Poet, novelist, playwright, and chess enthusiast, Raymond Roussel (1877-1933) was one of the French belle époque's most compelling literary figures. During his lifetime, Roussel's work was vociferously championed by the surrealists, but never achieved the widespread acclaim for which he yearned. New Impressions of Africa is undoubtedly Roussel's most extraordinary work. Since its publication in 1932, this weird and wonderful poem has slowly gained cult status, and its admirers have included Salvador Dalì--who dubbed it the most "ungraspably poetic" work of the era--André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, Michel Foucault, Kenneth Koch, and John Ashbery.
Roussel began writing New Impressions of Africa in 1915 while serving in the French Army during the First World War and it took him seventeen years to complete. "It is hard to believe the immense amount of time composition of this kind of verse requires," he later commented. Mysterious, unnerving, hilarious, haunting, both rigorously logical and dizzyingly sublime, it is truly one of the hidden masterpieces of twentieth-century modernism.
This bilingual edition of New Impressions of Africa presents the original French text and the English poet Mark Ford's lucid, idiomatic translation on facing pages. It also includes an introduction outlining the poem's peculiar structure and evolution, notes explaining its literary and historical references, and the fifty-nine illustrations anonymously commissioned by Roussel, via a detective agency, from Henri-A. Zo.
"Ford . . . deserves a medal and a Légion d'honneur. . . . Ford, himself a poet, combines his translation, introduction and notes with the original French and all the original illustrations; he and his publisher have given English-speaking readers privileged access to New Impressions of Africa, the book which Salvador Dalí once described as 'ungraspably poetic'"--Peter Read, Times Literary Supplement
"Mark Ford's facing-pages edition is easily the most comprehensive and reader-friendly to date. The author of the definitive biography of Roussel in English, Ford brings lucidity to his translation of what is by far Roussel's most ambitious work and probably his masterpiece."--Paul Grimstad, London Review of Books
"In his excellent introduction, Ford quotes Leiris's description of New Impressions of Africa as, among other things, a massive brain teaser, and many of its riddles are as humorous as they are tricky. . . . Intelligent, irascibly intelligible, and definitive."--Eric Banks, BookForum
"In this poem, every road diverges into a woods. It's a chance to take them all."--Tyler Meier, Kenyon Review Newsletter
Table of Contents:
Canto I: Damiette: La maison où Saint Louis fut prisonnier / Damietta: The house where Saint Louis was held prisoner 18
Canto II: Le Champ de bataille des Pyramides / The Battlefield of the Pyramids 62
Canto III: La Colonne qui, léchée jusqu’à ce que la langue saigne, guérit la jaunisse / The column that, when licked until the tongue bleeds, cures jaundice 178
Canto IV: Les Jardins de Rosette vus d’une dahabieh / The Gardens of Rosetta seen from a dahabieh 210