July 26, 2004

Sins of omission  

Canadian poet Christian Bok has a new work out called Eunoia (meaning beautiful thinking, and also the shortest word in English containing all five vowels). It consists of five sections, each making use of only one vowel and avoiding the other four (in the manner of Georges Perec's Les Revenentes). Plus there are these other parameters:

All chapters must allude to the art of writing. All chapters must describe a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau and a nautical voyage. All sentences must accent internal rhyme through the use of syntactical parallelism. The text must exhaust the lexicon for each vowel, citing at least 98% of the available repertoire.... The text must minimize repetition of substantive vocabulary (so that, ideally, no word appears more than once).
I haven't read any more than what's available online, but it's always amazing to see that the human mind can work even within constraints this tight to create meaning, etc. And of course it's good to see that people are still revisiting the ideas of Oulipo.

One thing: this constraint that "the text exhaust the lexicon for each vowel, citing at least 98% of the available repertoire" seems very technical, and seems to suggest that there is a complete list somewhere of the available lexicon. This isn't really surprising, given that dictionaries are available online, but it does raise the question of whether it's really fair (admirable?) to use a word list to do this sort of thing -- and then to go and exclude 2%! These methods certainly weren't available to Perec, for instance, or his translators, or to people engaging in tasks of similar technical and artistic complexity -- eg writing a brilliant villanelle. [via apostropher]


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