Sorrentino Interview

At Alt-X, Alexander Laurence interviews Gilbert Sorrentino (in 1994). I post the first question/answer as it is referenced a few times in the article I will be posting about tomorrow:

Laurence: The Oulipo has come into focus in the past ten years. What is your own interest in this group concerned mainly with formalism? Under The Shadow seems to point in that direction of structures and constraints.

GS: I’ve always been interested in the formal, despite the fact that the word “formalism” as it is now used to describe a certain kind of mummified poetry, is not what I have in mind. My sense of the formal is that of a structure or series of structures that can, if one is lucky enough, generate “content,” or, if you please, the wholeness of the work itself. Almost all of my books are written under the influence of some sort of preconceived constraint or set of rules. Some of these are loose and flexible, like the time scheme in Steelwork, and others are quite rigorous, like the alphabetical framework in Misterioso. My interest in Oulipo dates back maybe 10 years or so, when I became aware of what they were up to – I had, quite mistakenly, thought it a group somewhat involved with surrealism. But their concern with formal structures as permissive of and conducive to compositional freedom was right up my alley. Under the Shadow has a structure based upon the drawings done for Raymond Roussel’s Nouvelles Impressions D’Afrique by H. A. Zo, drawings that, incidentally, have nothing to do with the text, but which, oddly enough, make a text of their own, a fragmented and discontinuous one, but a text nonetheless. Under the Shadow is Zo’s “story” as it can be pulled out of his pedestrian but really haunting drawings.