A token of the world's instability and of human powerlessness, chance is inevitably a crucial literary theme. It also presents formal problems: Must the artist struggle against chance in pursuit of a flawless work? Or does chance have a place in the artistic process or product? This book examines the representation and staging of chance in literature through the study of a specific case - the work of the twentieth-century French writer Georges Perec (1936-82).In ""Constraining Chance"", James explores the ways in which Perec's texts exploit the possibilities of chance, by both tapping into its creative potential and controlling its operation. These works, she demonstrates, strive to capture essential aspects of human life: its 'considerable energy' (Perec's phrase), its boundless possibilities, but also the constraints and limitations that bind it. A member of the Ouvroir de litterature potentielle (known as Oulipo), Perec adopted the group's dictum that the literary work should be 'anti-chance' - a product of fully conscious creative processes. James shows how Perec gave this notion a twist, using Oulipian precepts both to explore the role of chance in human existence and to redefine the possibilities of literary form. Thus the investigation of chance links Perec's writing methods, which harness chance for creative purposes, to the thematic exploration of causality, chance, and fate in his writings.
Alison James is an assistant professor of French literature at the University of Chicago.
Introduction; The Notion of Chance; Chance and Literature; Perec and the Oulipo; Mastering History; History, Politics, and La Ligne generale; Commitment or Chance; Conquering the World; Les Choses: Tensions and Tenses; Escaping History: Un homme qui dort; Chance and Circumstance; Questioning Destiny; Power and Passivity; Chance and the Law; Life as Lottery: Perec and Borges; Possibilities; Games of Anti-Chance; Fortune and Fate; Cause and Effect; Incidents and Accidents; Reversals and Recognitions; Chance and Calamity; Stories Without Event; Retrospection and Rupture; Digression and Damnation; Traps and Machinations; Hidden Signals; Means and Ends; Schemes and Disguises; Chance and Detection; Clue and Coincidence; Red Herrings; Text and World; A Challenge to Chance; The Poetics of the Oulipo; Chance and the Oulipo's Critics; Voluntary Literature: Oulipian Anti-Surrealism; Aleatory Art; Controlling Chance; Chance and Language; Mysticism, Mathematics, Meaning; Method and Mechanism: S+7; Perec's Constraints: Combination, Coincidence, Clinamen; La Disparition; Codes and Cliches; Alphabets: Chaotic Language; La Vie mode d' emploi: Combination and Clinamen; From List to Text; Coherence and Multiplicity; Form Versus Diagram; Constraint and Chaos; Labyrinths and Puzzles; Literary Labyrinths; The Rat in the Maze; Ceiling and City; Verbal Ruses and Oulipian Rats; Complications; The Art of the Jigsaw; Artists and Quests; Chance and System; Ordering the Infra-Ordinary; Chance and the Real; Les Choses: Objects as Signs; Common Things: Perec and the Infra-Ordinary; Chance, Perception, Habit: Tentative d' epuisement d' une lieu parisien; The Event and the Everyday; Perec's Lists; Classifications; The World as Jigsaw; Order and Constraint; Conclusion; Bibliography.