on finishing, only to begin again

The whole month of May I’ve been reading Daniel Levin Becker’s Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature in chunks, interspersed among a dozen or so other books similarly picked up and put down, and today I got to the end and thought that the right thing to do would be to start again. I haven’t done that yet, but it’s what I’m intending to do for the next month or so. Again and again I encountered passages that seemed to speak directly to me and my persistent questions and wonderments. Sometimes I copied them out, more often I vowed to return later. Thus:

The underlying belief shared by the Oulipo and the legion of Ou-X-Pos, serious and non-, is essentially that any enterprise or discipline can be treated as solid and particulate, as an experiment we can tweak and tinker with until we get results that interest or comfort or provoke or unsettle us… (pg 275)

I discovered the Oulipo with an overwhelming sense of relief, welcomed the idea that literary language, instead of anything and everything else around me, could be the surface onto which I projected my obsessive-compulsive mental fidgetings. If I had been someone else, it might have been painting or history, puppetry or pornography, some other X to solve for; if I’d been lucky, it would have been one that already had an ouvroir on the case. As it turned out, I was lucky—not to find what I didn’t know I was looking for, exactly, but to find the questions I didn’t know I was asking. (pg 304)

The key to the oulipian project, I think, lies in that inattention to disciplinary boundaries: the ability to take comfort in the certainty that every non-literary language act simply isn’t literary yet … The scary part, but the liberating part too, is that there’s no greater truth, or at least none worth invoking, that isn’t just as artificial as literature, just as mutable and self-justified and tautological as language. Science can explain the flood of light in a darkened room, but not why it matters, not why it feels like a miracle. Potential, in the Ou-X-Pian sense of the word, is just a way of chasing down and expressing that thing, whatever it is, that you’re sure makes the world make sense. (pg 317)

To live your life craftily, whether you read it as a labyrinth or a puzzle or simply a long combinatorial succession of evening and mornings, is to move through it with the purpose and the security that come from knowing you hold the tools to give it shape and meaning. (pg 318)

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