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Christian Bök – Eunoia

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Last night I was thumbing through Christian Bök’s lexical experiment Eunoia. I picked this book up, with its accompanying CD, at Word on the Street in Toronto a couple of weekends ago. The deal is that Bök (pronounced “book”) has written a novel that uses the five vowels, but only one chapter at a time. So chapter one is “A”, and all of the words in the chapter contain “a” as their only vowel.

It’s quite amazing what he does, and clearly virtuosic, which I like. Now, as a guy who can’t tell his metonyms from his synecdoches, I am loath to offer much in the way of criticism or analysis. I’ll leave that to bookish English-teachin’, poetry-lovin’ babes, in whose company I like to be seen.

Let me just say that to hear this stuff read aloud, as the author does on the disc, is a striking sonic experience, and very interesting from a musical standpoint. Here’s why. With the constant reiteration of the short and long forms of one vowel, albeit punctuated with a variety of consonant closers and openers, a kind of rhythm and melody emerges. Vowels ARE the carriers of tone in language, doncha know. Of course, this melody and rhythm is always present in spoken language, and implicit in written language as well. But the sameness of the vowel sounds (which are really just timbral profiles, which are themselves just formant registers [language babes love when I talk linguistics]) really points up the musicality of the speech.

What’s interesting too is that Bök doesn’t shy away from giving affective labels to the different vowels (‘u’ is obscene, apparently). All of this, in my bök, is a recipe for fun. I’ll be chewing on this one for a while. Side note: I’m reminded of one of my mum’s (9 months gone yesterday) favourite jokes, which is in the form of a newspaper headline: “‘Sex before marriage? Not in my book!’ claims angry Noah Webster….”

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About Mike Daley

  • Eric Olsen

    strange and fascinating subject, very perceptive review – thanks and welcome, Mike!