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This summer has been regrettably saturated, disruptive, and shambolic. Pulled by life in too many directions, I’ve been operating in a fog where everything gets some of my attention but never the amount it deserves. It has been, for me, a failed summer. And, oh yes, the world seems to have gotten even madder (are there degrees of madness?), and without the benefit of Cid Caesar, Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, et al.

So, unlike most years, I’m looking forward to being done with summer. A week in Wellfleet on Cape Cod awaits to begin September (my first true vacation in more than two years), then it’s back home. And back to working on the novel.
Raymond Queneau's novel "The Last Days"
Not that my work on Housebreaking the Muse ever really stops. Even when I’m not trying to work on the book, it seems, circumstance has a way of leading me back to it. Case in point: I’ve recently begun rereading Raymond Queneau’s novel The Last Days. Having not picked up Queneau in quite some time, I did a little research to refresh my memory of Queneau’s life and work. In the process, I learned something I’d never known: Queneau was married to Janine Kahn, sister of Simone Kahn. Simon Kahn was André Breton’s first wife and a very dear friend of Jacques Rigaut.

Author Raymond Queneau

Raymond Queneau

Now, I knew that Queneau had contact with Paris Dada and even put in some time at the famous Café Certa. So, the thought had occurred to me that Queneau may possibly have met Jacques Rigaut. However, the fact that he was married to the sister of one of Rigaut’s closest friends throws a new light on the subject. As with so many things about Rigaut’s life, it’s difficult to determine the extent to which he and Queneau may have had any sort of social relationship or, for that matter, friendship. However, the social proximity of Queneau and Rigaut makes speculation along these lines not at all far fetched.

So, without thinking it through, I immediately decided a Queneau chapter in Housebreaking the Muse is very much in order. Now that I have given the matter more thought, I actually believe that Queneau might be the linchpin to the whole works. He can connect a number of the novel’s important threads–and humorously so.

First, as “Transcendent Satrap” in the Collège de ‘pataphysique, Queneau connects the line in the novel descending from Alfred Jarry, his notion of “pataphysics,” and his rampant offspring, Ubu, who narrates much of the novel. A presumption of the legitimacy of pataphysics lies at the heart of the novel’s more curious données (for instance, the reformed Père Ubu, a self-described “second rate deity,” who serves as omniscient narrator; all the long-dead figures, including Rigaut, who make cameos as narrators to weave this tale; and the time travel Rigaut effects through his suicide, a voyage that brings him face to face with his latter day doppelganger and American translator). Among other things, Queneau may speculate on, or even elucidate, the pataphysical concepts that make such an operation possible.

Second, as first-hand witness, Queneau can help shape the line flowing from the Paris Dada and Surrealist gangs. Never much of a “joiner” in the way Breton demanded, I see Queneau’s sensibility and perspective lending an unperturbed and lightly sardonic hue to the Certa tableau.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, Queneau (in my view) had direct access to the novel’s central figure, Jacques Rigaut. I’d like to Queneau comment on the relationship between Rigaut and Simone Kahn, Queneau’s his sister-in-law. I’d also like to see him shine a light on the vivacious, adventurous, ridiculous Rigaut–counterpoint to the well-worn portrait of JR as tragic suicide.

Having hit on this scheme, I’ll be launching myself into Queneau’s work–enough to help me perfect my narrative Rich Little act.

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