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At his death in 1976, Raymond Queneau was one of France's most eminentmen of letters--novelist, poet, essayist, editor, scientist,mathematician, and, more to the point, pataphysician. And only apataphysician nurtured lovingly on surrealist excess could have come upwith The Blue Flowers, Queneau's 1964 novel, now reissued as aNew Directions Paperbook. To a pataphysician all things are equal, thereis no improvement or progress in the human condition, and a "message"is an invention of the benighted reader, certainly not the author or hisperplexing creations--the sweet, fennel-drinking Cidrolin and therampaging Duke d'Auge. History is mostly what the duke rampagesthrough--700 years of it at 175-year clips. He refuses to crusade,clobbers his king with the "in" toy of 1439--the cannon--dabbles inalchemy, and decides that those musty caves down at Altamira need a bitof sprucing up. Meanwhile, Cidrolin in the 1960s lolls on his bargemoored along the Seine, sips essence of fennel, and ineffectually triesto catch the graffitist who nightly defiles his fence. But mostly henaps. Is it just a coincidence that the duke appears only when Cidrolinis dozing? And vice versa? In the tradition of Villon and Céline,Queneau attempted to bring the language of the French streets intocommon literary usage, and his mad word-plays, bad puns, bawdy jokes,and anachronistic wackiness have been kept amazingly and glitteringlyintact by the incomparable translator Barbara Wright.
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