Queneau, Raymond (1903–1976) By Ferguson, Sam
Raymond Queneau was a French novelist, poet and essayist of very broad interests (leading to his directorship of the prestigious Encyclopédie de la Pléiade from 1959 onwards), particularly associated with the formal construction of his works, a linguistic ingenuity aimed at reducing the gulf between colloquial and written language (a project which Queneau referred to as le néo-français), and a sense of humor drawing on the absurd. Initially connected to the Surrealist group of André Breton (1896–1966), and later with the Collège de 'Pataphysique founded in 1948 inspired by the absurdist works of Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), Queneau was in 1960 a founding member of OuLiPo (a contraction of ‘Ouvroir de littérature potentielle’, or ‘Workshop of potential literature’), an association of authors producing works of literature governed by strict formal constraints. Queneau’s Cent mille milliards de poèmes (One hundred million million poems, 1961), in which the verses of ten sonnets can be combined to form a huge number of poems, is characteristic of OuLiPo, but similar formal preoccupations can be seen in Queneau’s earlier works, such as his Exercises de style (1947), in which a single short anecdote is told in 99 different ways. His most popular work, the 1959 novel Zazie dans le métro, was made into a film of the same name directed by Louis Malle in 1960.