I had great success trying out a classic Oulipian exercise with my cartooning students at SVA, and I’ll likely do some version of it at my upcoming MoCCA Obstacle Course workshop
My own entrée into the world of Oulipo and writing under constraint came about because I fell in love with Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style and decided to adapt it into comics. The premise was inspired by Bach’s Art of the Fugue: take a short, simple theme and create a series of variations. In Queneau’s and my case, it’s 99. Harry Mathews (and, I believe, Georges Perec before him) did a more concise variation called “35 Variations on a Theme from Shakespeare” where he took “to be or not to be, that is the question” and submits it to 35 different constraints or formal variations. For example, here are an antonym version:
Nothing and something: this was an answer
a lipogram in i:
To be or not to be, that’s the problem
and “in another meter”:
So should I be, or should I not?
This question keeps me on the trot
You can find the full text in the excellent Oulipo Compendium or on the Oulipo site if you scroll down or do a find here. Or you can hear a bunch of the members of Oulipo reading them on Bookworm (at about the 6 minute point).
I decided to do a shorter version of the exercise to get my cartooning/illustration students to do a bit of writing and also to see through doing the way constraints of various sort change, renew or make silly classic texts. Without further ado, here are two of my favorite exercises from this semester’s Obstacle Course. The first one announces its constraints while the second leaves it to the reader to discern the process behind each variation.
10 Variations on “Killing Two Birds With One Stone”
Murdering Twain Fowl With Lone Rock
Creating Two Birds With Multiple Rocks
Killing Tw Birds With Ne Stne
Words Alphabetical Order:
Birds Killing One Stone Two With
Picking Two Vegetables With One Hand
Killing One Bird With Two Stones
“Bet you can’t hit these birds with two stones!”
“I can do it with one baby!”
Stone killing birds
This Newt being wooed NOT this Sir Kill!
What do I accomplish by killing two birds with one stone?
Letters Alphabetical Order:
10 Variations on “That’s what she said”
1. That’s what he said.
2. That’s where she said.
3. That’s not what she said.
4. Why did she say that?
5. She said what?
6. Who cares what she said.
7. Wha’ she sayin?
8. The young lady has discussed this topic before.
9. Hats what she said.
10. Hats hat she said.