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Abstract

The Oulipo hesitates between a profoundly historical understanding of literary form and a decontextualization of form in the name of “potentiality.” What kind of historical knowledge is produced through the use of literary constraints that have been dislodged from their original context? Jacques Jouet’s collection L’Histoire po emes [History: Poems] (2010) exemplifies the Oulipian encounter between world history and literary history. Redeploying multiple forms from the prose poem to the pantoum, and incorporating footnoted sources ranging from personal memories to the work of academic historians, Jouet produces a history in and of poetry, tracing a meandering path from prehistory to the moment of composition. The documentary mode entails what Jouet calls the “imperfecting” of poems by the vicissitudes of reality, while the pursuit of potential forms gestures toward a utopian space of freedom beyond history.

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