Thursday, February 10, 2011

Big Finish (Grande Fin): How I Wrote Certain Of My Books (Raymond Roussel)


The automobile roulotte:  Raymond Roussel's one-of-a-kind, custom-built limousine, admired by Mussolini and the Pope.

In bringing this essay to a close I must refer again to the painful sensation I have always experienced on seeing my works run up against an almost totally hostile incomprehension.

        (It took no less than twenty-two years for the first edition of Impressions d'Afrique to become out-of-print.)

        The only kind of success I have ever really experienced derived from singing to my own piano accompaniment and above all my numerous impersonations of actors and ordinary folk.*  But there at least my success was enormous and complete.

        And so I seek solace, for want of something better, in the hope that I may perhaps gain a little posthumous recognition for my books.**

Raymond Roussel

[En terminant cet ouvrage je reviens sur le sentiment douloureux que j’éprouvai toujours en voyant mes œuvres se heurter à une incompréhension hostile presque générale.

        (Il ne fallut pas moins de vingt-deux ans pour épuiser la première édition d’Impressions d’Afrique.)

        Je ne connus vraiment la sensation du succès que lorsque je chantais on m’accompagnant au piano et surtout par de nombreuses imitations que je faisais d’acteurs ou de personnes quelconques. Mais là, du moins, le succès était énorme et unanime.

        Et je me réfugie, faute de mieux, dans l’espoir que j’aurai peut-être un peu d’épanouissement posthume à l’endroit de mes livres.]

Translator's Notes (Trevor Winkfield):

*  Blessed with an incredible memory (he could recite the entire 459 pages of Locus Solus word for word, which leads one to suspect that the numerous memory lapses he displays in How I Wrote Certain of My Books are in fact intentional), Roussel claimed to have spent seven years perfecting each impersonation, frequenting theaters night after night, not so much to watch the performances as to study the facial expressions, voice intonations and gestures of individual actors.  His nephew Michael Ney recalls: ". . . He mimicked Max Dearly, Fugere (of the Opera-Comique) . . . his own friends . . .and another actor called Morton . . .it was really uncanny the way he'd got them off to a 'T'!"

**  Roussel, although he always remained convinced of the "immeasurable artistic value" of his work, seems towards the end of his life to have realized that he would never be the popular, universally acknowledged "great writer" he had earlier fervently hoped he would be, and that any fame due him would be posthumous.  Confirmation of this disillusionment can be found in Jean Cocteau's Opium (1931): " . . .In a post-script to a recent letter he sent me he quoted this passage from (my play) The Wedding On The Eiffel Tower:

First gramophone:        But this telegraph is dead.

Second gramophone:     It's just because it's dead that everyone
                                    understands it.

Manuscript page from Locus Solus

"According to Charlotte Dufrene, he worked an average of three hours every morning, often with the curtains drawn, by electric light, starting and finishing at the same time, just like a clerk at his office.  At the end of these statutory three hours, however, he had often produced only a name or a single word".

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