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.

Historic Pictures

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

Several years ago, I was given a book entitled Chronique du vingtième siècle (The 20th Century Saga), edited by newspaper.

It is a huge book (1350 pages, A4 size) that contains excerpts of most relevant articles published in French newspapers in the 20th century. 'Sarajevo: Archduke shot dead' (June, 1914); 'Lindbergh flies over the Atlantic' (May, 1927); 'Paris is now free' (August, 1944); 'Explorers on the Moon' (July, 1969), and so on.

You have a strange feeling when you read articles written many decades ago, on the very day historic events happened. They fill in a gap between personal experience and what you have been told. Obviously, the journalists who wrote the articles could not know about a future that is part of a well-known past for present readers. Yet, paradoxically, such a lack of knowledge adds a lot. When an event happened long time ago, before you were born, or able to understand it, you see it as a piece of History; almost an abstraction. On the opposite, when you can remember a event, how you heard of it, what you thought about it at the time, it is part of *your* history. Quite not the same.

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Yalta

When you read articles in such a book, you feel as if this gap has been filled in. Past events become more real, because you hear about them happening 'live'. Furthermore, beside words, you see pictures, some of which are known throughout the world: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Yalta. Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin on the moon, photographed by Neil Armstrong who appears also as a reflection on the visor of Aldrin's helmet. Vietnamese girl , badly burnt, running down a road after a Napalm attack...

'Napalm Girl' by Nick Ut

It works with articles, it works with photos. It works also with films. I remember the year 1989 very well: resistance and demonstrations in communist countries, protesters in Tiananmen Square, the . The youngest cannot remember how hopeful we Westerners felt at the time, and how sad and angry after the massacre  in Beijing. Yet, thanks to the movie below — that I have displayed — they can feel the same as we did, 20 years ago exactly, when the desperate action of the testified about what the courage of a unique human being can be.

The Unknown Rebel
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Les Essais
by Michel de Montaigne