Friday, March 19, 2004

Ex-WHBRer Aaron Mandel tracks down my lead:

The Oulipo referred to writing under the illusion of constraints as "Canada Dry". A websearch reveals a sentence which sounds familiar and may have been the only thing actually composed in this form:

"Crack legions apprehend undue assaults," said conductor of lead tank, staccato.

No attribution, but since it's in English, probably Mathews.

fjb: Yes (and thanks for reminding me how his name is spelled) from somewhere in the Mathews-translated/co-edited Oulipo Compendium, of which my copy is packed away somewhere, along with most of my HM and Perec. What I do have on hand is The Human Country (Dalkey), his recent collected stories, which ends with "Clocking the World on Cue: The Chronogram for 2001," which is a collection of sentences in which exactly enough letters that are also Roman numerals (c, d, i, v, l, m, x [but see below]) are present to add up to, yes, 2001. It's an ancient form with mystical/predictive overtones; each sentence here is a present-tense description of something expected to go on in some city or other nameable place in the given year. E.g.:

"In Sing-Sing, wearing surreptitious attire, spiting the surprising North Irish negotations and shrinking tensions, Phineas, retiring Bishop of Ossining, with the authorities' requisite inattenction, is tonight anointing fifteen Fenian ("Fighting Irish") priests in a rite of injurious piety."

"In Whitby, seagoing Einar, finishing his fifteenth pink gin, instists he is quite fine."

"In Ostia, engaging Ethiopian waiters trigger big tips by squirting nips of grappa into porringers of out-of-season fruit."

There are about 10 pages of this; the entire title is one as well. In looking at this now, I realize that he's done something he doesn't mention in the introduction: He counts every two 'n's as one 'm' = 1000! If fact, the whole piece has no 'm's at all, on quick perusal. One never knows with this sort of things whether the variations are there to make things easier or harder. (Note that a univocalic, ala the sections of Bok's Eunoia, with exactly 2001 occurrences of 'i' would satisfy the constraint as well.)

The piece was written just before 2001 actually started. Encountering it a bit later, it felt like the most oblique and unintentional elegy ever, and a restrospective 'comment' on the uselessness of divination.

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