Thursday, September 2, 2010

Recommended: Eunoia

This book - Eunoia by Christian Bök - is certainly not a typical book & definitely not for everyone. Indeed, although it's a slim volume, it's taken me a long time to get through only a few chapters. That's because it poetry, something I need a clear mind & little distractions to read. And even though poetry is not my reading matter of choice, I must recommend this book for its sheer creativity & originality.

First off, eunoia is an odd word - it means "beautiful thinking" in Greek & is a medical term for a normal state of mental health. It's also the shortest word in the English language that uses all 5 vowels. This title gives a small glimpse into the incredible word-play that goes on in this book.

The book is actually divided into 2 parts: Eunoia & Oiseau. Oiseau is the shortest French word using all the vowels (& means bird). In the first part of the book, there are 5 chapters, each one dedicated to a vowel. That means, in the first chapter, you will only find words with the vowel "A". The second chapter is "E" & so on. There are other rules the author follows for these chapters - avoiding the letter "Y" & repetition, using as many words as possible, describing a banquet scene, etc. The second part of the book includes shorter poems, all exploring letters & the art of writing. One called "And Sometimes" is a list of words using only the letter "Y" as vowels & another "Emended Excess" includes all the "E" words not used in the Eunoia chapter.

Having such strict rules might make you think that the book would be very narrow & simple ... but that's the furthest from the truth you can get. The vocabulary is rich with underutilized words & the imagery is imaginative. The flexibility of the language is on full display. It makes you realize how imposing a few restrictions can actually unleash a whole creative side that we may not have known to exist otherwise. Sometimes having rules or guidelines can be more liberating than unrestricted free will.

Another aspect of this book that I like - besides being Canadian & printed at the Coach House Press in Toronto that I visited during Open Doors Toronto - is the fact that it has a cult following among people with synesthesia, a condition I'm fascinated by. These individuals experience more than one sense at a time. A common form of synesthesia is where each letter or number has an associated colour (the person will always see "A" as being green for example - though colours will differ between people). So you can imagine how a chapter full of a single vowel would look a lot different, perhaps more soothing on the eyes.

Do you know of any books or poems that impose strict rules to further explore this dynamic language?


Nicole said...

OOHHH, I am off to purchase that book now!!!

Angie said...

That sounds like such an interesting book! I'm going to have to see if the library has it :)