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An Introduction to Eunoia

For the first Eunoia Society meeting of the year, Dr Julian Moyle delivered a talk entitled ‘Reading Christian Bök’s Eunoia: a study of language’.

The talk focused on Eunoia, a text that has been written in accordance with an extreme constraint: namely, the requirement that each chapter restricts itself to the usage of a single vowel. Dr Moyle started his talk by situating Eunoia within a tradition of constraint-based writing, including works such as Georges Perec’s ‘Life: a User’s Manual’.

The talk then offered a reading of one of Eunoia’s chapters: Chapter E.  This chapter offers an unusual retelling of the Siege of Troy, in which Helen, by virtue of the constraint, becomes the central character. Dr Moyle explained that the constraint means that Helen is entirely constituted by language and he went on to show how her experiences can be read as an exploration of how language itself operates.

In the final section of the talk, the focus turned to how meaning in each chapter relies on a kind unique, concentrated grammar that is particular to the vowel that is being used. Each ‘grammar’ was shown to have a distinctive character that strongly determines the perspectives and moods that are generated in the text. Language was seen to be ‘thinking’ for itself in a way that challenges the assumption that ‘thought’ is something that originates in the mind of a writer. The audience was left to reflect on a question that Bök’s experiment might pose: to what extent are we thinking with language and to what extent is language thinking us?