Calvino, Italo. “Prose and Anticombinatorics.” The New Media Reader. By Nick Montfort and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.: MIT, 2003. 183-89. Print.

Lescure, Jean. “Brief History of the Oulipo.” The New Media Reader. By Nick Montfort and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.: MIT, 2003. 172-82. Print.

Paint by numbers tiger

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My main frustration with the Oulipo is the same as my main frustration with early electronic literature and hypertext poetry: it exists for  the sake of the novelty of its format, rather than for the quality of its content.  To me, the Oulipo feels like the dadaism to the grand masterpieces of the world of literature.  It’s like performance art, or art for the sake of art.  That said, I must say that I was a fan of choose-your-own-adventure stories when I was a kid.  Being in control of your own literary destiny and being able to turn back and change your mind if you didn’t like your original path is nice, but isn’t what I’d consider fine literature.  And THAT said, I recognize that I’m becoming the exact kind of person that the dadaism movement targeted with a statement like that about “fine literature.”

The Oulipo seems to argue that poetry is very much created by the reader (and a computer), as well as the writer, and puts part of the responsibility of creation into the hands of the consumer.  It gives readers all the tools they need to create their own art, much like a paint-by-numbers set or a model airplane kit.  I may be in the minority, but I feel that it cheapens the final work.  Traditional literature is left up to the interpretation of the reader enough without active audience participation in the creation of the text, and therefore I believe it to be better off without the computer creation element.  Of course, I’m not including the use of word processors, internet research, and online dictionaries and thesauri in this claim.  Those can stay.

Italo Calvino is my favorite author.  Invisible Cities is the most inspiring and beautiful work of fiction I’ve ever read, and I recommend it to absolutely everyone.  His piece in the NMR, Prose and Anticombinatorics, is nothing like this book.  In fact, he argues against my aforementioned point that computers have no place in traditional literature.  He poses a scenario in which certain human acts took place in a crime scene, and demonstrates the ways in which a computer may be used to free the author of logistical restraints so that he/she may be allowed to freely explore the story.  I agree with this position, but I find the circumstances in which a program should be necessary in order to untangle a web that you have woven to be fairly unrealistic.  Calvino may be suggesting some intricate work of literature that my brain is too simple to process, or he may just be posing a “what if” scenario, much like the ones Invisible Cities is full of.