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24.4.04

Louis Aragon

I recently happened upon an interesting set of literary portraits from Le Point, and six articles on French surrealist author Louis Aragon (from an issue of the magazine in 1997, in honor of the centenary of his birth) got me thinking about Aragon again. One of my favorite books so far in the Paris Reading Project (see the bottom of the sidebar at right) was Aragon's Le Paysan de Paris (1926), a loving portrait of Surrealist Paris in the 1920s. Toward the beginning of the book, Aragon sets the tone of the surrealist movement by banishing reason (p. 13, with my translation):

Raison, raison, ô fantôme abstrait de la veille, déjà je t'avais chassée de mes rêves, me voici au point où ils vont se confondre avec les réalités d'apparence: il n'y a plus de place ici que pour moi.Reason, reason, oh abstract phantom of last night, I had already chased you from my dreams, here I am at the point where they are going to be confused with the realities of appearance: there is no more room here for anything but me.
The rest of the book stays true to this opening, with very little that could be called plot or character development. The real protagonist is the city of Paris, the passages and urban landscape in the first part and, in the second half of the book, the park of Les Buttes-Chaumont. In the former, he describes the place where he lives, a hotel in one of the covered passages that mostly functions as a brothel, all of which was torn down in the demolition to make way for the new Boulevard Haussmann (p. 21, with my translation):
La lumière moderne de l'insolite . . . règne bizarrement dans ces sortes de galeries couvertes qui sont nombreuses à Paris aux alentours des grands boulevards et que l'on nomme d'une façon troublante des passages, comme si dans ces couloirs dérobés au jour, il n'était permis à personne de s'arrêter plus d'un instant. . . . Le grand instinct américain, importé dans la capitale par un préfet du second Empire, qui tend à recouper au cordeau le plan de Paris, va bientôt rendre impossible le maintien de ces aquariums humains déjà morts à leur vie primitive, et qui méritent pourtant d'être regardés comme les receleurs de plusieurs mythes modernes, car c'est aujourd'hui seulement que la pioche les ménace, qu'ils sont effectivement devenus les sanctuaires d'un culte de l'éphémère, qu'ils sont devenus le paysage fantômatique des plaisirs et des professions maudites, incomprehensibles hier et que demain ne connaîtra jamais.The modern light of the unexpected . . . reigns strangely in these sorts of covered galleries, which are numerous in Paris around the broad boulevards and which one calls in a troubling way "passages," as if in these corridors hidden away from the day, no one was permitted to stop for more than an instant. . . . The powerful American instinct, imported into the capital by a prefect of the Second Empire [Baron Haussmann], which seeks to cut up the map of Paris again with lines, will soon make impossible the preservation of these human aquariums already dead to their former life and which deserve to be seen as the repositories of several modern myths, for only today, as they are threatened by the pickaxe, have they become effectively the sanctuaries of a cult of the ephemeral, have they become the ghostly landscape of pleasures and of condemned professions, once incomprehensible and which tomorrow will never know.
The book includes an affectionate and rather detailed description of the Café Certa, the hangout of the surrealist circle, from which it could be reliably reconstructed. (It may already have been, as there is a place in Paris bearing this name—at 5, rue de l'Isly, in the 8th—anyone been there?)
Articles from Le Point (April 26, 1997):


· François Nourissier (a personal friend of Aragon's), Le siècle Aragon (The Aragon century)

· Jacques-Pierre Amette, Le miracle du roman sauvé (The miracle of the saved novel) and Sous les feux croisés de la critique (Beneath the crossed lights of criticism)

· Michel Schneider, Le fils caché (The hidden son)

· Pierre Daix (author of a biography of Aragon), Aragon et le communisme (Aragon and communism)

· Gilles Pudlowski, Le fou de poésie (The crazyman of poetry)
Available from Amazon:
cover
Louis Aragon, Paris Peasant (Le paysan de Paris), translated by Simon W. Taylor
Other Internet Resources:


Biography of Louis Aragon

Louis Aragon Online (in German and French, from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Babilas)

Louis Aragon (from the Ministère des Affaires Étrangères)

Louis Aragon, La Rose et le Réséda

Selected Poetry of Louis Aragon

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