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Saturday, 16 March 2013

Raymond Queneau: Exercises in Style: Man with long neck on bus


Portrait of Jacques of Savoy: Hans Memling, 1470s, oil on oak panel, 34,7 x 25 cm (Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel)


You ought to put another button on your overcoat, his friend told him. I met him in the middle of the Cour de Rome, after having left him rushing avidly towards a seat. He had just protested against being pushed by another passenger who, he said, was jostling him every time anyone got off. This scraggy young man was the wearer of a ridiculous hat. This took place on the platform of an S bus which was full that particular midday.

Man sleeping on bus, taken at 23.45 outside Premier Travel Inn, Kings Cross, London: photo by Chris Brookes, 5 July 2006

File:Diplodocus carng1DB.jpg

Diplodocus carnegii:
image by Dmitry Bogdanov, 2008

Texts from Raymond Queneau: Exercises in Style (Exercices de Style), 1947, translated by Barbara Wright, 1958, reissued by New Directions 2012



How far we have come from the bus shelter near Baltasound to Jacques Savoy to the man with the ridiculous hat in the Cour de Rome to the man sleeping on the bus at Kings Cross to the man with a plaited string on his hat who "threw himself into the shadow of a corridor" to diplodocus of the long neck -- what a life!


light coming into fog against invisible
top of ridge, motionless leaf on branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

“formal elements, abstract”
that had made a point

from the beginning, subject
itself, picture later

grey white clouds reflected in channel,
cormorant flapping across toward ridge

TC said...


When it comes to the foregrounding of "formal elements, abstract", can there possibly be a project more relevant than Queneau's playful recasting of a single banal anecdote into ninety-five different rhetorical modes, leaving the reader to ponder the meanings of style and genre while attempting to pick up the pieces of this cleverly shattered "mirror held up to the world"?

"His book become an exercise on rhetoric itself, indeed a kind of demonstration that rhetoric is to be found everywhere. Once Queneau had thought up Exercises in Style, it was like reinventing the wheel -- everyone can run with it, as far as they like."

-- Umberto Eco

Wooden Boy said...

These projects that have the possibility of their own exhaustion written into the genes; when executed with such taste, they're a damn good thing for writing as a whole.

I love the Memling and the diplodocus.

TC said...

As you know, WB, one sees all sorts of curious creatures on the bus.

Nin Andrews said...

I love that book--Queneau. Have often tried to imitate it in one way or another with little success.

There is a kind of mischief the French have that i so admire.

TC said...

Well, what is it they say -- The French know about these things?