Tom La Farge, fabulist

Selected Works

Manual part 2
Homomorphic Converters
The second pamphlet of 13 Writhing Machines examines the reuse of one form in order to compose a second. "New wine in old bottles.'
Manual of Constrained Writing
Administrative Assemblages
The first pamphlet in my manual of constrained writing, 13 Writhing Machines discusses forms not normally used in creative writing.
Travel memoir
relates the struggles of two Americans, and of the two chameleons they were given, to adapt to a foreign habitat. Forthcoming from Proteotypes in 2010-11.
Fabulist Fiction
The Broken House, Skin
These two novels continue the "Mole Place" novels in another key, one that blends the human and the animal.
Animal fiction
The Crimson Bears
Two young bears go on a pleasure trip to a city inhabited by many kinds of animal, but find themselves in danger: Bargeton is threatened by invasion from without, civil war within.
A Hundred Doors. Volume 2 of The Crimson Bears
The two young bears are caught up in a night of riot and confusion.
This novel tests the power to recreate oneself through metamorphosis against the power of fate.
Collection of tales.
Terror of Earth
Versions and subversions of medieval beast-fables and fabliaux.

The Writhing Society at Proteus Gowanus

Wendy Walker and I are now in our second year of leading the WRITHING SOCIETY, a salon/​class for the practice and discussion of constrained writing. We meet every Wednesday evening from 6:30 to 8:30 at Proteus Gowanus on Union Street in Brooklyn (directions below). It costs $5 to attend; we serve free wine for $2 a glass (a donation). Anyone can walk in; no reservations needed, nor any prior experience, only a delight in language and a willingness to play. There is no sequence of topics; we do whatever seems most interesting on any given night and do not follow any sort of syllabus. Usually we write, but from time to time we try out constraints in visual or visual-verbal composition. Often the leaders only sketch out an idea for a constraint, and the writhers actually in attendance refine or reinvent it. We usually engage in collaborative composition, passing work around the table for others to extend. And we always read aloud what we've written, not for critique as in a writing workshop, but because in this sort of writing the reader often finds a sense that had totally escaped the writer, who comes away liking the work better for having been shown that meaning.

What is constrained writing? When Georges Perec of OULIPO wrote La Disparition, he did not use the letter E; this was his constraint. Constrained writing involves composing text by imposing rules that are invented and arbitrary. It is a surrender of control, it requires taking directions from something outside your own immediate intention. Writers are compelled to say what they had never thought to say in ways they never would have chosen to say it. It is a method for making sense differently; for escaping stale, ready-made ideas, subjects, and formulations; for creating many and various alternative realities and discovering what is true in them.

We draw inspiration from several sources, most importantly the French group OULIPO — Italo Calvino, Georges Perec, Harry Mathews, Raymond Queneau, Jacques Roubaud, Ian Monk, Michèle Métail — and from others practicing similar methods: Raymond Roussel, Gilbert Sorrentino, Doug Nufer, Tom Phillips, Ronald Johnson, Jen Bervin. We have on hand the Oulipo Library and Bookstore, where some interesting examples are available for purchase or consultation.

Proteus Gowanus, where we gather, is located at 543 Union Street at Nevins in Brooklyn (enter by the Nevins Street gate). To get there by subway, take the F or G train to Carroll Street, walk north (inbound, towards downtown) to Union then right till you cross the canal. The building is on your left; turn the corner onto Nevins and look for the blue Proteus Gowanus sign. Or take the M or R train to Union Street and walk west (downhill) to Nevins. You can transfer to the M or R from the 2, 3, 4, and 5 trains at Atlantic Avenue; Union is one stop from there.


The Writhing Society from time to time has contemplated practicing a "drift" ("dérive") through the Gowanus district. About the last industrial zone in west Brooklyn, with Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Park Slope nibbling at its edges, as well as the big-box stores, the Gowanus is centered on the famously polluted canal, now a Superfund site. Proteus Gowanus, where the Society meets, stands on the edge of the canal and has dedicated part of its space to the Hall of the Gowanus: art, artifacts, and books about the district. We would like to add to that a "psychogeographical map."

The Situationists of Europe and especially France in the 1950s and 60s invented the concept of the drift as a way of exploring the experience (as opposed to the "spectacle") offered by an urban neighborhood. Registering all kinds of information from the sensual to the sociological, "drifters" moved through a district in order to see which directions were inviting and which were aversive, and why. They did so particularly in Paris at a time when massive "urban renewal" was being proposed and enacted (the destruction of Les Halles, e.g.). Since the Gowanus faces similar change — the cleaning up of the canal will be instantly followed by the invasion of the developers, who see the potential to create a charming new-world Venice in Brooklyn, with condos and the rest of it, we have felt we should act soon to document what experiences the district offers now.

The Situationists also invented the "psychogeographical map" as a way of recording their results. We would like to do the same, in several media, including writing, drawing, photography, mapping, pressed flowers from the area, other natural-historical observations, film, dance, music, song….

A large project; we may never get to it, but if you're interested in participating, let me know. My contact info is below.