Blaise Cendrars turns out to be deranged. I understand that he was riffing on the insanity of World War I, but much like Moravagine, it would seem that he wrote the book in free association, from fragments of personal journals and notes from research, and slapped them together into a story full of violence, both senseless and rapacious, following some cryptic map.
Ready Steady Book has a good post on Dan Yack. Like one of the commenters on that post, i too thought Cendrars was a minor writer, an exceptional footnote to the Decadents. After reading Moravagine, Dan Yack and part of Sky, i now realize how grossly inaccurate that assessment is.
From that RSB post, the two words that seem best to summarize him and his work are “nihilistic” and “life-affirming.” There’s more to it than that. There is something deeply weird about how deftly he wields details as mundane as the contents of a larder or the mechanisms of the whaling industry, and turns them into something compelling surreal, the kind of perfect clarity that one receives in the hallucinations of a fever dream. When i read the passages again to find an example, they don’t appear. It’s only once you’re immersed in the raving lunacy of the book that you can recognize it for what it is.1
Regarding Cendrars’s fixation with levitation… it doesn’t appear in Dan Yack. Until last night, i completely missed the connection of the endless accounts of levitating saints in Sky to flying canoes in Moravagine. I’m kinda feeling that there is something to this.
- Sadly, i want to invoke a comic book… Grant Morrison’s interpretation of the Joker as “super sane.” [↩]