In the fall of 1960, an exclusive group of writers and thinkers gathered in Paris to officially launch a new way of approaching both the study and creation of literature. This gathering—which would become “a kind of literary supper club . . . a hallowed echo chamber for investigations of poetic form and narrative constraint and the mathematics of wordplay,” as Daniel Levin Becker describes it in his book Many Subtle Channels—called itself Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (Workshop of Potential Literature), or Oulipo. According to co-founder Raymond Queneau, the workshop would explore “new forms and structures that may be used by writers in any way they see fit.” Becker, who is currently one of 20 living members of the still-active workshop (there are 38 total members, living and dead), was elected to the Oulipo in 2008 and describes the workshop a bit more specifically:
On Limits and Liberation: Oulipo, the New Wave, and My Summer in Paris
The dog is 13 this year; that’s 91 in human years. He’s pretty spry, all things considered, but the changes are noticeable and frequent as of late: he is slower on our walks, resists the longer distances, has trouble with stairs and with standing up or lying down. We’ve just invested in a ramp for the car. I’m reluctant to subject him to long car rides anymore, given how stiff he is afterwards from limited space and dehydration. This is the dog who’s traveled cross country twice, and up and down both coasts several times.
In a Q&A with PBS, filmmaker Perry Miller Adato talked about her documentary Paris: the Luminous Years (2010), which I recently learned about and—because I am hopeless when it comes to all things Parisian—I immediately watched. About the unprecedented gathering of artists in Paris during the early part of the 20thcentury, Adato said:
It all started with Googlemaps. I was researching a neighborhood in NW Washington, DC, where I wanted to set a story. The area had to meet certain requirements: no more than x number of Metro stops from a town in Maryland; a mostly African-American neighborhood in the early 1970s, which would later gentrify. The house I envisioned was a brick row-house just above street level, with a porch, and a wrought-iron gate, next door to a somewhat unkempt house that had a chain-link fence and a concrete slab in place of grass. It had to be within walking distance from a park. My research brought me to Pleasant Plains, and I clicked the “street view” icon—that little orange man you can click-and-drag around the map in order to see actual images of a street.
Annals of Mobility: On Stories of Return, Not Exactly
In New York City, where I live, thousands were displaced before and during Sandy: living in cramped quarters with friends or family, limited by downed transit and, in many cases, cut off from the instant, continual communications that we’ve all come to take for granted. Even so, there were, in my small world, such a wide range of experiences — from horrific to inconvenient to a nice break from normal obligations. For some, displacement and/or disconnection were traumatic; for others, they were a welcome disruption.
Annals of Mobility: On the Forced Mobility of Exile
To make a world where everything looks newly made is part of the great adventurousness of his work […] It is perhaps the only setting in which Sam and Suzy could begin to articulate their goal: ‘to go on adventures and not get stuck in one place.’
Annals of Mobility: On Youth, Adventures, and the Territory of Adulthood
Click here to read more about “Annals of Mobility,” a monthly column here at The Common.
First day of class: after a writing exercise that helps break the ice – 10 minutes of “put someone you don’t know very well in a situation of physical duress, and write the scene in first person” (a few students share out loud, while we listen and then comment)—I ask the students to go around the room and say their name, major, and “where they’re from.” I use air quotes, and they all laugh, knowingly. We all understand that the question is fraught, and complex. In this room of twelve (including me), a college classroom in New York City, only two offer a simple answer to the question: I am from Dallas, Texas. I am from Atlanta, Georgia. Third and fourth generation, respectively. Two out of twelve.