Generative Matrix Works

a genetic study applied to various Chansons pour Don Juan, by Michel Butor

Ambroise Barras, University of Geneva (june 2000)

In the wide history of combinatory literature and pre-computerized poetry, Michel Butor's Kit for a Don Juan occupies a relatively ambiguous position. Compared with the most famous figures in the genre – Quirinus Kuhlmann's 41. Libes Kuß (1671) offers the most amazing amount of variations by arrangement and permutation of a same matrix of lines and words, Raymond Queneau's A one hundred thousand billion of poems (1961) headlines his work with the exact number of its potential productivity – the performances of this "writing machine" seem almost deceptive.

However, what strongly differs it from its illustrious predecessors, is evidently its way to preserve its textual productions from their dissolution into exponential vertigo of combinatory excess.

Actually, a reader never reads A one hundred thousand billion of poems, because this work doesn't offer any text to read. The aesthetics it is based on would be more adequately rendered into terms of "conceptual" instead of "textual" experience.

With a Kit for a Don Juan (1977), Michel Butor elaborates a kind of literary system through which its textual products resulting from manipulating the mechanism of 20 cards earn at least minimal legibility.

The issue is then: which kind of legibility for which kind of textuality?

To answer this couple of questions, we would like to initiate the study of a relatively huge amount of texts – series of verses, generated through matrix of cards in the Kit – Michel Butor published in various literary reviews or even as artists' books, between 1972 and 1991. The method used here is far inspired by those of genetic critics: it is intended to establish the process through which, by diverse kinds of manipulation of cards, the author produced the series of verses the lector reads as a set of poems. In another words, the first step of this analysis consists in revealing the textual stratification of each verse and making explicite the process through which one passes from a verse to the next. What comes out from this virtual archeology of texts is that the series as one can read them never coincide with their programmatic definition.

This inadequacy appears to be the key concept of what we would describe as the new textuality (and consequently the new legibility) of generative matrix works.

Valid CSS! Valid XHTML 1.0! © Ambroise Barras, 2000-2004