To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Friday, July 10, 2009

Christian Bök: Excerpts from Eunoia

from Chapter A
(for Hans Arp)

Awkward grammar appals a craftsman. A Dada bard
as daft as Tzara damns stagnant art and scrawls an
alpha (a slapdash arc and a backward zag) that mars
all stanzas and jams all ballads (what a scandal). A
madcap vandal crafts a small black ankh – a hand-
stamp that can stamp a wax pad and at last plant a
mark that sparks an ars magna (an abstract art that
charts a phrasal anagram). A pagan skald chants a dark
saga (a Mahabharata), as a papal cabal blackballs all
annals and tracts, all dramas and psalms: Kant and
Kafka, Marx and Marat. A law as harsh as a fatwa bans
all paragraphs that lack an A as a standard hallmark.

from Chapter E
(for René Crevel)

Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech. The
text deletes selected letters. We see the revered exegete
reject metred verse: the sestet, the tercet – even les
scènes élevées 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, Péret, Genet, Perec – hence, he pens fervent
screeds, then enters the street, where he sells these let-
terpress newsletters, three cents per sheet. He engen-
ders perfect newness wherever we need fresh terms.

from Chapter I
(for Dick Higgins)

Writing is inhibiting. Sighing, I sit, scribbling in ink
this pidgin script. I sing with nihilistic witticism,
disciplining signs with trifling gimmicks – impish
hijinks which highlight stick sigils. Isn’t it glib?
Isn’t it chic? I fit childish insights within rigid limits,
writing shtick which might instill priggish misgiv-
ings in critics blind with hindsight. I dismiss nit-
picking criticism which flirts with philistinism. I
bitch; I kibitz – griping whilst criticizing dimwits,
sniping whilst indicting nitwits, dismissing simplis-
tic thinking, in which philippic wit is still illicit.

from Chapter O
(for Yoko Ono)

Loops on bold fonts now form lots of words for books.
Books form cocoons of comfort – tombs to hold book-
worms. Profs from Oxford show frosh who do post-
docs how to gloss works of Wordsworth. Dons who
work for proctors or provosts do not fob off school to
work on crosswords, nor do dons go off to dorm
rooms to loll on cots. Dons go crosstown to look for
bookshops known to stock lots of top-notch goods:
cookbooks, workbooks – room on room of how-to
books for jocks (how to jog, how to box), books on
pro sports: golf or polo. Old colophons on school-
books from schoolrooms sport two sorts of logo: ob-
long whorls, rococo scrolls – both on worn morocco.

from Chapter U
(for Zhu Yu)

Kultur spurns Ubu – thus Ubu pulls stunts. Ubu shuns
Skulptur: Uruk urns (plus busts), Zulu jugs (plus
tusks). Ubu sculpts junk für Kunst und Glück. Ubu
busks. Ubu drums drums, plus Ubu strums cruths
(such hubbub, such ruckus): thump, thump; thrum,
thrum. Ubu puns puns. Ubu blurts untruth: much
bunkum (plus bull), much humbug (plus bunk) – but
trustful schmucks trust such untruthful stuff; thus
Ubu (cult guru) must bluff dumbstruck numbskulls
(such chumps). Ubu mulcts surplus funds (trust
funds plus slush funds). Ubu usurps much usufruct.
Ubu sums up lump sums. Ubu trumps dumb luck.

from “The New Ennui”

‘Eunoia’ is the shortest word in English to contain all
five vowels, and the word quite literally means ‘beauti-
ful thinking’. 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 Litteérature Potentielle) – the avant-garde
coterie renowned for its literary experimentation
with extreme formalistic constraints. The text makes
a Sisyphean spectacle of its labour, wilfully crippling
its language in order to show that, even under
such improbable conditions of duress, language can
still express an uncanny, if not sublime, thought.

Eunoia abides by many subsidiary rules. All chapters
must allude to the art of writing. All chapters must de-
scribe a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pas-
toral 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, mono-
chord and tumulus). The text must minimize repeti-
tion of substantive vocabulary (so that, ideally, no word
appears more than once). The letter Y is suppressed.

[Editor's Note. The five texts printed above represent only the opening paragraph of each lettered chapter of Eunoia. The full text, published by Coach House Press, can be found at A rerelease of the original book -- with new material -- is scheduled for September.]


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Bennett Kane said...

I'm glad this text is available to read online for free. People can sample the text and discard any skepticism about how amusing these vowels can be.

However, I think the physical book Bök produced is also beautiful. Seeing the text considerately formatted enhanced my reading experience, at least.

Recently, I link people to the Coach House site so they can sample the writing. But I always follow it up with a plug for the physical book. More than the average paperback, this book's design echoes the text's intentions.

Also, Julie's comment above is just waiting to be put in a flarf poem.