9 January 2013

André Blavier: Les Fous littéraires (1982) #2

I mentioned André Blavier's Les Fous littéraires (1982)1 a short time ago (see link below), and have now bought a copy. This is the first edition (pub. Henri Veyrier), which contains 924 pages with details about – and examples of the writings of – many hundreds of authors who have received no or very little recognition for their (often self-published) work.2
The Introduction contains an epigraph by Latis (or Emmanuel Peillet), one of the founder members of Oulipo, stating that brevity is a positive thing, with the exception of prefaces: the Introduction is 90 pages long. After the first heading, 'Première émission ('First Programme'), there's a footnote with an explanatory note saying that the Introduction was originally conceived as a series of radio programmes that were never broadcast, and was later copiously annotated. On the second line, a second footnote explains that the expression boule de neige (lit. 'snowball') is not used here in the Oulipian sense.3 (It's used figuratively here to refer to a growing number of questions.)

As we might imagine, the influence of Queneau is very evident, so this is no conventional introduction simply explaining the rationale behind the book, but then this probably isn't a book you would read from cover to cover in any logical way. At the moment I'm getting distracted all the time, dipping into some of the characters in this colossal work. I'll give just a few examples at the moment:

– I was aware (but didn't mention it in my first post) that Paulin Gagne – who is given 26 pages here – had written a carrot culture Marseillaise (Allons enfants de la carotte, etc), but I now notice that Alexandre Ansaldi also wrote a book called La Marseillaise nouvelle in 1971: the song is on the back cover, and the text inside calls the traditional song 'imbecilic and grotesque', and 'bombastic and violent'. When Blavier was writing he knew nothing of another song titled La Marseillaise électrique (by G. Clair and Rupin Schkoff), although it's now online: it's a 'war song' for electricians, begins Allons enfants de la batt'rie ! / Le jour de voir est arrivé !, and the rest is here.4

– Antoine Madrolle wrote a theology of railways.
– Camarasa wrote a Receuil ou collection de notes, de croquis, de dessins, de schémas, pour un traité historique, théorique, pratique, philosophique, philologique, poétique, sportif, acrobatique, touristique, artistique et pittoresque de la brouette ('Book or collection of notes, sketches, designs, schemes, for a historical, theoretical, practical, philosophical, philological, poetical, athletic, acrobatic, touristic, artistic, and picturesque treatise on the wheelbarrow'.) It was printed in Madrid several times between 1915 and 1925, contained 539 pages and 993 illustrations, and was dedicated to Queen Christina.

Blavier's book is really remarkable.

1 Interestingly, the current English Wikipedia entry for Jean-Pierre Brisset (who is included in Blavier) has a number of similarities to the current French Wikipédia entry, and translates Fou littéraire as 'outsider writer'. In my previous post, I suggested that this is a good translation of the expression, and is one I shall continue to use about Blavier's writers: I shall be adding posts about this book when I come across interesting examples.

2 The second edition (pub. in 2000 Les Éditions des Cendres) has 1147 pages.

3 Boule de neige in the Oulipian sense refers to a poem which begins with a one-letter word for the first line, continues with a two-letter word for the second, then a three-letter for the third, etc. A boule de neige fondante (melting snowball) is a poem that begins with a word containing a certain number of letters in the first line, and then shrinks by a letter each following line.

4 Funny this undoubtedly is, although it would be a mistake to forget the gently subversive element: original words from the French national anthem –  patrie ('country') and gloire ('glory') – are changed to batt'rie ('battery') and voir ('seeing'): the song no longer glorifies the French nation, but the humble electrical workers.

Links to my other posts on André Blavier's Les Fous littéraires are below:

André Blavier #1: Jean-Pierre Brissett, Paulin Gagne
André Blavier #3: Hyacinthe Dans
André Blavier #4: Ernest de Garay, aka Karl-des-Monts
André Blavier #5: Francisque Tapon-Fougas
André Blavier #6: Jules Allix

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