Workshop of Pot*ntial Blogging – Avoiding using “E”

It is sad to think on how long ago MUW last had a post, but it is 2014 now, and activity will start again. Writing sank down a priority list in 2013, but is now kicking off with inspiration from a Franco-artistic group of authors, known as Oulipo. For this post, I will avoid all utilisation of that most common of all symbols in our vocabulary, “E” (apart from just now!). In illustrations using a book, film or author’s call-sign, a * will stand in for that infuriating symbol.

A graphic of the word lipogram surrounded by the letters E

A lipogram is a block of writing avoiding a particular symbol

From its foundation on 24 Nov 1960, Oulipo was a group that brought works of writing to our world with strict canons. All works took form by allowing for artistic flourishings that had instructions laid down by innovating authors. A strong illustration of Oulipo‘s canons (and inspiration for this blog post) is found in G*org*s P*r*c‘s book A Void, which, similar to this post, avoids that tricky popular symbol. This is known as a lipogram – a composition that omits a particular symbol in writing.

Oulipo authors pick various structural limitations on individual artistic outputs. As an illustration of this, Italo Calvino, possibly most famous among all Oulipo authors, brought a structuralist approach to his 1972 story Invisibl* Citi*s, which spins an account of a fictional Marco Polo in an ongoing discussion with Kublai Khan about his urban roamings around Khan’s vast kingdom. Polo shows Khan his kingdom through his own accounts of his trips, chronicling 55 urban conurbations in total. Calvino sticks to a strict format in writing this book, with 11 topics, and all topics containing an account of 5 distinct locations.

A photo-montage showing a knight on a chess board with George Perec's "Life A User's Manual"'s apartment-block setting overlaid

A fantastic illustration of a structural book is G*org*s P*r*c’s magnum opus, “Lif* A Us*r’s Manual“, a story in situ in a block of flats. P*r*c picks a following portion of his story using a knight’s motion through said block of flats.

This tight structural formatting locks particular parts of Oulipo writing in laws that its authors bring about. A similar approach is shown in film by a Danish school, Dogm* 95. From its foundations through illustrious film fabricators Lars Von Tri*r and Thomas Vint*rb*rg in 1995, Dogm* 95 sought to limit film to strict canons such as using only natural light, audio from on location and basic tools such as only things that a solo hand could grasp.

Dogm* 95 was a satirical format that both artistic administrators took on with a pinch of salt. Initial films using this canon could boast lauding from major film occasions such as Cann*s, at which Vint*rb*rg was to attain critical admiration for his film F*st*n. Von Tri*r’s harsh satirical romp, Th* Idiots, was his only film to truly stick rigidly to Dogm* 95‘s canons, and still boasts a particular vigorous branding that is not obvious in his following works.

An abstract photograph of a sculpture with the words "restriction as creation" overlaid, with the letter E removed from each word, naturally

This logic of bounding an artistic work in canons so difficult to bypass can also assist artistic output by forcing an artists imagination around such tricky roadblocks. All fabrication of art is bound by a dictum of sorts, through laws of our natural world limiting what can possibly occur. So laws that artists fashion to form innovations in original works assist an individual’s idiosyncratic ability to construct outstanding art with ordinary limitations.

And if you think this was not difficult, try it! And try to think of how painstaking it was for G*org*s P*r*c in his ongoing writing of A Void – without doubt a lipogramic saga of untold frustration.

Tip of d’hat for that!

All images in this post are my own and subject to copyright unless stated. I don’t mind reproductions, but please credit them to this blog or contact (contactmoonunderwater@gmail.com) for more information.

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3 Comments

Filed under Words, writing: blogging, writing: fiction, writing: opinion

3 responses to “Workshop of Pot*ntial Blogging – Avoiding using “E”

  1. Tip of the hat to you too – having recently finished an alphabet of lipograms, I know that it’s hard enough writing anything you like without an E, let alone attempting an explication of Oulipian theory and practice under that constraint!

    • Thank you very much! It was such a struggle (and featured many a thesaurus reference) but to read it back now I’m pretty proud of the coherency through most of this post – maybe the rules really do have a purpose!

      An alphabet of lipograms though? What does that entail? You’ve piqued my curiosity…

    • In fact, to quote your own blog post in reference to my last comment, I found this to be completely true:

      “the commoner the letter, the more I found I had to bend the language, and come up with alternative ways of saying what I wanted to say, which often turned out to be better than the sentence I might otherwise have written.”