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Authors: Raymond Queneau

Exercises in Style

EXERCISES IN STYLE

by Raymond Queneau

Translated by Barbara Wright

with new exercises translated by Chris Clarke

and exercises in homage to Queneau
by Jesse Ball, Blake Butler,
Amelia Gray,
Shane Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Ben Marcus,
Harry
Mathews, Lynne Tillman, Frederic Tuten,
and Enrique
Vila-Matas

A NEW DIRECTIONS BOOK

see: permutations, pages 113–117

CONTENTS

Preface by Barbara Wright

EXERCISES IN STYLE (1958 edition)

Notation

Double entry

Litotes

Metaphorically

Retrograde

Surprises

Dream

Prognostication

Synchysis

The rainbow

Word game

Hesitation

Precision

The subjective side

Another subjectivity

Narrative

Word-composition

Negativities

Animism

Anagrams

Distinguo

Homeoptotes

Official letter

Blurb

Onomatopoeia

Logical analysis

Insistence

Ignorance

Past

Present

Reported speech

Passive

Alexandrines

Polyptotes

Apheresis

Apocope

Syncope

Speaking personally

Exclamations

You know

Noble

Cockney

Cross-examination

Comedy

Asides

Parechesis

Spectral

Philosophic

Apostrophe

Awkward

Casual

Biased

Sonnet

Olfactory

Gustatory

Tactile

Visual

Auditory

Telegraphic

Ode

Permutations by groups of 2, 3, 4 and 5
letters

Permutations by groups of 5, 6, 7 and 8
letters

Permutations by groups of 9, 10, 11 and 12
letters

Permutations by groups of 1, 2, 3 and 4
words

Hellenisms

Reactionary

Haiku

Free verse

Feminine

Gallicisms

Prosthesis

Epenthesis

Paragoge

Parts of speech

Metathesis

Consequences

Proper names

Rhyming slang

Back slang

Antiphrasis

Dog latin

More or less

Opera English

For ze Frrensh

Spoonerisms

Botanical

Medical

Abusive

Gastronomical

Zoological

Futile

Modern style

Probabilist

Portrait

Mathematical

West Indian

Interjections

Precious

Unexpected

MORE EXERCISES IN STYLE BY RAYMOND QUENEAU

QUENEAU'S 1973 SUBSTITUTIONS

Set Theory

Definitional

Tanka

Lescurian trans-lation

Lipogram

Geometrical

EXERCISES PUBLISHED OUTSIDE OF
EXERCICES DE
STYLE

Coq-tale

Science fiction

Nothing

Oil

UNPUBLISHED EXERCISES

“On the bus …”

“I get on …”

“On a beautiful …”

J’accuse

“On a warm …”

Epistolary

Metaphors & binocular vision

“Towards noon …”

“There were oodles …”

“A shoal of sardines …”

“It was hotter …”

Fear

“The overcoat …”

The stro

“I get on the bus …”

How the game is played…

Promotional

Problem

EXERCISES IN HOMAGE TO RAYMOND
QUENEAU

Instructions
Jesse Ball

Doppelgängers
Blake Butler

Viscera
Amelia Gray

Assistance
Shane Jones

Cyberpunk
Jonathan Lethem

Nothing
Ben Marcus

For Zeu Frentch
Harry
Mathews

Contingencies
Lynne
Tillman

Beat
Frederic Tuten

Metaliterario
Enrique
Vila-Matas

PREFACE

Ladies and Gentlemen:
*

From time to time people politely ask me what I am translating now.

So I say: a book by Raymond Queneau.

They usually react to that in one of 3 different ways.

Either they say: that must be difficult.

Or they say: Who’s he?

Or they say: Ah.

Of those three reactions, let’s take the third—as the
fortune-tellers say.

People say: Ah.

By: Ah—they don’t mean quite the same as the people who say:
Who’s he? They mean that they don’t know who Queneau is, but that
don’t much care whether they know or not. However, since, as I said, this sort of
conversation is usually polite, they often go on to enquire: What book of his are you
translating?

So I say:
Exercices de Style,

And then, all over again, they say: Ah.

At this point I usually feel it would be a good idea
to say something about this book,
Exercices de Style,
but as it’s
rather difficult to know where to begin, if I’m not careful I find that my
would-be explanation goes rather like this:

“Oh yes,
you
know, it’s the story of a chap who gets
into a bus and starts a row with another chap who he thinks keeps treading on his toes
on purpose, and Queneau repeats the same story 99 times in a different
ways—it’s terribly good . . .”

So I’ve come to the conclusion that it is thus my own fault when
these people I have been talking about finally stop saying “Ah” and tell me
that it’s a pity I always do such odd things. It’s not that my wooffly
description is inaccurate—there are in fact 99 exercises, they all do tell the
same story about a minor brawl in a bus, and they are all written in a different style.
But to say that much doesn’t explain anything, and the
Exercices
and the
idea behind them probably do need some explanation.

In essaying an explanation, or rather, perhaps, a proper description, I
have an ally in this gramophone record, which has recently been made in France, of 22 of
the 99
exercices.
It is declaimed and sung by
les Frères
Jacques
—who have been likened to the English Goons. You will hear that the
record is very funny. I said it was an ally, yet on the other hand it may be an enemy,
because it may lead you to think that the
exercices
are just funny and nothing
else. I should like to return to this point later, but first I want to say something
about the author of the
Exercices.

Raymond Queneau has written all the books you see here on the
table—and others which I haven’t been able to get hold of. He is a
poet—not just a writer of poetry, but a poet in the wider sense. He is also a
scholar and mathematician. He is a member of the
Académie
Goncourt (and they have only 10 members, in comparison with the 40 of the Académie
Française), and he is one of the top boys of the publishing house of Gallimard. But
he is a kind of writer who tends to puzzle people in this country because of his breadth
and range—you can’t classify him. He is one of the most influential and
esteemed people in French literature—but he can write a poem like this:

Ce soir

si j’écrivais un poème

pour la postérité?

fichtre

la belle idée

je me sens sûr de moi

j’y vas

et

à

la

postérité

j’y dis merde et remerde

et reremerde

drôlement feintée

la postérité

qui attendait son poème

ah mais

Queneau, you see, is not limited, and he doesn’t take himself
over-seriously. He’s too wise. He doesn’t limit himself to being either
serious or frivolous—or
even, I might say, to being either a
scientist or an artist. He’s both. He uses everything that he finds in life for
his poetry—and even things that he doesn’t find in life, such as a
mathematically disappearing dog, or a proud trojan horse who sits in a French bar and
drinks gin fizzes with silly humans
*
And all this is, I think, the reason
why you find people in England who don’t know who Queneau is. Two of his novels
were published here, by John Lehmann, in English translations, about 10 years ago. They
were, I think, not very successful here. Even though the critics thought they were
writing favourably about them. I was looking through the reviews of one of
them—
Pierrot
—the other day, and this brings me back to what I
was saying about Queneau’s wit and lightness of touch being possibly
misleading—the book’s very brilliance seemed to blind the critics to the
fact that it was
about
anything. The
New Statesman
wrote:
“Pierrot
is
simply
a light-hearted little fantasy . .
.”, and
Time & Tide
came down to Parish Magazine style: “This
novel is of the kind called ‘so very french’. It is all very unassuming and
amusing, and most of us enjoy this kind of fun.” According to the current way of
thinking (or not-thinking), it seems that if we are to enjoy anything then we must not
have to think about it, and, conversely, if we are to think about anything, then we
mustn’t enjoy it. This is a calamitous and idiotic division of functions.

And this, I think, brings me to the
Exercices de Style.
Queneau
is a linguist, and he also has a passionate interest in the French language. He has
given a lot of thought to one aspect of it—the French language as
actually
spoken. In Batons, Chiffres et Lettres,
he
writes: “I
consider spoken French to be a different language, a very different language, from
written French.” And in the same book, he says: “I came to realise that
modern written French must free itself from the conventions which still hem it in,
(conventions of style, spelling and vocabulary) and then it will soar like a butterfly
away from the silk cocoon spun by the grammarians of the 16th century and the poets of
the 17th century. It also seemed to me that the first statement of this new language
should be made not by describing some popular event in a novel (because people could
mistake one’s intentions), but, in the same way as the men of the 16th century
used the modern languages instead of latin for writing their theological or
philosophical treatises, to put some philosophical dissertation into spoken
French.”

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