5 December 2011

Raymond Queneau: Exercices de style (1947)

Queneau's Exercices de style first takes place on a former 'S' line bus in Paris, where there's a man of about 26 with a long neck wearing a soft hat with a long ribbon. Each time someone passes, the man next to him bumps into him, and the young man complains to the second about this. As soon as there's a spare seat, he takes it. Later, the narrator sees the same young man in an animated conversation with a friend, who advises him to do up the top button of his overcoat.

And that's the full story. But the narrator tells the same one over and over again, 99 times in total. Only, there's a variation each time: the story is told in litotes, metaphorically, backwards, using surprises, negations, anagrams, onomatopeas, alexandrines, apocopation, aphesis, apostrophe, casually, clumsily, negatively, telegraphically, as a sonnet, as an ode, lipogram, etc.

This is all very clever, but like some other Oupipean experiments the novelty tends to wear off very quickly, and I don't really think this bears sustained reading. Near the end, there's a page of interjections which are just given out at random, and the overriding feeling I'd got long before that was just to give up reading as the point had been made so often before — it tries too hard, and becomes a victim of its own cleverness.

Links to my other Besson post, and Queneau's grave:

Raymond Queneau: Les Enfants du limon
Queneau's grave, Juvisy-sur-Orge

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