Lent 38: Eunoia

I utterly adore this book. Christian Bök’s Eunoia is a playful example of what you can do with and without each of our five vowels. Each vowel has its own chapter, in which it has a starring role – in that no other vowel appears. At all. A univocal lipogram. You might think that this would result in a short or nonsense book. Not at all – there are genuinely 69 pages of this, before the final section (OISEAU) with some shorter riffs on the theme of alphabetic constraints.

‘Eunoia’ is a beautiful word. It is English, and it means ‘beautiful thinking’. This is indeed beautiful thinking, but neatly the word is also the shortest English one to contain all five vowels. You’ll understand then the French title for the second part of the book – which is actually a tribute to the Oulipo tradition it owes so much to.

If restricting yourself to only using one vowel sounds like too much hard work, you may be surprised that this was not the only constraint. Here are the 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 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 (although a few words do go unused, despite efforts to include them: parallax, belvedere, gingivitis, monochord and tumulus). The text must minimise repetition of substantive vocabulary (so that, ideally, no word appears more than once). The letter Y is suppressed.

Here are some short extracts, but this can’t do the book justice. You should go read it yourself, cover to cover.

Hassam Abd al-Hassad, an Agha Khan, basks at an ashram – a Taj Mahal that has grand parks and grass lawns, all as vast as parklands at Alhambra and Valhalla. Hassan can, at a handclap, call a vassal at hand and ask that all staff plan a bacchanal – a gala ball that has what pagan charm small galas lack.

Westerners revere the Greek legends. Versemen retell the represented events, the resplendent scenes, where, hellbent, the Greek freemen seek revenge whenever Helen, the new-wed empress, weeps. Restless, she deserts her fleece bed where, detested, her wedded regent sleeps. When she remembers Greece, her seceded demesne, she feels wretched, left here, bereft, her needs never met.

Hiking in British districts, I picnic in virgin firths, grinning in mirth with misfit whims, smiling if I find birch twigs, smirking if I find mint sprigs. Midspring brings with it singing birds, six kinds (finch, siskin, ibis, tit, pipit, swift), whistling shrill chirps, trilling chirr chirr in high pitch.

Monks who vow to do God’s work go forth from donjons of monkhood to show flocks lost to God how God’s word brooks no crooks who plot to do wrong. Folks who go to Sodom kowtow to Moloch, so God drops H-bombs of horror onto poor townsfolk, most of whom mock Mormon proofs of godhood. Folks who do not follow God’s norms word for word woo God’s scorn, for God frowns on fools who do not conform to orthodox protocol.

Duluth dump trucks lurch, pull U-turns. Such trucks dump much undug turf: clunk, clunk – thud. Scum plus crud plugs up ducts; thus Ubu must flush such sulcus ruts. Sump pumps pump: chuff, chuff. Such pumps suck up mush plus muck – dung lumps (plus clumps), turd hunks (plus chunks): grugru grubs plus fungus slugs mulch up humus pulp.

See the intro/roundup

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