The term “Constraint-based Erasure”

In recent posts and upcoming posts, I have or will use the term “constraint-based erasure.”

I wish to offer a definition for this term.  To do so, I must first explain “erasure” and “constraint-based.”

An erasure involves removing (or covering) portions of an original.  The medium may be visual or textual—or both.  For a fine arts/visual example, consider Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing.  For a mix of visual and textual, consider Tom Phillip’s A Humument.  For textual erasures, evidence of the removal can be apparent, as in black-out poetry (which, obviously, therefore has some visual component), or the chosen text can be arranged like a normal line or sentence.

Constraint-based writing is also called procedural writing or method-based writing.  The constraint could be as “simple” as avoiding using the letter e (such as Gadsby) or as complex as only using one vowel per chapter (as in Eunoia).  But the constraint does not have to concern itself with letters—these are just examples.  As long as there is a specific method, procedure, constraint, or rule involved, the writing is constraint-based.  (One could even say all writing is constraint-based, whether or not it is explicit or acknowledged….)

The term constraint-based erasure, therefore, refers to an erasure accomplished through constraint-based means.  Some rule or rules governed the procedure of the erasure-making.

A textual constraint-based erasure can be likened to using a source text as a word bank in a methodical manner.  For example, I have completed erasures by making a rule that each page of a source text must yield a line (thus as if each page were a word bank).

I do not actually write on the book or disturb the actual source text.  I would argue that this form of erasure can feel constructive rather than “erasing,” as I create each line based on the givens of the source text.  It feels more like an augmentation of the source text than “negating” through what I do not choose to use.

More than that, such an erasure feels like a repurposing.  The process focuses in on the units—words—and reminds us that language is a communal property.  And yet, the iterations and permutations each person makes with the same set of words still conveys uniqueness in style.