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This article is taken from PN Review 138, Volume 27 Number 4, March - April 2001.

Raymond Roussel: How He Wrote Certain of His Books Mark Ford

On 16 April 1932, Raymond Roussel delivered to his publishers a short autobiographical essay entitled 'Comment j'ai écrit certains de mes livres'. An accompanying letter stipulated that this text should be kept 'secret' until after the author's death. The essay, Roussel's literary will and testament, was composed only after he had abandoned his final and perhaps most ambitious undertaking, the cycle of thirty radically compressed narratives that would have constituted a prose equivalent to the labyrinthine poetics of Nouvelles Impressions d'Afrique (1932). Roussel seems to have realised that he had reached the point of no return, that the complexity of his methodology had evolved in such a way as to make any new project he attempted unfinishable. Nevertheless, he remained convinced that his methods might yet prove valuable to others:

I have always intended to explain the way in which I wrote certain of my books (Impressions d'Afrique, Locus Solus, L'Étoile au front and La Poussière de soleils).

It involved a very special method [procédé]. And it seems to me that it is my duty to reveal this method, for I have the sense that writers in the future may perhaps be able to exploit it fruitfully.

At the heart of the procédé lies the pun. The first of Roussel's writings to make use of his obsession with double meanings were the stories he wrote in his early twenties such as 'Chiquenaude', 'Nanon', and 'Parmi les Noirs', which begin and end ...


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