Retour au format internet
David Gascoyne et Benjamin Fondane v.o. Première publication: 26 avril 2010

par David Gascoyne


Edited by Roger Scott

What follows represents, in effect, a small dossier that reflects Gascoyne’s involvement with Fondane and his work which began in 1937 and continued long after Fondane’s death in 1944. The very fact that some thirty-five years later Gascoyne chose to translate the essays, extracts and poem that follow, underscores the vital and enduring significance for him of Fondane’s friendship and influence in the 1930s. It is an indication, too, of the resurgence of interest in the Romanian in France in the late seventies through the nineties, and the impetus to retrieve his work and to reassess his position in and importance to European culture. Michel Carassou, in particular, was instrumental in bringing out new editions of Fondane’s essays, poetry, philosophical and cinematic writings for Editions Plasma.


Gascoyne’s ’A Note on Benjamin Fondane’ (Uncollected) [1]

The ’long-lost letter’ from Fondane to Gascoyne, juillet 1937 (Uncollected)

Translation of E.M. Cioran’s memoir of Fondane : 6 rue Rollin (Unpublished)

Translation of Fondane’s essay : The Surrealists and the Revolution (Unpublished)

Translation of extract from Fondane’s Rimbaud le Voyou (Uncollected) [2]

Translation of extract from Fondane’s Meetings with Leon Chestov (Uncollected) [3]

Translation of Fondane’s ’Non-Lieu’, preface to the section ’Le Mal des fantômes in Le Mal des fantômes (Uncollected) [4]

Translation of poem from the section ’Poèmes épars’ in Le Mal des fantômes (Uncollected) [5]


This is not the place for personal reminiscence, but I am proud to have known Fondane, learnt the elements of philosophy from particularly Chestov’s and his own, special kind of existential philosophy, and to have been, at a crucial moment in my youth, greatly influenced by him. A poem of mine, ’To Benjamin Fondane’’, I now intend to retitle, when it gets reprinted, ’I.M. Benjamin Fondane’. [6] The facts of his life are, briefly summed up, as follows :

Benjamin Fondane was born in 1898 in Iasi, Romania, the second child of a Jewish family of German origin. In 1914 he published some early poems under the pseudonym of Barbu Fundoianu (after a place-name). In 1921 he published a collection of essays on Proust, Claudel, Mallarmé, Jammes, de Gourmont. In 1923 Fondane left Romania to settle in Paris. The next year he met Leon Chestov for the first time. In 1928 he published Three Scenarios : ciné-poems. The following year, at the invitation of Victoria Ocampo, Fondane visited Argentina, presented a season of avant-garde films, and lectured on Chestov. In 1930 he entered Paramount Studios and became assistant director, then scenario-writer. In 1931 he married Geneviève Tessier, with Chestov and Brancusi as witnesses to the ceremony. Next year, Fondane became a regular contributor to Cahiers du Sud, of which he was soon appointed the Philosophy Correspondent. He published Rimbaud le Voyou in 1933 ; a long French poem Ulysse, in 1934, and in Switzerland took part in shooting the film Rapt (Kidnap) based on a novel by Ramuz. A work entirely devoted to philosophy came out in 1936 : La Conscience Malheureuse (allusion to a Hegelian expression). Fondane sent me a dedicated copy of this book, following a letter of admiration I had written him after reading Rimbaud le Voyou. In 1937 he published Titanic : poèmes (strangely prophetic, at least premonitory), and in 1938 Faux Traité d’esthétique. During that year Leon Chestov died, and Fondane became a French citizen. Soon after this I saw Fondane for the last time, having to return to England myself. In 1940 he was mobilized, and taken prisoner in June. He escaped, was recaptured, then set free for reasons of health and treated at the Val de Grâce hospital. From 1941-44 Fondane lived in Paris in semi-clandestinity - a period of intense literary activity, during which he wrote, among other things, Baudelaire et l’expérience du gouffre, and many poems, some of which I have tried to translate. [7] In 1944, under a pseudonym, he contributed to the anthology of Resistance poets : L’Honneur des Poètes. In March, denounced to the Gestapo, Fondane was sent to the camp at Drancy. In May, he was deported to Auschwitz, and finally to the gas-chambers at Birkenau on October 3rd 1944. This is the barest outline of his life.

I have written elsewhere about the importance of Chestov whom Fondane considered his master. In 1948, Henry Miller wrote to Fondane’s widow : ’What a pity he didn’t leave more books. You are perfectly free, of course, to quote from the letter in which I referred to his study on Rimbaud. My memory may be beginning to fail, but I am pretty certain that it was I who first urged Miller to read Rimbaud le voyou ; at least I clearly remember arranging for them to meet...

I should perhaps add that the title of Fondane’s Rimbaud book was in answer to, rather than inspired by, a book, at one time highly thought of, by Roland de Renéville : Rimbaud le Voyant (Rimbaud the Seer). [8]


As Gascoyne commented in the Afterword to his Collected Journals 1936-1942 (London : Skoob Books Publishing Ltd. 1991), both Pierre Jean Jouve and Benjamin Fondane ’had a decisive and lasting influence on me.’ In 1937 at a critical moment for him, the shock-waves from his first contact with the Romanian poet-philosopher Fondane and his discovery of the poetry, novels and criticism of Jouve continued to reverberate long afterwards in his daily life and his development as a writer. Both men became his friends.

Gascoyne first wrote to Fondane from Teddington in Middlesex on July 24 of that year. He had borrowed the latter’s study Rimbaud Le Voyou from the British Library and read it the previous summer. Of the quick reply that came that same month, Gascoyne wrote in Meetings With Benjamin Fondane [9] : ’I cannot say how much I regret not having been able to keep his letter which I carried about in my pocket for years. In an old notebook, however, I jotted down several phrases and I think I can still more or less faithfully reproduce the contents of his letter.’

In the early nineties, when I was researching Gascoyne’s poetry, I found his handwritten copy of the letter in one of his notebooks in the British Library Manuscript Collection. And I sent it to him. It was subsequently published in Bulletin de la Société d’Etudes Benjamin Fondane, no. 3 (Printemps 1995, pp. 2-4), introduced by the Fondane scholar, Ramona Fotiade. I reproduce it here.

Gascoyne’s reply to Fondane, dated 11.VIII.37, was sent to him from 11, rue de la Bûcherie in Paris, and he went to meet him for the first time at 6, rue Rollin towards the end of that summer.

[Paris, juillet 1937]

Cher Monsieur,
Il n’y avait pas la moindre raison pour que vous m’écriviez ; vous pensiez également qu’il n’y avait pas la moindre raison pour que je réponde à votre lettre ; cependant vous m’avez écrit, je vous réponds et cela prouve encore une fois qu’il y a des raisons que la raison ne connaît pas. J’ai été touché par votre lettre. Et cela parce que malgré ’le succès’ de mon Rimbaud, personne n’est allé au-delà des vertus de passion, de style, d’idées ; personne n’a compris qu’il ne s’agissait pas là d’un problème à moi, ou à Rimbaud, mais d’un problème à lui - et qu’il ne s’agit pas de regarder l’expérience de Rimbaud ou de la décrire, et encore moins de la juger, mais de vivre en nous-mêmes, et par nous-mêmes, ses données essentielles. Je sais l’impossibilité absolue d’une biographie mentale tant soit peu adéquate ; et la vérité de Rimbaud qu’en tant que je l’ai vécue vraie [sic].

Je ne crois pas me tromper en pensant que vous êtes un des rares hommes qui ont vu juste et je ne m’en fais aucun mérite, je vous ai servi uniquement d’occasion - ; tout de même que cette occasion m’a été fournie à moi par Chestov, par Nietzsche etc. etc. Admettre le contraire c’est croire que l’on s’empare de la vérité, alors qu’il est clair qu’elle prend possession de nous. Dieu sait si, en vous engageant sur le sentier du surréalisme vous en étiez loin. En effet, c’est du gros, bien que parfois du merveilleux, truquage. C’est le plus habile piège que l’on a inventé pour embrouiller le problème de notre existence et le rendre à jamais insoluble. Mais vous y voyez clair maintenant. Et je serais heureux de connaître le fond de votre pensée sur Rimbaud - et donc sur vous-même et sur le monde.

Pardonnez-moi de ne pas essayer de vous détourner de votre désespoir, - car je tiens ce désespoir pour salutaire ; mais je vous mentirais si je vous laissais croire que je le tiens pour un aboutissement alors que, tout au contraire, j’y vois un point de départ. En effet, se tenir au désespoir, c’est se tenir aux vérités qui nous ont poussé au désespoir - alors que sa vertu est, précisément, de nous pousser à un coup de balai total et curatif. Il y a du positif dans le désespoir, et vous l’avez vu ; c’est le cri, c’est la bétise. Crier, faire confiance à la bétise, je veux dire aux valeurs de notre existence, à notre existence absurde, ou que la raison a rendue absurde, c’est cela, il me semble, qu’il faut tenter. Oh ! je sais, cela n’est pas facile ; et c’est encore avec du désespoir qu’il nous faut chasser le désespoir ; je n’ai pas tous les jours ce courage ; j’abandonne souvent ; mais je reviens à la tâche. Je ne puis faire autrement : il y va de ma propre existence et non seulement de celle de Rimbaud. Vous voyez, je préfère vous parler honnêtement même si, après cela, vous deviez déchanter à mon propos, et être déçu. Mais la pire des défections - et c’est la défection moderne - c’est d’avoir peur de regarder le danger en face ; et c’est par peur, par ex. de la réalité religieuse, que les surréalistes font les bravaches et se font mangeurs de curés.

Aussi me permets-je de vous envoyer par le même courrier mon livre La Conscience Malheureuse. Vous me direz après cela, si vous voulez bien, où en est votre état d’esprit et [si] j’y tiens encore une place. Je me formerai aussi là-dessus mon opinion sur vous ; car je ne me méfie de rien tant que du désespoir pris comme une simple attitude de sensibilité ; je le tiens pour une pensée extrême, radicale, positive ; pour une possibilité de libèration.

Pardonnez-moi ces explications ; je ne suis pas un directeur de conscience, mais une conscience qui cherche un directeur. Et croyez, cher monsieur, que j’ai la plus vive sympathie pour vous et le plus grand désir d’entendre des nouvelles de vos travaux.

Votre, Benjamin Fondane

* * * *

[Unrevised draft]
E.M. Cioran’s Memoir of Benjamin Fondane :
6 rue Rollin  [10]

The most lined, the most furrowed face that one can imagine, a face with thousand-year old wrinkles, not in the least fixed/hardened. since they were animated by the most explosive and contagious torment. Never before had I beheld such an accord between the appearance and speaking, between the physiognomy and the word. It is impossible for me to think of the least remark of Fondane [11] without immediately perceiving the imperious presence of his features.

I went to see him often (I knew him during the Occupation), always with the idea of staying at the apartment for no more than an hour, and I spent the afternoon there through my own fault, of course, but also through his adored talking, and I had not the courage, still less the desire, to interrupt a monologue which left me worn-out and delighted. Yet I was the inexhaustible talker on the occasion of my first visit, which I made with the intention of asking him questions about Chestov. [12] Now, from a need to show off, no doubt, I didn’t ask him a single one, preferring to reveal to him my reasons for my weakness for the Russian philosopher of whom he was not so much the faithful as the inspired disciple. It is not perhaps needless here to point out that between the two wars Chestov was very well known in Romania and that his books were read there with greater fervour than elsewhere. Fondane had had nothing to do with this, and was greatly surprised when he learnt that in the country from which he came, we had followed the same path as himself... Didn’t there lie in that fact something rather disturbing and much more than a coincidence ? More than one of the readers of his Baudelaire [13] has been struck by the chapter on ennui. Personally speaking, I have always found a relation between the predilection for this theme and his Moldavian origins. Paradise of neurasthenia, Moldavia is a province of a suitably unbearable affected charm. At Jassy, which is the capital, I spent two weeks in 1936 which, without the succour of alcohol, should/would have plunged me into the most debilitating fit of the blues. Fondane used to quote with pleasure lines from Bacovia, the poet of Moldavian ennui, an ennui less refined but far more corrosive than spleen. It remains an enigma to me that so many people manage not to die of it. The experience of the ’gulf’ has, one can see, distant sources.

Just like Chestov, he liked to start off with a quotation, [a] simple pretext to which he never stopped referring and from which he drew unexpected conclusions. In his developments there was always, in spite of their subtlety, something faking, in a way I can’t quite describe ; subtle, he certainly was, he even misused it, it was his obvious vice. In general, he didn’t know how to stop - he had a genius for variations - and one might have said from listening to him that he had a horror of the point. That broke out in his improvisations, it breaks out in his books, above all in his Baudelaire. On repeated occasions he said to me that he ought to suppress a good number of pages, and it is incomprehensible that he did not do so when one knows that he was living in the quasi-certitude of an approaching disaster. He considered himself threatened, and he was, but one can/may suppose that within himself he was resigned to his victim’s condition, for without this mysterious complicity with the indetectable, and without a certain fascination for tragedy, one could hardly explain his refusal to take the slightest precaution, the most elementary of which would have been to change his abode. (It seems he was to be denounced by his concierge !) [14] Strange ’thoughtlessness’ [15] on the part of someone who was anything but naif, and whose judgements of a psychological or political order bore witness to an exceptional clairvoyance. I retain the very precise recollection of one of my first visits during which, after having enumerated Hitler’s mind-boggling defects, he described to me like a visionary the collapse of Germany, and with such detail that I thought at the time I was witnessing a spell of delirium. It was no less than an anticipatory statement of fact.

In literary matters, I did not always share his tastes. He had insistently recommended to me Victor Hugo’s Shakespeare, a book that is almost unreadable and which made me think of the expression that an American critic used recently to qualify the style of Tristes tropiques [16] : ’the aristocracy of bombast’. The term is striking, even if unjust in that particular context.

I was better able to understand his partiality for Nietzsche, whose epitomes he loved, considering them incomparably denser than those of Novalis concerning which he made reservations. To tell the truth, he was interested not so much in what an author said, as in what he could have said, in what he hides, thus adopting Chestov’s method, that is to say the peregrination through souls, much more than through doctrines. More sensitive than anyone to extreme cases, the fascinating inner secrets/bewitching secret inner coils of sensibilities ; he told me once about a white Russian who during eighteen years had suffered in silence because he believed that his wife was deceiving him. After so many years of dumb torment, one day, unable to contain himself any longer, he had it out with her, as a result of which, having acquired the certainty that all his suspicions had been false, unable to bear the idea that he had been torturing himself for nothing during such a long time, he immediately went into the next room and blew his brains out.

On another occasion, while he was evoking his years in Bucharest, he made me read a wretched article written against him by Tudor Arghezi, a great poet but a still greater pamphleteer, at that time in prison for political reasons (this was just after the 1914-18 war). Fondane, very young, went to see him there for some interview. By way of recompense, the fellow took the liberty of depicting him in such caricatural and infamous terms that I was never able to understand how Fondane could have shown it to me. He had such a sort of indifference to certain things ... Indulgent by inclination, he ceased to be so with regard to those who thought they had found [sic], to those in short who got converted to whatever it might be. He had much esteem for Boris de Schloezer [17], and it was for him a great disappointment to learn that Chestov’s masterly translator had been able to go over to Catholicism. He couldn’t get over it, to him it was as good as treason. To search was for him something more than an obsession, or [something] that he was haunted by ; to search unremittingly, was a fatality, his fatality, perceptible even in his way of pronouncing things, especially when he got carried away or when he was oscillating without a let-up between irony and breathlessness. I shall always reproach myself with not having noted down his remarks, his discoveries of idea or phrase, the leaps of a kind of thinking orientated, in all directions, ceaselessly struggling against tyranny and the nullity of proofs, avid for its contradictions and seemingly terrified of coming to a conclusion.

I still see him rolling cigarette after cigarette. Nothing equalled, he would repeat, the pleasure of lighting one before breakfast. He didn’t deprive himself in this respect, despite a stomach ulcer which he intended to pay attention to later, in a future to which he never made any allusion ... The wife of his oldest friend told me at that time that she couldn’t like him because of what she called his ’so unhealthy appearance’. On his face, it is true, he did not bear the marks of prosperity ; only everything in him was beyond health and sickness, although both of them were only stages through which he had already passed. In which he resembled an ascetic, an ascetic of a prodigious vivacity, and of a verve which made one forget - while he was talking - his fragility and vulnerability. But when he lapsed into silence, he who in spite of everything was hanging over his destiny, gave the impression of dragging with him something indefinably pitiful and, at certain moments, lost. The English poet David Gascoyne (who must also, in other circumstances, have had a tragic lot) [18] told me how he had been pursued for months by the image of Fondane as he was walking, met by chance on the Boulevard St Michel on the day of Chestov’s death. It will be easily understood why, after thirty-three years, so attractive a being is singularly present in my mind and why also, I never pass by the number 6 of the rue Rollin without a wringing of the heart.

[Unrevised draft]

Les Surréalistes et la révolution / The Surrealists and the Revolution . [19]

Fondane’s essay in Intégral, no. 12 (Bucharest, avril, 1926) [20] is a carefully argued reponse to two texts. Pierre Naville, [21] writing as ’A.D.’ had published a brochure, La Révolution et les intellectuels. Que peuvent faire les surréalistes ?, in Paris in 1926 ; [22] André Breton’s pamphlet, Légitime défense, first appeared in La Révolution surréaliste, No.8, décembre 1926 (pp. 30-36). Naville reasoned that Surrealism and Marxism were incompatible : the Surrealists were faced with a choice between ’a negative attitude of an anarchic order’ and ’the only revolutionary path, the Marxist path.’ Breton’s reply to Naville’s criticism focused on defending the group against Communists and attacking the Party and its publications. [23] Breton believed that Naville had deliberately destroyed the rapport between the Surrealists and Communism, and never forgave him. [Editor]

The latest hour is charged with great surprise at seeing us abandon the map of China where at this moment the dice-throw is being made on the outcome of which the future of the West depends for so tiny a drama : the Surrealists and the revolution. But in this case it is the future of poetry that is at stake, and we are passionately interested. That so radical, so extreme a form of research into the mind, scorning all therapeutic ends, should lead to a solution[, ?] find a discipline which would fully satisfy its need for anarchy, should find accordance with the real on the basis of a programme of historical determinism - in this particular case that of Marx - provides one with enough to be more filled with astonishment than we should be by a captured town or a tidal wave. Surrealism considered as pure search for a metaphysics of poetry was the most advanced outpost of post-war Europe ; it is so still ; that this reef should be relinquished for good, well-weighed motives such as are being proposed to us makes us unable to neglect [to] consider them. And first of all the facts : not everyone is aware that the Surrealists did in fact become adherents of Clarté [24], Communist organ of Paris, during several months, then withdrew their support in order to safeguard their independence. The above-mentioned brochure [by Naville] bears witness to the facts. But Breton’s reply-article allows us to foresee other issues, shows the stage during the entreacte, the search for virgin spaces in which to set the décor. Breton informs us that the Surrealists have had to leave the French communists and all the Party discipline because they were unable to accept that the question of people’s salaries should settle once and for all every conceivable problem of the mind. But on the other hand, the Surrealists feel it to be their duty to remain being communists, in spite of everything and in spite of the communists, although the poetry question which seemed by nature to be liable to separate them appears to be only secondary (’if poetry wins with us so much the better or so much the worse, that isn’t the question.’ A. Breton)

Shall we ask ourselves this question ? If Surrealism was really - and it was nothing else, - the deliberate choice of a first principle : pure psychic automatism, suppression of Euclidean reality (Breton has long been preparing a Discourse on the death of reality in favour of the dream taken as representing the activity creating responsible acts and individuals, pure dictation bringing to light through the waking man or man in general whose uncommitted actions are the only reality, the sleeper whose climate is marvellous) - if it was besides that the scorn for all material riches, the apology for the sole pleasure [of] escaping from the rules [round ? ] the absolute obedience to the inner processes ever fighting against stability, crystallization, the equilibrium of the dead centre - how will the transformation operate in favour of a discipline, revolutionary it’s true, but of a social nature, resulting from a material discomfort : the question of wages, from an interested metaphysics ; historical materialism and aiming at only one result : the dictatorship of the proletariat ? There we are as far as Justice in Bessarabia, the independence of the Chinese motherland, the well-being of the universal proletariat are concerned - our submission is made. ’In reality,’ writes Breton, ’I prefer to fall.’ But here he is walking. The ideal lends him its crutches, helps him with its motives for living. Did the expression ’Surrealist revolution’, then, imply no more than that ? ’Take action,’ Gide asked of them, knowing that action implies the deliberate choice of a firm ground, carries with it the obligation to accept the rules of the game in space. Monsieur Aa, the antiphilosopher [25] could be right rather than the philosophers since he summoned them to meet him on a duelling-ground full of ambushes and traps. But, how naif was Breton to believe that he could fight the adversary on his own ground ? Should we await their performance ? as though the result could really concern us ! What does interest us passionately are the inner motives which have pressed [on ?] such (a) conviction in order to inject into it the motive-power of the change and also the illusion that this change is nothing but a consequence. Would life play such tricks on us ? That this could lead to that, here’s something to fill us with surprise for a long time.

Mr. ’A.D.’ [Pierre Naville] couldn’t have mooted the question better : ’Do the Surrealists believe in a liberation of the mind before the abolition of the bourgeois conditions of material life, or do they understand that a revolutionary spirit can only be created thanks to the accomplished revolution ?’ and elswhere : ’yes or no, is this desired revolution that of the mind(spirit) [26] a priori, or that of the world of facts ? Is it related to Marxism or to the theories of contemplation, to the purification of the inner life ?’ Breton adroitly avoids this question : ’artificial opposition,’ he says ’of inner reality to the world of facts, which at once gives way on examination.’

But what Breton refuses to see is that the problem faces him on strictly historical grounds : a form of spirit is related whether one likes it or not to a social matter, to its ’economic values’ ; ’the spiritual crisis doesn’t mean anything, it’s the crisis of the bourgeois spirit’ that one hears speaking. Hence salvation cannot come from the mind/spirit, is not innate in it ; it can only come from the abolition of the wage problems, from (the) proletarian dictatorship. So, does Breton approach the Revolution by the very pure way of a spiritual research ungoverned by the facts - which comes down to asking : does he believe in the autonomy of mind ? No agreement whatsoever is then possible on Marxist grounds. Does he believe on the contrary that it is sufficient for the revolution to come about for the mind suddenly to find itself liberated and happy to conform to values born of the facts - in which case the Surrealists are truly revolutionaries according to Marx. It can be clearly seen that no sort of sophism will be able to get Breton out of this closed circle. The safety-exits are blocked.

If the Surrealist spirit truly lived for the revolution and is not simply activated from without, if it is not simply inclination which is driving it but primal forces, one can necessarily foresee what ought to ensue. On finding himself in relation to bolshevism, Breton ought to - and should have - announced to the world that the ’Surrealist revolution’ had become the ’social revolution’, shut up shop, since it had only been an experiment, a subtle detour which the genius of the times had made use of for the sole purpose of leading back to the conditions of the real the most decided forces of the epoch that poetry, by having provided them with arms, nonetheless risked leading astray. In attaching himself to the IIIrd International on the Marxist programme, in accepting another experiment, another destiny of the mind/spirit than that lived and prepared for by Surrealism - ought he not to have raised his hat and bowed before the world of events in order to abolish an untrustworthy past ?

For what can the Surrealists expect of the revolution if not the revolution itself, this ’liquidation’ of a spiritual succession which it would be in everyone’s interest to renounce ? What does this revolution offer us, which can/may from now onwards - the destruction of the bourgeois excepted - concern our joy and the salvation of the spirit by freedom. What have we the right to expect ? With or without a church, we know that the proletariat will depend on the categorical imperative on duty, the law, the human, sacrifice, ancient moral precepts which will go against the marvellous - or poetry at liberty - and that it will justify by Reason, that idol which has ruled down all the centuries, and not simply over that of the bourgeoisie. Dictatorship of the proletariat enforced by reason, obliged to overcome at every step the arbitrary, the ballet of man and his desires, man and his myths, man and his personal freedom, how will it accept the irrational that we are proposing as an example to life ? For what we want - do we not ? or else we don’t want anything - is to make intuitive poetry splash over into reality, to make it effectual, make a motive force of it, a perpetual miracle - open the flood-gates of the unique profound reality capable of giving man an acceptable meaning - we want poetry to supplant Reason. It is certainly not a question of the freedom of the poet to be irrational, to be free - perhaps he will never again rediscover/recover that absolute freedom that he had in the bourgeois republic - but of imposing his freedom on men, forcing them to act freely. What is there less anarchic than the spirit of revolution, completely steeped in doctrines, what more resembles a machine of system, but another system, of a more extreme logic, dreamed of by the mathematicians of the bourgeois spirit. I can very well see the Surrealists going down into the street in order to endure the rifle-shots in the manner of Baudelaire in 1848, bourgeois until the eve of the events, become revolutionary through a taste/an inclination for horror, for slaughter, for the earthquake, but also with the avowed hope of seeing his mother’s husband, General Aupick, killed. But afterwards ? But before ?

In communist society, even supposing the material balance to be restored by ’near sacrifice’ to his material nature on man’s part - according to Breton’s expression - will the mind cease to be solicited by its antinomies, which have become irreducible ? ’We have a pretty serious account to settle with the mind, we are living with too much difficulty in our thought,’ writes Breton, and he adds, ’long live the social revolution and that alone.’ But we should be curious to know wherein the bourgeoisie, name of a vague social provisional state has been in a position to create a disorder of the mind, how a régime which pretends to attack no more than the economic problem, would be able to remedy the situation. If the first revolution has given this uneasiness to the mind - which is moreover the characteristic and the consequence of its absolute theoretical freedom - the proletarian revolution on the other hand intends on the contrary to reserve all things to itself, to settle everything, the mind included. Copyright by L’Humanité newspaper. [Translator]

It is quite likely that a rejuvenated or more stupid society would become reabsorbed in these questions, - or no longer ask them of itself - but that wouldn’t seem to me like a victory. ’Bearing witness to this total summons’, of which Breton speaks, how would he go about it under a communist régime ? or rather in what way, the revolution accomplished, would our position in face of the universe have changed ? Does Breton discount those truly new values which have not yet allowed themselves to be seen or foreseen - the ideas of the USSR being as old and bourgeois as the world [27] - liberation of oppressed peoples, liberation of Asia and of the wage-earners, in order to enjoy the great machinist civilization whose uninterrupted ascending progress is already being computed[?]. That the idea of progress should come to dry up/be exhausted in the confidence of the new clientele, or that it should be denounced as a drug destined to defraud the demands of the spirit - and we should find ourselves once more in the same conditions as on the eve of the downfall of God, of the gods, of lay morality. Starting from/with a purely artistic rebellion, the Surrealists overturned into moral anarchy, here they are now in the political revolution : it is evident that they haven’t yet finished looking for themselves. But wherever they go, they will take with them an incurable despair, the taste for the unpardonable, the joy of contradiction, and the miserable lot of the poetry of which they will have made an open-sesame only to abandon it at the first alarm.

It should be pointed out that the author of the brochure is in the great tradition of socialist writers in not wishing to promise in his conclusions anything more than the abolition of material exploitation. He does not avoid making it clear that ’the quarrels of the intelligence are absolutely frivolous in face of this unity of condition.’ That doesn’t exclude poetry but demands that it should follow it ; despite Breton’s scorn of it, Futurist poetry alone could do this. Futurist art is really Europe becoming aware of itself in its role of producer of a new world inhabited by the religion of Progress, the ethics of Speed, the politics of material comfort - it is the spontaneous adaptation to a new form of mechanical culture which can pay no heed to accepting the morbid heritage of the intellect, its fits of hysteria, its reductions to the absurd, its irreconcilable notions. It has put as much energy into sweeping away these antinomies as Surrealism has into resolving them. Such questions are scarcely to be resolved otherwise than by cutting the knot. There is also the method known as Columbus’s egg. Moreover, Futurism adapts itself infinitely better to bolshevik civilization than to that of the Italy of Mussolini, its disciple ; it is to be remarked that the dream that is common to them both is that of a will to power, of a world in which energy would have itself freed of every constraint of the mind in which risk, danger, the perilous leap are not yet subdued, in which the old culture of Europe with its escalation of probabilities and its wages [?] - does not Breton summon us to the ground [?] of doubt - would have to struggle to survive.

It must be said without evasion that there are elements of the Futurist manifesto to be found in Dada as well as in Surrealism ; they will be found for a long time to come in every future school ; it is because/on account of the ill-repressed futurism in every one of us that present-day reality is intelligible to us, that we are at one with it, that we give ourselves up to action ; that is what has been able to push Surrealism towards the USSR ; in this mediate association of ideas, the term that’s missing is Futurism. The superficiality of Futurism arises perhaps from the fact that it brushes aside all contemplative life, conceives of nothing but movement, in movement but certainly nothing is better suited to its time. The role of Surrealism is indeed not there ; it has undertaken the task of Chaplin’s Pilgrim of proceeding in danger, on an ideal frontier with one foot in one country, one foot in another.

Will it fail in this task ? The whole question is there. A great part of our freedom is at stake in it.

* * * *

Editor’s note :
I came across a single page in one of Gascoyne’s notebooks now in the McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa, which included two handwritten passages, one of which was headed Note on Benjamin Fondane :

If I am grateful to Fondane, it is above all because through his influence I became more and more aware of the differences between the literature of diversion and the kinds of writings in which the living spirit wrestles with the unarticulated for speech. There is a great gulf found between ...(Ms ends)


Tu ne sais où tu vas, ni pourquoi tu vas (Rimbaud)

’He wanted the truth, the hour of the essential desire and its essential satisfaction. Whether or not this was an aberration of piety, he wanted it.’

I’ve never doubted that it was expressed in these words, Rimbaud’s true vocation ; otherwise why should I have chosen to discuss Rimbaud’s poetry with you ? The theme might have been a hundred times more agreeable, and we wouldn’t have incurred the slightest risk : to talk about rhythm, style, is to suspend the universe for an instant. Rimbaud’s poetry is definitely closer to me than his God ; it touches me and moves me profoundly ; it gets me in the guts. I have difficulty in distinguishing one from the other the deliberate part and the cosmic radiance, the envelope and the thing it envelopes, the activity of language and the mediumistic spirit. But how to talk about the poet if the poet is only, in a certain sense, an ’accident’ in the substance of Rimbaud and in so far as the Rimbaud ’case’ will carry him away before everything else, will sweep up and break to bits and play its part in the economy of the universe in the manner of a cyclone about which the least one can say is that it seems efficacious and necessary, without one’s being able to say why ? No matter in how marvellous a fashion he says everything, the chemistry he exercises on us is so poignant that one forgets the expression. Is it really a poet speaking, when he writes the following words in a letter to Izambard : ’I’m so frightfully pig-headed in adoring free liberty and a whole heap of such things, that it’s pitiful [29] isn’t it ?’ This heap of things that are ’pitiful’ sums up Rimbaud completely. Certainly his poetry, as everyone is well aware, is something sublime, but there you are, it is almost forbidden to the gentle reader, this frankly provocative and filthy poetry. Instead of singing about the moon and the stars according to the fine old tradition, this loutish sixth-former, with clenched teeth depicts the Squatters [30], the ulcer on Venus’s bottom, urine, the stink of latrines and heaps of other pitiful things. During the rare instants when Rimbaud awoke in ’the plenitude of the great dream’, he could well write :


One fine morning, among a very gentle race, a
superb man and woman cried out in the public square :
’My friends, I want her to be queen - I want to be
queen.’ She laughed and trembled. He talked to their
friends about a revelation, a trial undergone. They fell
against each other in rapture.
They were in fact monarchs during a whole
morning, during which carmine-dyed hangings were
draped from the houses, and a whole afternoon, during
which they advanced in the direction of the garden of

But it’s no good waking up for an instant, it’s no good believing oneself a king during a whole morning ; he knows very well that his royalty is only a snare, like everything else. King, you understand, ’but only, not long after, to lie down in the shit.’ This little bit of a phrase that I’ve torn from one of his letters, plays in the life of Rimbaud the role of the ’Nevermore’ in the life of Edgar Allan Poe. Whatever he does, whether he’s poet, seer, adventurer, king or simply a business-man who’d grown rich, he knows the moment which follows, the heart-rending reawakening, the leg which has to be amputated, he knows that, soon after everything, one must, all the same, ’lie down in the shit’. He knows very well that it’s ’so much the worse for the wood that finds it’s a violin’ !

For a moment, he believes that ’the cleverest thing to do is to leave this continent’, to escape from his fate ; but one is never clever enough to escape one’s fate. He simply had to resign himself to accept it, give up the idea of free liberty, and the heap of things that were so ’pitiful’. But neither is renunciation to be for him, renunciation with its joys, renunciation and the fatted calf. Let him renounce, but for nothing, that is to be his lot ! At the worst point of his tortures, his torments, he certainly comes to long to get out of it, to dream of a little rest, of a friendly hand from which to draw strength : ’the best thing’s to lie down and take a thoroughly drunken sleep on the hillside.’ But never will repose be granted him, nor a friendly hand, nor the drunken sleep.

Never ! One might say that Rimbaud was ill-advised when he chose ’voluntarily to plunge himself into misfortune’ and that natural laws are decidedly ineluctable. Haven’t we heard Neoptolemus affirm that men ought to put up with the troubles sent by the gods, and that to him who sulks, who whines, who blasphemes, neither pardon nor pity must must be accorded ? So what sort of lesson is one to learn from such a life ? That one must not revolt, or curse, or plunge ’voluntarily’ into misfortune ? That to the man in a state of revolt, to him who suffers, neither gods, nor men will be indulgent ? That we must submit ourselves to Necessity, to Authority, to the Law and take them as a foregone conclusion ? Ought we, with closed eyes, to subscribe to Nietzsche’s Amor Fati ? Or ought we to think that this terrible experience was the lot only of Rimbaud, and his alone ; and thank heaven for having spared us from being exceptions, geniuses, the elect ?

But Rimbaud does not stop at the sole conditions of this earth ; he transgresses the natural laws : I see the consequences ! My wisdom is as disdained as chaos is ! What is my nothingness beside the stupor which awaits you ?’

This last and supreme insult of Rimbaud, the grossest of all, doesn’t it represent yet one more base act, the act of a hooligan ? How can a wisdom as disdained as chaos, be right, in the end ? Who gives this disdained wisdom the right to speak, with head held high, of threatening us with something even more awful than Nothingness ? And what could be more awful ?

’I am a beast, a nigger’, wrote the young Rimbaud, ’but I can be saved !’ He knew very well that to be a beast, a nigger, was to risk eternity, to deserve nothingness. But from nothingness, he thought one can still be saved : ’I see the consequences ...

Yet, here is a thing that is more terrible than nothingness, in a different way ; that is Stupor. There are beasts, negroes and old pains-in-the-neck who will never be saved. ’What is my nothingness, compared with the stupor which awaits you ?’

We others, is it really stupor that awaits us at the natural terminus of our route ?

* * * *

Translation of extract from Benjamin Fondane’s


Unforgettable afternoons ! Scarcely had I arrived, Chestov prepared the tea, and, i don’t know how, the first banalities having been exchanged, the day’s events exfoliated, dusk found us plunged into a full tide of philosophic dialogue. Dialogue ? I flatter myself ! It was a monologue, I was scarcely present, a veritable dialogue of the soul with herself. For years, I never dared intrude ; I snatched scraps of this fulgurating stream of thought, from which I had to eliminate the skin, the pips, I mean the numerous Latin and Greek texts to which I was later to become accustomed. When I had become slightly more au courant, I thought I had understood that it was better not to intervene in the monologue, to arouse contradictions, show signs of my difficulties. I formed the habit of weighing up the substance at home, when the session was ended, of attempting all by myself to resolve the doubts, to guess the answers, to await them at the corner. I felt the questions one ought not to ask, I knew that, these questions, Chestov had already asked himself them and that, in any case, the less an answer was possible, the more important the question appeared to him. I felt also that to the real questions, a sort of pudeur prevented a reply, that one could not even reply ’I love’, when one really loved. King Lear and his good daughter Cordelia ! How many times, in those early days, I wanted to ask him : ’Do you believe ? - Have you faith ? - to which his last book proved able to provide an ample reply. Yet I restrained my curiosity ; it struck me as being inconvenante. Today, I tell myself that I was quite right, reading this passage from Potestas Clavium (1st part, no. XIX) :

It appears to me that it suffices to ask a man : Does God exist ? to put him at once in a position in which it is impossible to give any sort of answer to this question ; and I believe that all those who have given an answer to it, affirmatively or negatively, were talking about something entirely different from what they had been asked. There are truths that one can see, but that one cannot demonstrate. And these are not uniquely the truths concerning God or the immortality of the soul... I don’t mean to say that one can’t talk about them. One can, and even extremely well. But that is precisely when one doesn’t ask questions about them. Strange as it may appear, they are afraid of questions.

And so I listened. I limited myself to leading the debate in the direction of such and such a problem. I only touched the trigger, I discreetly brought back the talk to matters that were ill-understood. But this was not my ’natural’ attitude, it was necessary for me to be enchanté, for I know myself well enough to be aware that I am as loquacious as anyone and, on ordinary occasions, just like anyone else, I scarcely leave my interlocutors time to finish their thought. I believe I’ve understood it before they’ve been able to formulate it... But with Chestov, I never understood enough ; even when he’d repeat an idea for the hundreth time, I still saw it as something new ; I felt myself wanting to to stop him, to immobilize his thought in order to extract all the juice from it ; to catch that which constituted the enduring part. And yet my understanding advanced by leaps and bounds ; it was not merely that there was now better comprehension and good will on both sides ; years had passed and with the years came the accomplishment of what I had written to Chestov in my letter of 1926 : that he would never have a voluntary disciple, that it was also necessary that what one would never wish for should befall one : misfortune. It happened : Chestov understood the fact and knew how to measure the extent to which I had been stricken by it, well before having read the dedication that I put to my poem ’Ulysse’, published in 1933.

If I had met Chestov ten years earlier, perhaps I should have known another of his faces. In fact there exists a first Chestov, full of anguish, feverish, combative, the Chestov of his first books : The Idea of the Good in Tolstoy and Nietzsche and The Philosophy of Tragedy ; he replies, in an abridged form, to this attitude : ’If Nature is cruel, implacable, pitiless, is that a good reason for thought to be so too ? Thought doesn’t have to imitate Nature ; it ought to surmount Nature ; it ought to seek for God.’ There exists a second Chestov, jeering, cynical and immoralist, of a humour at once to be relished and irritating, a Voltaire of negativity. The works of this second period have remained untranslated, for the most part. But in the way that he suggests himself in On the Borders of Life, so he appears still in the first part of Potestas Clavium, published ten years later. There is present here also a will to danger, to risk, to Schwindelfreie, such a tension of liberty that it borders on anarchy : one must make tabula rasa of all human values ; then one will see very well what will happen as a result ! Then came the war, the revolution, the flight from Russia, exile in Europe, the beginnings of solitude, of privation, of old age. It was the third Chestov that I knew, who had already encountered misfortune, the thought of Luther, and the idea that original sin was...our knowledge. This Chestov is not at the antipodes of the other two, he prolongs them, crowns them, ; the tributaries have done more than just widen the bed, they have given it also more mobility and depth. No, the times had not depressed him ! By way of reaction to every suffering, every impotence discovered, he has secreted, in reply, a new resistance, violence and obstinacy. On the threshold of old age, his mind scarcely began, with an increased vigour, the struggle of every day. From year to year, before my eyes, his soul became more and more tensed, further thrown back to its sharpest point - more keen, bolder. His books had been translated into French, English, German, he had been written about in Portugal, in Holland, he was admired but, in his opinion, nobody had understood him ; nonetheless, he persisted. Never was he in such good form as in his last book, published in his seventy-first year, never was he so intact as on the eve of his death. He held to be of capital importance the Socratic idea that philosophy is above all a preparation for death. At the moment of his death, he was ready to go. Ready to confront that great and final combat which, according to Plotinus, awaits all souls.

It was only towards 1934 that I understood his solitude, his mission, the tragedy of a destiny that had, of its own accord, chosen as target failure, tragedy, ugliness, chaos. During what I call his second epoch, Chestov had written : ’Should even future generations have to turn away from us in horror, even when history has to brand us with the name of traitor to the work of humanity, we shall continue nevertheless to compose hymns to the glory of ugliness, madness, darkness.’ (On the Borders of Life, 2nd part, no. XIV). During the same epoch he dared to praise Schopenhauer and Nietzsche for having offered us ’the noble example of a complete indifference to common sense and logic’, and to congratulate the first for his ’splendid and very lively contradictions’ (ibid. 2nd part, XVII). Philosophy, according to him, ought to disturb and not to tranquillize men (ibid. 1st part, XI) ; it ought, sooner or later, to become a philosophy ’in the open air’ (Potestas Clavium, 3rd part, Chapter I, III). To the non ridere, non lugere, neque detestare, sed intelligere of Spinoza, he replied : ’The right to complain and to curse destiny, though scarcely enviable, is nevertheless a right’ (On the Borders of Life, 1st part, LXXX). When the third epoch had arrived (I hope the reader will forgive me for this arbitrary and gross dividing up of a life into epochs) Chestov did not have to change his opinions, although he hadn’t the slightest fear of doing so, he even placed much hope in the mobility of thought ; it was the tone alone that changed. In fact the battle, brutally, had changed face ; one no longer fought at the gates, the sword had entered the city. That was true of the world ; it was even more true of himself. He had been obsessed in his youth by Hamlet’s cry : The time is out of joint. Time was unhinged, philosophy strove to put it back in its right place. But Chestov already cried : ’I will do nothing to put it back in its place. Let it break itself to bits.’ When the earth trembled - so did he himself later translate this same thought - philosophy endeavoured to put back beneath our feet an artificial earth. And very well, it would be better that the earth trembled. And the earth trembled ! It trembled beneath the world. It trembled in his heart. It entered into him, with the trembling accepted, this consciousness, of which Epictetus had spoken, of impotence in the face of necessity. And with this impotence, the need, not for consolation, but for awakening. Terrible effort, extreme tension - that was what he called ’that which is most important’, and that he defined thus : ’The task of his philosophy’ - that of Plotinus - was ’deliverance from the nightmare of visible reality’. I develop elsewhere Chestov’s thought on this point ; here, I am only showing its reflection in our conversations, its springing forth from contact with life, from the latest event to take place, in other words, from reading the papers. [31]


Fondane’s preface to Le Mal des fantômes

I wished to write these poems in the all-devouring taste of my century. If I’ve resisted, from whence did this resistance come to me ?

I wished with all my heart to be of my time, to be of one flesh with its history. Why was this inclination of mine refused to me ?

It has been given to me to know the liberties of the poem, its limits, its essence, its formidable facilities, its so-called obstacles, all derisory. I know the Open Sesame which unseals it. And I have deserted, I have betrayed, the dialectical cause.

No, it’s not there, that’s not it, poetry, whatever may be said to the contrary ! Something stronger than myself, more deliberate, pulls me back, pushes me forward. Something stronger than myself, rises within me, invades me, devours me, throws my most secret designs into confusion, forces me to express through the bric-à-brac of the least related, the most unmatched, the most decried of lyric structures, the confusion of a mind haunted, pell-mell, by vows, by presentiments, superstitions, puns, gloom and essences.

The ridiculousness was apparent to me of such an expedition in reverse, such an exploration of the antipodes. I tried everything in order to flee, to escape. But of what bulwark could I make use ? to whom could I call for help ? I wanted to be with you, comrades. I couldn’t be. Forgive me !


From Le Mal des fantômes

When the voyager who escaped from the shipwreck
got at last to the island, having saved from the waves
his tooth-brush, his pipe, his liver-trouble and his
old inability to believe in miracles
time suddenly melted like a lump of snow
silence, suddenly, cracked all over
the voyager’s blood became light and drunken
so light and so drunken
that he entered into things and things entered
into him, in a thirst for combustion so keen
that his sight stumbled among visions,
went through states of unease, hallucinations
so strong, ecstasies and revelations
so clear, that he grew afraid of turning
into a spider, or else a wild strawberry –
so afraid that he flung himself on his knees, he prayed
to his god too excellent to work miracles,
and let himself fall from a rock into the sea
just one moment before
he might have been granted the gift of prophecy.


[1First published in Poetry Nation, Vol. 6, No. 4 (1979), pp. 28-29.

[2Ibid., pp. 29-30.

[3Gascoyne’s translation of Fondane’s memoir was published in PN Review 19, Vol. 7, No. 5 (1980), pp. 28-37.

[4Poetry Nation, Vol. 6, No. 4 (1979), p. 30.

[5First published in Orbis, 36/37, a David Gascoyne number (October 1979), p. 10, with a note by Gascoyne : ’From Poèmes épars (written in Paris in clandestinity, some time before Fondane’s final arrest by the Gestapo in 1944, deportation to Auschwitz, and finally his death in the gas-chambers at Birkenau shortly afterwards.’ The French text of this poem is in Le Mal des fantômes (Paris : Editions Plasma, 1980), p. 306. A translation by Roger Scott and Catherine McFarlane of the preface by Gascoyne is included in Selected Prose 1934-1998, pp. 174-181.

[6Editor’s note : the poem was first printed with this title in Gascoyne’s Collected Poems 1988 (Oxford University Press), p. 99, then in Selected Poems (London : Enitharmon Press, 1994), p. 89.

[7Editor’s note : Poem 1933 (’The girl was mad in that village’), ’Is it ?’ and ’Sometimes’, both from Au Temps du Poème, are included in Gascoyne’s Selected Verse Translations, edited by Alan Clodd & Robin Skelton, with an introduction by Roger Scott (London : Enitharmon Press, 1996), pp. 60-61.

[8Gascoyne reviewed R. Goffin’s Rimbaud Vivant for T.S. Eliot’s The Criterion, Vol.17, no. 66 (October 1937), pp. 158-60.

[9Aquarius 17 & 18 (1987), guest editor A.T. Tolley, pp. 23-29, preceded by the French publication, Rencontres avec Benjamin Fondane (Cognac : Arcane 17, 1984). ’Meetings with Benjamin Fondane’ was reprinted in Gascoyne’s Selected Prose 1934-1998, edited by Roger Scott (London : Enitharmon Press, 1998), pp. 133-39.

[10© Estate of David Gascoyne, 2009. This translation is amongst the David Gascoyne Papers, Series II : Writings 1978-80,.in the Beinecke Rare Books Manuscript Library at Yale University. So far as I am aware, the piece has never been published. Italicised words replace those underlined in the Ms. : they may indicate an emphasis, or uncertainty about the final choice of word or phrase on the part of the translator. The original text in French by Cioran was first published in the special number of the review Non Lieu devoted to Benjamin Fondane, edited by Michel Carassou (1978), then in Exercises d’admiration : Essais et Portraits (Paris : Collection Arcanes, 1986).

[11Born in Romania of German-Jewish parents Fondane went to live in Paris in 1923, where he published works of poetry, philosophy and literary criticism.

[12Léon Chestov (Lev Shestov), Russian-Jewish existentialist philosopher (born Kiev 1866, died in Paris 1938). Gascoyne’s essay, ’Léon Chestov. After Ten Years’ Silence’, prefaced by a quotation from Fondane : Qui voudra suivre Chestov ?, was first published in Horizon, Vol. XX, 118 (October 1949), pp. 213-229, then reprinted in Journal 1936-1937 (London : Enitharmon Press, 1980), pp. 127-144, and later in David Gascoyne, Selected Prose 1934-1996, ed. Roger Scott (London : Enitharmon Press, 1998), pp. 79-93.

[13Baudelaire et l’expérience du gouffre, (Paris : Seghers, 1947).

[14Fondane died in Auschwitz-Birkenau on October 2 or 3, 1944.

[15’Insouciance’. Translator’s note.

[16A memoir by anthropologist and structuralist Claude Lévi-Strauss, first published in France in 1955 (revised edition 1968).

[17(1881-1969), author of ’Un penseur russe : Lêon Chestov’. in Mercure de France (1 octobre, 1922), pp. 82-115, and translator of various works by Chestov including : Les Rêvelations et la mort : Dostoievski - Tolstoi (Paris, 1958) ; La Philosophie de la tragêdie. Dostoievski et Nietzsche (Paris, 1929) ; Sur les confins de la vie. L’Apothêose du dêracinement (Paris, 1927) ; (with Sylvie Luneau) Les commencements et les fins (Lausanne, 1987).

[18Gascoyne himself comments on Cioran’s observation : ’I would like to correct what M. Cioran wrote about me when he spoke of "a tragic fate" which befell me "in other circumstances". I have passed through periods of complete sterility, many disappointments and nervous crises, but they are nothing which can possibly be compared to the experience of the victims of the Nazis, above all to the experience of a man as clear-sighted and sensitive as Benjamin Fondane.’ See ’Meetings With Benjamin Fondane’, first published in Aquarius 17/18 (1986-87), pp. 23-29, translated from the French by Robin Waterfield, and reprinted in David Gascoyne, Selected Prose 1934-1996, op. cit. pp. 133-139. There is also a French publication, Rencontres avec Benjamin Fondane, (Cognac : Edition Arcane 17, 1984).

[19© Estate of David Gascoyne, 2009. This translation is amongst the David Gascoyne Papers, Series II : Writings 1978-80,.in the Beinecke Rare Books Manuscript Library at Yale University. So far as I am aware, the piece has never been published. Italicised words replace those underlined in the Ms. As in the previous text, they may denote an emphasis, or uncertainty about the final choice of word or phrase on the part of the translator. The handwritten Ms is difficult to decipher in places, and where I am unsure of a word or phrase I have indicated this by using square brackets and a question mark. Peter Christensen summarises the essay as follows : ’He [Fondane] points out that Surrealism and Communism are movements logically at odds with one another, an issue which Breton was hedging on. He stresses his distaste of Communism, a totalizing system of order, and advocates the irrational in life, which might ultimately crush Surrealism.’ See ’Benjamin Fondane’s "Scenarii intournables"’, in Dada and Surrealist Film, ed. Rudolf E. Kuenzli (Massachusets/London : MIT Press, 1996), p. 83.

[20Fondane was the Paris editor of the magazine.

[21Founder editor with Benjamin Péret of La Revolution surréaliste.

[22A new expanded edition of this essay was published by Gallimard in 1975).

[23For a helpful discussion of the ’Naville Crisis’, see Helena Lewis : Dada Turns Red : the politics of Surrealism (Edinbugh University Press, 1990), Chapter 4, pp. 55-58, and 61.

[24Journal and political movement, 1925-1927. See Lewis, op. cit., pp. 47-61.

[25See Tristan Tzara’s L’Antitête (1933). Translator’s note.

[26Translator : note here the ambiguity of esprit, especially crucial throughout.the essay.

[27Read the chapter on ’Proletarian morals’ in Reflections on violence to see their emptiness. Translator’s note.

[28Gascoyne is translating the complete Chapter XVII of Fondane’s study : pp. 147-49.

[29Translator’s note : Rimbaud’s original expression is ’que ça fait pitié’. What he really means, I think, is ridiculous or absurd, but I have left the more literal meaning.

[30Translator’s note : Rimbaud certainly wasn’t using the expression, ’les Accroupis’, in the sense it has come to have in contemporary English !

[31Editor’s note : this extract comprises pages 28 and 29 (part) of the complete translation.

[32Translator’s note : ’No sufficient grounds for prosecution, no true bill’. Or perhaps, more simply, ’Case dismissed’.

Le texte demeure propriété de l'auteur .© |