"Man oh man do I feel like writing a little poem
Oh look there’s one passing by now
Here poem poem poem
Come here and let me string you
On the string of my necklace with all my other poems
Come here ad let me ix you
In the firmament of my complete works
Come here and let me empoet you
Let me enrhyme you
let me enrhythme you
let me enlyre you
let me enpegasus you
let me versify you
let me prosify you
It got away"
- a poem by Raymond Queneau, translator unidentified, reprinted from Many Subtle Changes
"We live in a world which, we pretend, is one, but instead is multiple and changing – and we try to deal with that contradiction." - Louis Malle. Malle was the right filmmaker to adapt Zazie to the screen in a dizzying, jump-cutting visual style that correlates to Queneau's dazzling wordplay.
Visual slapstick and verbal satire ensue as Zazie evades her keeper to explore the city on her own. By the time the show goes on that night, Zazie is exhausted and sleeps through a food fight, a fire, and the trashing of the nightclub. What does it all mean? When Zadie demands that uncle Gabriel tell her the truth, he responds “The truth! As if you knew what truth was. As if anybody knew. The Panthéon, the Invalides, the Gendarmerie, the Madeleine, all a lot of hooey!”
Jacques Roubaud, a model of the interfering author, warned "each detail of this chapter must be observed with the strictest attention, for each is important in its own way and will not be brought up again." Advice he applied to describing his heroine, Hortense, a beautiful 22 year old philosopher. Equally lubricious, Harry Mathews in Singular Pleasures wrote an entire book of prose poems devoted to masturbation. He said the oulipians "made me fell like someone who has been denying a shameful habit only to discover that it is perfectly honorable."
In 1995, Herve Le Tellier invented an imaginary Kantian philosopher named Jean-Baptiste Botul. Bernard-Henri Levy quoted Botul in a 2010 essay on Kant's work, falling for the oulipian prank - never a good idea if you want to be taken, and Levy does. Zazie could have told him.
Note: In keeping with French practice, I refer to the group oulipians without capitalizing their name.
Many Subtle Changes: In Praise of Potential Literature by Daniel Levin Becker, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press: 2012.
Rene Magritte - Descent of the Garden Gate, 1928, Museee Magritte, Brussels.
All others are film stills from Zazie dans le metro, a film by Louis Malle, cinematography by Henri Raichi, 1960, Astor Pictures, France.