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Earthworm on Zither

Paul Grimstad: Raymond Roussel, 26 April 2012

Impressions of Africa 
by Raymond Roussel, translated by Mark Polizzotti.
Dalkey, 280 pp., £10.99, June 2011, 978 1 56478 624 1
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New Impressions of Africa 
by Raymond Roussel, translated by Mark Ford.
Princeton, 264 pp., £16.95, April 2011, 978 0 691 14459 7
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... I have travelled a great deal,’ Raymond Roussel wrote towards the end of his life, ‘but from all these travels I never took anything for my books.’ It’s an odd thing to hear from the author of Impressions d’Afrique (1910) and Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique (1932). But it makes sense when you consider some of the ‘impressions’ he recorded in his journal during his first visit to Egypt in 1906: ‘Crossed the Nile by boat – Hired donkeys – Went to see the Valley of the Kings – Cold lunch – sun – heat ...

Champion of Words

John Sturrock, 15 October 1987

Death and the Labyrinth: The World of Raymond Roussel 
by Michel Foucault, translated by Charles Ruas.
Athlone, 186 pp., £29.50, April 1987, 0 485 11336 8
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Raymond RousselLife, Death and Works. Essays and stories by various hands 
Atlas, 157 pp., £5.50, September 1987, 0 947757 14 7Show More
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... Michel Foucault, for once and for now, may stand aside: who is the Raymond Roussel about whom he wrote this, his one real essay into literature? Roussel was a writer, of sorts, of the early 20th century; a man both glamorously rich and mentally odd. His money he spent to the hilt in the furtherance of his oddness, for Roussel laboured to write the most uncommercial works and then paid to have them published ...

In the Anti-World

Nicholas Jenkins: Raymond Roussel, 6 September 2001

Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams 
by Mark Ford.
Faber, 312 pp., £25, November 2000, 0 571 17409 4
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... interests to the works of the rich, bizarre and innovative French poet, novelist and playwright Raymond Roussel. In Paris, Péret contacted Roussel’s business manager, hoping to arrange a meeting with the man whom Louis Aragon called ‘the President of the Republic of Dreams’. Members of the Surrealist ...

Heavy Lifting

John Palattella: John Ashbery, 7 June 2001

Other Traditions 
by John Ashbery.
Harvard, 168 pp., £15.50, October 2000, 0 674 00315 2
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John Ashbery and American Poetry 
by David Herd.
Manchester, 245 pp., £45, September 2000, 0 7190 5597 0
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... without, of course, marshalling them into a Great Tradition. Five of them – the exception being Raymond Roussel – he reads habitually ‘in order to get started; a poetic jump-start for times when the batteries have run down’. The surprise is that instead of lecturing on Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, W.H. Auden, Elizabeth ...

Genius in Its Pure State

Mark Ford, 22 May 1997

... The French Writer Raymond Roussel was 56 years old when he left Paris for Sicily in the early summer of 1933. It seems clear he had no intention of ever returning to France. His theatrical extravaganzas, legendary generosity and eccentric lifestyle had consumed the bulk of his colossal fortune. He was addicted to drugs ...

Anticipatory Plagiarism

Paul Grimstad: Oulipo, 6 December 2012

Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature 
by Daniel Levin Becker.
Harvard, 338 pp., £19.95, May 2012, 978 0 674 06577 2
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... the Ouvroir de Littérature potentielle, or Oulipo. Founded by François Le Lionnais and Raymond Queneau, the group devoted itself to inventing, analysing and sometimes applying constraints for the making of literature. The idea arose in the autumn of 1960 at a colloquium on Queneau’s work at Cérisy-la-Salle, and the initial members met officially ...


David Gascoyne: Notebook, New Year 1991, 25 January 1996

... repeat of Twin Peaks. Kept me awake. Some almost magic moments. ‘Owls are not what they seem’: Raymond Roussel/Cocteau’s Orphée. Sunday 20: Made oeufs florentine. Second programme on de Gaulle BBC2. Brought back a vivid memory of watching the news at the Tour de César near Aix – a splendid view of Mont Ste Victoire – that sweltering summer of ...

Bye-bye, NY

Ange Mlinko: Harry Mathews’s Fever Dream, 18 March 2021

Collected Poems: 1946-2016 
by Harry Mathews.
Sand Paper Press, 288 pp., $28, February 2020, 978 0 9843312 8 4
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... Scholar. It was 1956. Ashbery introduced him to the work of the eccentric procedural writer Raymond Roussel, which reignited Mathews’s literary imagination. In 1959 he came into some money and used it to found a little magazine named after one of Roussel’s works, Locus Solus: Ashbery, Kenneth Koch and James ...

Inside the Giant Eyeball of an Undefined Higher Being

Martin Riker: Mircea Cărtărescu, 20 March 2014

Blinding: Volume I 
by Mircea Cărtărescu, translated by Sean Cotter.
Archipelago, 464 pp., £15.99, October 2013, 978 1 935744 84 9
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... world; Cărtărescu’s Those Who Know is a purely fantastical device that might be the work of Raymond Roussel. As with Cărtărescu’s use of philosophy, history and memory, even his conspiracy theories are folded into the generative messiness of the novel, which is both ‘messy’ and coherent, since the style of performance is at the heart of the ...


Gary Indiana: Nymphomania, antic incest and metaphysical torment, 14 December 2006

Lust for Life: On the Writings of Kathy Acker 
edited by Amy Scholder, Carla Harryman and Avital Ronell.
Verso, 120 pp., £10.99, May 2006, 9781844670666
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... speaking, of who is ‘I’ and who is the Other. The effect is reminiscent of early Dada, or of Raymond Roussel. Acker attempted many acrobatic violations of literary convention. Her most successful fight was with the 19th-century novel; it’s when she took on the Modernist canon that her work most often ran awry. Pissing on Dickens may be one ...

Hound of Golden Imbeciles

John Sturrock: Homage to the Oulipo, 29 April 1999

Oulipo Compendium 
edited by Harry Matthews and Alastair Brotchie.
Atlas, 336 pp., £16.99, March 1999, 0 947757 96 1
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... and associated verbal business for almost forty years, having been launched by Le Lionnais and Raymond Queneau in 1960, and having held monthly meetings designed for the convivial incitement of its members ever since. No sooner was it started than it was understandably co-opted as a ‘sub-committee’ of the Collège de ’Pataphysique, the droll ...

English Words and French Authors

John Sturrock, 8 February 1990

A New History of French Literature 
edited by Denis Hollier.
Harvard, 1280 pp., £39.95, October 1989, 0 674 61565 4
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... wholly obscured: the father of ’pataphysics, Alfred Jarry, comes and goes in a single sentence, Raymond Queneau is made to sound quite a solemn fellow, Raymond Roussel and Boris Vian are no more than names, and poor Georges Perec, unforgivably, is not even that. This is the saddest omission of all. The New History ...

In the Circus

William Wootten: Low-Pressure Poetry, 3 August 2006

The Collected Poems 
by Kenneth Koch.
Knopf, 761 pp., £40, November 2005, 1 4000 4499 5
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... only did he immerse himself in modern French poetry, and acquire an (at the time) rare taste for Raymond Roussel, but everyday hearings and mishearings gave rise to a ‘happy confusion’ where words would have ‘several meanings for me at once’. In response, Koch began the experiments he later recalled in ‘Days and Nights’: Sweet are the uses ...

Fronds and Tenrils

Helen Vendler: Mark Ford, 29 November 2001

Soft Sift 
by Mark Ford.
Faber, 42 pp., £7.99, May 2001, 0 571 20781 2
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... production, comic and desperate by turns) and his critical book on the eccentric French writer Raymond Roussel appeared last year. Ford has absorbed technical possibilities from Roussel’s stylistic obsessions, Ashbery’s montages (he wrote his DPhil on Ashbery) and the insouciance of Frank O’Hara. But nobody ...


Mark Ford, 2 February 1989

W or the Memory of Childhood 
by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos.
Collins Harvill, 176 pp., £10.95, October 1988, 0 00 271116 8
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Life: A User’s Manual 
by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos.
Collins Harvill, 581 pp., £4.95, October 1988, 0 00 271999 1
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... constraints. OuLiPo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle) was a literary association founded by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais in 1960 and dedicated to the search for new forms of writing, mainly through the application of mathematical structures, gratuitous forms of word play, and bizarre constrictions on content. The Oulipian text aims for a ...

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