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Monday, April 2, 2012

Who's up for some Oulipian writing?!

Posted By on 04.02.12 at 04:02 PM

Raymond Queneau, exercising his styles
  • Raymond Queneau, exercising his styles
As part of Wordplay Week on the Bleader, we'd like to invite you to participate in a classic exercise that puts your literary wit to the test.

The Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle ("workshop for potential literature") was a club cofounded in Paris in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and Francois Le Lionnais. Called the Oulipo for short, it comprised mathematicians and writers who investigated language from a structuralist point of view by creating texts according to conceits of their own devising: a novel without the letter "e," for instance; a poem that's reconstituted by systematically substituting new nouns for the originals; a book of ten sonnets in which each line appears on a separate strip of paper, allowing—according to the book's title—for a "hundred thousand billion" possible poems.

Here's where you come in.

In Queneau's own Exercices de Style, one little story—"a man witnesses a minor altercation on a bus trip"—is retold 99 times in 99 different formal variations. What we've got in mind for Wordplay Week is a somewhat less rigorous game along the same lines.

Below is a great old joke. A few brave Reader staffers have volunteered to retell it, each in her/his own way a la Queneau. Their contributions will appear throughout the week. But we're hoping you'll kick in a version or two or 99, as well. You can make up a set of rules (never use "duck," say) or simply pick a style (noir, gothic). There's a prize for the best entry, but we don't know what it is yet. Maybe the satisfaction of a job well done.

So here's the joke:

One day a duck walks into a bar, hops up on a stool, and asks the bartender, "Got any grapes?" The bartender says, "No," and the duck walks out. Next day the duck comes back, hops up on a stool and asks, "Got any grapes?" Again the bartender says, "No," and the duck leaves. Third day, the duck walks in and hops up on the stool, but before he can say anything the bartender yells, "No, I don't have any grapes—and if you ask me one more time I'm going to nail your beak to the bar!" The duck stares at him a minute, asks, "Got any nails?" The bartender replies, "No." The duck says, "Got any grapes?"

Who's in? Willing participants should send their retellings to wordplayweek@chicagoreader.com no later than 2 PM Thursday, April 5. We'll publish our favorite on Friday, April 6.

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