Constraints can free you from the tyranny of infinite possibilities by channeling you into the form and meaning of a constraint; it can make you aware of the rules you are following. Benjamin Perec wrote a novel without using the letter e, a novel about disappearance. Arbitrary constraint and theme spoke to each other.
The mathmaticians, historians, writers, and miscellaneous others in the group were fascinated by what happened when you impose some arbitrary rule more drastic than classical dramatic form or the Renaissance sonnet. The rule acts as both constraint and stimulus. Remember essay tests when you had to come up with five reasons for the Civil War? That constraint forced you to cull up from memory more reasons than you might have been inclined to go on about in your exam.
Constraints and rules as such interested the OULIPO group, but also the nearly infinite permutations possible in a relatively small mechanism of constraints.
In fact, one Oulipean algorithm (formula for varying an "original") is to take a passage and substitute for each of its nouns or noun-substitutes the seventh noun that follows it in a dictionary. Sound strange? It can produce interesting results (you can't count or use derivatives of the same noun--"mankind" for "man," for example; go for the really different)..
This is an excerpt from the site http://www.english.vt.edu/~siegle/Comp/Oulipo_s_N_7/oulipo_s_n_7.html. It gives a brief history of OuLiPo and the motives behind their work. I am doing a project that is using something like that of an Oulipean constraint. I am putting entries into my blog, that are made of only movie lines. This is going to be very interesting to see how I deal with this constraint. I truly believe that what the OuliPo believes about constraints is true. In typical literature, we ar too often confined to what is done and what has already been done. We never step putside the box to see what can be done. We'll see what happens with my movie lines.Posted by groo0018 at December 5, 2005 10:52 PM