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The Afterlives of Georges Perec$
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Rowan Wilken and Justin Clemens

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781474401241

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474401241.001.0001

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Invoking the Oracle: Perec, Algorithms and Conceptual Writing

Invoking the Oracle: Perec, Algorithms and Conceptual Writing

(p.85) Chapter 5 Invoking the Oracle: Perec, Algorithms and Conceptual Writing
The Afterlives of Georges Perec

Mark Wolff

Edinburgh University Press

Although Georges Perec did not make use of computers in his writing, he employed algorithmic processes for structuring various formal and thematic elements of his texts. As a member of the Oulipo, he worked with others to develop new ways to write using constraints based on mathematics. In considering the effect of computational methods on writing, the Oulipo wanted to avoid the influence of chance without devising procedures that automated the writing process. Perec addressed this challenge by resorting to what he and other Oulipians, drawing on Lucretius, called the clinamen, a kind of randomizing function that promotes creativity through unpredictability. If constraints can be applied with a machine to writing (and many of the constraints used by Perec can be easily coded), the clinamen disrupts this computation and forces the writer to make unanticipated choices. Purposely thwarting the determinism of mechanical calculation, Perec’s irregular use of constraints on writing invokes what Alan Turing called an oracle, a resource outside the machine for performing uncomputable operations. Unlike a computer scientist who seeks to eliminate any need for an oracle by developing sufficient algorithms, Perec manipulates algorithms erratically in order to intervene in subverted computations and provide revelatory solutions that escape the machine.

Keywords:   Georges Perec, Alan Turing, algorithmic processing, conceptual writing, Life A User’s Manual, Eugen Helmlé, The Machine, PALF, Oulipo

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