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King Creativity at Southwestern

Mathematics and Language Play: Raymond Queneau and the Oulipo

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by Mary Pamela Hightower

I originally began my research on Raymond Queneau because of my interests in math and French. At the time, I knew only that Queneau was a twentieth century French writer and amateur mathematician and that he had co-founded the Oulipo, a workshop for writers of potential literature. As I continued my readings, however, I found that the role mathematics played in the works of Queneau and the Oulipo went far beyond numbers and was often reflected even in a text’s overall structure. This was more than a mathematician’s academic math; it was an intricate math game that they played. For Queneau, play itself (mathematical or otherwise) is a valid creative process which he used to its fullest in exploring the vast potential of the French language and its literature.

My project includes an analysis of the role of creativity in such writings. I have explored such topics as the definition and function of creative play, the way play is exhibited in literature and in language itself, and the controversy that surrounds it.

The grant that I received from the King Creativity Fund gave me access to many French texts by Queneau and other creative thinkers, critical articles on these topics, and other resources that would not have been available to me otherwise. It has also given me a unique opportunity to explore the many connections between my two major fields, French and Mathematics.