Ars Combinatoria Study Guide

Compiled by Ralph Dumain

Note: This web page collects a variety of writings with some philosophical relevance to the possibilities and limitations of a combinatoric approach to novelty, creativity, intelligence, et. sim. The most important complementary sources I have compiled are to be found below. There is some but far from total overlap with the following most comprehensive other of my bibliographies:

Philosophical and Universal Languages, 1600-1800, and Related Themes: Selected Bibliography

See also my offsite blog in English and Esperanto:

Ars Combinatoria @ Ĝirafo

Search terms:

ars combinatoria
ars memoriae
art of memory
arte combinatoria
characteristica universalis
mathesis universalis
Ramon Llull
universal characteristic

Einstein - combinatory play

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Ramón Llull

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Jorge Luis Borges

Henri Lefebvre


Bibliographies & web guides

On other sites

On my blogs (selected)


Supplementary Bibliography

Bamford, Alice. Chalk and the Architrave: Mathematics and Modern Literature. PhD dissertation, King’s College, University of Cambridge, 2015.

____________. “Intaglio as Philosophy,” New Left Review, January/ February 2018, pp. 141-148. [Bachelard, Flaubert & combinatorics, Historical epistemology]

____________. “Mathematics and Modern Literature: Passages from ‘Chalk and the Architrave’,” New Left Review 124, July/August 2020.

Beha, Christopher R. “Oulipo Ends Where the Work Begins,” The Believer, GAMES issue, September 2006 (vol. 4, no. 7).

Borges, Jorge Luis. “For Bernard Shaw” / “A Note on (toward) Bernard Shaw”; in Other Inquisitions, 1937-1952, translated by Ruth L. C. Simms, introduction by James E. Irby (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964), pp. 163-166.

Calvino, Italo. “The Burning of the Abominable House,” in Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories, translated by Tim Parks (London: Jonathan Cape; New York: Pantheon Books; New York: Vintage Books, 1995), pp. 156-169.

Calvino, Italo. “Cybernetics and Ghosts,” in The Uses of Literature, translated by Patrick Creagh (San Diego; New York; London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), pp. 3-27.

Weiss, p. 160, note 17: ‘Unfortunately the English version omits the subtitle of Calvino’s lecture: “Appunti sulla narrativa come processo combinatorio” (comments concerning narrative as a combinatory process)’.

Casanova, Pascale. Samuel Beckett: Anatomy of a Literary Revolution, translated by Gregory Elliott. London; New York:Verso, 2006.

Introduction by Terry Eagleton
Preface: Ill Seen Ill Read
1 Ars Combinatoria
2 Youth and Genesis
3 Philosophical Motifs
4 The Invention of Abstract Literature
Conclusion: Among the Deepening Shades

Pascale Casanova: Beckett’s combinatorial art

Samuel Beckett: Anatomy of a Literary Revolution

"Worstward Ho, assembling all earlier efforts, is a mechanism of ars combinatoria in the mathematical sense, since it attempts, on the basis of the minimum number of elements (the least also being the basis of its definition of the bad), all the operations and combinations that can syntactically be realized." [p. 18]

"Yet Beckett accomplished a revolution in literature that was as radical as Kandinsky’s, or even, of a different nature, Duchamp's in art. His project of a genuinely autonomous literature, freed from the imperatives of representation and respecting only the principle of a combinatory of elements that has broken virtually any link with reality (or the conventions thought to represent reality), and the elaboration of a novel literary syntax, are on a par with the great aesthetic ruptures of the twentieth century. But his invention of literary abstraction has never truly been acknowledged. No doubt that is why he has remained without descendants: the quietus he delivered to literary realism literally went unnoticed. As a writer, he has not really acceded to existence because he has not been perceived: non esse est non percipi, as he would have said." [ pp. 105-106]

Chaouli, Michel. The Laboratory of Poetry: Chemistry and Poetics in the Work of Friedrich Schlegel. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. See esp. Chapter 4: “Theory of the Combinatorial Method” of Poetry.

Cramer, Florian. Words Made Flesh: Code, Culture, Imagination. Rotterdam: Piet Zwart Institute, 2005.

DIA-LOGOS: Ramon Llull’s Method of Thought and Artistic Practice, edited by Amador Vega, Peter Weibel, and Siegfried Zielinski. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

Duff, David. Romanticism and the Uses of Genre (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), Chapter 5: The Combinatorial Method, pp. 160-200.

Origins and Absolutes 165
Rough-Mixing and Smooth-Mixing 176
The Politics of Miscellany 187
Shelley and the ‘Great Poem’ 191

Note esp. treatment of Friedrich Schlegel, Coleridge, Blake (181-4, 190), Shelley.

Duncan, Dennis. “Calvino, Llull, Lucretius: Two Models of Literary Combinatorics,” Comparative Literature 64.1 (2012): 93-109.

Duncan, Dennis. Oulipo and Modern Thought. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Chapter 4: Calvino at a Crossroads: Combinatorics and Anticombinatorics, pp. 100-121.

Elkin, Lauren; Esposito, Scott. The End of Oulipo? An Attempt at Exhausting a Movement. Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2013.

An Attempt at Exhausting a Movement, by Lauren Elkin and Scott Esposito, The New Inquiry, January 17, 2013.

Rats Build Their Labyrinth: Oulipo in the 21st Century, by Michael Leong, Hyperallergic, May 17, 2015.

Fidora, Alexander; Sierra, Carles; eds. Ramon Llull: From the Ars Magna to Artificial Intelligence. Barcelona: Artificial Intelligence Research Institute, IIIA - Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas 2011. Contents.

Koetsier, Teun. The Ascent of GIM, the Global Intelligent Machine: A History of Production and Information Machines. Cham: Springer International Publishing, Springer, 2019.

Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature, translated and edited by Warren F. Motte, Jr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

Foreword / Noël Arnaud / ix
Acknowledgments / xiv
Introduction / 1
A note on the translations / 23
Limnial poem / Harry Mathews / 25
Lipo: first manifesto / François le Lionnais / 26
Second manifesto / François le Lionnais / 29
Brief history of the Oulipo / Jean Lescure / 32
Rule and constraint / Marcel Bénabou / 40
The Collège de Pataphysique and the Oulipo / Collective / 48
Potential literature / Raymond Queneau / 51
Queneau Oulipian / Jacques Bens /65
Raymond Queneau and the amalgam of mathematics and literature / François le Lionnais / 74
Mathematics in the method of Raymond Queneau / Jacques Roubaud / 79
History of the lipogram / Georges Perec / 97
Recurrent literature / Jacques Bens, Claude Berge, Paul Braffort / 109
For a potential analysis of combinatory literature / Claude Berge / 115
Mathew’s algorithm / Harry Mathews / 126
Computer and writer: the Centre Pompidou experiment / Paul Fournel / 140
Prose and anticombinatorics / Italo Calvino / 143-152
The relation X takes Y for Z / Raymond Queneau / 153
A story as you like it / Raymond Queneau / 156
The theater Tree: a combinatory play / Paul Fournel, Jean-Pierre Énard /  159
Oulipians and their works / 163
Notes / 183
Glossary / 197
Index / 203

Rubio, Joseph E. ‘Llull’s “Great Universal Art”,’ in A Companion to Ramon Llull and Lullism, edited by Amy M. Austin, Mark D. Johnston; translated by Amy M. Austin, Alexander Ibarz, Mark D. Johnston (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2019), pp. 81-116.

Vallverdú, Jordi. "Brains, Language and the Argumentative Mind in Western and Eastern Societies. The Fertile Differences Between Western-Eastern Argumentative Traditions," Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, Volume 131, December 2017, pp. 424-431. Preprint.

Weiss, Beno. Understanding Italo Calvino. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

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