16.064 highly constrained language?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty (w.mccarty@btinternet.com)
Date: Mon Jun 10 2002 - 02:49:57 EDT

  • Next message: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty : "16.067 highly constrained languages (& who was alert?)"

                    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 <w.mccarty@btinternet.com>
             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/,
    willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk, w.mccarty@btinternet.com

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Jun 10 2002 - 03:03:51 EDT