Thursday, January 27, 2011

A tale of two Raymonds

Raymond Roussel's New Impressions of Africa was the last book he saw published in his lifetime. Begun in 1915, but not published until 1932 (a year before the author's death), it's a poem consisting, as Mark Ford - its latest translator - explains, "of four cantos of 228, 642, 172, and 232 lines respectively. Each is prefaced by a heading referring to a location in Egypt, and each begins with a few lines evoking the location in question." The poems are disrupted, if that's the right word, by bracketed, parenthetical thoughts, interrupted by a second... then a third... then a fourth divagation. And there are footnoted verses that contain several sets of brackets themselves. The book was composed in alexandrine couplets with alternating masculine and feminine rhymes.

The illustrations for the poem by Henri A. Zo (great name!), with whom Roussel had worked before. But on this occasion, Ford tells us,

... Zo had no contact with the author himself: he received his instructions for the fifty-nine illustrations [...] not from Roussel, but through the intermediary of a detective agency called Agence Goron. He was informed, further, that he would not be allowed to read the poem for which his fifty-nine Chinese ink drawings were commissioned until after its publication. When Zo eventually found out the name of his employer, he at once fired off a letter of remonstrance:

"Please allow me to tell you that I bitterly regret the fact that you wanted this collaboration to be shrouded in such an impenetrable mystery. These are not the pictures I would have made if I had known I was illustrating Raymond Roussel!"

Ford's translation will be published in April; click here for info.

Above are two of Zo's drawings; below are Ford's translations of the captions.

Caption for the illustration on the left:

A scarecrow for sparrows (a cross dressed in an old coat and an old hat). No people.

Caption for the illustration on the right:

A waiter with a pair of crossed knives that he is using to carve a roast chicken. No other people.


Speaking of Raymonds, check out these Photomaton images of Raymond Queneau, from Jahsonic's microblog:

No comments: