Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 64.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Mon, 10 Jun 2002 07:28:16 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: expressive power of highly constrained language?
Inspired by the avant-garde coterie Oulipo, the poet Christian Bok has
written individual poetic paragraphs each of which uses only a single
vowel, e.g. from chapter U in his remarkable book of poetry, Eunoia
(Toronto: Coach House Books, 2001) --
Duluth dump trucks lurch, pull U-turns. Such trucks
dump much underdug turf: clunk, clunk -- thud. Scum
plus crud plugs up ducts; thus Ubu must flush such
sulcus ruts. Scump 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. Ubu unplugs
flux. Ubu scrubs up curbs; thus Ubu musty brush up
sulfur dust plus pugnut rust: scuff, scuff. Ubu burns
unburnt mundungus. Ubu lugs stuff; Ubu tugs stuff.
Ubu puts up fulcrums. Ubu puts up mud huts, but
mugwumps shun such glum suburb slums: tut, tut.
(Some here will recognize Ubu from Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi.) In a concluding
note, "The New Ennui", Bok notes that, "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" (p. 103). He then lists a
series of constraints in addition to the obvious one.
Has anyone studied the poetics of such highly constrained language (perhaps
starting with Georges Perec's)? I ask because computational metalanguages
are also highly constrained, although in a different way. I'm raising the
further question of the expressive power of these metalanguages. Perhaps
studies of people with damage to or inhibitions of their ability to produce
language would be relevant?
PS The vowel in Bok's surname is written with an umlaut. (Alas, that
problem is still with us.)
Dr Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer,
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London,
Strand, London WC2R 2LS, U.K.,
+44 (0)20 7848-2784, ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/,
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