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Jan 9, 2009

Beautiful Thinking

My loved ones all know to gift me with books, and I have many delicious new ones.

One is called "Eunoia." It means "Beautiful Thinking." It's neither fiction nor nonfiction. Here's a taste, in which the book explains itself:

Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech. These sentences repress free speech. The text deletes selected letters. We see the revered exegete reject metred verse: the sestet, the tercet -- even les scenes elevees en grec. He rebels. He sets new precedents. He lets cleverness exceed decent levels. He eschews the esteemed genres, the expected themes -- even les belles lettres en vers. He prefers the perverse French esthetes: Verne, Peret, Genet, Perec -- hence, he pens fervent screeds, then enteres the street, where he sells these letterpress newsletters, three cents per sheet. He engenders perfect newness wherever we need fresh terms.

It sounds a bit odd doesn't it? The only vowel used in the paragraph above is the letter "e". Eunoia is the shortest word in the English language which uses all five letters. The book has five chapters, A, E, I, O and U, and in each chapter, only one vowel is permitted. It reads quite strangely, but it's a wonderful book for a writer to read, because it forces you to reflect deeply on words, their sounds and relationships and meanings. Also, it's a wicked ass vocabulary builder.

Eunoia is a univocal lipogram, in which each chapter restricts itself to the use of a single vowel. Eunoia is directly inspired by the exploits of Oulipo (l'Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle) -- the avant-garde coterie renowned for its literar experimentation with extreme formalistic constraints....

Eunoia abides by many subsidiary rules. 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 accent internal rhyme thrrough the use of syntactical parallelism. The text must exhaust the lexicon for each vowel, citing at least 98% of the available repertoire... [and] must minimize repetition of substantive vocabulary (so that, ideally, no word appears more than once). The letter Y is suppressed.

It makes more sense once one realizes that Eunoia is more poetry than prose. Twentieth Century poetry freed poets from all contraints of "the sestet, the tercet" and all metred verse, but this anarchy proved deadly to beauty and creativity. So the poets re-imposed rules upon themselves, sometimes queer rules.

Christian Bok spent seven years writing Eunoia. I don't think I could do that. As much as I enjoy word play, the words remain, for me, stepping stones to stories.

However, I do employ some deliberate contraints on the formal structure of my stories. Not so much at the sentence or word level -- usually in the chaptering. I used to have great difficulty with outlining, and in particular, with restraining my stories from overflowing into excessive length. So I would decide ahead of time how many chapters I wanted, how many words each chapter could take to itself, and I would try to stick by that. I found that having the chapters in front of me, like empty boxes, both helped me to fill and at the same time, not overflow

Of course, it also makes re-writes a bitch.

The structure of my present epic is quite strict. I have two protaganists, Palem and Jaxel. One is from Demaitria and one from Thedros, two warring nations. They are destined to meet in gladorial combat in a contest which will determine which of their nations shall be ascendent for the next hundred years.

Chapters each begin with an epigram, a salutation to one of the patheneon of story's universe. There are 5 sections to each book, with twelve chapters each - sixty chapters in all. The chapters alternate between the PoV of the two progatanists. Later, when other PoV characters are introduced, they must all appear on either "Palem's Side" or "Jaxel's Side", reflecting the deepening division of the world into two opposing and antagonistic camps. Furthermore, subsidiary characters must go in the right spot, so I can't put two members of Palem's camp in a row. Each book is allowed to have a Prologue which doesn't have to be clearly on one side or the other, or can violate the order of alternating chapters.

This is all very well, but it makes it hard, when I suddenly realize I need to add a scene in between two others, to figure out where the scene should go. The story also needs to move forward in approximately chronological order, so I prefer not to have a Jaxel scene take place in 9991 if the Palem scene following it takes place back in 9987. I had this very problem on my recent revisions. Nonetheless, I have successfully revised Section One, after suffering a bit of writer's block over the holiday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear that you defeated your writer's block! Eunoia sounds fascinating, though to be quite honest your story with all its allusions to different gods, concepts, or whatever they were, was a lot easier to understand than the Bok passage.