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Tyyliharjoituksia by Raymond Queneau

Tyyliharjoituksia (original 1947; edition 1991)

by Raymond Queneau, Pentti Salmenranta

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1,556334,710 (3.94)75
Authors:Raymond Queneau
Other authors:Pentti Salmenranta
Info:Helsingissä : Otava, 1991.(nid.)
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned
Tags:yhteiskunnalliset ilmiöt:kaunokirjallisuus, sanataide, kokeellinen kirjallisuus

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Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau (1947)



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English (23)  French (4)  Italian (2)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (33)
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I returned to Queneau’s Exercises in Style to help me think a little more about the contemporary “conceptual poetry” and unoriginality movement associated with Craig Dworkin, Marjorie Perloff, Kenny Goldsmith, and others. These remarks start with the contemporary movement, and then I turn to Queneau.

1. The current state of constrained writing
The current movement explores unoriginality as a theme, and it is itself historically unoriginal. Its interest in writing constrained by rules develops themes initiated by the surrealists and Oulipo. Its interest in unoriginality (in not creating new work, but quoting existing texts) develops ideas that Marjorie Perloff has associated with Walter Benjamin. Its interest in eschewing expression continues themes of modernism first started by Duchamp and dada.

(An historical parenthesis: the current movement’s historical unoriginality is acknowledged in Dworkin’s own history, which presents conceptual poetry as a belated development inspired by 1960s conceptualism in the visual arts. I don’t find Dworkin’s genealogy convincing, but that is another subject. The literature on current writing cold benefit by engaging the literature on postmodernism in music. Richard Taruskin’s account of postwar “classical” music is especially good for its description of Boulez’s attempt to avoid expression in the late 1940s. Music has gone through many of the same fascinations and denials as conceptual poetry, but several decades earlier even than the conceptual art Dworkin cites. Another source that isn’t cited in the conceptual poetry literature is Stanley Cavell’s “Music Discomposed,” written in 1960 as a response to Krenek’s Sestina: Cavell is good on the radical mistrust of expression, which recurs today.)

However conceptual poetry performs these three themes—constrained writing, found poetry, absence of expression—in an especially self-aware, systematic fashion, and that is in itself a kind of originality. It is, in that sense, a typical belated avant-garde, as theorized by Peter Bürger and Hal Foster, with the attendant lack of critical purchase and complicity with the conditions of production.

It has been widely said that Goldsmith’s books are more conceptual than readable. (A minority of readers have also insisted that Goldsmith’s books are compulsively readable precisely because they seem unreadable: but that shows a desire to find expression precisely where expression has been excluded—another theme well articulated in the late 1940s in music, especially in the Darmstadt school.)

What can make it interesting to read a rule-bound project? One reason we read is to see the effect of the rules: whether they are legible, or can be discovered; how they distort whatever writing they are imposed upon; how they produce unexpected kinds of expression even in works done in the belief that they were systematically excluding expression. Another reason it can be interesting to read a constrained writing project is to discover exceptions, flaws, lapses, and liberties: we read for diversions from the rule.

2. Queneau
In Exercises in Style there are a dozen or more kinds of deviations from the author’s own constraints, and those deviations are repeated so that they become themes in their own right. They are, for me, the source of interest in Exercises in Style, and the reason why Queneau is so much more engaging as a writer than Goldsmith or other contemporary writers. Here are a few forms of deviation in Exercises in Style. (These remarks are based on the English translation, which departs from the original in unusual ways: but those departures aren’t pertinent here.)

(a) The logic of individual entries sometimes fails. “Animism,” in which the story is told from the point of view of a hat, runs into trouble when “he (the hat) suddenly went and sat down.” (“He” didn’t; the man under him (the hat) sat down.) The end of that entry falls apart into ellipses: “…an extra button… on his overcoat… to tell him that… him… (the hat).”)

(b) Some entries add more to the story. “Official Letter” is the first to do this: it adds two paragraphs, which feel like the start of a short story.

(c) Some entries fail to do what they promise. “Logical analysis” is just a series of brief statement, which must have reminded queneau of syllogisms: “Me. / Me. / Me. That’s the third character, narrator. / Words. / Words. / Words. That’s what was said.”

(d) Some entries contradict others, building up a Rashomon-style conflict. “Insistence” tells us that the bus was full “because it was 12 noon”; “Official Letter” says the bus was overloaded because the driver “had accepted an overload of several candidates.” (pp. 54, 63).

(e) Some entries permit themselves brief additions at the end, and others don’t. “Ignorance” adds a surprising sentence at the end: “For instance, I remember my father was always telling me about…”

(f) The “Unexpected” last sentence in the last entry is therefore not a surprise: its form is the same as the brief additions in several other entries.

(g) Some entries require and display skill; others do neither. “Noble” is exceptionally skilfull, for example. “Free Verse” includes a nod to Lautréamont.

(h) Some entries do several things at once: they could have been split. “Cross-examination” also has some odd verbal play that has nothing to do with cross-examining. (“it proved to be that of a slightly hypotonic paranoiac cyclothymic…”)

(i) Some entries use the key concept, or title, as an excuse to invent something entirely different. “Spectral” is an entirely new project.

(j) There are three basic kinds of entries: (i) Metaphors, deliberately overdone, like “Gastronomical,” “Botanical,” “Medical.” (ii) Genres of writing, such as “Noble” and “Cross-examination,” and the ode and the operetta. (iii) Classical rhetorical categories, abused. Why aren’t these the only kinds of entries? Why aren’t they ordered? How did he decide on them? These are all sources of divergence from order.

(k) Some entries are based on classical rhetorical categories, but they abuse those categories. “Metathesis,” “Antiphrasis,” “Paragoge,” “Epenthesis,” and others apply the rhetorical tropes, intended for lines of poetry, to individual words. Why, then, does Queneau not similarly abuse his examples of genres of writing, or metaphors?

This is, of course, an open-ended list. But it is not an infinite list, and that’s why it’s a source of interest in reading the book. “Flaws” like these—actually deliberate diversions, which the author permitted himself—are why books like Exercises in Style are engaging, and why contemporary conceptual rule-bound writing often isn’t. (And to return one last time to music and Boulez: this was all done, seventy years ago!, in music, by Boulez and others in his generation.) ( )
  JimElkins | Aug 20, 2014 |
This book really is not a novel in my opinion but it is included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It is what it says in the title, a couple of paragraphs about an encounter on a crowded bus by the narrator is told repeatedly 99 times in different styles.
I guess that this would be a good translation. Barbara Wright won recognition as on the list of the 50 Outstanding Translations of the Last 50 years. The narrator has done a good job in translating this work and described it as great fun.
The book has linguistic knowledge, ingenuity and humor. It could be interesting to a person studying writing and it certainly gave good examples of things like onomatopeoeia, past, present, passive and even mathematical.
Raymond Queneau is a poet, scholar and mathematician. He is also a linguist and study of language.
The initials for each of the Exercises were done by Stefan Themerson and are unique enough that I think he deserved recognition. They are naken figures doing callestenics in the shape of the first letter of the word.
A quick read for 2 pts in the 1001 Challenge for 2014. Thank you Kyle. ( )
  Kristelh | Jan 10, 2014 |
Sample includes full introduction to Queneau's book, which is useful...
  lulaa | Aug 8, 2013 |
Hmm, well, the title is certainly apt--this really isn't a book that you read because of the plot! What it is, is a story of just a few paragraphs, told over and over again in a whole variety of styles.

I thought the idea sounded really cool, but somehow the actuality of it just didn't grab me. ( )
  JenneB | Apr 2, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Raymond Queneauprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bartezzaghi, StefanoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dresmé, NicoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eco, UmbertoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harig, LudwigÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Helmlé, EugenÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kis, D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kousbroek, RudyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kousbroek, RudyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ouředník, PatrikTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wright, BarbaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dans l'S, une heure d'affluence.
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Book description
Haiku summary
Quatre-vingts dix-neuf fois
(les Belges diraient "nonante-neuf")
Une histoire de bus.

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0811207897, Paperback)

A twentysomething bus rider with a long, skinny neck and a goofy hat accuses another passenger of trampling his feet; he then grabs an empty seat. Later, in a park, a friend encourages the same man to reorganize the buttons on his overcoat. In Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, this determinedly pointless scenario unfolds 99 times in twice as many pages. Originally published in 1947 (in French), these terse variations on a theme are a wry lesson in creativity. The story is told as an official letter, as a blurb for a novel, as a sonnet, and in "Opera English." It's told onomatopoetically, philosophically, telegraphically, and mathematically. The result, as translator Barbara Wright writes in her introduction, is "a profound exploration into the possibilities of language." I'd say it's a refresher course of sorts, but it's more like a graduate seminar. After all, how many of us are familiar with terms such as litote, alexandrine, apheresis, and epenthesis in the first place?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:22 -0400)

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