Traducing Ruddle

Traducing Ruddle is the fifth in a series of ‘fake’ newspapers by Mark Manders. Using a nonsensical combination of English words, Traducing Ruddle creates a pretense of legibility that dissolves upon closer inspection.

As the graphic designer Hans Gremmen reveals on his website the “newspapers appear irregularly and are randomly edited. For these newspapers all English words are used and every word is used only once. When we run out of words; we run out of news, and it will stop.”

Notions of constraint in literature, as a literary technique, have long been of interest to me. The term ‘constrained’ is described in the dictionary as ‘forced or unnatural behaviour’. Is something constrained therefore artificial? Are not all texts inevitably the result of a set of artificial rules or norms? Bernardo Schiavetta in his Toward a general theory of the constraint marks four different types of constraints
1) A constraint as an addition, which would be something added to a text obeying all other textual norms, an example would be classic versification
2) A constraint as an abolition, an example of that would be a lipogram (a lipogram prevents the author from using certain letters)
3) A constraint as an abolition plus an addition could be for instance a different spelling system. 4) A constraint as a permutation – an anagram for example (permutation of all the letters of a text)

The constraint of using every word of the english language once, as in Mark Mander’s Traducing Ruddle, could be seen as something owning much to the literary procedures pioneered by Oulipo. The French term ‘contrainte’ in the Oulipian Compendium (published by Atlas Press) is explained as the “strict and clearly definable rule, method, procedure, or structure that generates every work that can be properly called Oulipian.”

Oulipo, short for ‘ouvroir de literature potentielle’ (in English ‘workshop of potential literature’) is the name of a group of mainly French writers in the 1960s creating their texts purely on the basis of what they called ‘constrained’ writing.  They were not the first to use such writing techniques or limitations, but they were the ones who build their whole notion of writing on the constraint. The most known Oulipoan writer is probably George Perec with his book La Disparation (A Void), a 300 page long lipogramatic novel without the letter ‘e,’ neither in the original text nor in its translation.

The notion of a constraint ensured the ‘anti-chance’ element in the writing of the Oulipo writers. This ‘anti-chance’ element was important in order to distance their practise from the automatic writing of the surrealists. Raymond Queneau, one of the founding members of the group, heavily criticised the surrealists as being slaves to psychological determinism. In his thinking someone writing under constraints is freer than someone writing everything that comes into this mind, as this would be subject to ‘other rules which he does not know.’ It is here that Raymond Queneau distinguishes between the unconscious constraint and the conscious constraint. In contrast to the surrealists, claiming to write without constraints and nevertheless being victims of unconscious constraints, Oulipoen writers have a conscious – even if artificial – control of their writing process, control as an exploration of different possibilities (that is why the title contains the word ‘workshop’). This explains the need for a certain arbitrariness at the heart of the constraint.

Bernardo Schiavetta further distinguishes between a writing constraint and a reading constraint. These two notions of constraints are not necessarily mutually inclusive. Void by George Perec was written with a writing constraint and, when reading, it poses a certain reading constraint by not containing any letter ‘e’.
However other works– such as Raymond Roussel’s Impressions de l’Afrique – pose no reading constraints although written under constraint. It was not until Raymond Roussel’s death that this constraint was known and that this notion could be traced in his novels. He remarks in How I Wrote Certain of my Books “I chose two similar words, for example billiards and pilliards (looter). Then I added to it words similar but taken in two different directions, and I obtained two almost identical sentences thus. The two sentences found, it was a question of writing a tale, which can start with the first and finish by the second. Amplifying the process then, I sought new words reporting itself to the word billiards, always to take them in a different direction than that which was presented first of all, and that provided me each time a creation moreover. The process evolved / moved and I was led to take an unspecified sentence, of which I drew from the images by dislocating it, a little as if it had been a question of extracting some from the drawings of rebus.” Roussel’s procedure, according to Foucault in his book on Raymond Roussel “consists precisely in purifying discourse of all those false hazards of ‘inspiration,’ fantasy, of the freely moving pen, in order to place it before the unbearable evidence that language reaches us from the depths of a night that is perfectly clear and impossible to master.”

Christian Bök’s book Eunoia could be seen as another oeuvre inspired by the tradition of literatures of the constraint. Eunoia is the shortest word in the English language to include all five vowels, and means ‘beautiful thinking.’ Eunoia contains five chapters, each of which employs only a single vowel. He describes “Eunoia is a univocal lipogram in which each chapter restricts itself to the use of a single vowel (…) All chapters must allude to the art of writing. 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 (…). Bök scoured dictionaries making extensive lists of single-vowel words, which he later selected and combined to produce the text. He claim that Eunoia uses at ‘least 98%’ of the available lexicon for each vowel.

Two publishers, other than Atlas Press (a fantastic publisher, who is by the way also closely connected to the The London Institute of  Pataphysics – but that deserves its own entry one day), both specialised on publishing text that conform to various literary constraints recently came to my attention and are well worth looking at – as well as Spineless Books

14/02/2010 at 11:09 pm