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How I Wrote Certain Of My Books Paperback – August 15, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Considered to be the precursor to literary surrealism, Roussel was admired as a genius by such illustrious contemporary French writers as Cocteau, Gide, Foucault, and Giacometti. To the public in general he was perhaps one of the most extraordinary, eccentric writers of this century. In this volume, a cross-section of his major writings, he explains the method he used to compose his works. When he sent parts of this book to the printer in 1932, the understanding was that the text would not be published while he was alive (he died in 1933; it came out two years later). And so it was his last and posthumous work. Roussel's style is largely based on linguistic riddles and compositions of phonetically enigmatic or distorted sentences and phrases. His masterpiece, "New Impressions from Africa," is a poem illustrating his verbal acrobatics and the use of seemingly endlessly intertwined parenthetical thoughts like a Chinese puzzle. All this is compounded with a curious collection of 59 illustrations commissioned by the author and inspired by him. Recommended for literary collections.?Ali Houissa, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, N.Y.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Exact Change; Revised edition (August 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1878972146
  • ISBN-13: 978-1878972149
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #351,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By William Gillespie (gillespi@uiuc.edu) on August 10, 1998
Format: Paperback
Raymond Roussel was an eccentric French writer who was born in 1877 and apparently committed suicide in 1933. His best known works of those translated into English are his novels Locus Solus and Impressions of Africa. Roussel wrote novels, tried to adapt them to the stage, and then tried to write a play for the stage. The audience responded to the play by throwing things and yelling at each other. Roussel, who never experienced anything like widespread acclaim, has nonetheless influenced French literature. Eventually, he was to gain the support of the surrealists. Decades after his death, he is remembered fondly by the OuLiPo - a group of Paris-based writers devoted to exploring new experimental literary forms. Two American poets - John Ashbery and Harry Mathews (also a member of the OuLiPo) - hold him in high esteem and here the two of them offer new translations of some of Roussel's works. How I Wrote Certain of my Books is the title of this collection and also the title of an essay by Roussel to explain how he wrote the two novels I mentioned. The rest of the collection includes an excellent introduction and biography of Roussel by John Ashbery, the first chapter of each of the two novels, the fifth act of one of Roussel's plays, the third canto of his poem "New Impressions of Africa," and the notes to serve as an outline for another novel Roussel apparently never wrote. Roussel's novels are among what I consider the great untranslatable works of the twentieth century. Much of the imagery and plot detail are bizarre flowerings of imaginative detail rooted in French puns. When this is translated, one gets only the strange details, but none of the phonetic basis underlying them. Like a joke that isn't funny, or a sonnet which has been paraphrased so that it no longer rhymes.Read more ›
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dan Mash on November 15, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
5 stars, but only as a companion piece or annotated SAMPLE-PLATE. It's pretty easy to get confused about what this book really is, so here goes:

1) This book is a big grab-bag of Roussel material. It contains long excerpts from his two big novels, and from his poetry, and so on. There's plenty of annotations.

2) It also includes Roussel's essay about his method, wherein he describes how he composed some of his books. That essay is called "How I Wrote Certain of My Books", and the publisher misleadingly chose that as the name of this whole book.

3) But it goes beyond being a mere sampler, because some of the pieces have never before appeared in English. Especially the best piece, "Documents to Serve as an Outline", which is fully narrated over 80 pages, and is NOT an outline at all, so don't be scared.

If you want to dive in to Roussel with a full-length work, you should find Cunningham's translation of Locus Solus and read that first. It's very hard to come across unless your library has over 25 floors, which mine did.

Personally I would have paid the $15 entry price here even if the only thing included was the fantastic "Documents To Serve As An Outline." You cannot find this piece anywhere else in English, unlike the novels, and it's the best part of the "How I Wrote" package. I know the title "Documents To Serve As An Outline" doesn't sound very entertaining, but rest assured that it is fully narrated, not an outline, and that it's incredible. Apparently Roussel would have expanded it if he had lived longer.

A lot of the publicity material surrounding Roussel's work is misleading, in that it makes his style sound radical or experimental. The professional review on Amazon.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
It's a tragedy of Rousselian proportions that this is the only easily-acquired text of the Master in print... Roussel was, after all, the subject of Michel Foucault's very first (& to me his only readable!) book DEATH & THE LABYRINTH (a perfect companion to this collection/introduction). The present volume is essential to complete one's appreciation of the 'novels' LOCUS SOLUS & IMPRESSIONS OF AFRICA, should they drop into your lucky lap...you see, I too find myself thoroughly intrigued/mesmerized/in awe of the strange achievement of this genius-nut, inspirer as well of Breton, Cocteau, Dali, Leiris, Duchamp especially, Robbe-Grillet coitainly, Perec indubitably; but these dudes don't hold a candle to the lucid lunacy, fertile-beyond-belief imagination, and quaint language perfectly suited to express the convoluted twisted-mythic enigmatic obsessions of RR... who felt the Star on his forehead while but a teen, which Star had begun to glow on high when he was found...
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