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This review is taken from PN Review 182, Volume 34 Number 6, July - August 2008.

BLUE-TINTED TRUISMS RAYMOND QUENEAU, Elementary Morality, translated by Philip Terry, introduction by David Bellos (Carcanet) £14.95
PIERRE JEAN JOUVE, Despair Has Wings: Selected Poems, translated by David Gascoyne, edited with an introductory essay by Roger Scott
(Enitharmon) £10.95
IAIN SINCLAIR, Buried at Sea (Worple Press) £12.00
CLAUDE VIGÉE, Chants de l'Absence/Songs of Absence, translated by Anthony Rudolf, introduced by Anne Mounic (Menard Press/Temporel) £6.00

Raymond Queneau's Elementary Morality, first published in French in 1975, shows an elderly writer who was still full of formal invention and high-spirited, if gloomy, play. In the first part of this valedictory masterpiece he invents a new form, dubbed the 'Quennet' by his Oulipo colleagues but called a lipolepse by himself: a kind of fifteen-line post-sonnet of short lines that is associative, transformative or permutational, rather than argumentative or lyrical. His model is Chinese, the method not exactly ideogrammic but oxymoronic: contradictions and impossibilities abound, and the result is an acerbic meditation on the way traditional wisdoms are couched, a unique artefact which looks like a traditional wisdom book but is actually a critique of their divination of universal orders and their relentless urgings of the hapless wisdom-seeker to submit to the authorities.

Unoccupied master
Unusual slave
Parasitic explorers Muzzled occupationsUncertain labour Infant labour
Eccentric inquest Limping occupationsOafish inventors Sinister right hands
Infertile journeys


The eagle knows how to fly
the dolphin how to swim
man how to botch things up
The sun pursues
its impassive course
regardless of the planes
high up in the skiesImprovised toolsUnpublished fables


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