Like Calvino’s The Invisible Cities, Oulipo founder Raymond Queneau’s Exercices de style (Exercises in Style) is another example of generative literature transmediated as pictograms in the show The Ventriloquists. A literary work is generative because the structuration of the work highlights certain low-level components to be like seeds capable of giving birth to other parts of the work, through repetition-&-variation, or other rules of higher sophistication. Artist Madeleine Chan takes up 5 episodes of the work. After a generative principle, she produces 5 iterative views of the same event as pictograms, stretching Queneau’s textual play in written words.

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| An example of generative story-telling in The Ventriloquists… Thinking Narratively (4-19 July 2020)
| Calvino’s generative literature The Invisible Cities turned into a pictogram [Ventriloquists Series no. 12]

To visit or review previous posts in the Ventriloquists Series (no. 00-12), click HERE.

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Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style (1947) is a collection of 99 retellings of the same story, each in a different style. In each, the narrator gets on the “S” bus (now no. 84), witnesses an altercation between a man (a zazou) with a long neck and funny hat and another passenger, and then sees the same person two hours later at the Gare St-Lazare getting advice on adding a button to his overcoat. – Wikipedia

The work was translated into English by Barbara Wright in 1958, with 28 additional Exercises by Queneau translated by Chris Clarke, and 10 new exercises were written in homage of Queneau in 2013.



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Madeleine ChanCreativity in Style
A pictogram series on Queneau’s Exercises in Style

This is a set of pictograms as secondary transmedia recreation of 5 (out of 99) episodes of Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style (1958 edition). During the creation of this work, I explore the diverging trajectories narrative methods can bring to a story idea, in terms of how small details are hidden in the lines of words and how they transform the basic account. My pictograms combine the characteristics of musical score, chronology, cartography and symbolist metaphor (sign sequence) incorporated into a visible timeline. Even though pictograms are all images,  viewers will be able to notice the change over time of the event. Each version of my pictogram is a new and different way to narrativize the story, thereby I invite my viewers to follow the route I design — which is the timeline, marked with signals, symbols and words — in order to see the story’s many shapes and details in full. 

Chosen episodes
5 scenarios: Notation, Another Subjectivity, Metaphorically, Narrative, Sonnet 

There is a suggested reference to Queneau’s original iteration for each pictogram, however, it could otherwise be related to any other piece that is suitable for understanding of the information and details that has been described in Queneau’s original work. 


Bus Ride at Rush Hour

Suggested reference: “Notation” (in the original work)

This is a cartography of the events that happen during a bus ride at rush hour; it is created in scale with reference to the real bus route of S-line in the city of Paris (– please refer to the map below for the bus route). There are some famous attraction to help viewers to visualise the location where the story took place. The legend below would be useful to help viewers to understand the symbols and representation. There is chronology of a subtle time indication for the viewers to understood the two incidents occur in two separate time.





Metaphoric embleming 

Suggested reference: “Metaphorically”


Queneau’s “metaphorically” in English translation


This is the flow of a story-board like signs, indicating incidents from the edition “metaphorically”. Using metaphor and subtle description to form the story telling. It is suggested viewers should review this work after seeing the others and with reference to Raymond Queneau’s original. 







Signage: Bus Ride Argument

Reference: “Narrative Notaion”


Inspired by signage on streets and from different locations, based on the idea, I created this sets of signage as indication of the story from Raymond Queneau. The small clock and the arrows help viewers understand the flow of the story. The arrangement of the flow suggests that the bus line in round service(循環線). 



Poetic Scene

Reference: “Sonnet”


This pictogram is a storyboard-like account of what happens at the bus station, and on the bus. Incidents are used as described in Sonnet. There are many details added to each scene, and they are placed one and another like they are stored in a film roll. Please see enlarged version of each frame below. 

Details from Left to Right of the pictogram “Poetic Scene”


Music Score on the Way to Work

Suggested reference: “Another Subjectivity”


On the journey to work, the main character is annoyed by someone who got on to the same bus, and decide to annoy him back. Refer kindly to the legend to understand the flow. This is planned such that to mimic a musical score with the emotion and movement of people getting on and off the bus. 


Artist’s Journal

This is a set of pictograms on the close study of the 5 scenarios from Exercises in Style by a creative French novelist Raymond Queneau. He uses thousands of different ways to construct one same story. Skimming through his book, there’re many interesting styles where the story is written. Some are not really understandable without the context from reading the other versions. I found it very interesting from project 2 of how viewing one work for many times and looking into the details again and again would spark new ideas into a new creation from an existing work. 

Since the stories are rather short and are from difficult perspectives, from different points of view and individuals, each version does not give so much information, therefore I see all of them as a whole, to see the diverging trajectories and find the small details that is hidden in the lines of words. There are some keywords of the name of the places so I could do background search. 

It is a bit confusing and I thought it took place in Italy by the name, “Cour de Rome”. When I find out the story is set in Paris like all the other French movies we have watched throughout the course, there are some flashbacks of the streets in Paris in my mind. Then I quickly search for the line S that is mentioned in “Notation”, then discover it is actually number 84 in “Narrative”. I am writing this detail to show that the 5 stories on the same event are actually obtaining different details, it would be impossible to fully understand and pick up necessary information. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to search for the bus route for reference and as inspiration to developing the pictograms. 

Viewing the stories again and again, and one by one, each time has given me the chance to understand a bit more than the previous time. The choice of narratives is intelligent, flowing from one point to the next. Taken from how the story are built up and constructed, I follow this idea and hence created the set of pictogram where viewers could see them one by one, like step to step process, like how I discover more and more details every time I read the piece again. Here, my pictograms no only highlight over shape, but also having an importance role on the step to step flow. Each version of my pictogram is a new and different way to narrative the story, thereby I invite my viewers to discover the route with the timeline, marked with signals, symbols and words. 

I have created the set of pictograms based on the combination of musical score, chronology, cartography and symbolist metaphor (sign sequence), which when look closer, one could find my close reference from the original work from Raymond Queneau. Through the timeline I planned and indicated in the pictograms, one can see the procedures of change over time, subtle, with the time that the story happens, and to see as a whole, the overall shape to see the formation into a map of the ride on the bus, or a sets of signage. 

If I would work on pictograms in the near future, I would like to try to construct it in the form of a storyboard, to see if any media of work could be turned into this form other than literary stories or moving images — to explore further beyond the limitations and boundaries, in order to see the results of the creation under no constraints. 

(Madeleine Chan, May 2020)