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This review is taken from PN Review 84, Volume 18 Number 4, March - April 1992.

TREATISE AND TREE-TIES Louis Aragon, Treatise on Style translated and with an introduction by Alyson Waters (University of Nebraska Press) £12.50

There are perhaps three Aragons we are likely, under ideal conditions, to encounter: the card-carrying Surrealist, the 'poet of resurgent France' (and of resurgent love for Elsa Triolet), and the realist novelist. A taste for the latter must nowadays be something of a rarity, and unlikely to become less of one if John Ashbery's recent Reported Sightings is anything to go by; and Les yeux d'Elsa and other wartime work of quality seems mainly to command the interest of specialists, though very ripe for wider rediscovery. A clear prompting towards the first of these three Aragons, and one undoubtedly responsible for the scales tipping so decisively in this direction, is the interest he aroused in so formidable a figure as Walter Benjamin, himself very much the beneficiary of rediscovery. Benjamin had a special fondness for Le Paysan de Paris (the one work of Aragon's to have been made widely available in English translation and in paperback), the structure and style of which were to prove influential on Benjamin's own Parisian projects. Le Paysan called forth from the German critic the rare sobriquet 'incomparable', a description characteristically tempered by Benjamin's detection of 'disturbing symptoms of deficiency'. Yet at the end of his 1929 essay on 'Surrealism' Benjamin was happy to devote the bulk of his last two paragraphs to the proficiency with which Aragon, in his Traité du Style, had identified and exemplified the principal symptoms of disturbance: the opening-up of a long-sought 'image sphere', which might facilitate 'profane ilumination'. ...


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