Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Word Play: Divertissement

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Word Play: Divertissement

Article excerpt

In one of the better-known (if rarely read) literary stunts of the 20th century, Georges Perec published a French mystery called La Disparition in 1969. Though the title means "the disappearance," Gilbert Adair's English translation bears the name A Void. There's a reason for that: In both the original and the translation, the novel doesn't contain the letter e.

Perec was part of the Oulipo, a Paris-based literary group dedicated to what Daniel Levin Becker calls "constrained writing techniques." In Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature (Harvard Univ. Press), Levin Becker writes that "the Oulipo has served as the laboratory in which some of modernity's most inventive, challenging, and flat-out baffling textual experiments have been undertaken." Since its founding in 1960, the circle has attracted such luminaries as Marcel Duchamp and Italo Calvino.

Levin Becker has a mind for Oulipo-style undertakings. He first learned of the group as a Yale freshman in 2002, when a professor mentioned Perec's e-less novel. …

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