Recent links of note:

“Academy of intellectual scorn”
Anna Aslanyan, Times Literary Supplement

All writers know what Marcel Proust meant in referring to “good poets whom the tyranny of rhyme forces into the discovery of their finest lines.” Beginning in the 1960s, members of the Ouvrier de littérature potentielle (Oulipo for short) amplified this observation to extremes hitherto unseen. Founded by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, the project began as a Saussurean experiment in programmatic and machine-based composition. This purpose was best exemplified by Queneau’s seminal Cent mille milliards de poèmes, which consists of ten parallel sonnets among which any of the lines can be interchanged with another corresponding one without damaging the rhyme scheme or producing nonsense. (The reader has ten options at every one of fourteen lines, for a total of 1014 possible combinations.)

Over time, however, it became evident that writing under increasingly outlandish paradigms and strictures would not have the sterilizing effect that many had anticipated. Oulipian authors, like Italo Calvino in If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, built on rigid structure to achieve humanistic ends.Thus, we have from Georges Perec, whose lipogramatic novel La Disparu was composed entirely without the use of the letter “e,” the declaration that “I give myself rules to be totally free”—a sentiment not entirely at odds with the observations of, say, St. Benedict or Edmund Burke on the relationship between obedience and liberty. Writing for the Times Literary Supplement, Anna Aslanyan remarks that, although the group’s popularity seemed on the decline in recent years, the recent publication of four different volumes on Oulipian work and thought may speak to its relevance for our increasingly constrained, computerized age.

“The Versailles of Wales, Vienna, Hampstead, Belarus . . .”
Rakewell, Apollo

Every age has its heroes. Every king has his queen. Every rose has its thorn. To this list of generalities we might add, as has doubtless been noted before, that every state has its Versailles. A delightful little article from Rakewell, Apollo magazine’s “wandering eye on the art world,” takes us on a cursory tour of many of the architectural marvels of a piece with the Sun King’s sumptuous home—some in ruins, others stately as ever, but all of which speak a language of grandeur and opulence that everyone can understand.

Author in Chief Review: The Oval Office Book Club”
Thomas Mallon, The Wall Street Journal

One of the many treats awaiting literary-minded readers in Craig Fehrman’s Author in Chief is a section on the famously laconic, and for that reason oft-overlooked, Calvin Coolidge. Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Thomas Mallon declares him “the unlikely, taciturn standout” of Fehrman’s study of presidential scribblings. Always a model of restraint, Silent Cal eschewed the teams of ghostwriters employed by other presidents and instead eked out a personal autobiography of “a mere 45,000 words, a figure by which, in their later memoirs, Truman, Nixon, and Clinton have yet to clear their throats.” Mallon continues: “The succinctness of Coolidge’s books was no surprise, but its intimacy was, especially his account of the death of his teenage son in the White House: ‘In his suffering, he was asking me to make him well. I could not.’” But not every president was so candid, or so pithy, in his writings. Their approaches to speechwriting, autobiography, and above all the impression of learnedness they project have varied in size and scope as much as portly William Taft did from minute James Madison. Fehrman manages to bring them under one roof and, as Mallon concludes, “does justice to his several dozen subjects, who through their books keep spinning, even when in their graves.”


From the fiction section
James Bowman on how creative writing makes its way into the newsroom.

From the archive:

Le Sacre turns 100
Laura Jacobs looks back on Le Sacre du printemps on the centenary of Stravinsky’s and Nanjinsky’s famous ballet.