The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Francis Carco Perversity (1928) and Streetcorners (1912)

 

‘Francis Carco embodied the spirit of his age; he was the Paris of the teens, twenties, and thirties. He will always be remembered as the underworld dilettante and latter-day boulevardier who sang of murky thoroughfares and drizzle-dappled pavements, and who solemnized for an entire generation the studied irreverence of the professional outsider, and the velvet crush of the demi-mondial “Life.” Carco was at his best in the role of “gutter poet.” But he was not merely a celebrant of lowlife, nor was he a moralist, for he did not judge his subjects, but presented them without preachification or prescription. He was simply a gifted poet who etched with words the vicissitudes of the damned and not-so-beautiful inhabitants of society’s darkest corners.’ — Gilbert Alter-Gilbert

‘It must have been glorious. Fresh memories of the fin-de-siècle, Lautrec, the Moulin Rouge, Bruant’s Le Mirliton. The belle époque confronted by modernity, industrialism, speed, the war machine. A period occupied by Proust and Apollinaire, Cezanne and Picasso. The latter years of l’affaire Dreyfus which produced, among other things, the concept of a vanguard role for intellectual and cultural workers in the socio-political arena.

‘And it was still a time when an artist could actually afford to starve in a garret just a step or two from the Seine — the particular vie-de-Bohème centered around the dilapidated bateau lavoir houses on the butte de Montparnasse and the tavern-cabaret known as the Lapin Agile, the latter painted by Picasso in 1905 . The old “laundry boat” building was housed, at one time or another during this period, Picasso and Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Utrillo and Modigliani, Bracque, Mac Orlan.

‘The writer Pierre Mac Orlan (born Pierre Dumarchey, he was known by this near-Scottish nom de guerre and loved to wear tam o’shanters) was a fixture at the tables of the Lapin Agile, where he entertained with his accordion and whimsical songs of women and seaports. Here he was joined by his young friend François Carcopino- soon known as Francis Carco – an aspiring lyric poet from the provinces, who was already working on his first verse collection, La Bohème et Mon Cœur.

‘In their early twenties – only a few years younger than Picasso and Apollinaire – Mac Orlan and Carco, near-destitute and as yet unknown, were among the junior members of this circle – but they were both in Bohemia for the long run.

‘Carco, in fact – and this is how I came across the name – became the unofficial historian of this circle, as well as the Bohemian milieu of the Latin Quarter. His numerous novels are for the most part set in the criminal underworld which surrounded, and often impinged on, his aesthetic enclave. His 1920s memoir, The Last Bohemia: From Montmartre To The Quartier Latin, offers detailed portraits of members of the circle, from Mac Orlan, Utrillo and Jacob to forgotten figures like the strange dandy-poet Claudien.

‘The tone of Carco’s reminiscences is reflected in the writing of a more recent French Bohemian figure. In a recent biography, Andy Merrifield emphasized the enduring attraction of Mac Orlan’s oeuvre for the political philosopher and activist Guy Debord; but nowhere have I seen any reference to the echoes of Carco in Debord’s books and films.

‘”What a lot of water has run under the bridge since our youth! How many faded dawns, how many days, weeks, seasons…I stir only ashes with my recollections – very fragile ashes which are lifted on the night wind and shaped like disembodied spirits, ghosts..”

‘”We derived nothing better; it seems so simple to live, to have friends and to work…The amiable ladies who shared our destinies at that time were not hard to please.”

‘Apart from the reference to work, this could be Debord recalling the nights of the Lettrists who haunted the Rue de Buci thirty or forty years after Carco. Of that street, Carco comments on its “exceptional atmosphere and setting.” He was a pioneer of psychogeography.’ — Wilfrid, Sign of the Pink Pig

 

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Further

‘His Last Bohemia: The Novels Of Francis Carco’
‘Forgotten on my bookshelf: Francis Carco’s Perversity’ @ International Noir Fiction
Francis Carco posts @ The Wonderful World of Tam Tam Books
Francis Carco page @ Facebook
Francis Carco bio & info @ aquadesign (in French)
Buy ‘Streetcorners’
Buy ‘Perversity’

 

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Media


“Le Doux Caboulot” (1931): Francis Carco – par Georges Brassens


Francis Carco ” chanson tendre ” 1952


Valérie Ambroise – Il pleut (Carco)


Pierre Mac Orlan & Francis Carco 6 chansons de soldats (1950)

 

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Gallery


portrait of Francis Carco by Maurice Utrillo

 


Francis Carco first edition

 


Francis Carco postage stamps

 


Montmartre during Francis Carco’s heyday

 


Francis Carco visits Prison Saint Lazare

 


Francis Carco’s ‘prison’ research file

 


Francis Carco’s flat

 


Francis CARCO dit “L’appache mélancolique”

 


Hashish in Piraeus – by Francis Carco (1935)

 


Funeral Of Francis Carco

 

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The books

Francis Carco Streetcorners
Green Integer

Streetcorners collects, for the first time in English, a number of Francis Carco’s renowned prose poems, works which defined the Paris scenes of Montmartre and Montparnasse for decades. The translator has brought together sixty pieces that reflect everything from rainy nights in Paris, to the world of music halls, seedy bars, the hairdresser’s, and houses of prostitution.’ — Green Integer

‘I just finished reading Streetcorners and it’s a very straight forward prose poems on a particular (meaning Paris) location and a slightly sad or regretful mood. It also captures the bar life/cafe scene with the girls and fellow drinkers. It’s very beautiful in that it excepts a mood swing that is thoughtful and kind of bluesy. It sort of reminds me of a Bryan Ferry song where the observer is sort of in a so-so mood and is observing the citizens of a neighborhood doing what they do best – having sex, drinking, smoking, and basically walking in the rain. He writes a lot about the essence of rain and how it affects the city visually. ‘ — Tosh Berman

Excerpt

The Mime

It’s intermission and everyone steps outside for air. Two bars are lit, active. A throng has spilled onto the street. Nothing can be heard but the sparking and sputtering of striking matches punctuating a haze of cigarette smoke. All of a sudden, this noise subsides. A buzzer goes off and rustling sounds supersede: the audience shuffles back inside. Everyone sits. It’s curtain time.

I watch as a heavy-set man appears, wearing a black jacket, black vest, and black cravat. Sinister-looking, he cuts across the stage and through the crowded house, wading among the seats, waving a revolver. Slowly, he loads it in front of us, cocks it, and begins the atrocious pantomime. He has been cleaned out in a card game. Oblivious as a lunatic, he collapses on a chair, crying. But an odious force makes him get to his feet. My eyes are glued to the puffy flesh of his swollen face, his two stubby hands. Some cruel and tragic strength enables him to draw himself up blearily before us, the living embodiment of rank despair, anguished but redoubtable. He spares us nothing, not even the blood which dribbles from his lips when he fires the pistol point blank.

***

It was in a transient hotel, recently, that I saw myself again, shut up in a room, immobilized, not daring to go out at all. Where else would I have hidden myself except in one of these hotels of the basest order, among other anonymous clients of the night? There, passing many nights and days, lying in wait, watching, fully clothed, from behind a door or, at the slightest noise, taking flight over the rooftops, I had been terribly afraid, and I couldn’t shake the impression that I stayed there for centuries, perhaps, or that I had successively exhausted several existences which had yielded nothing but poisons to glut a trough already sloshing with disgust, shame, and desolation.

 

____________

Francis Carco Perversity
Black Mask

‘If Céline had a kid brother … he would have been a lot like Francis Carco (1886-1958). Carco was regarded as a serious writer in mid-twentieth century France: a winner of the Grand Prix du Roman of The Académie Française, a member of the Académie Goncourt, he was an intimate of Colette, Modigliani, Utrillo, and Cocteau, an integral part of the last Bohemia of Paris and an unflinching portrayer of the street life of Montmartre, often writing in the argot of the Parisian demi-monde. In the U.S. he was published by Berkley Books (35 cents a copy), and marketed as a kind of Gallicized—and hence depraved—Mickey Spillane. Apparently Carco, in his capacity as Katherine Mansfield’s lover, gave her syphilis and perhaps the tuberculosis that killed her. His best work is generally regarded to be his novel Perversité, first published in 1928 and translated into English by Jean Rhys (her lover Ford Madox Ford was wrongfully identified as the translator in the first English edition). No less a luminary than Ford himself described Perversity as “a second Madame Bovary.”’ — Peter McLachlin, The Evening Redness in the West

Excerpt

He thought that he was in a place where, notwithstanding Irma’s comings and goings, his comfort would be the first consideration. Then one night, towards midnight, he was awakened by an unusual noise. Emile listened. In La Rouque’s room a man was talking without troubling to lower his voice, and the girl—far from silencing the speaker—answered with animation. Once or twice Emile heard a laugh, and protested by a grunt.

“He chut! chut!” then said Irma, but too late. Emile was awake. He sat up in bed and asked weakly: “Is this noise going on for long?”

Someone answered at once: “No, no, all right.”

“Annoying people!” grumbled Emile. “Keeping people from sleeping!”

He waited, leaning on his elbow, then plunged into the bedclothes and shut his eyes. But he could not sleep. He tossed and turned, and perhaps for the first time began to picture his sister with a stranger—laughing and talking. He had never till the present moment dwelt on the thought of Irma in her room accomplishing her nightly task. But because he had been disturbed in his sleep, Emile confusedly began to imagine the scene which was taking place on the other side of the partition. He was not shocked. He was irritated, filled with ill temper and discontent. Certainly what Irma did was not his business, but why was she making such a noise? It was intolerable. At this time of night Emile did not admit this loud talking. Were they laughing at him? Did they mean to be personally disagreeable to him?

He grumbled: “If it begins again I’ll—”

The idea that they were doing it on purpose was provoking, and he was on the point of telling his sister that she must keep quiet, when a moaning sound, at first almost inaudible, but which grew louder, came from the next room, and Emile knew no more what to think. It was Irma moaning, and to her complaint the creaking of the bed added a cynical and degrading confession.

Then all that had gone before became precise to Emile’s eyes, assailed him with such force that he dared ask himself nothing more. “Ah well,” he thought, “well… well… Surely.” His wrath cooled down, and gave place to a feeling of stupor which increased as Irma’s sighs became more numerous and hoarser. The sounds reached him through the partition, as in a hospital the panting breath of a sick man dreaming can be heard by the helpless person in the next bed. Emile found himself in an exactly similar situation. He was unable to do anything, and could only wait for La Rouque to stop crying out from the next room her detestable and painful pleasure. Then she sometimes found pleasure? Emile felt humiliated at the idea. And with whom? He was curious about the unknown man. What could he be like? It was extraordinary. Emile could not picture him. The more he thought about it the more complex became his imaginings, his brain accumulating a hundred preposterous, grotesque and unlikely details.

Sometimes he told himself that there could be nothing very special about the individual. Sometimes on the contrary, Emile imagined him with striking features and an air which would force every one to notice him. And this idea was a very painful one. It was tormenting, for in order to react he was unconsciously comparing himself and opposing himself to the unknown. Alas! Emile had never given pleasure to a woman. He had done his best. But no! Never! Never to a single one. He had married two indolent and vulgar creatures: one had frankly disliked “the business,” the other had betrayed him the day after his marriage, and in his own house. Women were a detestable lot. Evidently he could have consoled himself with somebody else, but this he did not dream of doing. He thought far too highly of his own modest person to risk another adventure. The girls of the street did not tempt him. As for the women who awaited his choice in the different brothels of the quarter, the thought of them disgusted instead of pleasing him.

(read more)
—-

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** Ian, Hi, Ian. “The Loved One’ is excellent. I need to rewatch it. Note scribbled. Ha ha, I know that ‘South Park’ episode. I’m way behind on TV, it’s true, but I’ll always make room for ‘South Park’. Love back from festively lit Paris. ** David Ehrenstein,. I don’t know that movie, and nor did I know that Romain Gary directed a movie. Huh. ** Damien Ark, That would get rid of the obtrusive charm in that post. ** James, Hi. I have no idea if they’re real, actually. Thanks for the link. I read the interview yesterday. Cool, interesting guy. I’m well, you too I certainly hope. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. Well, I know that John did have a Gacy painting at least years ago because I saw it hanging on his wall. But he might’ve purged. That is a very nice cover. And I look forward to discovering what’s inside it courtesy of you and yours. ** Bill, Thank you, kind sir. I don’t know Al Columbia at all. Comics are probably my blindest spot. I’ll scan that. Gracias. ** Corey Heiferman, Well, hi there, Corey. I’ve been wondering how and where you are. I probably would have gravitated to you as a little kid when I was a little kid. I’m so sorry about your dad. Yeah, hugs galore. That’s a very hard one. Here’s hoping the outstanding company proves it’s worth that adjective by doing the right thing by you. Jesus, that’s a lot words. Back when I was doing crystal meth I used to fill up notebooks by the hundreds. And toss them in the garage can once I came down. Anyway, sounds fun. And I would love that guest-post, certainly needless to say. The Pinault Foundation is an incredible space. I hope you can get here and eyeball it and Paris’s giant other assortment. Take care, man. ** Danielle, Well, well Daniele! Howdy, pal. I’ve been hearing about some already legendary letters that you and M. have been hurling at each other. I so love that you have an anarchism class. Art killing revolution … big question, yeah. Hm, off the top of my head, and speaking as someone whose art diet is hugely in the experimental realm, I would say art can be revolution’s hint or map or LSD or something of that order. I guess it depends on what revolutionary action means? I guess if one sees art in the way I just described, art inspiring artists to max art out in order to try to transcend art’s conventional strictures is a kind of revolutionary act, although, yeah, possibly happening within a closed circle. But I guess I see making forward pushing art in the hopes it triggers some kind of expansiveness in the reader/viewer as the only effective revolutionary act of which I am personally capable. Or something? But I’m more into the internal, I guess. Trying to rework readers/viewer’s thinking and letting the chips fall where they may. And social justice is one possible outcome, although probably not with my own work. I don’t know, big question, or at least for a not fully coffee-up yet me. Ha ha, what an interesting Gacy story. Worth doing something with. Hey, Derek McCormack, If you see this, go back to yesterday and read Daneille’s comment directed at you. Wow, great comment. My head is spinning fruitfully. Thank you a lot, Meijer! ** Okay. Francis Carco was a very famous writer in France at one time. Now he is rarely ever referenced and probably not read very much if at all. Interesting how that happens. Or interesting enough to make me make a post about him. And his stuff’s good, need I say. And a couple of things even made it into English. See you tomorrow.

15 Comments

  1. Conrad

    Hi Dennis ! Thank you so much for this post. I’ve never heard of Francis Carco. It seems he’s been totally forgotten here in France. Strange, yes, very strange how fame and reputation work and evolve. Ok, it seems I have nothing interesting to say about it so I’ll better find one of his books as quickly as I can. The fact that Jean Rhys translated ‘Perversity’ is a good sign already. (I just checked on Gibert’s website : they don’t have any book by him on their shelves…) (Bonus : here’s a great documentary about Agnes Martin : https://vimeo.com/480231355. I think it’s available for free only for a few days.) Yours,

  2. David Ehrenstein

    Carco is quite a character.
    Romain Gary wrote and directed a couple of movies. They’re very obscure so it’s nosurprise you don’t know “Kill.”

  3. _Black_Acrylic

    Carco is a new name to me and, as someone who romanticises this mileu I devoured today’s post. There’s a great Huysmans book called Parisian Sketches that covers some similar ground to Streetcorners I think.

  4. Tosh Berman

    I love what I have read of Carco, and when I came upon the review/commentary on “Streetcorners,” I thought to myself, “I totally agree with this review.” Not realizing I wrote the damn thing! There are so many writers/poets that fall through the cracks of culture and time. As a reader, it’s fun to locate these authors’ works -mostly through the library system (therefore the importance of a library). I would love to read his memoir, if it was or is translated into English. I understand the Debord connection. Both writers have a strong visual/poetic sense of a city landscape. Debord is more 19th-century aesthetic than 20th – in his stylish prose writing. Yet, he wrote about 20th-century conditions. For me, that is what makes Debord unique. And let us bring back Carco! Thanks, Dennis.

  5. James

    Dennis,

    Thank you for introducing me to yet another artist I wasn’t aware of — you are always so kind and generous with sharing your knowledge, and not in a pendantic way at all, much appreciated, my friend.

    On a frustrating note, I was very excited to announce on my twitter page that I would be interviewing Dennis Cooper about his new novel I WISHED and his new film, for the online site Terror House magazine, when a trans person tried to cancel me, calling me out, calling me a hypocrite, saying how could I interview a gay person for a magazine like that. I responded to her that I am a queer artist interviewing another queer artist, though I abhor classifying people in any way, shape, or form, that people are complicated, the world is grey, not black and white, and who cares what platform it’s on, the JOY is about the subject, to which she said Well I just hope Dennis knows what he’s getting into.

    I am so sick and tired of this cancel culture bullshit — I’m an artist interviewing another artist. I also happen to be gay, Mexican, and HIV positive— but seriously, who cares? What does that matter? Shouldn’t LGBT people be supportive of others in the “community” — whatever that means? I shut her down and blocked her, I don’t have time for that nonsense. I want to spotlight your new novel, primarily— shouldn’t that bring joy, not hate??

    As my lovely friend Damien Ark said to me in a private DM, young people seem to have totally forgotten, or perhaps are completely unaware of, the struggles HIV positive people go through in this society. My meds personally me cost $632 per month, and that’s with insurance! Hell, I’m not even allowed to move to a foreign country. It’s very sad, people calling out artists simply for wanting to create /and introduce people to new and beautiful art. Anyway, very depressing. I hope you’re still up for the interview, but I totally understand if you’d rather not. Sometimes I’m not sure the beautiful struggle is worth it.

    Oh Dennis, I sent you an email, was hoping you would maybe host a birthing day for my new novel The Moon Down to Earth. I can put a beautiful post together if you like.

    Thank you again for tirelessly and wholeheartedly supporting young and, in my case, not so young artists, difficult and otherwise 😂❤️❤️

    Love,
    James

    • Danielle

      Hey James,
      This sucks! So what was the person’s deal, exactly? Being gay is not different enough or…what?? Terror House isn’t a trans-only place, right? I’m flummoxed!
      Sorry you got flamed for doing… nothing. 🙁 -Danielle

    • Steve Erickson

      I’m not familiar with Terror House, but what was their objection to your writing for the site? Do they think it’s homophobic, or transphobic, or something? That’s an awful response, but Twitter is such a weird, horribly judgmental place that, personally, I see no value in having an account there (although it seems to be a job requirement for artists and media figures.)

  6. Danielle

    D-lish,

    Words of wisdom Lloyd re: art being a kind of flint for change, I definitely agree.

    I don’t know Carco so, once again, my infinity list of reading grows…

    Considering the era in which these letters of Maryse and I are being written, we deserve some kind of award. And yeah, it’s ultra-romantic,–that’s what being a twin is all about.  The only terrible thing is knowing one of us will die first and then the other will become a “twinless twin.” Nooooooooooooooo

    My zoom class is for this group of Iranians who are translating some of our work so I guess the Anarchic Phenomenological Communitarian revolution will be taking place in Iran??   I will definitely show them the photo of Biquina featured on this blog and the pitchfork busts next wek.  Thanks again for the inspiration, that post was perfect timing on my end. 

    Stateville prison is a place full of insane stories, Gacy is a drop in the bucket. I’m hoping to teach a class on the ontology of violence there and want to include some of your work, but there’s no way of it getting past the censors, not to mention the intense homophobia in prison which is like, whoa.  Maybe I’ll smuggle Capdavielle in my bag and he can perform ‘Jerk’ for ’em (can’t wait for the recording of it, btw).
    Cya,
    Twin D, the red pill

  7. Maryse

    Great intro to a writer totally new to me, thanks for the spotlight, Dennis! Oh my god and he gave Mansfield syphilis?! The gift that keeps on giving, yikes. But that photo of the the “prison research file” is so beautiful–the paper, the handwriting, the photos, yum.

    All, the event with Damien and Manuel Marrero of Expat, hosted by Misery Tourism, is scheduled for the 17th, of December, 7PM EST. Details here:

    https://www.instagram.com/p/CIoLqVwhwvY/
    Zoom link: https://tinyurl.com/yyh32l66

    I think the conversation will be archived and available to view on Misery Tourism’s site if you can’t make it live.

    xx

  8. Nick Toti

    Hi Dennis,

    Good news! We got the release issues worked out with David Shields’s publisher, so my new movie can come out without issue. It’s an adaptation of David’s forthcoming book “The Very Last Interview,” set during Covid Christmas. If you or anyone else would like to watch it, here it is: https://vimeo.com/485780248

    Thanks, talk soon!

  9. Steve Erickson

    Xiu Xiu have released some bass and drum loops with the intent of producers remixing and sampling them. I’ve done my best with one of their basslines on this song, “Hog on a Walk”:https://callinamagician.bandcamp.com/track/hog-on-a-walk

    Carco sounds like a great figure for re-discovery by NYRB or a similar publisher.

  10. Bill

    I’m not familiar with Carco. Will explore more, hmmm.

    I believe I included Al Columbia in a blog post on comic artists ages ago? In any case, here’s a little post with screenshots and helpful links:
    https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/21440999-al-columbia

    Bill

  11. Derek McCormack

    Hi, Dennis, I’m a day behind, or two days behind, so I apologize! I wanted to reply to Danielle: Danielle, you’re right, I don’t pun on the name John Dee, but that’s mostly because I treat his name as a pun on my name. What I mean is: my mom and dad used to call me Jon-D (as did my grandparents, and aunts and uncles). So when Count Choc-o-log summons John Dee, the wizard, what he gets instead is me: Jon-D, a nobody. In a way the premise of the book is built around this bad pun, or this homonym: but I’ve built books around worse puns, believe you me! Love, Derek

    • danielle

      I love behind-the-scenes info, thanks a bunch Derek!

  12. Corey Heiferman

    Wow, a 1920s memoir was already titled “The Last Bohemia”. I’ve been confused about bohemianism for a long time. Each of your posts about bohemian figures confuses me further. I long for yet despise it. Even pre-pandemic it felt zombified to me. I think the challenge/opportunity is that the bohemia in your own city and in your own mind coexists vividly with so many other bohemias past and present, physical and virtual, thanks to the easy availability of information. I’ll accept that no bohemia is inherently better than any other, but I also think that manipulative technologies have had a dumbing and numbing effect on bohemians. This is the kind of puzzle I’d want to play with in the guest post, which I thank you for your encouragement on.

    What was it like to throw out those meth notebooks? Did you not think they could be mined for anything? Was it cathartic? I think there’s a lot of cultural baggage around automatic writing. It can be easy to accept it as divine revelation (or at least self revelation for the writer) and it also can be easy to dismiss it as total crap. In most cases I bet it’s a bit of both or something in-between.

    Good point that my view of a company’s excellence should be at least somewhat reflective of whether it recognizes my own excellence as a potential employee.

    @Danielle How does your Anarchism professor handle the built-in hierarchy of an academic course?

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