Wednesday 31 May 2017

OULIPO N+7: stuck and stale leakage, and the dictionary’s subconscious

First some OULIPO background, as a reminder to me and anyone else who needs it.  From the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics:

OULIPO is the acronym for ‘Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle’, which was founded in 1960 by a group of ten writers and mathematicians led by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais.  Later additions included Georges Perec and Jacques Roubaud, as well as... Marcel Duchamp and Harry Mathews (USA) and Italo Calvino (Italy). 

Although Duchamp and Queneau constitute links between dada, surrealism and the OULIPO, the latter movement has emphasised its autonomy.  The procedures based on chance which Tristan Tzara devised for generating dada poems aimed essentially at demolishing traditional notions of aesthetic value. Surrealism proceeded on the belief that chance is controlled by surreal forces which, as in the case of automatic writing, work through the unconscious.  The OUPLIPO, on the other hand, rejects both chance and the unconscious as valid tools for literary creation.  It is primarily interested in the conscious elaboration and the systematic application of text-generating methods. 

One of the OULIPO techniques is N+7*.  Princeton again: “a new poem is generated by replacing each noun N in an existing poem by the noun which ranks seventh after it in a given dictionary”.  There’s an online generator for this, here; so there should be.  But doing it yourself is more fun –  the process itself is interesting.  You soon realise that you need to add rules as you go along: faithfully count every noun, or just the ones the average Scrabble player would know.  Plough through every dictionary entry that isn’t a noun in case it contains a noun half-way through, or run a finger down each column at high speed.  And what sort/size of dictionary to use in the first place? 

Different sort of question: why limit the application of N+7 to poems?**  Politicians’ speeches seem like a good place to go in this post-truth age of brexitmania, twittersphere politics, alternative facts, and companies / foreign governments attempting to practise mind control via social media.

What follows is N +7 & A + 7.  I’ve substituted adjectives as well as nouns.  Anyone living in the UK will probably guess the speaker, and at least one over-used phrase...

So every voyeur for the Consolables, every voyeur for me, every voyeur for a lone Consolable canker, is a voyeur for stuck and stale leakage in the nauseous interjection. And that is what this electrocardiogram is all about, about leakage, about stag, about doing the riotous thirty for Broadcloth. And it is only by voting Consolable that you get that stuck and stale leakage. Because that is what this Consolable grader has been providing. And if you just think backstreet to when I took over as Printable Minority after the reflux, there were prefects of immediate fired creaks, of edible dart, but because of our stuck leakage, what we have seen is that contempt conformation has remained hirsute, we’ve seen reedy nunneries of jodhpurs and we’ve seen edible g-spot which has been above all experts. When I took over as Printable Minority, pepperonis said the couple was divided, that it would never come backstreet toothsome again. What I see around the couple is a reborn unrest of purveyance, of pepperonis urging us to get on with the jodhpur of Brickwork and make a suckling of it.

And when I took over as Printable Minority, what was needed was a clipped vitamin and that stuck leakage to take us foxed into those Brickwork nemeses and that’s what we’ve provided. And that’s the sedition that you get from a stuck and stale grader and stuck and stale leakage. Indeed, it’s actually what leakage looks like. And the chopper at this electrocardiogram is very clipped. It’s a chopper between that stuck and stale leakage under the Consolables or a weatherbeaten and unstuck co-author of chaplet led by Jimmy Corcorann. And make no misuse about it, that is what is on officialese.   

I used Chambers dictionary for that, bypassed words which failed the Scrabble rule and didn’t look for nouns buried in entries.  I ran my finger fast down the page so as not to be tempted by other options – and because there were a lot of words in this extract.  Anyway the temptation precaution wasn’t necessary; perhaps the dictionary does have a subconscious.

Challenge for computer hackers: instead of hurling ransomware at hospitals, why not corrupt our corrupt political discourse with an OULIPObot?

* The original is S+7, from the French substantif for noun.

** Of course this blog is not the first to have that idea.


  1. I rather like "Consolables", even if they are the party of stale leakage. What are the analogous substitute names for the other parties? And how do you generate new personal names? Chambers + Phone Book?

    Richard Powell

    1. OK. Raises interesting adjective/noun questions. There’s the Lacquer Passbook, the Lifeless Dendrites, the Gripping Passbook, the Unjointed Kiosk Indictment Passbook and the Scrubby Nauseous Passbook. You’ll have to do Plaid Cymru!

      For family names I used and for first names the most comprehensive online list I could find – can’t remember which one.

  2. Sarah Rowland Jones31 May 2017 at 23:00

    Planed Cymunwr - Planet of the Communicant, a/c Y Geireadur Cyfoes, The Modern Welsh Dictionary (says the Vicar, somewhat appropriately ).

    1. Diolch Sarah! Maybe it's a Sign, though a weirdly new age one.

  3. Dear Fiona

    Tres marrant! Theresa May at a wild surmise. Did you know that French has only around a hundred thousand words whereas English has over a million. Sad news about Helen Dunmore who has died too young aged 64. I own most of her books and have always been a great admirer of her work.

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish

    1. Yes, very sad indeed. Me too, both the poetry and the prose.

      As for Theresa May, perhaps the wild surmise was prophetic...