In honor of its 65th anniversary, New Directions is publishing a new edition of Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, which features twenty-eight exercises appearing for the first time in English (translated by Chris Clarke).
As a primer, Queneau took a simple plot — a narrator witnesses a small altercation between two men on a bus, and later sees one of the men getting a button mended on his jacket — and retold it in ninety-nine different ways, each version a stylistic wonder, from “Sonnets” to “Onomatopoeia” to “Animism.”
From the experimental masterpiece that is Style, we bring you one of the “new” exercises, “Metaphors and Binocular Vision.”
At the center of and in the heart of the day and light, thrown and [blank] into the heap and [blank] of wandering and traveling fish and sardines of a beetle and insect with a large and round back and a white shell and a [blank] shiny and [blank] and [blank] a chicken and cockerel with a great and long neck, featherless and skinny, chewed out and spewed forth suddenly and all of a sudden [blank] and his language and speech was unleeched [sic] and let loose into the air and space, humid and wet from the remonstrance and rebuff. Then, drawn and attracted to a spot and a seat that was empty and free, the chicken and cockerel rushed and ran over to it.
In a dreary and drab Parisian and urban desert and Sahara I saw again and came across the same day and afternoon, being made to blow his nose clear of and expectorate the arrogance and pretentious vanity by an ordinary-looking and specified button [end of ms.]
Raymond Queneau (1903—1976), the French poet and novelist, cofounded the acclaimed experimental writing group, OuLiPo, which included Italo Calvino, Harry Mathews, and Georges Perec.
Chris Clarke was born in Western Canada, and is currently a Ph.D. student of French at CUNY. These are his first published translations of Raymond Queneau.