In a work of art, omission is as vital as any contribution
April 3, 2009 8:26 AM   Subscribe

What is a lipogram? It's a book or short work of fiction that omits a particular scriptural symbol, commonly a vocalic sign, as a stylistic ploy to amplify a motif, or simply as a stimulating bit of wordplay. Skilful application of this form is shown in US and Gallic publications such as Gadsby: Champion of Youth and La Disparition (also known, in an award-winning translation, as A Void).

Writing lipogrammatic works is, as you would fancy, not a straightforward or simplistic task (Wright, author of Gadsby, had to fall back on sabotaging his typing apparatus), but focusing your mind through constraining rubric can indubiously aid cogitation. Why not try following this with your own lipogrammatic posts?
posted by permafrost (31 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
posted by cdmckay at 8:38 AM on April 3, 2009

posted by klangklangston at 8:40 AM on April 3, 2009

I won't do what you say.
posted by now i'm piste at 8:41 AM on April 3, 2009

this is just one example of "constraint-based" art as embodied by OULIPO, a mainly French group of writers and mathematicians...
posted by njohnson23 at 8:42 AM on April 3, 2009

This kind of writing is fairly difficult to accomplish, and I truly doubt my own ability to sustain such a linguistic balancing act, so I won't try. But I just want to say that drafting a long book without using a particular linguistic symbol, notably such a common (practically ubiquitous!) thing as an "e," would painfully tax our most original and skillful authors. So bravo to any who try it.
posted by rusty at 8:45 AM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ella Minnow Pea: a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable is a clever take on this idea but unfortunately the end product isn't that great.

Derik A Badman has a blog all about constraint (which is was pointed at by this post by Matt Cheney).
posted by ninebelow at 8:52 AM on April 3, 2009

This ain't so hard! Not until you g... um, not until you r... not until you find that you can't find a word without that particular l... and your dictionary fails you so you must consult your th...

posted by Spatch at 8:58 AM on April 3, 2009

Christian Bok's Eunoia goes even further, limiting itself to one vowel each for each of its five chapters.
posted by jonp72 at 9:00 AM on April 3, 2009

Here's a lipogram of Mary Had a Little Lamb that rewrites the poem without the letters O, A, H, T, and E respectively.
posted by jonp72 at 9:06 AM on April 3, 2009

God, this kind of gimmicky, showoffy "writing" is such solipsistic bullshit, fit only for hacks and obnoxious cranks with nothing at all significant to say about anything important. Putting words through such laborious, artificial, masturbatory contortions, in a world crying out in anguish for plain, straightforward truth, is a criminal act of assault upon basic human dignity.
posted by dyoneo at 9:14 AM on April 3, 2009 [8 favorites]

La Disparition has also had an Italian translation (as La Scomparsa).

The version of the book published south of the Pyrenees, however, opts oddly to omit some other vowel: it's entitled El Secuestro.
posted by misteraitch at 9:14 AM on April 3, 2009

Derik A Badman has a blog all about constraint

So this is literary B&D, is that what you're saying?
posted by msalt at 9:24 AM on April 3, 2009

This not-a-suffix "lipo" brings with it a connotation of orthographical bounty, not alpha...gammatic limitation! Lipograms, by that logic, ought to burst with 27 or 28 symbols that ought show up compulsorily. In too much, as such infant additions would put out no standard sound, John Q. Typist finds that absurdity obtains within his work. Lack of standard practicability shows that this sort-of antonym is a bad plan, and a poor word.

I submit that actual lipograms, orgiastic cornucopias of unbound symbol collation (if you or I follow its not-a-suffix's implication), dog us all from book and book-analogs day in and out! Fight back against wanton, manifold production and consumption of writing-bits!

This link-amalgamation has it right, from A to Z; go forth with thoughtful wisdom that not all of yon linguistic tools must fall from stylus to papyrus, from digit to Dvorak, or from lips to air.

(My posting tag fails to attain such lofty standards, alas.)
posted by lumensimus at 9:27 AM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I see what you omitted there, permafrost.
posted by DU at 9:30 AM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

That is to say, I follow you and am copying your display of posting skill.
posted by DU at 9:32 AM on April 3, 2009

But don't call it "lipogram," I must say, for it smacks of unfatty inaccuracy.
posted by lumensimus at 9:38 AM on April 3, 2009

Gyles Brandreth claims to have worked on a number of lipogrammic Shakespeare rewrites in The Joy of Lex, including:
  • Hamlet without "I"
  • Macbeth without "A" or "E"
  • Twelfth Night without "O" or "L"
  • Othello without "O"
Though, I have yet to actually see any of these rewrites.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:42 AM on April 3, 2009

Why not try to stump your family and cohorts with this fun, puzzling paragraph?

How quickly can you find out what is unusual about this paragraph? It looks so ordinary that you would think that nothing was wrong with it at all and, in fact, nothing is. But it is unusual. Why? If you study it and think about it you may find out, but I am not going to assist you in any way. You must do it without coaching. No doubt, if you work at it for long, it will dawn on you. Who knows? Go to work and try your skill. Par is about half an hour.

posted by milestogo at 9:52 AM on April 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

I can days at a time without typing an exclamation point. Does that count?

Also, for those who are really into it, Douglas Hofstadter's (of Gödel, Escher and Bach) book "Le Ton Beau de Marot has a whole chapter on these, including other lipograms in translation, monovocalic sonnets, etc.
posted by adamrice at 10:24 AM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

How quickly can you find out what is unusual about this paragraph?

posted by kid ichorous at 11:17 AM on April 3, 2009

By an incredible coincidence (that Georges Perec would not have accepted as coincidence) I received the following in my email about an hour ago:

Please join us tonight for a special reading and book signing organized by Brooklyn Rail fiction editor Donald Breckenridge

Oulipo in New York—

Marcel Bénabou
Anne F. Garréta
Hervé Le Tellier
Ian Monk
Jacques Roubaud

177 North 9th Street (between Bedford and Driggs Aves.)
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Tel. 718.599.2144
Directions: Take the L train to Bedford Ave. stop. Walk 2 blocks to N. 9th St.
Turn right and the gallery will be on your left, halfway down the block

If you like this sort of thing, this is exactly the sort of thing you'll like. (If you happen to be in New York, and you know, don't have anything else to do on a Friday night).
posted by The Bellman at 11:41 AM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Meta DNA: puts gnats in a noon e-zoo. ooze no onanist angst. Up and at 'em!

(shit! wrong thread. and completely stupid, as well.)
posted by barrett caulk at 11:56 AM on April 3, 2009

posted by erniepan at 12:17 PM on April 3, 2009

Constrained writing: concerns imposed limits authors sometimes employ; results often appear contrived. Sometimes, limit's precise nature concealed, until readers expose pattern.
posted by kurumi at 12:30 PM on April 3, 2009

Most of my comments are lipograms that omit the letter "z." WHY WON'T ANYONE NOTICE
posted by decagon at 3:57 PM on April 3, 2009

dyoneo: La Disparition is a novel that is basically about, among other things, Perec losing his parents to the concentration camps, and what happens when something we depend on (such as the letter "e", even more common in French than in English) is disappeared from us. Bök wrote Eunoia to show how much can be expressed with massive constraints placed upon a person (among other reasons), as a testament to, oh, the indomitable nature of the human spirit, or of human potential, something to that effect.

I mean, I think it's perfectly fine for books to show off and be clever and fun. I think it's fine for it to be wanky, especially if it's a sort of wanky I get something out of. Writing doesn't always have to be ethically good for you, morally improving, and whatever else you're hoping for; I think it takes a bit more than a lipogram to make an "assault upon basic human dignity". But the books you're picking on specifically are written "in a world crying out in anguish", perhaps not crying out for something clear and plain, but something that might allow some form of transcendence beyond loss and limitation. This seems like a perfectly awesome thing for writing to attempt to do.
posted by Casuistry at 4:07 PM on April 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

A similar concept is showcased here, using only one vowel in summarizing various Shakespeare works.
posted by kmz at 5:54 PM on April 3, 2009

Hi, Casuistry! Sorry for any confusion, but I was totally - although, I admit, sort of buffoonishly - joking. That hairy cat-loving gigantic-anagram-constructing author of yours is among my tiny handful of idols, and not just for his wordplay. Look: It's his film!
posted by dyoneo at 6:09 PM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Gallic? Don't you mean "French"?

Oh, wait. Now I, um, spot what this is all about...
posted by sour cream at 12:40 AM on April 4, 2009

Dyoneo: Oh ho ho. I see what you did there, now. My bad.
posted by Casuistry at 2:29 AM on April 4, 2009

Even excellent seers regress -- even err -- when these men see deep-held precepts tested.
posted by speicus at 5:20 PM on April 4, 2009

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