10.24.2006

Portions Too Small, Seeking Better Restraints


Wired's compilation of six-word "masterpieces" caters shamelessly to the short attention span, and annoys at length. Listy obsessives, dust off your sitzfleisch and muzzle the buzzing bites. Chins to the ones who still write epically. Tip hats to the tag line, buzzword, slogan, name-generating addict on wordlab, but linguistic conservationalists are not always the most interesting story tellers. I'd prefer it if Wired were to call the list something more accurate, such as -- Very Quick Mutterings, Really Bored Ghostwriters, or "Story" Broadly Interpreted.

These "auteurs" as Wired tags them, write like starch-loaded mouse potatoes, eager to put a period to the void. Writing restraints are fun for graduate school seminar sons and daughters, but must we be subjected to them as if they are distinctive, solar, and sustaining, simply because they've been penned by someones with real bindings lining genre shelves? Most of these writers have far more to say than what would fill up one Chip Kidd spine, or add another layer to a logo slingers font fuck. I'd hesitate to brand the designers responses to lightweight Oulipo a "gallery". It's yet another display of the banal photo bank aesthetic.

Why don't we pay more attention to those who really stretch themselves linguistically, like Writings for the Oulipo, by Ian Monk.


Derik Badman says,
"Writings for the Oulipo contains 15 short works, starting off with “Homage to Perec” a series of six univocalisms, that is texts written using only one vowel (one for each and “y”). The first part is a translation of Perec’s “What a Man!”. The “E” univocalism is an short essay called “Perec’s Letterless Texts” which discusses three of Perec’s text (the aforementioned, “What a Man”, the novella Les Revenentes (translated by Monk as The Exeter Text) and La Disparition (known in English as A Void) using only “e” words. It’s a great example of a constrained non-fiction work. An even better example is Monk’s essay on Gilbert Adair’s translation of Perec’s La Disparation. Not only does he insightfully discuss different problems with the translation, where Adair seems to have added much embellishment to the text, but Monk ends it by revealing that the essay itself was written without any ‘e’s (just like Perec’s novel).

Another stand-out text is one entitled “Twin Towers”. The words are formatted into two columns per page. The first column mostly lists objects in a building, while the second column lists types of people in the building (though it really isn’t that demarcated, I generalize). Over the course of four pages, the two columns get shorter and shorter (wider top margin), and on that forth page the second column is displaced, tilted at an angle on the page. An obvious piece about September 11th, it is actually the best such piece I’ve read. Something about the mundane listing of objects and people combined with the visual layout makes for a powerful short prose work."

That's the kind of mundane into powerful I'd like to experience when reading.

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