Flagstaff has Eunoia fever!

By Qayyam Johnson
Flagstaff Live!
July 12, 2007

Northern Arizona has caught a case of Eunoia fever. Observe:

Euphoria! Oh moon swoon

This nigh mint wind flints in swimming grins

Reviewed by Qayyum Johnson

‘Eunoia’ is the shortest word in English to contain all five vowels, and the word quite literally means ‘beautiful thinking.’ ‘Eunoia’ is a univocal lipogram, in which each chapter restricts itself to the use of a single vowel.”

–From the postscript to Eunoia, entitled “The New Ennui”

A new lover is like having a gourmand chef rearrange your old kitchen’s ingredients into feasts that taste like nothing you’ve managed to concoct for yourself over the years. They saunter in and you are glad of it. You want them to stay and show you how to alchemize all these elements of your person that were going granular and gathering dust. Each time they cook your life, flavors like foreign music leaflets rain down as a most welcome propaganda campaign waged from on high. Early on, you may become fascinated by the mysterious transformation of your ordinary self into someone compelling as you glimpse yourself through another’s eyes. So it goes: heartbreak guaranteed, since the new must become old, go granular, gather dust.

One delightful by-product of this intimate dance of having oneself reflected back through the gaze of another is that one’s interests are given new life. In the attempt to present ourselves, we unearth all our old loves and worldly preferences: music, films, creative ventures, travelogues, garments, gardens and varmints. It can be shocking to then hear how this transmission of our sequenced life choices becomes a solid idea in the mind of our special new friend about who we are.

Eunoia is one such mirror on the wall for me, playfully riffing on simple-complex language ideas carried out with considerable attentiveness and seven years diligence.

This Christian Bök is a language Magellan, coasting around the five-vowel promontory of fire carrying with him a contagious commitment to actualizing the freedoms offered by language. One personal reflection perceived herein is that we need not be cowed by the many ways in which language betrays our infinite potential. By wholeheartedly showing up and aspiring to fully express our heart’s content we can span the daunting distance of seeming light years separating our subjectivities.

That was the summer waxing moon lead-in.

The full moon for the Japanese is characterized by a rabbit.

The waning moon is the physical book and discussable idea of Eunoia. As the quote from the postscript hints at, the work is a Mental Project continuing a tradition of games merging the highly intellectual with the extremely playful. Specifically Bök cites a French collective called “l’Ouvroir de Littérature Potentialle,” or Oulipo, who were an “avant-garde coterie renowned for its literary experimentation with extreme formal constraints” as an inspiration. Each chapter in the book is dedicated to one of the five vowels and is composed of long paragraphs which solely utilize words containing that vowel. For instance, Chapter O (which is dedicated to another seminal idea-player, Yoko Ono) begins:

“Loops on bold fonts now form lots of words for books. Books form cocoons of comfort—tombs to hold bookworms. Profs from Oxford show frosh who do post-docs how to gloss works of Wordsworth. Dons who work for proctors or provosts do not fob off school to work on crosswords, nor do dons go off to dorm rooms to loll on cots. Dons go crosstown to look for bookshops known to stock lots of top-notch goods: books for jocks (how to jog, how to box), books on pro sports: golf or polo. Old colophons on schoolbooks from schoolrooms sport two sorts of logo: oblong whorls, rococo scrolls—both on worn morocco.”

I get excited by this sort of experiment. What is it? What does it do? Reading it reminds me of how I felt viewing David Lynch’s new masterpiece >em>Inland Empire, a pure evocative tornado of creativity celebrating the countless emotional possibilities that are the real reason motion pictures should get made. The final credit montage tracked to Nina Simone was well nigh unbearable for the unrestrained happiness it released. Eunoia is likewise a sane-mad high-wire jig of unalloyed joy that exists for no reason but to liberate from the macabre dismay of ordinary thinking.

Chapter E outlines Helen of Troy’s travails: “Whenever Helen sleeps, her essence enters the ether—the deep well, where she feels herself descend deeper, deeper. Her descent seems endless; nevertheless, she lets herself be swept wherever the gentle breeze sweeps her. She regresses.” Chapter U goes northward from Hell, though it’s no less bleary a landscape: “Duluth dumptrucks lurch, pull U-turns. Such trucks dump much undug turf: clunk, clunk—thud. Scum plus crud plugs up ducts thus Ubu must flush such sulcus ruts. Sump pumps pump: chuff, chuff.”

What is he doing here? It seems that there are many additional rules to the one vowel admonition. “All chapters must allude to the art of writing,” Bök explains of his self-imposed restraints. “All chapters must describe a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau and a nautical voyage. All sentences must accent internal rhyme through the use of syntactical parallelism. The text must exhaust the lexicon for each vowel, citing at least 98 percent of the available repertoire. The text must minimize repetition of substantive vocabulary (so that, ideally, no word appears more than once). The letter Y is suppressed.” Ha! Fantastico!

What might this book reflect about you? What does it do for your own expression? What options might language have for a committed madperson, heck-bent on injecting the wisdom of loving humor into the daily grind? This book inspires non-gaining ideas and revelatory self-reflection.

One can hear Bök reading in a riotous voice, rolling R’s and flipping French turns of phrase around his vowel-wowing text, at the Ubuweb internet portal (www.ubuweb.com) under their MP3 sound repository. It’s easily the best thing you’ll hear all day. Here are some final thoughts taken from a separate essay that (potentially) lends some insight into the workings of the modern Canadian literary avant-garde, at least vis-à-vis Christian Bök.

“The invention of plastic has given birth to a celluloid spectacle, whose reveries displace the esemplastic imagination of the romantics, filling our hollow skulls with an injection-moulded mentality, as pliable and as durable as any blob of polypropylene. Has not language itself begun to absorb the synthetic qualities of such a modern milieu, becoming a fabricated, but disposable, convenience, no less pollutant than a styrofoam container?”

The poems in this book are living moonbath language which glistens the bodylight and breaks down into rich humus almost immediately when used according to the whispered instructions coming from within. We must never outgrow serious play.

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