Painting at Dora
You, active in the Résistance, have been caught by the Gestapo and sent to Germany to help build V2 rockets at a forced-labor camp called Dora. Every day you are called into the assembly yard, where you must wait hours in the cold to be searched and beaten. How do you keep from despair?
François Le Lionnais befriended Jean Gaillard, fellow-prisoner, and gave him the history of mathematics, optics, chemistry, philosophy, and above all art. Many of the pictures that he had seen and loved came to life, vivid and detailed, in the word-paintings he created for his young friend, starting with Van Eyck’s Rollin Madonna and proceeding through works by Giotto, Ruisdael, Delacroix, Klee, to Marcel Duchamp. The delight he took in telling, that his friend took in hearing, that both took in this sort of “seeing” beauty, removed them from the hateful reality surrounding them and kept them attached to life.
Later, in 1960, Le Lionnais went on to cofound OuLiPo with Raymond Queneau and served as its president until his death in 1984. But before that, in 1945, he had written an article, “La peinture à Dora, about his wartime experience. It has been translated by Daniel Levin Becker, who was coöpted into OuLiPo in 2009.
Paper-bound, full color
8 + 4 pages
A Subset of Chance
Martin Nakell’s latest work, the far-flung full-frenzy poem A Subset of Chance, dips a web woven of geography and philosophy into the polychromic vat of language. A Subset of Chance obeys two constraints you might think were hard to combine. The first, derived from Chaos Theory, posits that “any arbitrarily small perturbation of the current trajectory will lead to significantly different future composition.”
The other, brought into the American consciousness by the great poet and anthologist Jerome Rothenberg, is Gematria: “a Medieval kabbalistic formula by which letters are translated into numbers.” Nakell explains his procedure:
the letters of my hebrew name transformed by a given formula add up to 133. the poem contains 133 stanzas. each stanza is connected to the preceding and following stanza by a counting following this formula:
- choose a random word from a stanza
- look that word up in the Oxford English Dictionary
- count down from that word to the 133rd word following
- use that 133rd word in the next stanza
- choose a random word from the 2nd stanza, etc.
any errors i subsequently discovered in counting i did not correct but let error (a subset of chance) dictate that passage.
So the turbulence of chance and mystic number, yoked by sheer vatic cunning, structure this complex delivery system “come to bring language to a holy people.” Martin Nakell “believes that the experience of art is energy — in literary art, an energy achieved by submitting language to turbulence and so discovering a new language for each work.” In A Subset of Chance that energy spreads, travels, digs in, but like a great jazz riff loops constantly back through the aleph of the constraint.
Full color cover, painting by Steve Roden