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News Release — August 30, 2005

Symposium Examines and Celebrates French Writer Raymond Queneau

The University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the Department of French and Italian and the France-University of Texas Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies will present "Colloqueneau: Queneau for Everybody," a symposium to examine and celebrate the work of French writer Raymond Queneau, on Sept. 16 and 17.

The symposium, free and open to the public, is the inaugural event in the Ransom Center's "Signatures Series," which highlights the center's recent archival acquisitions.

In 2003 the Ransom Center acquired the last major archive of Queneau materials, which includes notebooks, manuscripts, correspondence, research notes, books and art works. It is the largest collection of Queneau archival materials in the United States.

"The presence of the Ransom Center's Queneau materials has a two-fold importance in relation to the center's acquisitions philosophy," said Robert Fulton, curator for academic affairs. "It represents the strength of the existing holdings of modernist writers and contributes to the center's reputation as a premier collector of French cultural archives."

Considered to be one of the 20th century's most original and prolific French writers, Queneau (1903-1976) was a poet, novelist, critic, editor, translator, playwright, philosopher, mathematician and co-founder of the esteemed and still active group of writers called Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Oulipo).

Known chiefly as a novelist whose works critics say "span a host of -isms," Queneau preferred to remain distant from specific literary movements. Although he had a brief association with the Surrealists, he avoided categorization.

"Queneau doesn't conform to the usual literary parameters," said Jean-Pierre Cauvin, professor of French at The University of Texas at Austin. "He's in a category all by himself. His playful, zesty way with language is provocative and great fun."

Queneau is best known for "Exercices de style," (1947) a work that retells the same story in 99 different linguistic styles, and "Zazie dans le metro," (1959) a novel that was made into a film by director Louis Malle in 1960.

Oulipo's initial literary projects were largely the result of Queneau's love of mathematics. His "Cent mille milliards de poèmes" (1961) and "Exercices de style" grew out of this group's passion for abstract mathematical structures and patterns. Although Oulipo, with its linguistic games and mathematical challenges, produced myriad texts, the function of the group was to create new literary forms and revitalize old ones.

For his achievements, Queneau was elected to the Académie Goncourt in 1951 and the Académie de l'Humour in 1952. He became a member of the Société Mathématique de France in 1948 and the American Mathematical Society in 1963.

Symposium participants include noted scholars from Paris and the United States, who will discuss Queneau's writings, translations of his works and the early days of Oulipo.

Additional events include readings of Queneau's poetry in French and English; a preview of items selected from the Ransom Center's Queneau archive; "Quepasopa Raymond? Queneau in Caracas," a multimedia performance by artists Anita Pantin and Venny Blanco based on songs set to Queneau's lyrics; and a staged reading of Queneau's novel "The Flight of Icarus" (1968). Directed by Samuel Buggeln of New York City and adapted for the stage by University of Texas at Austin alum Aaron Schloff, this reading will be performed by Austin's Rude Mechanicals Theatre Company.

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