The Doing of Fiction
Mortley, Kaye, Byrne, Jane M., The Review of Contemporary Fiction
GP: I began writing, I was twenty about. I am now forty-five and I think I learn how to write. I know how to write stories and even poetry and dramas, I could say, and it's my way of living in a sense. I can't imagine a life in which I won't spend some hours every day writing. I can't say exactly why I started writing. I can say now that I am in great familiarity with language and it's a kind of, I could say, struggle. I began with French language and fiction in which I try to do what I told you about the boy child with the alarm clock when I try to undo the letters and sentences and paragraphs and chapters and books and to reorganize the game.
When I was twenty about, there was some twenty authors I loved, I liked very much, and they drew a kind of puzzle between them. They were Michel Leiris and Jules Verne and Roussel and Flaubert and Stendhal and all of them were different but all of them had something in common - some frontieres, borders, and I could draw a puzzle with them and somewhere in the puzzle there was a space in which I will myself move and then when I take my books, I think that all my books are different one from each other and all have something in common and again they draw a kind of puzzle in which there is a blank space which is the new book I am going to prepare. And of course, the blank spaces, the white spaces, blanks will always ... it has to stay there. And what I can hope for readers and people who will write after me, that I will take the place of one of these pieces of puzzle and give way to somebody to write again after my death. I mean, of course, if there is a temporal thing in all that, that is, that I will live from 1936 to, I don't know, and then my work will be, sometime, will be both unfinished and finished. Unfinished because what I have to say is everything. I mean, as every writer, I would like to say everything in every way possible. I like to write stories for children of six when they begin to read and I would like to write science-fiction and detective novels and bandes dessinees, cartoons, and music for operas - not music, libretto, and I want to do dramas and comedy and film scripts. I would like to work in all fields of literature and to, I would like to use, at the end of my life, I would like to have used all the words of the dictionary. That's impossible. That's my ambition. That's why I write and how I write at the same time.
KM: Perhaps one way to situate your work might be in the context of the group of writers "OuLiPo."
GP: Yes. OuLiPo means Ouvroir de litterature potentielle. Ouvroir is a kind of workshop and "potential literature," we have to define what is potential. The first name of the group was "experimental literature," then we find that the word experimental was too heavy to carry and we chose another term, "potential," which means to try to decipher what is in writing. We mean, by which way a writer can govern what he's trying to do. There is a play by Moliere, a man who is called M. Jourdain and he makes poetry without knowing he is doing so - il fait de la poesie sans le savoir. Il fait de la prose sans le savoir - without knowing it. We want to know, the Oulipian writer makes prose knowing it. We want to know what we are doing and want to experiment what we are doing and we want to choose pattern and models and structure and contraintes. I don't know exactly what the name for contraintes is.
We are in front of writing like a little child who is playing with a clock, a riveil-matin, an alarm clock, and he will undo it in order to know how it works. And in a way we are like mathematicians. For instance, we put things like that: suppose there is no e in the language. How would we write a story without e? And the result of that is a book I wrote which was La Disparition. And suppose we want to do a text in which vowels would be introduced one by one. First a, then e, i, o, u, and again, a, e, i, o, u. A kind of sequence. We work a little like musicians. …