Queneau Quotes on Novel Structure

A few quotes from Raymond Queneau on novels. The French quotes were found at this site. Translations are my own.

It is insupportable to me to leave the fixing of the number of chapters in these novels [Witchgrass/Barktree (Le Chiendent), Saint Glinglin, The Last Days] up to chance. Le Chiendent is composed of 91 (7 X 13) sections, 91 being the sum of the 13 first numbers and its “sum” being 1, it is at the same time the number of the death of beings and that of their return to existence, a return that I understood then as the irresolvable perpetuity of misfortune/adversity without hope. In those times, I saw in 13 a beneficial number because it denied happiness; as for 7, I took it, and still take it as the numerical image of myself, since my surname and my 2 first names are each composed of 7 letters and that I was born a 21 (3 X 7). [Queneau was born on the 21st of February] (Raymond Queneau, Bâtons chiffres et Lettres, 1964, p. 29)

“Il m’a été insupportable de laisser au hasard le soin de fixer le nombre des chapitres de ces romans. C’est ainsi que Le Chiendent se compose de 91 (7x 13) sections, 91 étant la somme des treize premiers nombres et sa “somme” étant 1, c’est donc à la fois le nombre de la mort des êtres et celui de leur retour à l’existence, retour que je ne concevais alors que comme la perpétuité irrésoluble du malheur sans espoir. En ce temps-là, je voyais dans 13 un nombre bénéfique parce qu’il niait le bonheur ; quant à 7, je le prenais, et puis le prends encore comme image numérique de moi-même, puisque mon nom et mes deux prénoms se composent chacun de sept lettres et que je suis né un 2l (3×7).”

I gave a form, a rhythm to what I was writing. I fixed for myself rules as strict as those of the sonnet. The characters didn’t appear and disappear by chance, the same way for the places and the different modes of expression […] I wrote other novels with this idea of rhythm, this intention to make of the novel a kind of poem. You can make characters rhyme in the way words rhyme, you can please yourself with alliterations. (Raymond Queneau, Bâtons chiffres et Lettres, 1964, p.40)

“J’ai donné une forme, un rythme à ce que j’étais en train d’écrire. Je me suis fixé des règles aussi strictes que celles du sonnet. Les personnages n’apparaissent pas et ne disparaissent pas par hasard, de même les lieux et les différents modes d’expression (…) J’ai écrit d’autres romans avec cette idée de rythme, cette intention de faire du roman une sorte de poème. On peut faire rimer des personnages comme on fait rimer des mots, on peut même se contenter d’allitérations. ”

[That last bit points to his tendency to repeat the first letters of name, such as all the “P” names in Pierrot Mon Ami.]

Not sure who actually said this one:

“25 years ago Queneau declared that the novel most resemble an onion, some are happy to remove the outermost peel, while others less numerous, peel it layer by layer. These interior layers constitute a novel or a serial, or a fragment, all equally potential.” (Volontés 11 (Nov 1938)

“Voilà 25 ans, Queneau déclarait que le roman doit ressembler à un bulbe ” dont les uns se contentent d’enlever la pelure superficielle, tandis que d’autres, moins nombreux, l’épluchent pellicule par pellicule. ” in Volontés n°11, nov.1938. “Ces pelures intérieures constituent un roman ou un épisode, ou un fragment, tous également potentiels.”

In the comments Matt Madden notes his confusion regarding Queneau’s summing 91 and getting 1 (and also corrects one of my translation mistakes). From my readings of Queneau, I’d imagine that he is adding the two digits in 91, 9 + 1 = 10, which also is then “summed” to equal 1. As for it being the number of death and rebirth, that is a bit of a mystery to me. Though 1 and 0 may be the relevant numbers.

Like they say, you can do anything with the numbers.