“This page was once plant material.”
Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style was originally published in France in 1947. In the original edition, Queneau wrote 99 exercises describing, in 99 different styles, the same minor dispute between passengers on a bus. A new edition released by New Directions includes a handful of previously unpublished exercises and a series of tributes written by contemporary writers.
This page was once plant material, crushed and sluiced and pressed through a machine in a warehouse, the process looked over by a man plagued with a skin flaking infection. The man, ankles swelling after the sixth hour on the job to the point that he would loosen his damp shoelaces for some late-day relief (the flesh pillowing over his yellowed athletic sock), would scratch the pimpled back of his hand, his wrist and arm, so liberally that a veritable shower of his necrotized flesh would sprinkle down upon the pages as they flew through the pressing machine. The pages themselves, speeding by — printed on which, the man could barely discern, were the story of a bus trip — became infected with the particulate matter of his sores, wounds which wept in the morning but after a hot afternoon in the warehouse had almost fully dried and clotted. The man found such perverse relief in rubbing a particularly affected spot on his forearm that his wet eyes rolled wetly back and his mouth dropped wide, allowing a line of spittle to gather at his lip, roll down his chin and over his stubble, and drop onto a speeding page, like a button sewn on a jacket, immediately before its entrance into the oven, baking the genetic evidence of his future demise (heart disease) into this very page, this page which you are touching with your hands and which, the older this book becomes, will find its way into a used bookstore after your death (heart disease) and become even more likely to be touched by other hands, hands attached to bodies perhaps ill with the flu, sinus infections, affected by the kind of solid mucus that moves out of the body like a bus pulling out of a station, the empty seat waiting.