Jeffrey Achter

Oulipo wishes to explore the ultimate in poetic constraints as soon as possible. Motte explains that Oulipians should embrace the computer:

If the image of the computer has undoubtedly caused many literati to shudder, conjuring up as it does the machine and its ghost, it must be noted that it is because of the potential the computer furnishes to the mechanistic model that the Oulipians are drawn to it. The computer constitutes thus another arm in the arsenal they deploy against the notion of inspiration and, in a broader sense, against the avowed bete noire of the Oulipo: the aleatory. For another way of considering the Oulipian enterprise is as a sustained attack on the aleatory in literature, a crusade for the maximal motivation of the literary sign. [17]

Let us for the moment ignore the value the relative merits of randomness or even chaos in literary systems, and consider what the computer has to offer the Oulipians. Many of the Oulipian discoveries for creating poetry are mechanistic, such as Harry Mathew's algorithm or the S+7 technique of Jean Lescure. There is simultaneously no reason not to automate these tasks, and no indication that such avenues are being explored. Perhaps more significantly, Oulipo overlooks the way in which the development of hypertext refracts, reflects and defracts the methods Oulipian.

Fundamentally, an Oulipian text is a combinatoric text. It takes its structure from the ways different fragments may be permuted to form a sense. These permutations can happen at any level of analysis, including letter, phoneme, word, sentence and chapter. Exciting, indeed! Setting aside Cent Mille Milliards, many of the actual examples produced have been juvenile. Paul Fournel's Theater Tree asks the reader/director/actor to thread his or her way through a decision tree of events. Perhaps this strikes the Oulipian as novel (or play), but these ideas are executed much more skillfully in any Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story. The experiments with computing Fournel describes are hardly more ambitious. It seems that Oulipo has yet to confront a dynamic hypertextual novel, such as Michael Joyce's Afternoon, or even a good interactive adventure game, such as Infocom's Zork series.