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100,000,000,000,000 sonnets

'100,000,000,000,000 Sonnets' is a nice online version of Raymond Queneau's 'Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes' ('Hundred Thousand Billion Poems'). Composed of fourteen sets of ten lines, where each line can be combined with thirteen from the other sets, the work contains a total of 1014, or one hundred thousand billion possible sonnets. Each of these follows the same rhyme scheme and uses the same rhyme sounds - a feat which compensates for the apparent nonsensical nature of the sonnets.

Queneau's work on 'Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes' famously led to the foundation of the Oulipo group, short for 'Ouvroir de littérature potentielle' ('Workshop of potential literature') - a kind of modernist version of the old chambers of rhetoric (in Dutch: rederijkers).

To throw some more big numbers at you: reading all Queneau's sonnets would take about 200 million years - of 24/7 reading, that is. At the time of its publication in 1961, the work was described as containing "a quantity of text far greater than everything man has written since the invention of writing". (Since the advent of the internet, this is no longer the case. According to one estimate, the total volume of information generated worldwide every year is now about two exabyte, or 1018 bytes. You can do the math on how many sonnets we could have created instead...)

The only way to render Queneau's poems on paper has always been in the form of pages sliced into strips for every line - like those children's books where you can combine different heads with different bodies and legs. On a computer screen, however, it becomes quite easy to present an interactive version of the poem, where each line can be selected independently. It's a rare example of 'analogue' literature being better suited for digital presentation...

See also this version, which has an English translation.

Another of Oulipo's generative methods is also online: the N+7 Machine.

Via de Contrabas.


the digital universe

For some truly astronomical figures, check ' The Diverse and Exploding Digital Universe ', an annual white paper by IDC , sponsored by EMC . According to their estimates, the digital universe in 2007 was 281 exabytes (281 billion gigaby… Read the full post »

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