December 5, 2016
Anti-normalization tips: Bienvenue à l’époque d’Ouprespo
by Ian Dreiblatt
As we move on from our November Unpleasantness, I find that certain, let’s say, irregularities continue troubling me.
For example, I keep having this feeling that President-elect Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Tsai Ing-wen, President of Taiwan—a nation whose government the United States does not formally recognize—and then defended himself on grounds of “She started it.”
That he’s braying about Saturday Night Live again.
That now that it no longer serves his needs to decry Hillary Clinton’s advisors as agents of a “global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities,” he is busily hiring as many of them as he can.
This does not compute. I know a thing or two about reality—having lived there part-time my whole life—and I can tell you stuff like this never used to happen.
One can’t make sense of these developments because there’s no sense here to be made. Such is the slime trail our celestial slug-in-chief traces across the heavens.
Still, might there be some explanation?
I think there might. After long hours puzzling over Mr. Trump’s behavior, I’ve found the key to understanding it — with a great aesthetic pay-off.
Consider the OuLiPo. The name’s a French abbreviation of “Ouvroir de littérature potentielle,” or “Workshop of potential literature,” and they’re an international group of writers who work with “constraints.” Oulipian books include Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, a novel about a person trying to read a novel called If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, which keeps re-starting from different beginnings in different styles; Anne Garréta’s Sphinx, a love story told without reference to the lovers’ genders; and any number of the works of Georges Perec, the dreamer and author who wrote La Disparition, a novel in which the disappearance of the letter e is explored in completely e-less language (translated by Gilbert Adair as A Void), and Life a User’s Manual, in which a complicated set of mathematical operations decide all the events of the book.
There is also the Oulipopo (Ouvroir de littérature policière potentielle), a group that writes detective fiction, the Oupeinpo (Ouvroir de peinture potentielle), who make paintings, the Oubapo, who make comic strips, an Oumupo, and so on.
I have come to believe that Donald J. Trump is the leader of a new political movement: Ouprespo.
It seems obvious that Trump’s responses to things are the product of weird mathematical operations and arbitrary formal requirements.
I do not think, for example, that he chooses whose calls to take in the same way you or I would — we are mere political Franzens. If you listen carefully to Trump’s tweet, you can almost hear the dice being rolled, the trails of the pencils as they scribble their improbable tabulations. At the end of a process whose very randomness doubles as an indictment that the nature of political allegiance is itself arbitrary, America’s allies are to be… Pakistan, Taiwan, and, if they’re in the neighbourhood, the UK? It can work! Classic Ouprespo.
As for the Saturday Night Live tweet, Trump, by intemperately tweeting to call our attention to a fictional portrayal of him tweeting intemperately, affects a civic mise-en-abyme that implicitly accuses all previous, issues-based presidencies of aesthetic complacency. Trump has at last located the presidential fourth wall, and demolished it. This is Ouprespo at its best.
And in ruthlessly undoing all of his campaign promises, Mr. Trump produces an elegant symmetry, shaming presidents like FDR and Abraham Lincoln over their lopsided preference for facts (sad). Working with a, y’know, richer palette, the guy could make a very big narrative mark. Very big mark. The biggest. Yes — this, too, is Ouprespo.
Now that we have identified the practice behind Mr. Trump’s governance, we will need to develop critical models worthy of the aesthetic discourse he has initiated. It’ll take a generation of literary scholars to break down the subtle, gem-like intricacies of the Ouprespo method.
In the meantime, clearly, there’s no need to freak out. People have always thought they might be living through the end of civilization. Ouprespo will be a high-larious page in the chronicles of 2016, the most avant-garde year in human fucking history.
Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.