Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Moustache Grave: Yeats + 7

The Oulipo is a small group of writers devoted to constrained writing.  Oulipo is short for  Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, which means something like "workshop of potential literature."  Its members have included Italo Calvino and Georges Perec.  I first read about it recently in a Believer article.  They come up with cool, complex constraints under which to write, often based on mathematical formulas.  They also come up with cool, not-so-complex, but still very productive text-generation techniques.  I stumbled across a few here, and I thought I'd try one out.  It's called the n+7 technique.  According to spoonbill.org, 
The N+7 procedure, invented by Jean Lescure of Oulipo, involves replacing each noun in a text with the seventh one following it in a dictionary.
The link just above will take you to a n+7 generator into which you can insert a text, and it will produce 15 new texts using the n+7 procedure.  N+1 replaces each noun with the first one following it in a dictionary, n+2 replaces each with the second preceding noun, and so on.

The text I've experimented with is W.B. Yeats's little poem, "Memory," which I like a whole lot.  Here it is as Yeats wrote it (n+0):
One had a lovely face, 
And two or three had charm, 
But charm and face were in vain
Because the mountain grass
Cannot but keep the form
Where the mountain hare has lain.
 And here it is at n+1:
One had a lovely facet, 
And two or three had charmer, 
But charmer and facet were in vain 
Because the mountaineer grasshopper 
Cannot but keep the formality  
Where the mountaineer harelip has lain.
Not great.  Not really even very good.  Here's n+2:
One had a lovely facial, 
And two or three had chart, 
But chart and facial were in vain 
Because the mountainside grassland 
Cannot but keep the format  
Where the mountainside harem has lain.
This one is a little better.  It turned kind of sexual, which is interesting.  Let's skip to n+7, where I think things start to get really cool:
One had a lovely faction,  
And two or three had chasm,  
But chasm and faction were in vain  
Because the moustache grave 
Cannot but keep the forte  
Where the moustache harmonic has lain.
What a great opening couple of lines!  And "moustache grave" and "moustache harmonic"?!  Priceless.  N+9 gets a little industrial:
One had a lovely factory,  
And two or three had chateau,  
But chateau and factory were in vain  
Because the mouthful gravel  
Cannot but keep the fortnight  
Where the mouthful harmony has lain. 
Some uglier words pop up in n+13:
One had a lovely fag,  
And two or three had chatterer,  
But chatterer and fag were in vain  
Because the mover gravy  
Cannot but keep the forum  
Where the mover harpoon has lain.
And reassert themselves in n+14:
One had a lovely faggot,  
And two or three had chauffeur,  
But chauffeur and faggot were in vain  
Because the movie graze  
Cannot but keep the fossil  
Where the movie harpsichord has lain.
And, finally, n+15 brings it all home:
One had a lovely failing,  
And two or three had cheap,  
But cheap and failing were in vain  
Because the moviegoer grease  
Cannot but keep the foul  
Where the moviegoer harpy has lain. 
I like the first three lines of this last one, but, besides the original (n+0), I would say n+7 is my favorite.  What a fun way to mess with text, make stuff, waste time, whatever.  All literature is "potential literature," and it's fun to explore those potentials.

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