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Book: A Void

[Warning: Posting from a world of odd cogitation.] 

This book, A Void, is a translation by Mr. G. Adair into Anglo-Saxon of a Gallic original, La disparition. It contains a mystery about Mr. Anton Vowl, who is abruptly gone without a word. A group of individuals look for him without luck.  His diary contains particular prosody by a quincunx of famous authors: One is by W. S. and begins thusly:

Living or not living: that is what I ask:

If ’tis a stamp of honour to submit

To slings and arrows waft’d us by ill winds,

Or brandish arms against a flood of afflictions

OK, I give.  This effort to write without using the letter “e” is waaaay beyond my ability to sustain for any length of time.  So, the point of the French original [by Georges Perec, so you can see why I couldn’t mention his name in the paragraph above] is that it manages to be a more than OK mystery that, along the way doesn’t use the letter “e”.  [According to the flyleaf, Perec’s next novel Les Revenentes made up for the imbalance by using only the letter “e”.  Yoicks.]  Astoundingly enough, the translator has managed to produce a version in English that respects this difficult constraint.

By the way, the technical term for a work that avoids a particular letter is lipogram.  In English, the “usual” letter to avoid is “e”.  If you imagine a work that avoids the letter “x” for example, it would probably go completely unremarked.

An interesting choice is the poetry.  In the original, there are five poems copied into the diary of Anton Vowl [or Voyl in the French].  The poetry is all exceedingly familiar to any French reader–but wouldn’t have the same familiarity to English speakers.  So the translator found poetry that, I expect, we all recognize:  “Living or not living”, PBS’s Ozymandias, John Milton’s On his Glaucoma, Arthur Gorden Pym’s Black Bird [‘Quoth that Black Bird, “Not again”.’]  The one poem that remains in French–or rather the Gallic version–is Arthur Rimbaud’s Vocalisations [in French it’s Voyelles.  Just so you can appreciate the amazing talent

Here’s the first line of the original:

A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles,

And the translation:

A noir, (Un blanc), I roux, U safran, O azur:

The poems, in addition to being recognizable “copies” of the originals, also scan like their models. 

There is, of course, a certain stilted quality to the prose–it’s amazing to me how frequently the prose just flows along and I don’t notice that there aren’t any “e”s.

If you want a bit of a trial, try writing a paragraph of Anglo-Saxon.  Soon you’ll remark that this task is difficult.  But I know that you will find ways to bring forth your cogitations using this unusual diction and syntax.

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