Bob’s Lipogram

on Aug 16 in Uncategorized by

Sometime in the Spring of 2005, Bob Gallagher finally got an email address and an internet connection. This is an excerpt from a message he sent me last July 5th:

Don —

Sometimes inhibition has the same effect as boundless license! The form is profoundly inhibiting but the effect is loose and dreamy, almost surrealist. Such is the strategy of the Oulipo (Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle), an experimentalist literary movement founded by Marcel Duchamp and Georges Perec in the middle of the last century.

The idea is to express oneself from the straightjacket of various extreme forms of literary constraint. Perec, for example, is notorious for having written an entire novel without using the letter E. What is perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that somebody with a lot of time on his hands translated the work into English! The term for that kind of literary gimmick is a lipogram. I composed an e-less lipogram myself a few years ago, and its very theme is the traumatic inhibition of the letter:


Call it mystical prophylactic or simply paranoid inhibition. Though nothing outwardly profound, it is a thing which I cannot unfold to you,–which notwithstanding I can still talk about (within strict limits) by a kind of scanting circumlocution. Struggling in bonds of such constraint, I mouth to you now this paranomasia, or pun, in allusion to my obstruction: I can say nothing with “facility.”

Morning tugs at my lids. I pull back my quilt. I find a mirror. I confront a wry man squinting back from it, his hair untidy, looking as if in pain. I call him Mirror Guy. My skull is throbbing! His, too, I’d say, from a quick look at him! (Drinking bout last night?) I turn away, look at my hands. Both display stains of dry blood. But I am not cut — no sign of wounds at all upon my two bloody hands! Who might I wish to harm? Nobody, I think. Nobody? Ah, if only my constraint might lift! If only I could show a bit of “facility!”

A lack of “facility” all but damns my soul! I cannot think straight! In this lurid nightspot an ugly violation occurs. Buxom girls swilling gin. I find difficulty calling it back. Dim lights. Noisy throats and clinking glass and loud music. And my own raging shout! My hand at a girl’s throat — my right hand aloft, brandishing a glinting shard of glass!

What did I do? Am I mad? I think I am mad. What “facility” am I raving about? It wants forth from my guilty throat! My God! What did I do to that poor young girl? Vainly do I contort my thoughts to banish all taint of that outcry, which must indict my foul soul for all and always! My inhibition snaps apart! My guilt bursts forth from my lungs! That cry! That girl’s horrific outcry!


The pun in the story is discovered if you replace “facility” with “ease.”

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