# User:Thijshijsijsjss/Gossamery/The Foundations of Literature

- Read on 2024-06-20
- Read it here
- By Raymond Queneau, translated by Harry Mathews

A text by Raymond Queneau that attempts to provide an axiomatic system for a literature, after mathematician David Hilbert's *Foundations of Geometry*^{[1]}.

Mathematically, the presentation is a little naive. An axiom cannot be 'obvious', nor can it be surprising. Even worse, an axiom cannot be a truism. For a truism implies a framework of validity, a system to evaluate a statement. Whereas this system is in fact determined by the axioms. Axioms are the rules set in place, the rules of the game. In this light, Queneau's effort is a worthwhile exercise. It was Hilbert himself who famously said any mathematical mention of points, straigt lines and planes, one could use words such as tables, chairs and tankards (also described in this text's introduction).

Hilbert was perhaps more famous for his mathematical contributions, and cemented himself in history with the 23 problems he presented and published in 1900, the problems that, in his judgement, would shape the mathematics of the new century. The second question concerned the axiomatization of mathematics -- initiated in the 1870s by Cantor. Hilbert was a big believer of an axiom system existing to capture the mathematics commonly accepted at the time (even though he may have already been aware of Russel's paradox). He was never able to accept Gödel's second incompleteness theorem, proving no proof of consistency can be given in an axiomatic system itself. Moreover, he refused Godel's first incompleteness theorem, stating that in any axiomatic system powerful enough to decribe the natural numbers, there will be statements that can neither be proven nor disproven.

This is of concern to the Oulipo as well, who believed in the concreteness of language and a study of it as a scientific object^{[2]}. I can't help but wonder: what would Queneau think of this. Isn't this *Foundation of Literature*, meant to be a transposition of Hilbert's axioms, subject to this incompleteness, too? Even when we try to capture the object of language and its combinatorial game, is this still not enough? Like Calvino describes in *Cybernetics and Ghosts*, does this not present language as the inescapable metaphysical labyrith^{[3]}? Or should we be hopeful, that no axiomatic system of language can ever fully capture our necessities for it, and therefore, there will always be new potential?

### References

- ↑ Hilbert, D. (1903) Grundlagen der Geometrie.
- ↑ Luscure, J. (2003) 'Six Selections by the Oulipo: A Brief History of the Oulipo,' in The New Media Reader. MIT Press, pp. 172–176.
- ↑ Calvano, I. (1986) 'Cybernetics and Ghosts,' in Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature. Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, pp. 3–27.