n+7

There's been a stupid discussion on the Buffalo Poetics List regarding the merit of n+7, where one gentleman asserted that for all her mediocrity, Maya Angelou was a superior poet to those who use the procedure because she, at least, "came up with her poems on her own." And then the usual tirade against randomness, which totally misses the point of the procedure because it is completely determined. Not that there is anything wrong with randomness either. Anyway, this shows that mathematical and scientific education in this country are in shambles. Here is my response to the gentleman (whose name I have forgotten):

It seems that in the discussion of the n+7 constraint, the role of mathematics in OuLiPo has been forgotten. The majority of the readers of this list already know the following, but this is for Marcus: there is nothing random about the method. OuLiPians abhorred the randomness of the Surrealists and Dada (see the introduction to the Oulipo Compendium, edited by Harry Mathews). What they sought was to instill a mathematical rigor and consistency to their study and writing of mathematics. What the n+7 method reveals (because there is a scientific hypothesis to what the Oulipians did) is how syntax and meaning have a relationship, based on certain social conditions (here, the dictionary).

Again, here is the explanation of the method from the Oulipo Compendium:

N+7 (S+7). A method invented by Jean Lescure that "consists" (in Queneau's terse definition) "in replacing each noun (N) with the seventh following it in a dictionary."
Before beginning the operation, it is obviously necessary to choose a text and a dictionary. (...) When choosing the dictionary, it is useful to remember that the smaller it is, the greater the alphabetic distance between the original word and its replacement and the simpler the words found."

You're not going to have the same results by choosing the Littré or the Laffont dictionaries. In an American context, the word-results are going to differ on the choice between a more "progressive" dictionary like the American Heritage and a more "conservative" one like the OED (not quite sure why I am putting quotation marks).

It is also important to remember that Oulipo has two components to its activities: an analytic one and a synthetic one. It therefore does not fall into a Romantic model* of the poet role where the poet is "inspired" to write something original. Rather, it seeks to study the rules of language so as to not be enslaved by them.

That being said, why should Angelou be superior to Jean Lescure because she came up with her individual poems "on her own"? Did Lescure come up with his procedure on his own too? Does he not deserve the merit of originality too?

Of course, this was a lot of paraphrasing. I'm not even approaching Oulipo's connection to the Collège de 'Pataphysique.

* And I should have written a "British Romantic model of the poet" in my response. Well, it's too late now. Also, what's wrong with a "pumice of morons" and "lower than the angiosperm." I find the latter kinda cool, actually.
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