Exercises in Criticism

Exercises in Criticism (Dalkey Archive Press, 2015) is an experiment in applied poetics in which critic and poet Louis Bury utilizes constraint-based methods in order to write about constraint-based literature. By tracing the lineage and enduring influence of early Oulipian classics, he argues that contemporary American writers have, in their adoption of constraint-based methods, transformed such methods from apolitical literary laboratory exercises into a form of cultural critique, whose usage is surprisingly widespread, particularly among poets and experimental novelists. More, Bury’s own use of critical constraints functions as a commentary on how and why we write and talk about books, culture, and ideas.

Welcome to the brilliantly high-risk cabinet of Louis Bury–prestidigitator, virtuoso, ethicist, scholar, gambler, mimic, poet. In and out of chains, this Houdini is a master of escape tactics. Exercises in Criticism is at once an encyclopedia of Oulipian procedures, and a utopian Grand Grimoire, showing how to practice literary criticism as a life-saving, joy-bringing regime. Cool codes dominate this manual, but its secret core is soulful, intimate, and emotionally urgent.

— Wayne Koestenbaum

The creative criticism–or critical creativity–on display in Louis Bury’s Exercises in Criticism seems to me exactly what’s needed–or, for this reader anyway, most desirable–in literary inquiry today. Amidst all its clever experimentation, Bury’s book also offers real and deep thoughts about the legacy of the Oulipo, relations between capitalism and academia, the source and sustenance of intellectual investments throughout a life, and the web made by familial and political history. I laud its thoroughness, its play, its risks, its transmutation of dissatisfactions into art.

— Maggie Nelson

Louis Bury’s provocative and pleasurably disarming constraint-based pursuit of a critical engagement with contemporary constraint-based writing, as well as with the nature of criticism itself, makes for a lively, searching investigation – a kind of practice-based reportage from the outskirts of literary sense.

— Anselm Berrigan

A piece of creative scholarship that is accessible well beyond academia… A new kind of study that is as playful as it is practical.

— Douglas Luman, The Found Poetry Review

This engaging, invigorating, and often very funny book will no doubt be of great interest to current or recovering graduate students… It will also be of interest to numerous other parties, including teachers of writing, creative writers engaged with constraint-based approaches to composition, literary scholars, and general readers who may want to understand more about contemporary constraint-based poetic works.

— Johannah Rodgers, The Brooklyn Rail

This is alternative criticism at its best.

— Michael Leong, Hyperallergic