Cover image for Raymond Roussel and the republic of dreams
Raymond Roussel and the republic of dreams
Ford, Mark, 1962-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, 2001.

Physical Description:
xxviii, 312 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm

Format :


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Material Type
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PQ2635.O96168 Z628 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Raymond Roussel, one of the most outlandishly compelling literary figures of modern times, died in mysterious circumstances at the age of fifty-six in 1933. The story Mark Ford tells about Roussel's life and work is at once captivating, heartbreaking, and almost beyond belief. Could even Proust or Nabokov have invented a character as strange and memorable as the exquisite dandy and graphomaniac this book brings to life?Roussel's poetry, novels, and plays influenced the work of many well-known writers and artists: Jean Cocteau found in him "genius in its pure state," while Salvador Dal , who died with a copy of Roussel's Impressions d'Afrique on his bedside table, believed him to be one of France's greatest writers ever. Edmond Rostand, Marcel Duchamp, Andr Breton, Michel Foucault, and Alain Robbe-Grillet all testified to the power of his unique imagination.By any standards, Roussel led an extraordinary life. Tremendously wealthy, he took two world tours during which he hardly left his hotel rooms. He never wore his clothes more than twice, and generally avoided conversation because he dreaded that it might turn morbid. Ford, himself a poet, traces the evolution of Roussel's bizarre compositional methods and describes the idiosyncrasies of a life structured as obsessively as Roussel structured his writing.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

All but the most widely read students of the linguistic experiments of the past century will probably encounter Raymond Roussel (1877-1933) for the first time in poet Ford's (Landlocked) new biography. Ford's central proposition in this economical study is simply that his subject's writing is worth discovering. Roussel's success even in France has been minimal, though the list of highly acclaimed artists on both sides of the Atlantic who cherish his esoteric concoctions is impressive, including surrealists such as Andr‚ Breton and Salvador Dal¡, along with Jean Cocteau and Alain Robbe-Grilletand, Manhattan School poets John Ashbery (who writes the preface to this volume) and Kenneth Koch. Roussel's compositional technique, which he dubbed his proc‚d‚, generated a structure for the plots and images of his writing in much the same way that meter and rhyme control the arrangement of words in a sonnet. The author's goal was to create art that retained utterly no relation to the physical world. By exploiting the double meanings and shifting associations inherent in language, his proc‚d‚ defined the laws of an insular universe. Ford neatly exposes the hidden machinations that produced Roussel's jumbled texts, while credibly linking his literary seclusion with the social isolation that his excessive wealth, clandestine homosexuality and delusional ambitions engendered. Roussel believed from his youth that he was destined for immediate and widespread recognition, a conviction that eroded in the face of his numerous and spectacular failures. However, through Ford's focused interpretation, the reader may appreciate the vivacity of Roussel's grotesque verbal sculptures, which contain a seemingly infinite proliferation of potential meanings. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The writer Raymond Rousell (1877-1933) is not exactly a household name in literary circles, despite his great influence on the likes of Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dal!, and Michel Foucault, among others. Poet Ford (Landlocked) here attempts to bring to light Roussel's life and work, combining biography and literary criticism in this scholarly treatment. The author traces Roussel's bourgeois beginnings in Paris, where he grew up the son of a successful stockbroker, to his rise as a writer and his subsequent travels. Ford also addresses Roussel's relationship with his mother, his education, his homosexuality, the mystery surrounding his death, and his relationship with Marcel Proust. The real strength of this book is Ford's analysis of Roussel's major works, including Nouvelles Impressions d'Afrique, La Doublure, and La Vue, among others. While this book is not long, it will provide a valuable contribution to our understanding of an almost forgotten writer. For academic collections.DRon Ratliff, Kansas State Univ., Manhattan (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Since Francois Caradec's definitive biography Vie de Raymond Roussel (1877-1933) (1977; revised under the title Raymond Roussel, 1997) has yet to be translated into English, Ford's is essentially the first English-language book to introduce Roussel's life and works. A wealthy self-publishing, self-producing Parisian eccentric, Roussel expected literary fame from his plays, poems, and fictions but received good press reviews in his lifetime chiefly for his luxurious camping trailer. His literary idols were Pierre Loti and Jules Verne, but whereas their works have more information encrypted than is popularly recognized Roussel developed a procedure that turns on elaborate cryptograms. His work has been acclaimed by such diverse writers as Leiris, Butor, Robbe-Grillet, Foucault, Ashberry, and Koch--all of whom are intrigued by displacement and encoding. Ford is frank about the difficulty of reading Roussel and honest about the scant rewards of such a reading (i.e., reading Roussel's sometime-neighbor Proust or fellow-Parisian Joyce brings new experience with life itself; reading Roussel is an end in itself). Furthermore, the few English translations of Roussel's work, even of Impressions of Africa (Eng. ed., CH, Jan'68), are hard to find in the US. For large collections supporting study of romantic literature at the upper-division undergraduate level and above. M. Gaddis Rose SUNY at Binghamton