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the Complete Review
the complete review - anthology / Oulipo

All That is Evident is Suspect

edited by
Ian Monk
Daniel Levin Becker

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the editors

To purchase All That is Evident is Suspect

Title: All That is Evident is Suspect
Editors: Ian Monk and Daniel Levin Becker
Genre: Anthology
Written: (2018)
Length: 363 pages
Original in: French
Availability: All That is Evident is Suspect - US
All That is Evident is Suspect - UK
All That is Evident is Suspect - Canada
  • Readings from the Oulipo 1963-2018
  • Edited by Ian Monk and Daniel Levin Becker
  • With a Presidential Foreword by Paul Fournel
  • Most of these texts were originally written in French, and were translated by Ian Monk and Daniel Levin Becker, with additional translations by Iain White, Jeff Diteman, Matt Madden, and Cole Swensen

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Our Assessment:

B : fascinating trove and variety, and welcome glimpse of previously untranslated work and authors -- but definitely not an Oulipo starter-volume

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Harper's . 1/2019 Luc Sante
The Spectator . 27/4/2019 Dennis Duncan
TLS . 14/2/2020 Anna Aslanyan

  From the Reviews:
  • "These works vary greatly. (...) This is in any case an extremely assorted collection, as befits a crew of variegated weirdos, each with a diagram pulsating above his or her head. (...) But if poetry is the fundament of the Oulipo, prose has brought it its greatest triumphs, a fact that is reflected in this anthology only somewhat. (...) Seemingly no Oulipo anthology can fail to include strictly internal matters: grousing, panegyric, procedural detail. Here the editors’ decision to include every member means that they have to stretch to find writing by a few people who were presumably invited on the basis of their pleasant personalities and mainly came to eat lunch. A bigger problem is that the book neither serves as a useful introduction to the Oulipo (...), nor as a showcase for the best work produced by the group." - Luc Sante, Harper's

  • "Most of the material here, however, is straightforwardly literary. Some is playful -- an extract from a novel composed entirely of prefaces; a musing on books with numbers in their titles -- but much of it is serious, moving and deeply intelligent. Constrained writing, we find, is not intrinsically whimsical, even if that is very often our first response to it." - Dennis Duncan, The Spectator

  • "(A) stylish volume featuring at least a brief extract from every Oulipian, giving more space to active members and less well-known works." - Anna Aslanyan, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       All That is Evident is Suspect -- the title taken from Jacques Duchateau's 1963 lecture on the Oulipo -- is an anthology of writings by members of the Oulipo, the Ouvroir de littérature potentielle dedicated to writing using formal constraints and founded in 1960. The collection is very much a sampler -- Readings from the Oulipo 1963-2018, as the subtitle has it --, and while, as such, it does present a large variety of what members of the Oulipo have done, and the constraints they have used in their work, it is less concerned with considering the extent of the possibilities of constrained writing (as, for example, better conveyed in, say, the classic Oulipo Compendium). Arranged (essentially) chronologically, it is nevertheless also not quite a history of the Oulipo, with too few samples to give much sense of the evolution of the group, and the authors' interests. Brief editorial notes accompanying the pieces offer small insights -- into the authors, works, and constraints -- but are, overall, fairly limited. However, the collection is noteworthy, for one, in offering samples by all members of the Oulipo, past and present, to date -- all forty-one of them -- and helpfully focuses on the less well known: as co-editor Ian Monk explains in a short Editor's Note: "In the case of the famous, short and little-known pieces have been chosen. In the case of the less well-known, we have included longer extracts". Usefully, too, much here is entirely new to English-reading audiences, having never appeared in translation.
       In several early cases, the editors have little recourse but to present correspondence from less-active early members of the Oulipo: from Albert-Marie Schmidt, for example, apologizing for his: "long abstention" due to poor health (though disappointingly the entry does not include the apparently originally attached: "clean verse to finish 'The Only Thirteen-Line Sonnet,' an attempt to create a perpetual terminal acrostic using the three syllables ou-, li-, and po"), or the back and forth with Marcel Duchamp as to whether it will be possible for him to attend one of the group's get-togethers. Stanley Chapman apparently maintained: "a voluminous correspondence with the group", but only one letter is included here, from 1984 -- in which he admits he found of the Oulipo that: "at the beginning it was far more interesting than it is now" (and he goes out of his way to mention: "I regret above all that a mediocre type like Harry Mathews should have been permitted to set his heavy foot within the group"). These historical titbits and personal insights are of interest, but feel a bit at odds with the rest of the exercise; they seem more appropriate for a proper history of the Oulipo, and hardly representative of Oulipian work.
       The one widely-known work included is Italo Calvino's 'How I Wrote One of My Books' (1982), outlining: "the algorithm governing the interchapter narrative in his 1979 novel If on a winter's night a traveler" -- which, the editors note, he stipulated: "was never to be published in Italian".
       Numerous texts are excerpts -- often sufficient to at least give a good sense of what is at play (as with Luc Étienne's 'Bilingual Palindromes' (palindromes making up a sentence in different languages, depending on which way they are read)), though in the case of some of the larger works feeling truncated; Lat(h)is's 'The Atheist Organist', "a novel containing seven prefaces, a preface to those prefaces, a postface, a postlude, and no actual novel" seems very much like something that works better as a whole. Indeed, as far as the prose-texts go, complete ones, such as Hervé Le Tellier's struggles with classifying his library, 'A Few Musketeers', are more obviously satisfying. Among the strongest pieces, allowed to unfold in its entirety, is a graphic one, Étienne Lécroart's 'Counting on You' (translated by Matt Madden), consisting of fifty panels in tribute to his sister, who passed away before her fiftieth birthday: the first panel has a caption of fifty words accompanying a drawing of fifty strokes, the second 49/49, down to the penultimate one -- one word (his sister's name) and one stroke -- and then the final blank one.
       A wide variety of constraints are on offer here, including some of the most familiar, such as the bivocal lipogram by Olivier Salon, 'Invisible Cities: Lille', in which the only vowels that appear are e and i. Jacques Jouet's lengthy 'Poem of the Paris Métro', written according to specific rules he set himself -- "The first line is composed mentally between the first two stations of your journey [...] It is then written down when the train stops at the second station", etc. -- is helpfully complemented by Pierre Rosenstiehl's explanation of how he mapped out Jouet's journey, in 'Frieze of the Paris Métro', while Valérie Beaudouin's 'Northern Line' is then a neat further variation on the underground-commute poem. Such interplay between Oulipians is of particular interest -- so also in Eduardo Berti and Pablo Martín Sánchez's 'Microfictions'-variations, which begins with the idea that: "EB would write thirty commentaries on thirty nonexistent microfictions; then, based on these thirty commentaries, PMS would write the microfictions".
       Enjoyable, too, are the exhaustive pieces, such as Frédéric Forte's '99 Prepatory Notes to 99 Prepatory Notes', described as: "an attempt to tease out all the potentialities of a given subject in a concise and polyphonic manner" -- not, strictly speaking, contained, as Forte acknowledges, but having: "a great deal to do with potentiality".
       Much of the appeal of Oulipian work and the use of constraints is found in what these lead to beyond the simply technical, as Oskar Pastior writes:

It is (precisely) this that interests me. Not as a recipe for producing something outside me. It is more curiosity that pushes me on: what will this do to me -- and make of me ?
       All That is Evident is Suspect gives a good and very varied overview of Oulipian work, especially the more recent (and generally less well-known) work. With relatively little context or supporting material, it is, however, definitely not a starter-anthology; some familiarity with Oulipian ideas and work is very helpful, and makes it much easier to appreciate much of the work (and some of the gossip) presented here. For fans, it is a treasure trove -- especially in making accessible work that hasn't been previously translated, and by the less well-known Oulipians. Of course, more (and more and more) would also have been welcome .....

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 December 2019

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All That is Evident is Suspect: Reviews: OuLiPo: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Editors:

       Ian Monk and Daniel Levin Becker are both members of the Oulipo.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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