Monday, March 10, 2008

In Search of the Univocalic Window

I dismiss nitpicking criticism which flirts with philistinism.

-- Christian Bök, Eunoia
If you think lipograms (texts written without using a particular letter) are silly, then you won't want to go anywhere near univocalisms: a univocalism is a text written employing only a single vowel: that is, it is a lipogram in four or five letters (depending on how its author treats y).

Surprising as it may seem to some, though, the univocalism is not uncharted terrain for literature. In fact, I know of a number of different univocalisms: Georges Perec (who wrote the most famous lipogrammatic novel, La Dispiration (translated as A Void)) wrote two: a novella all in E called "Les revenentes" and a short piece in A called "What a Man!" (the original title is in English despite the text itself being in French). Perec's univocalisms have both been translated by Ian Monk: the first under the title of "The Exeter Text" (in an anthology of Perec's writings called Three by Perec); the latter under its original title, as part of his own set of six univocalisms, "Homage to Georges Perec". Also notable in Monk's set is the essay, "Perec's Letterless Texts", a defense of the whole notion of lipogrammatic/univocalic writing. Finally, Canadian poet Christian Bök has written an entire book, Eunoia, whose main chapters are a series of five univocalisms (the entire book is online at the link, if you're curious).

It's an odd little corner of the literary universe, and one that will, without question, not be to everyone's taste (many will be surprised that it's to anyone's taste). I have had on my hard drive for over a year now a lengthy half-finished post, considering the aesthetic merits of these works.

-- But that's not what I'm here to talk about today. Today I just want to ask a question: what is the longest naturally occurring univocalism in English?

By naturally occurring I mean unplanned -- none of the texts cited above count: they were all deliberate. I want to know how long a stretch of prose can be found which unintentionally -- without the author even noticing (at a minimum until after the fact) -- uses only one vowel.

A parallel question concerning pangrams has been asked; it's the search for the shortest pangrammatic window (i.e. series of unplanned, naturally occurring text which uses all 26 letters; so far the record is 47 letters). But if anyone has asked about the univocalic window, I have yet to find it.

-- What's the point, you ask? That's easy: it's a game, it's fun -- a literary amusement. (Whether or not you think univocalisms can be literature, this quite clearly isn't: it's just for fun.)

So: can anyone think of any candidates? Idle thinking hasn't brought to my mind any longer than four words or so, but I bet there's at least a full sentence out there somewhere...

(My real hope here is not so much that my commentators will come up with a good example -- although that would be wonderful! -- but that y'all will spread the meme to bigger sites than mine, which will then lead to lots more people playing the game...)

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