Walled from the Wild: (Sub)urban Enclosure in Raymond Queneau’s The Bark Tree and Other Novels

Walled from the Wild: (Sub)urban Enclosure in Raymond Queneau’s The Bark Tree and Other Novels

D. Brian Mann, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

By the end of a career that spanned more than five decades, Raymond Queneau (1903–1976) had produced an extremely varied and diverse tableau of literature that to this day defies categorization and description. If not for the heterogeneity of his artistic talent demonstrated in the kaleidoscopic variety of an output that includes fifteen novels, numerous essays, interviews, correspondence, film, and a dozen volumes of lyric poetry, Queneau is widely remembered for his immense vocabulary of interests, scope of erudition, and contributions to philosophy, mathematics, cinema, music, and historiography. It is the innovative novelist and consummate Parisian, however, who has become perhaps the most noteworthy to readers and critics of twentieth-century French literature.

In his 1948 novel Saint Glinglin (1993),[1] the character Paul Nabonide declares that life is perceived only behind the stone walls of human construction, its light emanating toward a rural landscape characterized as dark and horrific. Often seen to illustrate Queneau’s predilection for urban life and his distaste for the countryside, this and similar passages in his early works Les Enfants du Limon (1938; Children of Clay, 1998) and Chêne et chien (1937; Oak and Dog, 1995[2]) lead one to wonder why the author would show such antipathy towards so-called “natural” surroundings. There are varying interpretations of the way Queneau portrays landscape, the city, and the relationship between them. One critic, pointing out bluntly that the author simply “didn’t like nature,”[3] might lead readers to surmise that the apparent favoring of architecture over landscape in Queneau’s texts could be simply a matter of taste.

But this hardly seems appropriate for the study of an oeuvre as complicated and eclectic as Queneau’s. Even when a pattern becomes evident over several of his works, it is rarely consistent and is difficult to interpret. Neither he nor his characters uniformly indicate an aversion to rurality, and although Queneau certainly preferred the tumult and intellectual challenge of his adult life in Paris to his childhood existence in Le Havre, he would likely not have thought of this port city as a country hamlet. In addition, a wider reading of Queneau, especially his poetry, reveals that the imagery of nature’s beauty is frequent throughout. Thus, the purpose of this study is not to analyze the negative portrayal of nature and landscape in his work, but to examine the setting of his first novel, Le Chiendent (1933; The Bark Tree, 1968), and suggest that its (sub)urban world and the structures that comprise it can be seen as a metaphor for Queneau’s approach to much of his writing.

The approach of imposing structure and formal constraint as the driving forces behind Queneau’s creative impulse has been the focus of extensive critical inquiry. Queneau himself discussed and wrote of it at length during his career. Although this aesthetic, as well as the (sub)urban settings of his novels, has served as rich veins for Queneau scholarship over the years, a relationship between the two has yet to be established. Reviewed in this light, the negative portrayal of nature in the aforementioned works reveals the deeper significance of what man and Queneau, in particular, have wrought in its midst, the structures within which they are walled from the wild.

Queneau’s evolution as an author does indeed show that he was partial to the City for his fictional settings and events. While Saint Glinglin’s opposing urban and rustic milieux offer an aesthetic paradox, Nabonide’s favor of culture over nature also reflects certain aspects of Queneau’s writing. As a former surrealist who ultimately came to express himself so much more fully through the formal constraints of literary tradition, Queneau not only insists upon the City and its structures as imagery, but upon their very structure itself—a fact that is evident in the rigorous, internal organization of his novels. Claude Simonnet, one of the first to analyze the novel at length, sees this organization as evidence of Queneau’s poetic axiom that, similar to the construction of a building, the novel and its development are the result of discretionary choices. “Conditioned” by nothing, the work of art is not a natural creation, but is, in its essence, artificial.[4]

Roland Barthes uses the metaphor of architecture to describe Queneau’s creations,[5] and, as I examine them in this context, this art of enclosing space seems to be present in more ways than first meet the eye. The representation of walls and other structures, as well as allusions to them, have led me in search of a relationship between Queneau’s portrayal of architectural enclosures and his belief in the constraints of form and structure as a source of creativity. Since the City and its structures are, in fact, the very space of experience in most of his fiction, it seems logical that the edifice, literary or architectural, would be the classic example of Quenellian space. His first novel, The Bark Tree, demonstrates such a relationship, one maintained in many of those to follow.

At this point, it would seem appropriate to give a brief summary of the novel’s plot, but Queneau has made this virtually impossible. Simonnet describes The Bark Tree as “the classic example of a novel whose story cannot be told because it is the classic example of the novel-poem,” noting that the idea of describing what a poem is about to someone who has not read it is “manifestly absurd.”[6] In her introduction to the translated work, Barbara Wright puts it this way: “What is [The Bark Tree] about? Well, it is not about anything, it is something. And that ‘something’ includes a vast amount of what goes to make up human life … the ordinary man (and woman) caught in the ordinary meshes of trying, unarmed, to make a living, to live a life” (BT 5). Queneau’s point in making it so difficult to recount The Bark Tree’s story is that, for the novel’s characters and for us, life is made up primarily of the numbingly banal situations that occupy daily existence. Most of this existence, therefore, is essentially meaningless, and just as the meaningless has no place in memory, so does it seem to have little place in the plot of a novel.

However, certain events and people do provide this existence with substance, while time and place offer it structure and direction. The novel begins in a dreary, urban setting as the protagonist, a nondescript bank employee, is leaving work. As his character develops, his perceptions of the world are juxtaposed with those of the other characters, each of which represents, in the Cartesian sense, merely one fixed “point of observation.” These various characters, most of whom have never met, are gradually brought together by a series of “accidents,” whose significance is only made clear much later in the plot. The protagonist is first “observed” by a pseudo-narrator and followed to his home. His wife, in turn, is observed and followed there by two young men. The protagonist observes some rubber ducks floating in a hat full of water and, noticing that “something had changed” (BT 11), takes up the practice of observing people as well. He begins to observe one Madame Cloche and her husband, Dominique, who owns a small “hut” where chips (French fries) are sold. A pedestrian is killed by a bus, and another (who turns out to be the protagonist) is slightly injured by a car. Both of these events are observed by Madame Cloche. As these observers accumulate and become acquainted with one another, usually at the hut, they all take to observing a strange old junk dealer, who has “placed” a mysterious blue door against the inside wall of his home. The dealer refuses to sell the door to the protagonist and his observer, and the hut owner’s young son overhears their speculations about what may lie behind it. Convinced that there is a fortune behind this door, Cloche and a waitress, Ernestine, contrive a plan for Ernestine to marry the dealer and abscond with the fortune themselves before “gangsters” succeed in doing so. Little by little, due to the circumstances surrounding these events, the characters become acquainted and are drawn to the enigmatic door, which never reveals its secrets.

As determined readers, we ultimately surmise that The Bark Tree’s central dilemma amounts to deciphering the “real” from the many deceptive appearances that surface as the plot unfolds. And as we read, we realize that the characters are simply trying to do the same. The various “real” and deceptive threads in the narrative ultimately lead to a farcical war between the French and the Etruscans. More characters die, others disappear, and still others revolt against the novel itself, thus bringing it to an uncertain and unsatisfying end. Within this simple, yet vastly complex, narrative framework, conventional notions about the perception of identity, chronology, and spatiality are questioned in what has been called “an attempt to renew narrative forms.”[7]

In order to establish the connection between (sub)urban enclosure and Queneau’s partiality to form and structure, let’s examine the degree to which “space” and “place” manifest themselves in The Bark Tree as essential narrative elements. To do this, we must focus upon its opses,[8] or settings, which I divide into two categories, or “levels.” The first level takes shape as a familiar, generic space with universally recognizable elements that are easily identifiable to the reader. I call this space a lieu commun, or commonplace. The usually accepted meaning of this term—“ordinariness” or “trite remark”—is simply recast here in spatial terms. Lieux communs are usually located in an urban or suburban setting, and various of Queneau’s other novels have included such examples as the post office, the café, the amusement park, the cinema, the cemetery, and the countryside. In The Bark Tree, Queneau has chosen the city itself as his lieu commun, characterizing (sub)urban Paris with a timeless, placeless commonality that makes it accessible to readers totally unfamiliar with the French capital.

There are autobiographical elements in his depiction of these generic spaces, and a reader familiar with Queneau’s life can identify in them the various places and structures important to him. However, his grand fascination is with the common people, and he chooses his characters from among them. And, by choosing the spaces they inhabit as opses, he allows his readers to see the world as his characters see it. Painted in the broadest of strokes to establish a certain frame of mind, these (sub)urban locales provide common ground for a story that, according to Jean-Marie Catonné, “any reader can follow, regardless of his/her level of erudition, and understand what is happening, even if s/he can’t always perceive its finality.”[9]

Continuing his description, Catonné sees lieux communs collectively as “a universe exclusive to Queneau; its humble inhabitants both naïve and cunning, their limited ambition typical of a mediocre humanity that is tailor-made for the suburban bungalows in which [the inhabitants] bury themselves upon disembarking from the train or subway, as if in their effort to leave the country they never made it to the capital.”[10]

This perspective on the lieu commun seems to be Queneau’s answer to the realist masterpieces of Flaubert and Balzac, to whom he has acknowledged a great debt. The Norman countryside sketched early in Madame Bovary and Un Cœur simple conveys the idea of odoriferous, small-town provincialism before the shabby structures and disillusioned inhabitants of Tostes, Yonville, and Pont l’Évêque are elaborated. Early in Eugénie Grandet, as if from the air, Balzac spreads bucolic valleys and villages before us, and it could be almost any temperate countryside we survey. Excruciatingly descriptive detail quickly follows this general impression, whereas in The Bark Tree and Queneau’s other novels such detail is either sparse, delayed until later, or entirely nonexistent. So although Catonné sees Queneau’s lieux communs as composed of “restaurants, seedy bistros, train-station lobbies, bus-stops, public transport, busy shopping streets, village fairs, bric-a-brac shops, [and] other public places,”[11] they fit my definition only insofar as they make up an overall backdrop that is slowly shaped into an opsis.

As the general impression of space given by the lieux communs yields to narrative elements that can be identified by the particulars of their construction (such as the chips hut), I see them as lieux-dits. Terminology may again be problematic, but where a lieu-dit normally indicates a “name” whose traditional use designates a historical or topographical feature, I am merely restricting its use to structures of architectural origin. Here, the lieu-dit is a particular place which indeed has a name, but like Homais’s apothecary or Grandet’s home, it is also recognized by an enclosing structure and specific function that differentiates it from other places.

It is the relationship between these two “levels” at which the opsis is portrayed that convinces me of Queneau’s sensitivity to space, structure, and the limits placed upon them. In seven symmetrically constructed chapters of thirteen sections each, The Bark Tree evokes the medieval epic by recounting an odyssey through a murky metropolitan domain, the novel’s primary lieu commun. With public transportation serving in place of the trusty steed, a dazzling and sometimes confusing array of characters moves constantly and repetitively between the individual lieux-dits, whose main attributes seem to be squalor and confinement. Against this background and under the gaze of a mysterious “other man” (BT 7), one claustrophobic experience after another converts a mere silhouette into a protagonist and three-dimensional philosopher.

As the novel opens, we are amidst an expanse of unnamed structures that constitute a similarly unnamed metropolis. At first only an anonymous landscape, this suburban space assumes an oppressive, almost malevolent presence. Because The Bark Tree was his first novel, Queneau’s entire career can be said to arise from the City’s stark, faceless structures: “This particular silhouette emerged from an enormous, unbearable building” (BT 7). Indeed, the narrative is always grounded in the banal, quotidian aspects of city life that, despite their redundancy, strangely become a source of fascination for the reader. In the desolate obscurity of this urban zone, characters are nameless and buildings are described only in terms of their oppressive mass. The vague, multitudinous structures of the novel’s sprawling slums seem therefore to precede the characters, dwarfing them, and robbing them of identity and consistence (translatable as either shape or consistency).

Is this image of the monotonous, impoverished city Queneau’s metaphor for the sterility of the novel as a genre? In a 1937 essay entitled “Technique du roman,” a lack of shape and consistency seems to be his main complaint about prose fiction in general. Since its inception, he grumbles, the novel as a genre has escaped any and all rules regarding structure and characterization: “Anyone at all can drive, like some flock of geese, an indeterminate number of characters through an indeterminate number of pages and chapters.”[12] Queneau’s response, according to Warren Motte, is an “astonishing leap of faith [which] reposes on the notion that form can save the novel.”[13]

The suburbs in The Bark Tree are a domain of fallen people and fallen places. Not only are they indeterminate, but they seem miserable because of it. Immuring in their own right, these reflections of structural decay suggest the existential themes of another register. Such an environment is a barrier to the self-realization surely possible anywhere but here, and the indignities suffered in this concrete labyrinth cause many of Queneau’s suburban unfortunates to suffer an incremental moral degeneration that ends in misery and abandonment. Indeed, to inhabit this world of filth and pollution as ambiance, of anonymity and crassness as companionship, and of isolation among the multitude as destiny is to be abandoned by the beautiful and the ideal.

Nevertheless, this destiny serves as truth for the common man, and from it arises a process of discovery. For even as Queneau’s characters slog through this blight, not all succumb to its evils. As the focus shifts to specific structures and the events that take place in and around them, the confining nature of these places appears to have a positive effect on their occupants. Like the carefully conceived constraints which drive Queneau’s creative process, such confinement affords a certain liberty, and we are reminded of it once again in very spatial terms. There is a potential for mobility hidden behind these shabby confines, and it exists to a certain extent for all the characters as they shuttle from place to place on foot or on the train or metro. The crumbling, unfinished second floor of the protagonist’s dwelling suggests that upward mobility, both physical and economic, is nearly impossible. However, horizontal motion is constant, and it provides the filament of which the narrative is woven. Despite their small, cramped spaces and the social immobility such dwellings signify, this suburban landscape also offers a permeability and traversability that is perhaps less available in any other kind of place. Bernard Pingaud recognizes its inherent freedom, suggesting that the dweller of the suburbs is neither ever truly there, nor elsewhere, but always in-between, always to-and-fro.[14] Queneau would certainly agree, having once described himself as “the perfect suburbanite.”[15] Pingaud goes on to say that it is in this marginal locale that Queneau’s oeuvre is performed,[16] thus revealing a view of prose fiction that he reenacts in The Bark Tree.

There is, in fact, much more in store for our silhouette than the mere freedom of horizontal displacement. As the imagery of the suburban lieu commun is punctuated with specific lieux-dits, the silhouette appears to be transformed by them. Gradually, its conduct becomes more reasoned as repeated situations of physical confinement are answered by its accumulating physical depth. In the beginning, the “silhouette of a man” (BT 7) undergoes an expansion from one dimension to two before the squeaking, rusty door of its half-constructed house (BT 11). Then, distracted by a derby filled with water in a hat-seller’s window, it acquires “density” (BT 11) and soon becomes an “entity” (BT 15). Transformation, confinement, and mobility now drive the novel’s intrigue. Limited to a world defined only by the departure times of its trains, the entity continues to inflate, being “endowed with a certain consistency” while confined in a rush-hour railway car (BT 16). Eventually, as a result or by-product of this expansion, it becomes a “prize specimen” (BT 16).

At this point, translation from the original becomes an issue, because être de choix can also mean “one with the power of choice.” Either way, a process of physical and spiritual augmentation makes itself clear in both the original and the translation as the first chapter unfolds. Amid the fly-like specks of humanity on the railway platform, the entity, which now displays “curious shape” (BT 25), remains unaware of its increasing dimensions. The narrator has nevertheless granted it the status of “character” (BT 24), and as the railway car becomes engorged with commuters bound for the torment of the urban wage-slave, the being jumps into the fray. “The receptacle is closed” (BT 25), and under way again in this can of sardines, the character attains “minimal reality” (BT 25).

From the window of this so-called receptacle, the being of minimal reality sees the weatherboard chip hut, whose provisory structure truly underlines the marginal nature of the suburbs. Now an amateur semiologist of sorts, the being sees the sign “CHIPS” on the hut and is amused that someone could be named “Mr. Chips” (BT 26). Putting his newly attained power of choice into action, the being contrives a visit to the hut, whereupon he is granted his own name: Étienne Marcel. Just as the water-filled derby initiated his physical “dimensionalization,” so does this place give him an identity and turn him toward the future. Identity and chronology, two of fiction’s essential elements, are thus revealed. Like the novel itself, Étienne finally attains “tridimensional reality” (BT 53) in the stifling confines of another café, and much later still, “squashed up in his corner seat in the compartment,” he learns to “manipulate concepts” and “plunge[s] into a series of considerations relative to the necessity of preliminary doubt in all philosophical inquiry” (BT 212).

Before proceeding to the importance of the novel’s various lieux-dits, it is interesting to note the sequence of physical manifestations under which the protagonist appears in the original Chiendent (1933).[17] Because not all the spatial subtleties are noted in Wright’s translation, certain aspects of the protagonist’s physical expansion are lost. For this I offer my own, more literal, translation. From the condition of “silhouette” (9), the protagonist undergoes a “bidimensional materialization” (matérialisation bidimensionnelle, 13), then becomes a “flat being” (être plat, 15), a “flat papa” (papa plat, 20), a “being endowed with some consistency/shape” (être doué de quelque consistance, 24), a “being of choice” (être de choix, 24), a “being of remarkable form” (être de forme singulière, 36), an “being of the slightest reality” (être de moindre réalité, 37), a “being of minimal reality” (être de réalité minime, 48), and finally attains “tridimensional reality” (la réalité tridi­mensionnelle, 81) under the gaze of the mysterious observer.

The importance of the chip hut, especially in the early chapters, is its role in the conception of The Bark Tree’s major subplots. The rendezvous that results in the near-hanging of Narcense, the unemployed saxophonist, the collusion between Madame Cloche and Ernestine to abscond with the imagined riches of Taupe, the junk dealer, and the wedding contrived for that very purpose are all planned within its seedy confines. This illustrates the fact that although the paradox of public transportation’s confining mobility drives much of Étienne’s development, he and other characters draw their identity largely from the structures they inhabit. These images remind us that the domicile, no matter how modest, is an enclosed space of immense ontological importance. What makes it unique in The Bark Tree is the connection between the confining squalor of these dwellings and the philosophical growth or equilibrium that their residents achieve. I already mentioned the “headless” (BT 66) villa where Étienne lives and begins his materialization. Curiously, as he contemplates the mental image of the water-filled derby and its properties of impermeability, the villa’s exterior walls, iron gate, and system of locks and closures are repeatedly and carefully described. His son Théo finds its unfinished second floor to be his favorite place, watching the bricks crumble from the effects of wind and water, as if decay and impermanence lurk on the very doorstep of structure and confinement. Once again we might see this as surrealism’s organic effort to reclaim, here under the guise of erosion, the structured space of civilization.

The ramshackle junk shop where Taupe lives, “a little corner of paradise in the middle of the hell of the Paris suburbs”(BT 107), holds the very key to a fulfillment which the narrator affirms: “happiness, for him, consisted in excessive security” (BT 85). Inside, of course, is the infamous blue door. Mounted on the inside wall of his shanty, which is built next to a railway embankment, it opens to nowhere, yet it retains Taupe’s memory of love, and thus his happiness. And it is in Ernestine’s humble room above the curiously named Café des habitants where, mysteriously dying after her and Taupe’s nuptial ceremonies, she gives a Socratic discourse on the meaning of life and death to fifteen cramped wedding guests. Jordan Stump sees this situation as the turning point of the novel; one where the accumulation of knowledge and perspective so cherished by the characters begins its inexorable return to zero.[18] It is an entropy that ultimately disperses some characters and does away with others, yet, paradoxically, it enables the novel’s circular structure—an orbit confirmed by the two identical sentences that begin and end the 273-page story.

Conversely, Pierre Le Grand, the “other man” turned “observer,” never seems to live anywhere other than the beach at R (in French pronounced “erre,” as if from the verb errer, to rove or wander). His existence and movement through the novel remain, like those of the monolith in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, always a mystery, and, ultimately, he simply disappears from the narrative. Narcense, the down-and-out musician, is the single inhabitant of an apartment building filled with empty apartments, and, unable to pay his rent, the illegitimacy of his residence ends with his being shot as a traitor (BT 268). As the novel nears its end, the opsis shifts to outdoors, and the plot disintegrates into a Monty Pythonesque parody of modern warfare between the Gauls and the Etruscans. The remaining characters agree to literally erase (littératurer) this episode from the novel, thus returning the reader to the beginning: before the “enormous, unbearable building” (BT 7).

The Bark Tree narrates the creation and definition of so much that defines humanity: being, identity, philosophy, and literature. Therefore, such constant attention to habitat, another essential element of human existence, cannot be a coincidence. The act of clearing and enclosing a living space is part of the way human beings define themselves, and is essential in determining the individual’s relationship with the world. In Citadelle, Saint-Exupéry arrives at the “great truth” of humankind’s inhabiting nature: that the meaning of everything depends on the sens[19] of his abode. Otto Friedrich Bollnow, citing this realization, concludes that only through inhabiting can an individual fulfill his or her true being. Not only does living space define one, but it represents fulfillment of one’s dreams, and enclosure is its primary element.[20] So it goes in The Bark Tree, where confinement and enclosure confer both being and happiness. Madame Belhôtel, the hut owner’s wife, confirms this, dreaming out loud that “[i]n six months at the most … we’ll have our little house, our little whorehouse” (BT 163). Most interesting here is the author’s choice of the adjective “clos,” closely denoting enclosure while idiomatically connoting a structure in which enclosure is the structure’s sole reason for existence. Étienne concurs with the idea that there is more to domestic confinement, whatever its purpose, than meets the eye: “It’s a house, because people live in it, but it’s something else as well” (BT 120).

He himself is something else, too, and here we should consider the name Étienne Marcel. A glance at the Petit Larousse confirms his namesake as the simple burgher who, having ascended to the stature of Provost of Tradesmen in fourteenth-century Paris, led a citizen’s revolt against Charles V. As one digs deeper, however, the “real” Marcel’s links to architectural enclosure become apparent. Entering the assembly of the States-General in December 1355, his charge, among others, was to maintain the crumbling enceinte Philippe-Auguste, those enclosing ramparts built around Paris between 1190 and 1213. Designed to protect the city and its 190,000 inhabitants during this monarch’s crusade, Marcel restored and expanded them to include the outlying suburban agglomerations that had sprung up outside its walls.[21] He did so to establish and fortify his position as Maître de Paris, hoping to hold the city until he could bring it under English control via Charles the Bad, king of Navarre. It was during this defensive effort that Marcel acquired the so-called “Pillar-house” for the purpose of establishing the seat of Parisian municipality upon whose site was constructed the Hôtel de Ville, of which he is thus considered the original founder.[22]

In Saint Glinglin, we learn that the mind only “gets its wind” when nature is erased and disappears.[23] Examining Queneau’s lieux communs and lieux-dits in relation to this fragment of Quenellian philosophy, one gains a new perspective on the meaning of architecture in his novels. Such structure is contrived by man, and, according to Queneau’s prescription for “spiritual” significance, it does not occur in nature. Barthes’s architectural metaphor is well chosen, for it characterizes not only the opses of these novels, but the novelist’s work itself. It is here that the last piece of the puzzle falls into place. In the restricted spaces of The Bark Tree’s dingy metropolitan outskirts, a series of fortunate accidents, coincidences, and arbitrary choices provide the opportunity for an act of creation. It turns out to be not just a character or an opsis, but a novel whose very existence is conferred by spatial constraint. Étienne Marcel thus becomes synonymous not only with the erection of a novel and its three-dimensional philosopher, but of the City of Light itself and one of its most important structures. Inevitably, as the Hôtel was destroyed in 1871’s own citizen revolt, Étienne himself collapses at the end of The Bark Tree, becoming again a mere silhouette of his former self. But the city and its suburbs remain, and the enigmatic blue door, though always closed, makes us keep the novel open, searching with the characters for the place to which it leads.

Queneau is the architect of an oeuvre whose debt to classical forms is one of its primary characteristics. In The Bark Tree, he not only reconstructs the novel as a genre, but creates an antithesis to a surrealist ideal inspired by the organic, natural forces he often portrays as dark and horrific. Numerous critics, including Queneau himself, have noted the meticulous way in which his novels are created, but, as might be said of any kind of edifice, their substance is no more than what is used to build them.[24] To this I would add that the shape and consistency of these novels and their characters are often determined by the very walls and structures that stand within.

As one reads more of Queneau, the confining nature of Paul Nabonide’s walls in Saint Glinglin easily becomes the metaphor for the structure of writing itself, its plot and imagery recalling The Bark Tree’s urban sprawl by focusing primarily on its rural opposite. On est toujours trop bon avec les femmes (1947; We Always Treat Women Too Well, 1981) is a story of siege and imprisonment inside an Irish post office, another common, public space whose role and importance in society far surpass the physical structure of its edifice or the individuals it serves. As an institution, the “Post” truly spans the globe, and, until recently, it dominated the human effort to communicate outside the realm of the spoken word. Yet under the circumstances of the novel, the institution itself is non-existent, and the integrity of a single individual’s physical state is at issue instead. In Pierrot mon ami (1942; Pierrot, 1950), the intrigue is driven by the opposing imagery of two incongruent worlds. The festive atmosphere of play and deceiving appearances in an amusement park are juxtaposed with the sobering religious iconography of a sacred shrine. Somehow, the park’s boundaries enclose a chapel and a tomb that enigmatically prevent that very park’s expansion. And finally, Loin de Rueil (1944; The Skin of Dreams, 1948) is centered on another place of public worship, the cinématographe. Like the shrine, the cinema is also a lieu commun of metaphysical transcendence, but here it serves as a mechanism to blur the distinctions between reality and imagination so thoroughly that we come to question the very meaning of representation.

Indeed, if the imagery of enclosure is so important to these and other novels, and even salubrious to their characters, one cannot deny a link to the classical form and structure that were quintessential of their author’s creative genius. Queneau was, as the word “architect” retains from the Greek, the master builder.

NOTES

[1] Raymond Queneau, Saint Glinglin (Paris: Gallimard, 1981) 127–28. Except where otherwise noted in the article, all references are to this study’s central text. References to Raymond Queneau, Le Chiendent (Paris: Gallimard, 1974) are to Barbara Wright’s definitive translation, The Bark Tree (New York: New Directions, 1968), hereinafter referred to as BT. Translator’s italics and quotes. Translations from Queneau’s other novels are my own, using modern, commonly available, French editions. For reference, I have included the dates of first publication, first translation, and the English title, if different from the original.
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[2] The date 1995 refers to the publication of Madeleine Velguth’s translation, which appeared as Raymond Queneau’s “Chêne et chien”: A Translation with Commentary (New York: Peter Lang).
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[3] Jean-Marie Catonné, Queneau (Paris: Belfond, 1992) 186. Translations of secondary sources are my own.
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[4] Claude Simonnet, Queneau déchiffré (notes sur ‘le Chiendent’) (Paris: Slatkine, 1981) 54.
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[5] Roland Barthes, “Zazie et la littérature,” Essais critiques (Paris: Seuil, 1964) 125–31. Barthes sees Queneau’s approach as double, the “architecture” of his meticulous, classical constructions always hiding an insidious nothingness within.
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[6] Simonnet 11.
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[7] Allen Thiher, Raymond Queneau, Twayne’s World Authors Series 763 (Boston: Twayne, 1985) 71.
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[8] M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th ed. (Fort Worth: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1993) 193. A Greek term which denotes the visible scene or picturable setting in literature, whether it be one of theater, prose, or lyric poetry.
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[9] Catonné 97.
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[10] Catonné 101.
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[11] Catonné 101–102.
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[12] Raymond Queneau, “Technique du roman,” Bâtons, chiffres et lettres (Paris: Gallimard, 1965) 27.
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[13] Warren F. Motte Jr., “Raymond Queneau and the Aesthetic of Formal Constraint,” Romanic Review 82.2 (1991): 197.
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[14] Bernard Pingaud, “Le Parfait Banlieusard,” L’Arc 28 (1966): 7–10.
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[15] Pingaud 8. For details on Queneau’s various places of residence, see the exhaustive chronology in Raymond Queneau, Œuvres complètes, vol. 1 (Paris: Gallimard Pléiade, 1989) xli–lxxxi.
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[16] Pingaud 10.
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[17] See note 1.
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[18] Jordan Stump, Naming and Unnaming: on Raymond Queneau (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998) 58.
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[19] Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Citadelle (Paris: Gallimard, 1948) 26. It should be noted that sens can be translated as “sense,” “direction,” or “meaning.”
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[20] Otto Friedrich Bollnow, Hombre y espacio, trans. Jaime López de Asiain y Martín (Barcelona: Labor, 1969) 119.
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[21] M. Guizot & Madame Guizot de Witt, France, trans. Robert Black, vol. 2 (New York: Collier & Son, 1900) 116–27.
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[22] F.T. Perrens, Étienne Marcel: prévôt des marchands, Histoire générale de Paris (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1874) 38–9.
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[23]Queneau, Saint Glinglin 129.
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[24] Jacques Guicharnaud, Raymond Queneau, trans. June Guicharnaud (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965) 24.
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