Monday, April 24, 2006

More Eunoia

Been reading Gregory Betts' If Language (Book Thug, Toronto) which arrived in the mail a few months ago, and which I've just now taken up. If you dig the ludic insanity of constraint-based writing (a la Christian Bok's Eunoia, or the "Variations" Kevin McFadden has been publishing, or anything Oulipo-related), If Language could be considered one more brilliant example of what's happening north of the border these days. Conceptually, the book departs from a paragraph by the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet Steve McCaffery. I reproduce it here in full:

"If Language Writing successfully detaches Language from the historical purpose of sumarizing global meaning replacing the goal of totality with the free polydynamic drive of parts, it nevertheless falls short in addressing the full implications of this break and seems especially to fail in taking full account of the impact of the human subject with the thresholds of linguistic meaning. It is a the critical locus of productive desire that this writing opens itself up an alternative "libidinal" economy which operates across the precarious boundaries of the symbolic and the biological and has its basis in intensities."

from "Language Writing: from Productive to Libidinal Economy"

If you count the constituent letters of McCaffery's paragraph--and Betts has--there are a total of 525, 56 of which are--not un-ironically--the letter "I." Moreover, there are 48 t's, 49 e's, 42 a's, etc. What Betts is up to in If Language he declares early on--"a reorganization" of the "literal-letteral constituents" of McCaffery's paragraph, a perfect anagrammatical re-arrangement, with the original quote serving as "the theoretical springboard, the palette, the keyboard for [his] hopeful obsession," and without surplus, each paragraph a perfect efficiency. Here's one example of what Betts comes up with:

"Today it will be music degrees of collage with a litter of sun petroleum and solace, hi-fi of sickishness, obliged by a conservative force that, it is hopeful, will fulminate in the social realities of committed principalities. Someone's parents slip back into an ungracious war front that agitates the alliance and physiognomy of illuminating gases threatening shift. By tonight, a the mausoleum parade, the light scoffing carbuncular air should eroticize its partly visible superobjectivism. Plush gallows hiss. There is a fifty percent chance of fifth and eighth dimensions contrasting that should clear up all things considered."

What sort of writer has the patience to pull off this kind of project? Well, the same writer who writes 56 such poems, all anagrams, each mining its constituent language for a range of tones and idioms. As collections go, If Language is at once inspired and humbling. If you're interested in seeing more, pick up a copy at

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