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Posts Tagged ‘Exercises in Style’

“Definitional”

January 10, 2013 | by

In 1947, the French writer Raymond Queneau wrote Exercises in Style, a collection of ninety-nine retellings of the same story, each in a different style. The plot: the narrator gets on a bus, witnesses a fight between two passengers, and then encounters one of the passengers two hours later at the train station having a discussion about altering his overcoat. The premise references a treatise by Desiderius Erasmus, Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style.

The new edition includes twenty-five exercises making their English translation debut. Queneau wrote many exercises during his lifetime. He swapped old ones for new ones when a new edition of Exercises in Style was published by Gallimard in 1973; others were published in magazines but never included in any edition of the book. And others still were simply never published at all. “Definitional” was originally included in the first French edition of Exercises in Style, only to be removed in the later edition.

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Contingencies

January 9, 2013 | by

To celebrate the sixty-fifth anniversary of Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, New Directions is relaunching this classic text as an expanded edition. In addition to exercises by Queneau making their English-language debut, this edition also includes new exercises penned by contemporary authors. The following, in the spirit of Queneau, is by Lynne Tillman.

At dinner with so-called intelligent people, during our discussion of the Marquis de Sade, I recognized a common lunacy: the fairy tale of absolute and complete freedom. People don’t know what to do with the freedom they have, I announced, and trounced off, as if insulted. Today, I took a bus, a random bus, no particular number, a white and blue bus, or pale green. No matter, it was a bus, and I took it. First I stood in line, with everyone else, a citizen of a city standing peacefully, waiting for public transport, a condition of urban life. I heard two men, no particular men, or maybe very particular men, but not to me. I took the bus, anyway. The men were discussing their office, where they seemed mad about a woman, and I listened because I could. They described her in broad terms: “She’s got big tits…. OMG, that ass. Shit!” I entered the bus, paid my fare, the driver said nothing, and unencumbered, except by my hopes and dreams and desires, I walked to the back of the bus, my eyes roving, checking for free seats, and there were good reasons why I kept moving, and took the seat I chose, but these are insignificant reasons except to me. I found a seat all to myself, sat down, exhaling freely, and happily, because I celebrate public buses, especially when I have my own seat next to a window, but then the two men, still exclaiming about the woman’s ass and tits, took the seats behind me. Now I felt hindered also by their bulk and hulk, as well as their boisterous voices, bellows about asses and tits, and if I hadn’t known myself as myself, if I didn’t understand the invisible boundaries in which I existed, with my freedom, I would have assaulted the men. I was bigger than both, and freer, and a black belt in karate. Before I had the chance to pummel one or both, because I was at liberty to do what I wanted, even if it meant imprisonment for a day or two, the two men stopped their bellows, and instead turned to watch two other male passengers nearly come to blows, one jostling the other for a seat. Now the three of us, the tits and ass men and myself, alarmed by this altercation, became a community of sorts. Suddenly I heard a rip, certainly a rent of some kind, which made a decided sound in the air. The man, who had jostled the first for a seat, now watched by the newly formed society of the three of us, took that prized seat. Oh, I thought, oh, and wondered what my two companions thought. It was a strange day, and one has such strange freedoms; for I could have ridden that bus the entire day—until it ended its journeys, or until the bus driver informed me that I had to get off. Any number of possibilities presented themselves to me, I could even have fought him to remain! But thinking it over, I watched all the people I had known, in a sense, on the bus, as they removed themselves from it. I was alone again with my thoughts, not bothered by anything, and, when the bus stopped near a park, one I had never visited, I leaped off violently. Again, the driver said nothing, but now I took his silence to mean assent and even understanding, and walked toward the park and into it through its wide gates, and sat down, this time at a café, where I discovered that the man who had been jostled on the bus, earlier in the day, was being advised by another to patch his overcoat, a dark brown parka, the same one he had worn on the bus. A piece of fabric hung on its hem. It may have come down during the altercation. Now I thought, he’s having an alteration, and wondered if this linguistic association occurred to him as well. Here we are, I remember thinking, in a great chain of being, and he could think whatever he wanted. I pretended not to notice him, naturally.

© 2013 by New Directions.

Lynne Tillman is the author of several novels and short story collections, most recently Someday This Will Be Funny.

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