Personal perspectives on the creation of modernism.
First published in 1963, this charming collection of reminiscences by surrealist poet Philippe Soupault (1897-1990) offers warm, generous, appreciative profiles of some of his famous contemporaries. Framed by an introduction by Mark Polizzotti, who interviewed Soupault as part of his research about Breton, and an afterword by poet Ron Padgett, who met the author in 1975, the volume includes pieces on writers whom Soupault knew well, including Guillaume Apollinaire, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, René Crevel, Pierre Reverdy, Georges Bernanos, and Blaise Cendrars, and two from the past: painter Henri Rousseau and poet Charles Baudelaire. Coming of age as an artist after World War I, Soupault says the spirit of the times was one of destruction, incited by the arrival of Tristan Tzara (“like a bomb”), who brought Dadaism, the iconoclastic movement that set the stage for surrealism. Dada, Soupault saw, was trying “to destroy all the established values, the literary practices, and the moral bias that the great captains of literature and journalism want to continue imposing.” Although not a Dadaist, Apollinaire recognized a “new spirit” in art; calling himself “a signal rocket,” he was an outspoken defender of cubism. The shocked response to his writings taught Soupault the importance of scandal. He deeply admired Joyce, who at the time they met was writing Ulysses; they went to the theater and opera together, always sitting in the first row, where the nearly blind Joyce could better see the stage. As a writer, Soupault observed, Joyce was “tormented by a word, rebelliously constructing a framework…drawing a hallucination from music.” Padgett notes that Reverdy and Cendrars, two vastly different personalities, served as Soupault’s mentors. Reverdy coveted solitude; Cendrars loved people, hanging out at the Café de Flore, “fedora askew and cigarette butt on his lip,” always “madly cheerful.”
Sharp, stylish, and anecdotal, the books offers a fresh glimpse into a fertile artistic world.