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Le Corps-Accord Roussellien: Machines à Composer Lanie Goodman “ Tout ce qui est nouveau me gène.” —Raymond Roussel, alias “ Martial” E IGHTY YEARS BEFORE THE INVENTION of the highly popular novelty item, a wallet-sized electronic calculator, designed as small and flat as a credit card, and programmed to play various tunes, Raymond Roussel had already conceived of a paper-thin musical mechanism that could be imperceptibly embedded in a deck of cards. Yet, however visionary, Roussel’s “ singing” tarot cards would have been of dubious marketable value: as explained by Martial Canterei, the ingenious inventor in Locus Solus, the cards’ minute machinery is animated by a rare breed of tiny green insects, found only in certain fields in Scotland. True to the nature of all Roussellian machines, these musical cards function as a miraculous work of art, a scientific wonder of complex origin and application. Although futuristic machines abound in both Impressions o f Africa and Locus Solus, it seems somewhat paradoxical that the author deplored any form of technological progress. “ Des avions ont été à Genève en trois heures, on va aller aux Indes en trois jours, quelle hor­ reur!” 1According to Pierre Janet’s analysis of his patient, “ Martial,” Roussel did not object to scientific discovery, per se, but what he called “ the loss of the inaccessible” ; a vulgarization of what was once reserved for the elite nobility (Janet, II, 147). Not surprisingly, Roussel’s luxuri­ ous custom-made camper, a veritable “ yacht de terre,” 2was exhibited in the 1925 “ Salon de l’Auto” and subsequently written up in La Revue du Touring Club de France', this admirable machine, sumptuously furnished and equipped with a livingroom, bedroom, studio, bathroom, and sleep­ 1. Pierre Janet, De l ’Angoisse â l’Extase, II (Paris: Librarie Félix Alcan, 1926), p. 146. 2. Roussel’s own terms in a conversation with Roger Vitrac, quoted in François Caradec’s biography, Vie de Raym ond Roussel (Paris: Jean-Jacques Pauvert, 1972), p. 276. 48 W in t e r 1986 G o o d m a n ing quarters for three valets, had been designed for the author’s travels around the world. However, it would appear from Roussel’s own remarks that the camper’s most important feature was the advantage of solitude—he could both see the world and avoid the pleasantries and irritating bad service of a hotel (Caradec, p. 276). As François Caradec suggests, it is also probable that the origin of this expensive whim (aban­ doned after a year of use) might have been an attempt to reproduce “ la Maison à Vapeur,” conceived by Roussel’s revered master, “ that man of incommensurable genius,” Jules Verne.3 Roussel’s celebrated procédé, revealed in the posthumous Comment j ’ai écrit certains de mes livres, functions as a textual machine that weaves together semantic strands of meaning on the basis of homophonic resemblance. This method of narrative genesis, guided by the author’s obsessional chain of associative logic, in turn replicates the model of narration by creating a series of fantastic imaginary machines. As Michel Carrouges points out in his highly original critical study, Les Machines Célibataires/ Roussel’s particular form of automatic invention uses the same elements—earth, water, air, fire—as other writers in the tradition of monstrous and mechanical literary creation. Yet, despite the shared cosmic forces of a collective Western imagination, Roussel’s men­ tal landscape is overdetermined by another strict set of self-imposed rules that are based on the author’s own narcissistic desire. In Comment j ’ai écrit certains de mes livres, Roussel divulges his special method of composition, explaining to future readers that it is his duty to share his secret so that other writers might also be able to exploit it fruitfully. But beyond the questionable utility of this deliberately post­ humous disclosure, the author’s autobiographical notes are a direct injunction to the reader; Roussel is requesting his rightful throne in literary history. Already convinced of his own genius at age 19, Roussel published his first novel, La Doublure, and experienced a mystical sensa­ tion of “ universal glory” throughout the time of its composition. This ecstatic state is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 48-59
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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