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This review is taken from PN Review 94, Volume 20 Number 2, November - December 1993.

RE-MEMBERING(S) BLAISE CENDRARS, Modernities and other writings, edited and introduced by Monique Chefdor, translated by Esther Allen in collaboration with Monique Chefdor, University of Nebraska Press, £16.95
ANNE-MARIE ALBIACH, "Vocative Figure', revised second edition, translations by Anthony Barnett and Joesph Simas, AIlardyce Books, £12.00
JACQUES ROUBAUD, Some Thing Black, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop, Dalkey Archive Press, £15.00
PIERRE SEGHERS, Piranesi, translated by Ian Higgins, Forest Books, £6.95 pb

French poetry of this century has in very broad terms tended to gravitate towards one or other of the expressive extremes; what Czeslaw Milosz has helpfully labelled the 'permissive' and the 'prohibitive'. In the wake of the welter of modernism clamouring for attention in the tens and teens of the century, the Surrealists were of the former persuasion, with the spirit of Rimbaud inhabiting the wilder shores of love, and the palace of wisdom at the end of the long road of excess. Of these recent publications the Modernities of Blaise Cendrars represents this trend, though his opposition to being incorporated into anything so co-operative as a movement has inevitably left him looking an isolated figure. These Modernities, and much else here, pivot around what Monique Chefdor believes to have been a crucial year for Cendrars, 1917, by which time he had already been invalided out of the French army after the loss of his right arm in battle. Figuratively speaking 'left of centre' before this traumatic event, Cendrars was obliged to accept his fate literally after it; doubtless he would have temperamentally opted for a subversive role, even without the war having intervened.

In the English-speaking world the received idea of Blaise Cendrars in part depends upon his own tireless mythologizings of self, but is in larger part the product of Henry Miller's adoption of him as a kind of ideal alter ego. Yet both Cendrars and Miller contrive to convey that the man might be ...


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