Sunday, November 26, 2017

Robert Desnos - "The Punishments of Hell" (Atlas Press)

ISBN: 978-0-9931487-3-6 Atlas Press


As a teenager who loved to read, I couldn't get enough of The Surrealists.  Before I even found their literature on the printed page, I was intrigued by their sense of dress and haircuts.  There was also a 'gang' mentality when you see a photograph of all of them together.  It's them against the world.  It's that aspect that was a huge appeal for me when approaching the world of DADA and Surrealism.  Once I have bitten into the forbidden apple that is their work, I was hooked.  As of this writing, I'm still glued to their personalities and work.   There are many cliche aspects of Surrealism, but you can't eliminate the wit of some of its writers.  Robert Desnos is the proto-type Surrealist.  He's the guy who could go into a trance and tell a tale that would be mind-blowing.  Although, I suspect that he really wasn't into a dream state, but knew how to fool Andre Breton and company.  

"The Punishments of Hell" is Desnos first prose book.  Written in 1922, I think it was much later published in France.  As mentioned, the gang mentality is very much present, even in this collection of dream prose pieces.  All of Desnos famous friends are mentioned in the narrative, and being a work that was produced during the DADA stage, that was emerging into the Surrealist era, is a fascinating document of its time, place, and more important, the individuals.  Sexual in tone, but never pornographic (at least for the contemporary reader) there are 'shocking' imageries, in the flavor of the Count de Lautrémont, who was clearly the inspiration for "The Punishments of Hell."  Still, it's fascinating how crime and Westerns very much influence surrealist text like this book.  Both in the cinematic world as well as literature.  In a way, Desnos is writing a thriller but with a different type of imagery.  

The book is very dark but humorous.  All of the named figures who were friends of Desnos, pretty much end up dead in a bizarre fashion.  There is a homage to his associates and friends, but all living in a cemetery!   In the common grave, those who are buried are such inspirations to Desnos such as Jarry, Rimbaud, Pierre Souvestre & Marcel Allain (writers of Fantomas) and so forth.   A beautiful edition from Atlas Press, who seem never to fail the fan or reader.  

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