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Eunoia

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'Eunoia', which means 'beautiful thinking', is the shortest English word to contain all five vowels. This book also contains them all, except that each one appears by itself in its own chapter. A unique personality for each vowel soon emerges: A is courtly, E is elegiac, I is lyrical, O is jocular, U is obscene. A triumphant feat, seven years in the making, this uncanny wo 'Eunoia', which means 'beautiful thinking', is the shortest English word to contain all five vowels. This book also contains them all, except that each one appears by itself in its own chapter. A unique personality for each vowel soon emerges: A is courtly, E is elegiac, I is lyrical, O is jocular, U is obscene. A triumphant feat, seven years in the making, this uncanny work of avant-garde literature promises to be one of the most important books of the decade.


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'Eunoia', which means 'beautiful thinking', is the shortest English word to contain all five vowels. This book also contains them all, except that each one appears by itself in its own chapter. A unique personality for each vowel soon emerges: A is courtly, E is elegiac, I is lyrical, O is jocular, U is obscene. A triumphant feat, seven years in the making, this uncanny wo 'Eunoia', which means 'beautiful thinking', is the shortest English word to contain all five vowels. This book also contains them all, except that each one appears by itself in its own chapter. A unique personality for each vowel soon emerges: A is courtly, E is elegiac, I is lyrical, O is jocular, U is obscene. A triumphant feat, seven years in the making, this uncanny work of avant-garde literature promises to be one of the most important books of the decade.

30 review for Eunoia

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    A mad, bad, glad Dada blast. Expect sex, sex, sex: The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)

  2. 4 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    Poor Christian. He wants to be in the Oulipo so badly. Surely they could make him an honorary member? Or put his name on a shortlist or something? Sweet dear. He spent seven years in Toronto, poring over his Perec and Queneau, dreaming up Eunoia. He thought it was his ticket into the French experimental elite. Yet, one Griffin Poetry Prize later, and NOTHING. Not even a phone call! I mean, they let Harry Mathews in, fer chrissake! Surely they can let one Canadian in? Come on!!! Poor man. Still, hi Poor Christian. He wants to be in the Oulipo so badly. Surely they could make him an honorary member? Or put his name on a shortlist or something? Sweet dear. He spent seven years in Toronto, poring over his Perec and Queneau, dreaming up Eunoia. He thought it was his ticket into the French experimental elite. Yet, one Griffin Poetry Prize later, and NOTHING. Not even a phone call! I mean, they let Harry Mathews in, fer chrissake! Surely they can let one Canadian in? Come on!!! Poor man. Still, his little book of lipograms does rather scream PLEASE LET ME INTO THE OULIPO! LOOK WHAT I CAN DO! LOOK, NO VOWELS! LIKE PEREC! ISN'T IT BEAUTIFUL? Having Gyles Brandreth's name on the cover, in a larger font than his own, surely hasn't helped. I blame Gyles, Chrissie. You were aiming for Gallic intellectual transcendence. Instead, you got Christmas hampers and coffeetable oblivion. D'oh!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jim Elkins

    A Limit of the Self-Reflexivity of Constrained Writing This book still reads very well, and is full interesting inventions. I won't be commenting on them here. I'm interested instead in the moment, common in constrained writing, in which the author names the self-imposed rules under which he wrote. Bök names these at the end of his book: "All chapters," he writes, "must allude to the art of writing. All chapters must describe a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau and a nautica A Limit of the Self-Reflexivity of Constrained Writing This book still reads very well, and is full interesting inventions. I won't be commenting on them here. I'm interested instead in the moment, common in constrained writing, in which the author names the self-imposed rules under which he wrote. Bök names these at the end of his book: "All chapters," he writes, "must allude to the art of writing. All chapters must describe a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau and a nautical voyage." (From the Afterword, called "The New Ennui.") The language in "Eunoia" can be mesmerizing, and it's true that Oulipo-style restrictions can produce unpredictable and fascinating distortions of conventional narrative lines and ordinary usages. Constrained texts owe their hypnotic quality to the fact that a reader may not be able to decipher the tone, the narrative arc, or even the style of the text, because the writing is repeatedly deviated by rules that have nothing to do with conventional narrative. Or to put it another way (this is thanks to John Luna, who read a draft of this essay on Facebook): a new kind of writing emerges despite the constraints. Whether or not the author makes the constraints known, readers will usually know they're reading the result of constrained writing, so an awareness of constraints will temper the reading, accompanying it like a second narrative. The way the actual narrative and that "second narrative" of constraints work together depends fundamentally on whether or not the auhor chooses to make the rules known. Within that second possibility, as in Eunoia, there's a fundamental difference between texts whose rules are thematically justified (as in Perec's "La Disparition," where the missing "e's" are emblems of what Warren Motte calls "catastrophe, loss, and mourning") and hose where the rules are simply stated (as in "Eunoia"). When rules are announced, but not justified, reading becomes especially complex. As I read, I follow the narrative, which is distorted, truncated, or otherwise modified in many ways by the presence of the rules; at the same time, I am aware of culinary banquets, prurient debauches, pastoral tableaux, and nautical voyages. I understand that those rules are a stratgy to avoid convention and force invention. But I am also aware that the author has decided not to tell me how he chose those rules, apparently because they have no aesthetic, expressive, or biographical relevance. But how is it possible to read a text that is all about expression and aesthetic values, when a part of it (the rules) is expressly excluded from expression and aesthetics? Saying that the exact constraints are immaterial, or that their content is not relevant, is disingenuous to the project of producing an expressive literature, even if it is only "potential" (as in Oulipo's definition) or otherwise experimental. The lack of a better justification goes to a blindness or evasion in certain Oulipean practices. It is as if the author or narator is claiming to be able to exclude certain acts of writing from the domain of expression jus by denominating them as rules rather than text. If there's theoretical or critical writing that addresses or jusfities this, I'm not aware of it. Consider for example a reader interested in the passages that "allude to the art of writing." Such a reader may feel a momentary annoyance when the narrative swerves to accommodate the "culinary banquet." Annoyance and "chafing" (one of Robbe-Grillet's words) is integral to the project of Oulipo, but not that particular annoyance. The problem is not that unexpected swerves in the narrative tone or content are faults, it's that the choice of moments when the text swerves to accommodate some rule, and the choice of rules themelves, are not articulated, and there is not reason to suppose those choices aren't both expressive and conventional. Why shouldn't a read assume that the content of the particular rules ("a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau and a nautical voyage") is entirely conventional? "Eunoia," in my reading, would have been even stronger if the choice of mandatory subjects, and the transitions between them, were either motivated as expressive choices, or else defended as anti-aesthetic, rather than merely presented as inscrutable instances of the "potential" critique of literary forms. As a reader, I often don't mind annoyance. Often I actually look for it. But I want to know that it resonates with the act of reading, and not just with a loose, unjustified, arbitrary accumulation of generative rules. This is an excellent book, and so are Bok's others. (writingwithimages.com/2-3-christian-b....) But I find myself still unconvinced by the custom, in some constrained writing, of presenting the rules as faits accomplis instead of aesthetic choices. I don't understand why texts like this wouldn't be even more interesting if the authors spoke about their self-imposed constraints as aesthetic and expressive decisions.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer

    A man, always a fan Deeply excellent Still, this I did find liking its print writing Most good book for Norfolk Ummm

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bookkaholic Magazine

    (See our full review over at Bookkaholic.) To have written even one single-vowel poem (called a univocalic, or a univocal lipogram) would have been a noteworthy accomplishment for Bök; to have written an entire book full of strange, lyrical poetry cycles that only employ one vowel at a time is stunning. Random conglomerations of cherry-picked words should not be expected to produce sense, let alone poetry. Stand in awe of his linguistic genius. (See our full review over at Bookkaholic.) To have written even one single-vowel poem (called a univocalic, or a univocal lipogram) would have been a noteworthy accomplishment for Bök; to have written an entire book full of strange, lyrical poetry cycles that only employ one vowel at a time is stunning. Random conglomerations of cherry-picked words should not be expected to produce sense, let alone poetry. Stand in awe of his linguistic genius.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Marc Nash

    I'm not sure if "Eunoia" is a lipogram or an anti-lipogram. It is the smallest word in the English language to contain all 5 vowels. Bok devotes a chapter to each vowel, where every single word contains at least one of the vowel -so that in the chapter on 'A', every word contains at least one A. A lipogram usually is about the omission of a formal element, so the constant use of a vowel probably leans this towards an anti-lipo. Yet there are no letter Y's so that makes it a lipo... The discipline I'm not sure if "Eunoia" is a lipogram or an anti-lipogram. It is the smallest word in the English language to contain all 5 vowels. Bok devotes a chapter to each vowel, where every single word contains at least one of the vowel -so that in the chapter on 'A', every word contains at least one A. A lipogram usually is about the omission of a formal element, so the constant use of a vowel probably leans this towards an anti-lipo. Yet there are no letter Y's so that makes it a lipo... The discipline makes for some wonderful assonant poetry rather than a cohesive narrative. "Slick pimps, bribing civic kingpins, distill gin in stills (can you guess which vowel that's from?) I think the chapters for A and U are the best, in very different ways. A offers a feast for the senses - each chapter has a section on writing, on food and drink, on a journey by sea, so maybe the initial encounter with these themes in the A chapter is when they still come over as fresh. But A contains a section on gambling, on taxation, on war and on medical pathologies. U however is all about dirt and grime and coitus. The delicious lyricism of "grugru grubs plus fungus slugs mulch up humus pulp." However, the author I think falls foul. The letter 'a' allows him to refer to a thing did this, a thing did that. The letter 'e' allows him to talk about we did this and we did that, as well as a Helen of Troy figure. The Letter 'i' allows use of the first person singular, I did this and that. 'U' her skirts around by resorting to Alfred Jarry's Dadaist/Absurdist Ubu character, ushering in all sorts of puns, onomatopoeia and the like. But the letter 'o' offers none of these options. So of all the 5 vowel sections, the o reads like a word list rather than a narrative drive for each section within it. And once that notion takes root, you realise that sometimes Bok relies on lists of animals and city names to get him out of the hole his own strictures impose on him. So in a few places the book loses its exciting internal energy, because in those places after all, it is just a list of words. There's a few unrelated pieces in the back of the book, including "Emended Excess" dedicated to George Perec, the man whose novel "A Void" omitted the letter 'e' in its entirety, for here Bok's piece playfully puts lots of words with 'e's' back in for Perec, itself an echo of Bok's own 'e' section from earlier. Playful and in places lyrical stuff. You can read it all in about half-an hour. My Book Tube video review of this and 2 other lipogram novels can be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psEt4...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Travis Cottreau

    Christian Bok is amazing. I've never seen a lucid narrative so densely packed with sound and rhythm. As an example, from "Chapter E": "When Helen feels these stresses, she trembles. She frets. Her helplessness vexes her. She feels depressed (even when her cleverest beekeepers fetch her the freshest sweets)." etc... this goes on for a long, long time. NOTE: each word in "Chapter E" is restricted to only using the vowel E. The same is true for all the vowels. E, A, I and O are interesting narrative Christian Bok is amazing. I've never seen a lucid narrative so densely packed with sound and rhythm. As an example, from "Chapter E": "When Helen feels these stresses, she trembles. She frets. Her helplessness vexes her. She feels depressed (even when her cleverest beekeepers fetch her the freshest sweets)." etc... this goes on for a long, long time. NOTE: each word in "Chapter E" is restricted to only using the vowel E. The same is true for all the vowels. E, A, I and O are interesting narratives. Not much is said, but each tells a story. However, U is just weird, and much more difficult. I see this book as an amazing, nearly genius level display of skill and talent, a true monument of intellect. While I expected each vowel (from listening to Christian Bok on youtube), I didn't know there were extra pieces, including some translation of Arthur Rimbaud from the French, some poems FOR Rimbaud, and other tidbits.. none of which is as interesting as the vowel chapters. While, there is lots to say about this amazing, titanic work, another thing has to be said - I don't like it that much. I can appreciate the work. I can marvel at the effort involved and what it is doing. At the same time, listening to it and reading it just isn't that fun or enjoyable. I can still recommend it - it is something that people who read and enjoy poetry should experience.

  8. 5 out of 5

    John Wiswell

    A strange experiment in fiction where Bok only uses words with one particular vowel in a chapter. So the first chapter only features the vowel ‘a,’ the second only features ‘e,’ and so on. You've got to give Christian Bok credit for the effort, and for pulling it off at all. Sometimes it’s interesting to see how much a writer can do with an arbitrary limitation. Sometimes it’s interesting to skim it and put it back on the shelf in the bookstore. Back in college my entire class groaned when a kid A strange experiment in fiction where Bok only uses words with one particular vowel in a chapter. So the first chapter only features the vowel ‘a,’ the second only features ‘e,’ and so on. You've got to give Christian Bok credit for the effort, and for pulling it off at all. Sometimes it’s interesting to see how much a writer can do with an arbitrary limitation. Sometimes it’s interesting to skim it and put it back on the shelf in the bookstore. Back in college my entire class groaned when a kid finally voiced a pun to describe this book, but we’d all been thinking it: “This gets really eunoiying.” The first time I read it I found it dreadful and far too self-congratulatory. Since I found this book while I was packing for a move, I decided to give it another shot, and found it still seriously lacking. It supposedly retells The Iliad (five times across the five vowel-chapters), even though there is an insipid emphasis on lasciviousness (not a part of The Iliad at all) and feasting (more of a plot prop for Homer than anything else), and next to no character development or reflections of the great conflicts (the feuding gods and Achilles and Hektor’s stories are not in here at all - that babble about Mormons doesn't count). The biggest real relation to Homer’s stories is the references to a great nautical voyage – but even that actually happens before The Iliad begins. That might not have been as bad if Bok hadn’t claimed he was aping one of human history’s greatest poems, or if he didn’t congratulate himself in the text for his many “constraints,” some of which include, “All chapters must allude to the art of writing,” and “All chapters must describe a culinary banquet.” Bok pats himself on the back for conceding to the literary constraint of having a subject. He has a prose explanation praising his own work, and he praises himself in each of the five vowel-chapters (which I guess was his allusion to the art of writing). That the “stories” of the five chapters are barely intelligible only makes it smart the worse. You have to admire Bok’s love for and knowledge of the English language, and you can respect the undertaking (it took seven years for him to compile this 100-page poem), but I can’t comprehend enjoying it. The chapters are made up of one-page stories, which usually have a really simple premise (somebody’s eating, somebody’s rutting), and then recapitulate the sentence or describe the act for the rest of the page. They aren’t good stories, and they aren’t entertaining on any merit other than that Bok's trying to do it with such an odd limitation. I'm not saying I could do it, let alone do it better, but that doesn't preclude me from sighing or rolling my eyes every three pages. The only real source of entertainment (and the source of critical praise you can read in almost every other review on here) is that he manages to write some beautiful-sounding and beautiful-looking passages, like, “the rebel perseveres, never deterred, never dejected.” Some of it achieves strong rhythm on the page, rivaling that of rap music that uses all five vowels and is actually spoken out loud. But this doesn’t redeem the overwhelming stock of ugly, goofy and eye-roll-worthy poetry like, “Porno shows folks lots of sordor – zoom-shots of Bjorn Borg’s bottom or Snoop Dogg’s crotch.” Sometimes this book feels like a perverted Dr. Suess, without the depth of characterization of the Cat in the Hat. And God save us all when he gets to the chapter that lets him use the letter (and word) ‘I.’

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rhys

    One of the most remarkable experimental novels (although it's not actually a novel but a set of prose poems) I have ever read, and one of the most fiendishly difficult OuLiPo pieces I have ever seen. It takes some dedication to attempt to out-Perec Perec, but this is precisely what Bök has tried to do; and he has even succeeded. It's astounding. The formal constraint that he has chosen for the main work here ('Eunoia') concerns the creation of linked chapters of univocal lipograms. There are fiv One of the most remarkable experimental novels (although it's not actually a novel but a set of prose poems) I have ever read, and one of the most fiendishly difficult OuLiPo pieces I have ever seen. It takes some dedication to attempt to out-Perec Perec, but this is precisely what Bök has tried to do; and he has even succeeded. It's astounding. The formal constraint that he has chosen for the main work here ('Eunoia') concerns the creation of linked chapters of univocal lipograms. There are five chapters standing for the five vowels. The first chapter only permits the use of words that contain the letter A, the second chapter does the same for E, the third for I, the fourth for O, and the fifth for U. There are many additional rules, explained by Bök in his afterword. There are also supplementary works that include a 'beau present' (an anagrammatic poem in which all the words must be made from the letters in the word 'Vowels'), a homophonic translation of a Rimbaud sonnet, and a work that is a tribute to Perec himself. This book is extremely difficult to read but it is also stupendous. A magnificent labour of excellence, ingenuity and love!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joe Sacksteder

    Copies of this book should cost a thousand dollars

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    020419: extensive vocabulary. strict restrictions using only one vowel/poem, inspired partly by oulipo...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    I couldn't believe how experimental and time-consuming this book is. When I first picked it up, I was hesitant to bend the pages and mark it up--the quality of the paper and text both seemed too precious to touch. I can totally see how it took Bok so long to work on this project. I was impressed by all of the techniques he used and how he put together all the words under strict rules to create something that had meaning. I had difficulty reading it, dizzied by only seeing one vowel at a time, co I couldn't believe how experimental and time-consuming this book is. When I first picked it up, I was hesitant to bend the pages and mark it up--the quality of the paper and text both seemed too precious to touch. I can totally see how it took Bok so long to work on this project. I was impressed by all of the techniques he used and how he put together all the words under strict rules to create something that had meaning. I had difficulty reading it, dizzied by only seeing one vowel at a time, confused by how I should pronounce certain words, and getting lost in the long blocks of text. I enjoyed his reading of the book, and found it much nicer to listen to than to butcher it in my own way. My favorite was Vowels, in that it was simpler than the individual vowel chapters and was much easier to read. I also found the concept interesting. I think overall, this is a great book to read if you're into experimentation and pushing limits within restrictions.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    It's stunning what Bok can do with only one vowel for such an extended time. The first five chapters of this book are each restricted to the use of only one vowel: A, E, I, O, or U, respectively. The last quarter of the collection includes poems that acknowledge other constraints. There is a brief explanation at the end as well, in case you don't "catch" something. Even the cover art was selected for its unique employment of vowels. Two poems are dedicated to George Perec and there is no mistaki It's stunning what Bok can do with only one vowel for such an extended time. The first five chapters of this book are each restricted to the use of only one vowel: A, E, I, O, or U, respectively. The last quarter of the collection includes poems that acknowledge other constraints. There is a brief explanation at the end as well, in case you don't "catch" something. Even the cover art was selected for its unique employment of vowels. Two poems are dedicated to George Perec and there is no mistaking that Perec and the Oulipo in general have had a tremendous impact on the inception of this work of art!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    An enjoyable read, although I was disappointed places couldn't be found for parallax, belvedere, gingivitis, monochord, and tumulus. Astonishingly, the book claims to "exhaust the lexicon for each vowel, citing at least 98% of the available repertoire." One thing I did find distracting and unnecessary was the resorting to italicized sounds: "clunk, clunk - thud"; "chuff, chuff"; "scuff, scuff"; "munch, munch"; "glug, glug"; "rush, rush"; "gush, gush"; "tweet, tweet"; "cheep, cheep." An enjoyable read, although I was disappointed places couldn't be found for parallax, belvedere, gingivitis, monochord, and tumulus. Astonishingly, the book claims to "exhaust the lexicon for each vowel, citing at least 98% of the available repertoire." One thing I did find distracting and unnecessary was the resorting to italicized sounds: "clunk, clunk - thud"; "chuff, chuff"; "scuff, scuff"; "munch, munch"; "glug, glug"; "rush, rush"; "gush, gush"; "tweet, tweet"; "cheep, cheep."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    Until now, not that I'd thought of it much, it had never been clear to me why anyone would want to write a novel without any e vowels in it (or was it only with words containing the vowel e) apart from it being a sort of clever thing to do, but this book has let me see just how interesting writing with such constraints can be. Until now, not that I'd thought of it much, it had never been clear to me why anyone would want to write a novel without any e vowels in it (or was it only with words containing the vowel e) apart from it being a sort of clever thing to do, but this book has let me see just how interesting writing with such constraints can be.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    I should have brought this book with me when I moved, but now it sits lonely in storage. I think about Bok all the time. Reading this aloud is essential.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I like Oulipo, in fact at times, love it. And I know it took Christian Bok years to write this thing, which one would expect, given the insane constraints. But at the end of the day, all I can say is "neat trick, Chris." And the fact that each chapter seems to have been written in this shitty Allen Ginsberg/shitty late-period Method Man style doesn't help. Sure, the Oulipian constraints are impressive, but then when you actually read it, it sounds like it was composed by a white guy with a ponyt I like Oulipo, in fact at times, love it. And I know it took Christian Bok years to write this thing, which one would expect, given the insane constraints. But at the end of the day, all I can say is "neat trick, Chris." And the fact that each chapter seems to have been written in this shitty Allen Ginsberg/shitty late-period Method Man style doesn't help. Sure, the Oulipian constraints are impressive, but then when you actually read it, it sounds like it was composed by a white guy with a ponytail for a campus poetry slam.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    I will recommend this to the poetry lovers in my life, but it still won't be the best book I finished in 2019. It's clever and enjoyable, but not for a general audience. If you're an adult admirer of Oulipo, Eunoia is audacious and clever and I recommend you read this. If you enjoy anagrams, concrete poems and Arthur Rimbaud, Eunoia will bliss you out. I will recommend this to the poetry lovers in my life, but it still won't be the best book I finished in 2019. It's clever and enjoyable, but not for a general audience. If you're an adult admirer of Oulipo, Eunoia is audacious and clever and I recommend you read this. If you enjoy anagrams, concrete poems and Arthur Rimbaud, Eunoia will bliss you out.

  19. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    Poetry can reference anything in the world. It can view modern society as a spiritual waste land. Or it can be about something as simple and bucolic as a bee in prairie clover. But one thing poetry is always about, no matter the subject, is language. This is impressively demonstrated by Christian Bok's volume Eunoia. The word eunoia itself, as he explains in an afterword, is the shortest word in English to contain all 5 vowels. Literally the word means "beautiful thinking." Bok has written a vol Poetry can reference anything in the world. It can view modern society as a spiritual waste land. Or it can be about something as simple and bucolic as a bee in prairie clover. But one thing poetry is always about, no matter the subject, is language. This is impressively demonstrated by Christian Bok's volume Eunoia. The word eunoia itself, as he explains in an afterword, is the shortest word in English to contain all 5 vowels. Literally the word means "beautiful thinking." Bok has written a volume divided into 6 sections, the first 5 of which use only one vowel. (The 6th section, entitled "Oiseau," the shortest French word containing all the vowels, gives us more obscure poems alluding to poet Arthur Rimbaud and novelist Georges Perec.) They're prose poems, nearly the same length and all presented as a prose block looking like a square of words on the page. Not only does each chapter feature one vowel, every word in each of the chapter's poems containing that particular vowel, but it avoids the other 4 vowels. A kind of narrative is presented, as well. "A" follows an Arab named Hassan. "E" tells us about Helen and Greeks. The letter "y" isn't used at all in the poems. They look like this: Westerners revere the Greek legends. Versemen retell the represented events, the resplendent scenes, where, hellbent, the Greek freemen seek revenge whenever Helen, the new-wed empress, weeps. Restless, she deserts her fleece bed where, detested, her wedded re- gent sleeps. When she remembers Greece, her seceded demesne, she feels wretched, left here, bereft, her needs never met. She needs rest; nevertheless, her demented fevers render her sleepless (her sleeplessness enfeebles her). She needs help; nevertheless, her stressed nerves render her cheerless (her cheerlessness enfetters her). Not exacly lyrical, though they have their lyrical moments, they're always interesting. Sometimes it seems clumsy. The reader knows Bok is restricting himself to words of only a single vowel and at the same time writing lines which must use the entire width of the page. Sometimes the reader can sense how he has to stretch to fit his discipline. Sometimes the reader wouldn't be surprised to see a poem explode, spilling loose vowels and sounds onto the page like a dropped, broken clock might throw off cogs and springs, maybe to reveal one rogue vowel deep in the works. But Bok maintains control. He always reaches the other end of the wire without falling. Each poem made of words pregnant with its assigned vowel forms an aesthetic on the page. Each has an attractive look, except "u." The "u" section itself is mildly obscene (one is wildly pornographic) and is about a character named Ubu. The look on the page, along with the sound of all those growly gutterals, is a little ugly. Or so I thought. But this is fascinating poetry. It joyously sings language because Bok knows how to use it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Naomi

    Christian Bök's Eunoia was an enlightening study on the different permutations and uses of vowels within words and sentences. As an exploration of language, I thought the book was very well done: each chapter was dedicated to a vowel, giving the vowel a certain character and theme on top of its sound. For example, U is easily established as the crude vowel, with many sexually explicit phrases and ideas written throughout the chapter. Although these sections were interesting, I couldn't shake the Christian Bök's Eunoia was an enlightening study on the different permutations and uses of vowels within words and sentences. As an exploration of language, I thought the book was very well done: each chapter was dedicated to a vowel, giving the vowel a certain character and theme on top of its sound. For example, U is easily established as the crude vowel, with many sexually explicit phrases and ideas written throughout the chapter. Although these sections were interesting, I couldn't shake the feeling that they seemed like a grammatical/linguistic exercise and therefore found them a bit tedious to read after a while. For this reason, I preferred the second section of the book, entitled "Oiseau," because it explored vowels and their sounds in a more textured way that felt more like poetry. I particularly enjoyed "Vowels," where Bök writes an entire poem with permutations of words constructed from "l, v, w, s, o and e." The simplicity of the way the letters could morph in form and meeting was very beautiful.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Coleman

    Holy Shit Christian Bok is crazy! Well you know in a good way. Saying Bok simply experiments in writing poetry adhering to strict rules with chapters dedicated to only employing one vowel is the understatement of the year. Eunoia truly has some marvelous poems. I will try to do Bok's experiment justice in this review. In Eunoia, he writes a series of poems and each poem uses only one specific vowel. Moreover, each of his poems contain certain specific elements/themes. For example: debauchery, a Holy Shit Christian Bok is crazy! Well you know in a good way. Saying Bok simply experiments in writing poetry adhering to strict rules with chapters dedicated to only employing one vowel is the understatement of the year. Eunoia truly has some marvelous poems. I will try to do Bok's experiment justice in this review. In Eunoia, he writes a series of poems and each poem uses only one specific vowel. Moreover, each of his poems contain certain specific elements/themes. For example: debauchery, a obulent meal, and a sea voyage to name a few. Each letter evokes a specific mood and message from the reader. This probably isn't going to be on everyone's top 10 poetry books, but it really should be. PS: The fact that Bok sat down and went through an entire dictionary to do this poem is ridiculous. Than the fact that hecan re-tell the Iliad with only the letter 'E' is mind blowing. These reasons alone should be enough for anyone to pick this book up. I highly recommend this book to any poetry lovers who are interested in the sound of language.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marco

    I enjoyed Eunoia because of admirable and difficult goals. After going through the process of creating lipograms I had a great appreciation for what Bok was attempting to do. Bok's form was even more controlled and he was able to construct a powerful book within a narrow choice of words. He is able to show the power and diversity of the different words within the English language. Instead of overlooking vowels, he highlights them in an innovative way. After a while though, some of his writing be I enjoyed Eunoia because of admirable and difficult goals. After going through the process of creating lipograms I had a great appreciation for what Bok was attempting to do. Bok's form was even more controlled and he was able to construct a powerful book within a narrow choice of words. He is able to show the power and diversity of the different words within the English language. Instead of overlooking vowels, he highlights them in an innovative way. After a while though, some of his writing became a little tiring to read. It was overwhelming to read such shocking groupings of words over and over again. But I cannot be too harsh because the task he undertook was extremely difficult and given that he did a great job.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    The worst. I don't sympathize with this word game, at the very least not in the way it's represented here. The way the writing is constrained here doesn't help anything, doesn't conduce to good sound or specific, informed word choice. All I liked were the way these poems looked. But this isn't a book of paintings. The worst. I don't sympathize with this word game, at the very least not in the way it's represented here. The way the writing is constrained here doesn't help anything, doesn't conduce to good sound or specific, informed word choice. All I liked were the way these poems looked. But this isn't a book of paintings.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    'Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech. The text deletes selected letters. We see the revered exegete reject metred verse: the sestet, the tercet - even les scènes élévées en grec. He rebels. He set new precedents. He lets cleverness exceeds decent levels. We feel perplexed whenever we see these excerpted sentences.' 'Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech. The text deletes selected letters. We see the revered exegete reject metred verse: the sestet, the tercet - even les scènes élévées en grec. He rebels. He set new precedents. He lets cleverness exceeds decent levels. We feel perplexed whenever we see these excerpted sentences.'

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bremer

    Christian Bök’s Eunoia was a herculean project. As he mentioned in the June 2009 edition of The Believer, he created this slim book while working full-time (more than sixty hours) at two jobs and finishing his dissertation for his PhD. And he managed to work five hours a day on his manuscript, which he completed after seven years. That level of work ethic makes me question all my late-night Netflix binges, where after I finish a season, I complain I don’t have enough time to write. In fact, Bök Christian Bök’s Eunoia was a herculean project. As he mentioned in the June 2009 edition of The Believer, he created this slim book while working full-time (more than sixty hours) at two jobs and finishing his dissertation for his PhD. And he managed to work five hours a day on his manuscript, which he completed after seven years. That level of work ethic makes me question all my late-night Netflix binges, where after I finish a season, I complain I don’t have enough time to write. In fact, Bök makes me question all of my life choices, usually leading me into a state of literary inspiration, coupled with existential despair. Eunoia, which is the shortest word in the English language to possess all the vowels, translates as “beautiful thinking.” And this is a major theme of his work. Vowels or more specifically, one vowel words, leads to wondrous results, depending on their arrangement and loyalty to the form. These formalistic limitations are cast as a net, filtering language into narrow, but seemingly expansive, catches. As paradoxical as that may seem, to not be in control, or to work under certain controls, cuts down the usual methods. It attacks conventional thinking, forcing the writer to consider a different approach. Every tried possibility, imposed by the writer on himself, re-routes the process into the unfamiliar. And to attempt that is to learn an experiment of “What happens if I pull this lever, turn this knob, kick this pedal and tie this cord, rather than hitting the same button again?” Christian Bök’s experiment went as follows: he chose to write five chapters. Every chapter was titled with the vowels A, E, I, O, and U. And under each of those chapters, Bök used only words of that vowel and not any others, creating a univocal lipogram. He didn’t choose, on the other hand, to combine one vowel with other vowels, write sections with vowels alternating in between paragraphs/sentences, have vowel-shifts in numerical patterns in mid-sentence, and so on. Every chapter existed in its purest form, acting as a template for further possibilities. If that’s not impressive enough, he further constrained himself. Every chapter had patterns interwoven in the forms of theme. He always included the topics of writing, a culinary banquet, a nautical voyage, and so on. Not only that, but he used parallelism, internal rhyme, while avoiding duplication. Some of those techniques, such as using a word multiple times in different contexts or having more end rhymes, could produce a different result. But within the parameters of his work, he stayed loyal, not swaying or breaking any of the rules (even though there were more words he wanted to include). His self-censorship showed that the vitality of language could win through any snares and traps, any snags and pricks. As he said in his interview, language is like a weed that doesn’t only survive in the worst conditions, but it can live on, and become greater than before. His limitations acted as a yin for his creativity, just as randomness and anarchy balances with order. His methods, while meticulous and extreme, became the catalysts for his experimentation. What I most enjoyed about his work was the underlying scientific approach. He chose the parameters for his work (linguistic limitations, topics, words under topics, themes in each topic) and executed in that method. In order to work with such constraints, Bök had to try alternative ways of using words, in substitution and arrangements. Furthermore, he needed those words to make some sense, but they needn’t always be clear, or maybe, as precise as some of the words that he couldn’t use. Those variables acted in relation to each other, posing entirely new questions, such as how he could write about subject X with only words that had A, how he could write with one vowel when there were fewer prepositions than in another vowel, and what worked more effectively, univocal words of longer vowels or shorter vowels. His choices about what arrangement made the right sense, what didn’t, what could work musically but not comprehensively, all determined the results. With constraints, the familiar method of writing fails and questions arise that never would have before. In those questions lie challenges, ones of the author’s own making, but ones that he must overcome. At the same time, his work acted as a duality of meaning and music. I could read his writing without searching for a meaning, without trying to make sense of the words I do not know, without trying to put together a grand theme. Instead, I could read the rhythm of his writing, following its internal rhymes, its flow of short-to-long phrases, with pure phonetic appreciation. I could be carried along, riding on his waves, crashing against a tide of consonants, or floating toward another shore. On the other hand, if I slowed down and examined every sentence, those sentences would make sense. They might not seem to make sense because, a.) words of familiar arrangements are excluded more often by the constraints placed on them, b.) words of familiar contexts are substituted for less familiar, but more inventive arrangements, c.) the diversity of the words used require a high vocabulary. At the same time, stories of more familiarity, such as the Helen of Troy story, are given more meaning because of their previous association to tropes within literature and history. So, for example, Bök could write a made-up event using his inventive language, which would require more effort to read, because it does not stem from familiarity. At the same time, if he had written about Batman, many people already understand the themes of that character. Using this familiarity, and subverting it, could give him more freedom to explore a unique angle, because he assumes that a reader has implicit knowledge beforehand. Messing with that knowledge, he can challenge what’s expected. As a result of his expectation that the reader knows about certain subjects, his language doesn’t only surprise, but it comes alive with a fresh take. This makes me highly conscious of the meaning of words, whether certain vowel-choices influence their meanings, what vowels are easier to influence meaning than others, and how the rhythm of language suggests certain concepts, without directly stating them. Like an iceberg theory of writing, there is far more that is implied in meaning under the surface of the sentences, never stated, but always suggested at. On the other side, before I read Eunoia, I already knew the rules of his approach but he still revealed more than I had expected. Bök could be saying, “I understand that you know what I’m about to attempt. But I’ll demonstrate to you just how you’ve come to rely on certain modes of discourse. You have been conditioned by meaning in all its expected forms. In fact, those meanings have been used so much that they’re almost empty. With limitless arrangements, everybody falls in similar, predictable patterns of thought. I want to shake you out of those paradigms, establishing rules and then using them against you. I’ll need fewer freedoms to generate something more different than usual. Just as a blind man has his other senses heightened, restraints can be liberation.” Maybe restraints are liberation: shifting the writer’s sense of focus, guiding him beyond his conditioned mentality, until possibilities highlight in the infinite of text, showing another way, another pattern, becoming more. It’s almost as if the mind is colliding against its own restrictions, until finding a more inventive way to escape.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    Eunoia is an amazing book - it is, to my mind, a book of poems in that the beauty of language is the focus more than the story. The first five chapters are each dedicated to a vowel (in alphabetical order), and each chapter only contains words containing that voewl and no other. What is more, the author has constrained the stories in other ways and used the majority of all words that he could use in the writing. After these five chapters there are other random experiments in language, such as the Eunoia is an amazing book - it is, to my mind, a book of poems in that the beauty of language is the focus more than the story. The first five chapters are each dedicated to a vowel (in alphabetical order), and each chapter only contains words containing that voewl and no other. What is more, the author has constrained the stories in other ways and used the majority of all words that he could use in the writing. After these five chapters there are other random experiments in language, such as the poem written only with the letters in the word "vowels". I am very glad I read this book. It was an amazing feat of language that took the author 7 years to write (and the only surprise was that he could complete it at all). On the downside it is not an easy read! The constraints of the book make the language hard going. There were words there I had to look up (and I generally don't have that problem). The mixture of words that in other works would be clearly pretentious with occasional gutter language also felt odd. Particularly in the "u" chapter, I was both impressed and dissapointed that the writer could describe sexual intercourse using just words with the "u" vowel - but imaginations will not run far as to which words he used. That rather sullied the beauty of the book in my opinion. Hard going it might be, but this was not a long book and it was very much worth the read. Anyone who loves language cannot help but be impressed by what is

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shirley

    If nothing else, I have to applaud the sheer technical feat achieved by Bök, to be able to maintain coherence with such extreme limitations. However, the quality of the stories themselves, though they may not be the focus, ends up weakening the whole project. (view spoiler)[The first two, A (about the hubris of an agha khan) and E (a retelling of the Iliad), were his best examples, engaging and held together with at least semi-cohesive throughlines. Unfortunately, the rest of the entries felt le If nothing else, I have to applaud the sheer technical feat achieved by Bök, to be able to maintain coherence with such extreme limitations. However, the quality of the stories themselves, though they may not be the focus, ends up weakening the whole project. (view spoiler)[The first two, A (about the hubris of an agha khan) and E (a retelling of the Iliad), were his best examples, engaging and held together with at least semi-cohesive throughlines. Unfortunately, the rest of the entries felt less and less complete and more contrived as I read on. There were quite a few cases of rule-skirting, particularly in I and U, where other languages or onomatopeias were used to fill in the needed context. He seemed to lose steam and abandon any pretence of a storyline in favour of just fulfilling the constraints that he set himself (by the way, I personally found the inclusion of "prurient debauch" in every story very tired). (hide spoiler)] I was even less convinced by the second part, OISEAU. Perhaps it is because I am lukewarm on the concepts of lipograms or concrete poetry in general (I don't really see the point other than to show that they can), but the short entries felt scattered and incomplete, teasing ideas that could have worked if developed further, but in the end, seemingly just there to show skill without much substance.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Craig

    This is an incredible feat of constrained writing that thoroughly blurs the poetry/prose boundary. Each chapter uses only one vowel at a time, has certain narrative points it must hit (including one which ALSO tells the story of the Iliad), and follows many more "subsidiary rules" that are not laid out until the end of the book. A collection of poetry follows the prose, riffing on the poem "Voyelles" ("Vowels") by Arthur Rimbaud. These poems have their own subsidiary rules, and the sheer mastery This is an incredible feat of constrained writing that thoroughly blurs the poetry/prose boundary. Each chapter uses only one vowel at a time, has certain narrative points it must hit (including one which ALSO tells the story of the Iliad), and follows many more "subsidiary rules" that are not laid out until the end of the book. A collection of poetry follows the prose, riffing on the poem "Voyelles" ("Vowels") by Arthur Rimbaud. These poems have their own subsidiary rules, and the sheer mastery of language left me gobsmacked on a plane above the Midwest. You can finish it in an hour or two, but be prepared to be scratching your head over it for a while. (Here's a meager effort. You should try it too.) A black mass, alas, has a bad rap that an Afghan can't. Every egret enters, emerges, then exceeds the lengths these jewels decree. I kill itching, sitting zits; I fight licking, hitting fits. Onto food, Oslo owns hot dogs, bon bons, globs of corn on moss. (Oof.) Ugly urns usurp unsung suns.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tom Hurst

    This is a collection of writings (stories and poems) using various constraints - in the main piece, Eunoia, each chapter is composed exclusively of words which use only one of the 5 vowel letters of English. For some vowels (U in particular) this leads to some quite peculiar outcomes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, words which use E as their only vowel allow a slightly less conspicuous syntax - words like the, they, he, she etc. are allowed. There are lots of other techniques throughout, including lots This is a collection of writings (stories and poems) using various constraints - in the main piece, Eunoia, each chapter is composed exclusively of words which use only one of the 5 vowel letters of English. For some vowels (U in particular) this leads to some quite peculiar outcomes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, words which use E as their only vowel allow a slightly less conspicuous syntax - words like the, they, he, she etc. are allowed. There are lots of other techniques throughout, including lots of clever rhymes and alliterations. The effect is surreal in places and acknowledges a debt to the Surrealists and Oulipo (especially Georges Perec). It’s funny, clever and quite an impressive achievement. Anyone who’s ever enjoyed flipping through a thesaurus or who enjoys strange and imaginative writing should give it a try. Some of the later pieces in the book after Eunoia are less obviously impressive until you have read the postscript which explains how they were written, but they’re still interesting and enjoyable.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    This book really blew me away. After reading the first page I had to put it down and just let it marinate for a few minutes. Here are my impressions on each vowel based on how they were used in their respective chapter: - A: very round, open, lush. Didn’t really like the vibe of A. Felt too business-y and excessive. - E: I love the feeling of E. Very intelligent and witty. There was more variation in diction in this chapter, probably because E is so commonly used. - I: playful, yet also a bit sharp. This book really blew me away. After reading the first page I had to put it down and just let it marinate for a few minutes. Here are my impressions on each vowel based on how they were used in their respective chapter: - A: very round, open, lush. Didn’t really like the vibe of A. Felt too business-y and excessive. - E: I love the feeling of E. Very intelligent and witty. There was more variation in diction in this chapter, probably because E is so commonly used. - I: playful, yet also a bit sharp. The word “impish” used in the beginning of the chapter really sums it up, I think. - O: Tunnel-y feeling, like travelling through a long opening that gets wider and narrower. - U: guttural, primitive, aggressive.

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