Events Calendar
Feb 12
18:00 - 19:00
Literary Constraints and Their Results
Institute of Modern Languages Research French - Postgraduate Seminar Series
Professor Peter Consenstein (City University of New York)

Abstract: Literary constraints are the object of my research, which focuses, for the most part, on the literary output of the group Oulipo. My various published articles, as well as my manuscript, consider the results from the application of both traditional literary constraints, such as anagrams, as well as more experimental and innovative constraints, represented in the works of Georges Perec, Jacques Roubaud, and Michelle Grangaud.

Literary constraints are both visible and invisible. In other words, readers are either aware or not of the constraint while reading. Awareness of constraints depends on the will, or lack thereof, of both the author and the reader. Some authors like to share their constraints, others do not, some readers enjoy the knowledge of constraints, others do not, and finally there are both authors and readers fully unaware of constraints although their expectations in writing and reading practices are driven by them. Literary constraints add mysteriousness to the pleasures of literature. Consciousness of constraints enriches and adds further levels of meaning to a literary text; no mean feat.

The "results" I would like to discuss are varied, which is why the application of literary constraints receives such wide interest today. The constraints Georges Perec practiced and invented reflect an intense need to, and means for, recalling the past as well as a unique reconstruction of his Jewish identity. Jacques Roubaud also uses constraints as mnemotechniques; what is especially innovative about Roubaud's work is the influence of Japanese poetics in his practice of poetry. Further, Roubaud's translation of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark pertains to a particular approach to the translation of constraints. Michelle Grangaud is a highly skilled and well recognized writer of anagrams. I propose that her practice of writing anagrams results in a worthwhile questioning of intentionality. In one of my latest chapters on the group Oulipo, I discuss the wide breadth of the group's popularity as well as the international criticism it has received for being too bourgeois as well as unwelcoming to feminist thought. All of the outcomes discussed in this paragraph have been well documented in published articles or book chapters.

To conclude, the application of literary constraints by the group Oulipo is a means of addressing and analyzing salient issues in contemporary literary studies, such as cultural and cross-cultural studies, philosophy (intentionality), religious identity, reception theory, feminism, experimentalism in general and translation theory. As such, the seminar I am proposing would present graduate students with a wide variety of possible avenues of research through the analysis of literary constraints.


Seminar Room 4,
Templeman Library,
University of Kent,
United Kingdom


Open to all,

Contact: Clemence Ardin


Corporate Communications - © University of Kent

The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, T: +44 1227 764000

Last Updated: 10/01/2012