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.
“This is an engaging, beautifully written, and carefully evidenced book. Written with great verve and confidence, Anna Kemp’s voice is lively, limpid, and persuasive. The book shines in its close textual analysis and fiercely intelligent interpretations."
Amanda Crawley Jackson, University of Sheffield