Blogging by Numbers

Drowning by Numbers Poster
1988 Poster of Drowning by Numbers
by Peter Greenaway
(With number 44 in the background)
In his 1988 movie 'Drowning by Numbers', British Director tells the strange story of three women belonging to three generations in a same family, who bear the same name and cause their husbands to drown, one in a bath, one in the sea, one in a swimming-pool.

The result is a fascinating, intriguing, weird black comedy. The local coroner is drawn into a plot to disguise the murders. As the plot progresses, his son explains the rules of various games played by the characters as if they were ancient traditions, while the numbers 1 to 100 successively appear in ascending order, either seen in the background or spoken by the characters.

Fear of Drowning by Numbers
Most of the games played in the film were invented for its purpose, using rules that are so complex that Greenaway later published a whole book dedicated to explaining them, entitled 'Fear of Drowning by Numbers'. That a whole book was needed to explain rules of a movie built all around constraints reminded me of the works by members, especially 'La Vie Mode d'Emploi' (Life: A User Manual) by .

, the Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Workshop of Potential Literature), is a group of writers and mathematicians who seek to create literary works using constrained writing techniques. They use constraints as a means of triggering their ideas and inspiration.
Quand tout est permis, rien n'est possible.
If everything is allowed, nothing is possible. ()
Georges Perec especially, certainly the most famous OuLiPo member with Raymond Queneau and , wrote the best part of his work using lipograms, palindromes and various kinds of constrained writing. His masterly book, 'La Vie Mode d'Emploi' (Life: A User Manual) is a complex (patch)work built according to a complex plan of constraints.

Cahier des charges de La Vie Mode d'Emploi
This fascinating book tells the lives and thoughts of the inhabitants of a fictitious building in Paris. Although it is a book that can be read and enjoyed without being concerned with the constraints, one quickly discovers that there are complicated games going on all over the place, and try to find the constraints like a detective. You will only find a small part of them anyway: here also, a whole dedicated book had to been published, that contains their inventory.

Unlike 'Fear of Drowning by numbers' though, the 'Cahier des charges de La Vie Mode d'Emploi' — the title means 'Specifications of Life: a User Manual', yet the book has not been translated into English — has not been published by its author, but exegetes after he died.

I have blogged using constraints myself in a couple of occasions, for fun and as a help at times of lack of inspiration. I assigned myself the thematic constraint 'Write about the 5 senses and Paris' once. It ended up in five blogs about , , , , and . Another time, it was 'Use the names of at least 10 movies by Alfred Hitchcock'. I am not sure anyone noticed the titles hidden despite several clues, but I enjoyed writing it.

From now on, I will obey the constraint 'Write blogs on topics one can associate with successive ascending numbers'. Hopefully, this constraint will stimulate my imagination. We'll see until what number I succeed in following the rule, be it agreed that I will probably interpolate 'normal' blogs between the 'blogs by numbers' sometimes, in particular in response to a special event or for an anniversary.

3 comment(s):

    It'll be interesting to see just how far you'll go with the ascending numbers! I love solving riddles, and puzzles, and such.... so this may be something that I'll do from time to time as well! I've never seen the film, "Drowning by Numbers", but I will keep a lookout for it, it sounds intriguing!

    By the way, thanks for a walk down memory lane, just seeing Raymond Queneau's name brought back smiles from his wonderful book "Zazie dans le Métro" which I first read back in the '70s and understood only half of what he wrote and then reread it in the '90s and understood it all!


    Zazie is a wonderful read indeed. Refreshing and funny, and a matter for serious thought also. 'Exercices de Style' is another book by Queneau I like. It was written with the constraint of retelling the same little unimportant story 99 times, each time in a different style. The result is impressive.


    Thanks, I will definitely look for it; not to mention that it sounds fascinating! I can't imagine retelling the same story differently 99 times!


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