Life as Creative Constraint

BookLife as Creative Constraint

Life as Creative Constraint

Autobiography and the Oulipo

Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures, 76


September 1st, 2021





Life as Creative Constraint is the first book to focus on the extraordinary life-writing of the French experimental writing group, the Oulipo. The Oulipo's enthusiasm for literary games and formal gymnastics has seen its work caricatured as 'lifeless' - impressively virtuoso but more interested in form than content and ultimately disengaged from the world. This book examines a broad corpus of work by Georges Perec, Marcel Bénabou, Jacques Roubaud and Anne F. Garréta to show that, despite the group's early devotion to the radical impersonality of mathematics, later generations of oulipians have brought the group's fascination with systems, games and constraints to bear on autobiography. Far from being 'lifeless', oulipian constraints and concepts provide the tools that allow writers to engage critically and creatively with lived experience, and mine the potential of the autobiographical genre. The games played by these writers are not simply pastimes or cunning writing techniques, but modes of survival, self-examination, self-invention, and relating to the world and to others. As the title of Georges Perec’s masterpiece suggests, they are a mode d’emploi for life.

Author Information

Anna Kemp was formerly a Senior Lecturer in French at Queen Mary University of London. She is now a children's author based in Oxford.