64. Raymond Roussel in Berlin

Raymond Roussel
„The President of the Republic of Dreams“
curated by François Piron
June 28th 2013 – September 7th 2013
Galerie Buchholz, Berlin 2013

Raymond Roussel (1877-1933), the author of The View (1904), Impressions of Africa (1909) and Locus Solus (1913), is still one of the least-known and most mysterious writers of the 20th century, despite the fact that his profound and often subterranean influence spread far among the literary and artistic avant-gardes of the 20th century. In the ten works he published during his lifetime — poems, novels in verse, narratives or plays— he made supreme efforts to create a world from scratch where “imagination is everything”, with nothing real to get in the way of the writing. Rapt in a singular poetic enterprise and convinced of his own genius, he passed through the first third of the 20th century like a man poised between two worlds, paying no attention to political upheavals and their aesthetic consequences, but never quite understanding why the academic public he thought he was writing for showed such indifference to his works or why they were so scandalized by his dramatic adaptations for the stage.

Until 1914, Raymond Roussel lived in the Parisian high society, as described in Marcel Proust’s novels. In his mother Marguerite Roussel’s salon, it was all a form of theatre, with frequent festivities and costumed balls as seen in the photographs of the Roussel family in fancy dress. This society made Roussel aware that social relationships were a form of representation, while his homosexuality led him to distance himself from society, progressively dedicating his entire life to his literary work.

It was above all to channel an unstoppable imagination that Roussel wrote some of his books by resorting to a “very special procedure”, based on combinations of homophonic words and expressions with double meanings. The path traveled between these words, deliberately situated at the beginning and end of a text, provided Roussel with a framework for his writing and inexhaustible material in the form of unexpected images and narratives in which citation and invention are inseparable.

Although it took him a long time to realize it, Roussel won an enthusiastic following during his lifetime among generations of artists and poets. Marcel Duchamp, who, along with Guillaume Apollinaire and Francis Picabia, attended his Impressions d’Afrique at the theatre in 1912, never forgot the experience, and cited it as the main origin of his Grand Verre. For the Surrealists, Roussel was the writer who accomplished “the evasion from the sphere of Reality to that of the Concept” (Michel Leiris).

After a period of neglect, Roussel’s work attracted new interest in the 1960s, especially after the investigations of Michel Foucault and the Collège de ‘Pataphysique. Roussel, who took great care to give as little information as possible about his life, is for many the model of an artist at the heart of the labyrinth of his own work. / mehr

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