June 18, 2005

Reconsidering the Oulipo and the Computer

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 1:55 pm

My sources at ACH tell me that Mark Wolff just delivered a great paper called “Reading Potential: The Oulipo and the Meaning of Algorithms.” Here’s an excerpt:

When the Oulipo formed in 1960, one of the first things they discussed was using computers to read and write literature. They communicated regularly with Dmitri Starynkevitch, a computer programmer who helped develop the IBM SEA CAB 500 computer. The relatively small size and low cost of the SEA CAB 500 along with its high-level programming language PAF (Programmation Automatique des Formules) provided the Oulipo with a precursor to the personal computer. Starynkevitch presented the Oulipo with an “imaginary” telephone directory composed of realistic names and numbers generated by his computer. He also programmed the machine to compose sonnets from Queneau’s Cent mille milliards de po√®mes. In both cases the Oulipo was impressed but did not believe these computer applications had ‘potential’. What worried the Oulipo was the aleatory nature of computer-assisted artistic creation: they sought to avoid chance and automatisms over which the computer user had no control (Bens 147-148).

And now David Durand is about to deliver the paper on which I lent him a hand: “Cardplay, a New Textual Instrument.