The following was sent as an email to Trevor Winkfield on the the occasion of The Flow Chart Foundation’s Raymond Roussel event, celebrating new translations of Roussel by Mark Ford published by The Song Cave.
To be read by Trevor Winkfield at the launch of The Alley of Fireflies at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery on April 25th, 2019.
Shortly after finishing my translation of Raymond Roussel’s final poem Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique (the one with all the brackets) in the summer of 2010, a friend happened to ask me if I planned to translate any more Roussel; my answer was categorical: JAMAIS. NON NON NON.
And yet here we are – well, I’m not, alas, but you are – toasting Song Cave’s beautiful edition of this selection of some of Roussel’s shorter texts – the two early textes-genèse Parmi Les Noirs and Chiquenaude, as well as a couple of haunting episodes from the drafts of Locus Solus (I particularly recommend the one that concludes with the theft of Shakespeare’s second left rib in the hope of coaxing from it another play), and the whole of L’Allée aux lucioles, which Roussel began after finishing Locus Solus, only to abandon it with the outbreak of World War I, throughout which he served, somewhat improbably, in an artillery regiment.
I first read L’Allée aux lucioles in 1996 in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in the course of my research for my biography of Roussel, published in 2000. I remember thinking then that it was so delightful that it definitely merited translation into English. My favourite episode is the extra chapter of Voltaire’s Candide in which the adolescent Pangloss dresses up as a woman in order to continue his affair with a ravishing marquise, only to be surprised in flagrante delicto by her jealous husband, who revenges himself by plunging Pangloss up to his neck in the ordure festering beneath an outdoor toilet. The young philosopher is prompted, however, by the merde around him to brood on the regenerative properties of the body’s natural waste products, and eventually concludes, you guessed it, that he is living in the best of all possible worlds.
This translation is dedicated to the person delivering, on my behalf, this very short speech – the inestimably great, the one and only Trevor Winkfield, and I very much hope that having to read out this sentence will make him blush like a rose, or indeed like the enfant-fleur Bertha of one of the Locus Solus episodes translated here – Bertha, you’ll discover, perhaps to your horror, is half-flower and half-human. Pretty weird…
Thank you Trevor for reading this out, thank you Alan and Ben for overcoming my resistance and getting me to plunge once again into the hallucinatory, compulsive, unfathomable world of Raymond Roussel – thank you John Ashbery, up above, whom we all miss so deeply, for introducing Trevor and myself and many many others to this most extraordinary of writers, and thanks to the Flow Chart Foundation, which commemorates and preserves and extends John’s legacy, for organizing this event in this most hallowed of galleries – the Tibor de Nagy.
Just wish I was with you – au reservoir.
reprinted with the permission of Mark Ford