Raymond Queneau's brilliant 1947 classic could have just as easily been titled Achievements of Ingenuity
. Written more than a decade before he would cofound the "Workshop of Potential Literature" (Oulipo
), Exercises in Style
is one of the preeminent examples (and executions) of constrained writing. Beginning with a short account of an entirely inconsequential event, Queneau tells the same episode 99 times, but each entry is written using whatever stylistic limitation he's opted to incorporate. His chosen constraints range from the mathematical ("Permutations by Groups of 2, 3, 4 and 5 Letters" and "Permutations by Groups of 5, 6, 7 and 8 Letters") to the phonological ("Apocope," "Syncope," and "Apheresis") to wordplay ("Anagrams," "Spoonerisms," "Dog Latin," and "Onomatopoeia") to the poetic ("Synchysis," "Haiku," "Alexandrines," "Ode," "Sonnet," and "Free Verse") to the scientific ("Botanical," "Zoological," "Gastronomical," and "Medical"), as well as many others.
That Queneau was able to translate his brief tale into so many different stylistic forms, yet still retain and convey the same story, is rather remarkable. Exercises in Style
is but one of so many examples in which the exceptional capacity of the human intellect to make sense of disparate configurations that share a commonality is made manifest. The Frenchman's work is a triumph of form over content, and makes for a dazzling display of the inherent power and potential of language, style, and meaning.
To mark the 65th anniversary of the original publication of Exercises in Style
, New Directions has released this new edition of Queneau's landmark work, complete with nearly 30 variant "exercises," many of which have never before been published. Additionally, 10 different authors (perhaps most notably Enrique Vila-Matas and fellow-Oulipian Harry Mathews) each contributed "Exercises in Homage to Raymond Queneau."
People have tried to see it as an attempt to demolish literature — that was not at all my intention. In any case my intention was merely to produce some exercises; the finished product may possibly act as a kind of rust-remover to literature, help to rid it of some of its scabs. If I have been able to contribute a little to this, then I am very proud, especially if I have done it without boring the reader too much. Recommended By Jeremy G., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
On a crowded bus at midday, Raymond Queneau observes one man accusing another of jostling him deliberately. When a seat is vacated, the first man appropriates it. Later, in another part of town, Queneau sees the man being advised by a friend to sew a new button on his overcoat.
Exercises in Style — Queneau’s experimental masterpiece and a hallmark book of the Oulipo literary group — retells this unexceptional tale ninety-nine times, employing the sonnet and the alexandrine, onomatopoeia and Cockney. An “Abusive” chapter heartily deplores the events; “Opera English” lends them grandeur. Queneau once said that of all his books, this was the one he most wished to see translated. He offered Barbara Wright his “heartiest congratulations,” adding: “I have always thought that nothing is untranslatable.Here is new proof.”
To celebrate the 65th anniversary of the 1947 French publication of Exercises de Style, New Directions has asked several writers to contribute new exercises as a tribute. Tantalizing examples include Jonathan Lethem’s “Cyberpunk,” Harry Mathew’s “Phonetic Eros,” and Frederic Tuten’s “Beatnik” exercises. This edition also retains Barbara Wright’s original introduction and reminiscence of working on this book — a translation that in 2008 was ranked first on the Author’s Society’s list of “The 50 Outstanding Translations of the Last 50 Years.”
" was a revolution, a book that proclaimed its powerful ideas simply by pursuing their iron logic." The Washington Post
"What makes the book compelling is seeing this same, banal tale told through a huge variety of literary styles, from science fiction to rhyme, haiku to official letter. The variety in its repetition becomes at first odd, then hilarious as more and more absurd forms are chosen." The Huffington Post
"This witty, bizarre read is perfect for dipping into, or reading from cover to cover, for anybody who loves storytelling." The Huffington Post
"It will remind you of just how weird and infinite human language is." Raphael Rubinstein
"It's fair to say that
"It's a testament to Queneau's ability as a writer, and just as interestingly, it sort of blows apart the idea of how many ways a story can be told--and how style can be more important than content." Yuka Igarashi The New Inquiry
"We're indebted to Barbara Wright and Chris Clarke for their having completed the exercises they have by translating them into English." Chad W. Post Three Percent
A new edition of a French modernist classic - a Parisian scene told ninety-nine different ways - with new material written in homage by the likes of Jonathan Lethem, Rivka Galchen, and many more.
About the Author
Raymond Queneau (1903-1976) is acknowledged as one of the most influential of modern French writers, having helped determine the shape of twentieth-century French literature, especially in his role with the Oulipo, a group of authors that includes Italo Calvino, Georges Perec, and Harry Mathews, among others.Barbara Wright has translated several Raymond Queneau novels; indeed, as John Updike wrote in The New Yorker, she "has waltzed around the floor with the Master so many times by now that she follows his quirky French as if the steps were in English." She has also translated works by Alain Robbe-Grillet, Robert Pinget, Nathalie Sarraute, and Marguerite Duras. She lives in London.