasize interdisciplinary perspectives, since the very foundation of Oulipo is interdisciplinary (mathematics, informatics and literature). Once completed, the project will lead to a better knowledge of this relatively ignored hotspot within the history of 20th century literature (Oulipo has much influence over non-Oulipian aspects of contemporary art and literature). On a theoretical level, at issue is also a reflection on the manner with which Oulipo causes us to redefine our own conception of literature (notably by questioning such notions as the author and inspiration, inherited from romanticism). Finally, we wish to fill out the documentation on Oulipo available to researchers in the field by permitting access to new texts (paper editions as well as on-line databases), and creating a website devoted to that database. Thanks to the trust established between Oulipians and several members of this project, including its coordinator, we have obtained full support from Oulipo, including access to unpublished archives and several sets of correspondence not yet published.

The project is entirely innovative as no such international research group devoted to Oulipo presently exists. The exceptional size of the research team (about thirty members, including twelve foreigners), the high caliber of partner teams (under the double framework of universities and the CNRS), and the rich diversity of the expected results make for a very ambitious project. Fifty years after its inception, we have begun to understand that Oulipo is a potential source of wealth for the literary heritage of France and the world. We believe it is time to honor this heritage and make it better known. Such are the goals assigned to this project.

Carnet de recherche du projet sur Hypothèses.org