Farce & Philosophy

Stories & Remarks

by Raymond Queneau, with a preface by Michel Leiris, translated and with an introduction by Marc Lowenthal
University of Nebraska Press,155 pp., $45.00; $15.00 (paper)

The Bark Tree[Le Chiendent]

by Raymond Queneau, translated from the French by Barbara Wright
New Directions, 281 pp. (out of print)

Odile

by Raymond Queneau,translated from the French by Carol Sanders
Dalkey Archive Press, 117 pp., $10.95 (paper)

Raymond Queneau (1985)

by Allen Thiher
Twayne, 148 pp. (out of print)

Exercises in Style

by Raymond Queneau,translated from the French by Barbara Wright
New Directions, 197 pp., $10.95 (paper)

Zazie[Zazie dans le métro]

by Raymond Queneau, translated from the French by Barbara Wright
Riverrun Press, 207 pp. (out of print)

å?uvres complètes, Volume One

by Raymond Queneau, edited by Claude Debon
Paris: Gallimard, 1,647 pp.FF420

We Always Treat Women Too Well [On est toujours trop bon avec les femmes]

by Raymond Queneau. translated from the French by Barbara Wright
London: John Calder, 175 pp., $10.95 (paper)

In Paris around 1949, “existentialist cabarets” became very chic. That year the Frères Jacques and Juliette Greco, popular singers on the cabaret scene, recorded a song that quickly became a hit. The words were written by a moody ex-Surrealist in his forties, Raymond Queneau. The simple lyrics, set to music by Joseph Kosma, combined a “seize the day” motif with the low-life diction Jacques Prévert had popularized in Paroles (1945). Such playful-plaintive language is nearly impossible to translate:

Si tu t’imagines
si tu t’imagines
fillette fillette
si tu t’imagines
xa va xa va xa
va durer toujours
la saison des za
la saison des za
saison des amours
ce que tu te goures
fillette fillette
ce que tu te goures
If you really think
if you really think
baby oh baby doll
if you really think
the love show just goes on
goes on like this nonstop
goes on like this nonstop
you’ve got it wrong all wrong
baby oh baby doll
you’ve got it wrong all wrong

Two further stanzas, echoing Ronsard’s “Ode to Cassandra,” encourage the young girl to pluck the roses of life before they and she fade. The phonetic spelling of a vernacular contraction (xa va for que ça va) is Queneau’s trademark in both verse and fiction. The comic wistfulness of “Si tu t’imagines” made him something of a celebrity. But he had to live modestly on any literary work he could find.

Two years earlier, in 1947, Queneau had published an utterly different work. It consisted of the careful notes he took on a seven-year course of lectures about Hegel given at the École Pratique des Hautes Études by the Russian émigré Alexandre Kojève. The lectures and Queneau’s version of them became influential among many intellectuals: Georges Bataille, André Breton, Raymond Aron, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and the American Allan Bloom (who called Kojève “the most intelligent Marxist of the twentieth century”). Kojève’s discussion of Hegel allowed him to preach the end of history, the moral equivalence of Soviet communism and Western capitalist democracy, and the bureaucratization of politics. Recently opened Soviet archives contain evidence that Kojève may have been a Soviet agent—all this at a very high intellectual level.

Queneau’s pursuit of knowledge in philosophy, mathematics, languages, and world literature led to a twenty-year commitment to editing an encyclopedia for the Gallimard publishing house, where he also served as a literary adviser. The three volumes of the Encyclopédie de la Pléiade—a total of six thousand pages—cover all world literatures from Egyptian and Assyro-Babylonian to Near and Far Eastern to European and North and South American. So far as I can ascertain, the three Pléiade volumes planned and commissioned by Queneau offer the most comprehensive account of world literature available in any language. Seventy prominent scholars and professors from throughout the world were given their assignment by a freelance writer in Paris who turned out jocose stories and poems and hung out …

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