Lockdown Diaries II, Day 6: With Raymond Queneau

I skipped day 5 of the lockdown diary yesterday, because I spent the day with a friend – owing to my circumstances people are allowed to visit me even in lockdown, now there’s a new turn up for the books! – and there was the weekly quote anyway for you to read. 

Nothing else happened. And today didn’t happen anything much either.

The fact that generally speaking even less is happening in this lockdown than in the last one, however, made me muse on the subject of how many times can you write the same thing over and over again without boring your readers to tears.

Well, Raymond Queneau in his Exercises in Style managed to do it a whopping ninety-nine times. (I don’t think I’ve got his talent.)

I first read his book in Hungarian when I was in grammar school – I first read everything in grammar school – and I found it highly entertaining. Decades later I’ve got myself an English copy, and I still find it highly entertaining. The only thing that baffles me is that Mr Anglo-Saxonist, into whose style of reading this kind of smart-arsery really fits, was never willing to read it. But there. You can lead a horse to the water but you can’t make it drink… 

With that I’m handing you over to Raymond Queneau:

On the S bus, in the rush hour. A chap of about twenty-six, soft hat with a cord instead of a ribbon, neck too long, as if someone’s been tugging at it. People getting off. The chap in question gets annoyed with one of the man standing next to him. He accuses him of jostling him every time he goes past. A snivelling tone which is meant to be aggressive. When he sees a vacant seat, he throws himself onto it.

Two hours later, I come across him in the Cour de Rome, in front of the Gare Saint-Lazare. He’s with a friend, who’s saying: “You ought to get an extra button put on your overcoat.” He shows him where (at the lapels) and why.

(Notation, from Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau)

Now if you think that the above excerpt is particularly boring, it’s because it is particularly boring.

Notation is the retelling of an incident, wholly devoid of interest to anybody, and in as bland a manner as possible, so that afterwards Queneau can have some fun in the rest of the book rewriting it in various styles. In ninety-nine different styles, as I said above.

A Writing Challenge – For Anybody Who Is Interested

Well, we’ve got nothing better to do, since we’re all in lockdown and there’s nothing really happening… so why don’t you write up what happened today, in a simple and matter of fact way, and then start experimenting? 🙂 

I’m going to provide you with my boring entry for today… and tomorrow (when I expect nothing more interesting to happen than today), I’ll look for inspiration in Queneau and give you an attempt at describing the big nothing, imitating one of his style variations. If you want to take up the challenge, post a reply in the comments, keeping to the same style. We’ll see how far we’ll get with this. 🙂

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Got up in the morning and went through the usual morning routine: cup of tea, shower, breakfast. Saw Young Friend of the Elephants off to school, then worked on the computer all morning. I experimented with a Pomodoro timer app as I keep forgetting to take breaks; it would have been great if the app actually worked as advertised.

Took my lunch to eat outside in the garden, as the weather was reasonably mild and there was some weak sunshine.

Worked some more on the computer in the afternoon, including on the blog, adding another map to the History of Hungary in a Dozen Maps, maybe I even finish it before the year ends? Only been at it for months.

Over to you. 🙂

Recommended reading:
Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau


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