- Posted by Stephen Whiteley
- On 28/04/2013
- literary translation, Oulipo, Perec, words
Followers of Perec abound.
‘Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes…’ This is the opening sentence of Walter Abish’s Alphabetical Africa (1974). The first chapter is composed only of words that begin with ‘a’, the second of words that begin with ‘a’ or ‘b’, the third with ‘a’, ‘b’ or ‘c’, and so on until the twenty sixth. Over the subsequent twenty five chapters, this process is reversed, meaning that by the last chapter we are back to ‘a’. An ambitious project, which is undermined both by various mistakes (rogue ‘I’s etc.), and by the fact that, unlike Perec, it is not particularly fun to read.
Michel Dansel’s 2004 Le Train de Nulle Part (a pun on the etymology of utopia?) refrains from any attempt to outdo the master, and concentrates on parts of speech, namely verbs, of which there aren’t any:
Quelle aubaine ! Une place de libre, ou presque, dans ce compartiment. Une escale provisoire, pourquoi pas ! Donc, ma nouvelle adresse dans ce train de nulle part : voiture 12, 3ème compartiment dans le sens de la marche. Encore une fois, pourquoi pas ?
Fool’s luck! A vacant seat, almost, in that compartment. A provisional stop, why not? So, my new address in this train from nowhere: car 12, 3rd compartment, from the front. Once again, why not? (from the English translation, The Train from Nowhere).
And Japanese writer Yasutaka Tsutsui wrote a lipogrammatic novel in which usable syllables decrease as the story progresses.
Finally, here is post-modern renaissance man Douglas R. Hofstadter’s autobiography, which adheres to the canonical liprogrammatical constraint, the omission of the ‘e’.