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Exercises in Style

Tweeëntwintig variaties op de werkelijkheid

Een lexicologie van de werkelijkheid

F. N. van der Vlist

This project is inspired by R. Queneau'sExercises de style (Gallimard, 1947), which is a collection of 99 retellings of the same story, each in a different style. Similarly for the present writing experiment, a short piece of writing was taken from De Telefoongids & De Gouden Gids (DTG, 2011), which is the Dutch telephone book. In particular, a brief 250-word accompanying paragraph to the colophon is selected as a starting point. This single piece of writing was then rewritten into 22 thematic variations while still expressing the same meanings. How to communicate the same meanings in different formats? Some are conventional, but many are experimental and explore the characteristics and limits of distinctive genres of writing. The book presents the outcomes of the writing experiment in the form of a systematic linguistic analysis, which illustrates the deconstructive character of the experiment itself. It also acknowledges the origin of the writings it contains and adopts various design elements from the telephone book. What is it that makes these variations distinctive, and what do they still have in common? First, each variation text is compared to the text of the original piece of writing to identify literal commonalities (i.e., shared words, numbers, punctuation). These commonalities then become core elements while all distinctive elements become contextual information expressing the particular variations. This contextual information is then used to deconstruct each variation further. Namely all contextual words, numbers, and punctuation are dissected and spread out alphabetically on individual pages (i.e., A–Z, 0–9, and punctuation) while retaining their original positions. The result is a rigorous inventory of words, numbers, and punctuation per variation and provides insights into the typographic, linguistics, and language conventions. For example, one variation of a personal letter displays a relatively large number of words filed under i and j due to the increased conventional use of words like ‘I’, ‘you’, and ‘your’. In addition to this analysis, the book also includes a reference section with brief descriptions of the variations included, and also includes a lexicon (i.e., an inventory of words used).

Kind Assignment; Hardback
Designer F. N. van der Vlist
Instructor H. J. (Rick) Vermeulen; B. H. J. (Bart) Siebelink
Publication Date 2010, June 28
Pages 778
Institution Willem de Kooning Academy (Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences)