Colin Marshall sits down in San Francisco’s Castro with Daniel Levin Becker, member of the experimental literary group Oulipo, reviews editor at the Believer, and author of Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature. They discuss whether Oulipo membership impresses the ladies; his earlier, long pre-Oulipo days, when he would make mixtapes consisting entirely of songs without the letter “e” in the title; his fascination with taking mundane patterns, applying enough work to them, and making something pretty incredible; palindromes, beau présent, homophones, metro poems, mathematical constraints, and Greimas squares; his Fulbright-enabled stay in Paris to organize Oulipo’s junk, which led to his writing a book on the group, and then to their offer of membership even before he thought he had accrued the necessary literary steez; whether Paris retains its status as a literary-minded young American’s dream, and its status as a “literary mindfuck” nevertheless; what Paris legitimizes, including but not limited to sexy Orangina animals; “gamification,” in the artistic, urban, and Silicon Valley senses; the possible use of Oulipian restrictions in Many Subtle Channels itself; what makes Oulipo distinctively French, and what its irony about the canon may have in common with the irony of D.A.R.E. shirts worn in the United States; the Believer as a representative of west coast United States literary culture, and how the scrappiness of Chicago stands in contrast; and when he suspends his Chicagoan-ness, and how much of that involves not eating spicy meats.
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