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  • Poésies insupportables: politiques de la littérature dans l'entre-deux-guerres (Aragon, Auden, Brecht) by Florian Mahot Boudias
  • Martyn Cornick
Poésies insupportables: politiques de la littérature dans l'entre-deux-guerres (Aragon, Auden, Brecht). Par Florian Mahot Boudias. (Littérature, histoire, politique, 27.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2016. 456 pp.

After the First World War, notably during the decade following 1930, there was an increasing tendency for culture — particularly literature — to be affected by politics and conflicting ideologies. Certain authors and publishers in France came under the influence of, or were drawn towards, the doctrine of 'socialist realism', studied by Jean-Pierre Morel in his analysis dating from the 1980s (Le Roman insupportable: l'internationale littéraire et la France, 1920-1932 (Paris: Gallimard, 1985)). The title of this dense and highly erudite study of poetry, which began life as a thesis, clearly echoes Morel, the difference here being that Florian Mahot Boudias reviews and contrasts the work of three eminent international poets: Louis Aragon, W. H. Auden, and Bertolt Brecht. The reader is helped by having both the original text and Boudias's translation. The primary value of the book resides in its deep contextualization of the works produced by practitioners who — in contrast with Auden's later dictum that 'Poetry makes nothing happen' — were sufficiently moved, troubled, and outraged by events that they chose to confront with the real world their respective natures as 'hommes concernés' (Roland Barthes, quoted p. 404). Boudias's remit is to scrutinize the forms of this unreadable poetry and to '[c]omprendre aussi l'itinéraire et les choix intellectuels pris dans les rais des idéologies, des discours médiatiques et des clichés d'époque' (p. 404). Brecht's output was conditioned by his situation as an anti-Nazi exile, whereas, of the three, Auden was most hesitant. This is apparent from the meticulous analysis of Auden's 1932 poem 'A Communist to Others' (which calls for the lynching of a member of the ruling class, and was later disavowed by Auden) in parallel with a close reading of Aragon's notorious 'Front rouge', composed in the USSR and published in 1932 in Persécuté persécuteur. Aragon, in the process of breaking from Surrealism, took up his pen for the Soviet Revolutionary cause. Boudias's reading rekindles interest in 'Front rouge' because he reveals how this poem — condemned as an incitement to murder ('Feu sur Léon Blum / […] Feu sur les ours savants de la socialdémocratie') — blares its megaphone call for revolutionary violence (Vladimir Mayakovsky's influence on Aragon is clear) and fizzes with onomatopoeic fervour ('S.S.S.R. S.S.S.R.') as the agitprop train steams unstoppably on to change history. The attention paid to the genesis and provenance of the works studied through the unearthing of reviews, tracts, anthologies, and ephemera, and the careful manipulation of critical methodologies (weighing in, too, influences of propaganda and social criticism), reflect the extraordinary erudition deployed here. Boudias's book should become a reference for studying relationships between literature and the real world. Calling for a 'hétéronomie radicale' (p. 395) to enrich and contextualize our understanding of these three poets 'struggling for life in the water', as Auden put it (quoted, p. 403), the book stands as an exemplum of transnational cultural analysis.

Martyn Cornick
University of Birmingham


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