An Oulipian Fragment
I've been thinking since I reproduced the piece on the Oulipo for this blog, that I ought to dip into their 'constraints' once more and see where I got to when I went there. Okay, I said to myself, let's write a prose piece of around 500 words, under one such constraint. Here goes...
I look at hills. Jaggy or round in form. Across my horizon and all in a row. Woodland on a small quantity, individual growths on an additional amount. Clouds scud by as a backdrop - hint of indigo, part pink, as sun sinks.
I look at hills. Hills look back. Down on towns in which humans mark land with foundations, buildings, roads and paving. Hills watch us all with profound absorption. A watch lasting as long as humans trod this land, if not for a duration way back past that shaky start. Thinking Gaia’s thoughts of sustainability, I ask?
Hills stay with us. Cliff facings, cascading liquid falls, random rock formations all abound – both at first scan, and also in our minds. Flora and fauna, climbs and slips, arduous trips and languorous strolls, wild winds and slow draughts; all within and without our own banks of thought.
Not simply mounds, big or small, hills stand with dips and undulations. Fractal by way of formation, you can multiply all that hills contain and find infinity, insofar as find it you can with all your mind’s limits in play. Think of hills as worlds if you will, or go as far as you can, anyway, on this thought-form path you follow. Think through hills, into hills. Go down to low strata, and pick up this story of how hills found form. Find hills’ part in an unfolding saga of ground and its contours.
Hills do not show fright - proud to stand, stalwart, without complaint or any form of misgiving. Up on a hill, you look afar and in all ways that your compass can point. Up on a hill, you find a unitary spot at which to join that high continuity, and absorb all that is shown to you. Raptor birds swoop in salutation, bug and dragonfly buzz and flit in comity with your far sight and smooth focus. That’s what a hill can hand to you.
On a good day.
But on a bad and blowy day, as high winds push and drag your body, rain on a slant soaks to your skin and hail hits you hard, it may not turn out that this location suits you so happily. Such days hills wish to hold apart, for a solitary form of inclination that no human can form a party to. And on such days, if you go, you will stand on your own and probably find you will soon turn gladly to part company with all that turmoil that is raging about you. Such days stay days in which to find walls and a roof to hold guard on your body. Hills own rights to that which you do not.
So I look at hills to pick up any sign that I am fit to pass days amidst an availability of drama and on which this insight I always sought will possibly find its way to my mind. I look at hills and know that I may find what I want to find - or just as much of what I’d not truly wish for.
Well, my respect for Georges Perec has just gone through the roof. 500 words without an 'e' and I've only just managed to keep it all making sense (more or less). He wrote an entire novel under that same constraint. And someone else translated it without 'e's too. Hats off!
At first, I thought: 'this is silly, it's gonna take me all day to do the goddamn blog at this rate (it nearly did) and what's the point of that?' After a bit I thought: 'hmm, this is interesting. It's forcing me to find ways to get ideas across without falling back on the obvious words I might have used to convey them. It's steering me away from writing patterns I often fall into, and from cliches. Some of it may be rather inelegantly expressed, but here and there I've come up with some phrases I rather like and might not have found otherwise.' Just writing whilst denied access to words like 'the' is quite enlightening. Amazing too how often I did throw in a word containing an 'e' without noticing until I used the 'find' tool to highlight them. We can write words and be blind to them - that's why proofreaders are worth their weight.
It's good this Oulipo stuff.
In small doses.