Oulipo Tangent: Milorad Pavic

The difference between the works most closely identified with Oulipo writers (Calvino’s Castle of Crossed Destinies, Queneau’s Exercises in Style) and those works which, while in the same exploratory spirit, don’t quite coexist in the same genre is them, like Sladek’s below, John Barth and Robert Coover’s metafictional spirals, or Tristram Shandy, is often the existence of a procedural gimmick. If the clef to a roman is an easily referenced generative device or structural ploy, the work can seem that much more mathematical and clever.

The danger is that the gimmick becomes the book. Milorad Pavic’s Landscape Painted with Tea is based around a crossword puzzle, but the device does not seem to justify an entire book, which is otherwise erudite and well-written. But more interesting is Pavic’s Dictionary of the Khazars, a self-proclaimed “lexicon novel” based around Eco-like historical research and mythology. But what is the one thing it is known for, the thing that became its main marketing point? It’s the thing so significant it made it into the rec.arts.books FAQ:

12) What is the difference between the male and female editions of DICTIONARY OF THE KHAZARS by Milorad Pavic?

The differing paragraph is given in both forms. (And is it just me, or is the male version eerily reminiscent of Borges’ “The Garden of Forking Paths”?)

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