Constraint is often conceived of as a restrictive process, one that severely limits the field of possibilities available to a writer. While it is undoubtedly true that the use of systematic artifice and writing rules in a literary text does narrow an author's choices (one cannot use author, for instance, in a text that is limited to monosyllabic words), it may also provide for fresh and largely unsuspected choices and for new sorts of mobility as well. This essay tests this hypothesis, examining three contemporary works: a collection of sonnets by Raymond Queneau, a novel by Georges Perec, and a travel narrative by Julio Cortázar and Carol Dunlop. Each of the works deploys a different kind of constraint, and each seeks thereby to create an innovative literary dynamic, to renew literature itself, to broaden its horizon of possibility.

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