Without René Crevel we would have lost one of the most beautiful pillars of surrealism. — André Breton
Crevel actually wrote only a single sentence: the long sentence of a feverish monologue from the pen of a Proust who dipped his biscuit laced with LSD into his tea, instead of the unctuous madeleine. — Angelo Rinaldi, L’Express
He will be read more and more as the wind carries away the ashes of the ‘great names’ that preceded him. — Ezra Pound
‘If you look at the photograph of leading Surrealist artists and writers, taken in 1932 at Tristan Tzara’s, you will find René Crevel in the back row, and that is where he long remained. The others, including Andre Breton, Salvador Dali, and Paul Eluard, all seem to know what to do with their hands, whereas René Crevel is leaning forward, one hand placed for support on the shoulder of Max Ernst, the other on that of Man Ray. Born in 1900, the golden boy of the Surrealist movement, Crevel is perhaps remembered more for having killed himself than for his writings, though even in death he is surpassed by other suicides, by the revolver-brandishing Jacques Vaché, for instance, whose myth was sedulously fostered by Andre Breton. Why, then, has David Rattray chosen to publish now a translation of Crevel’s autobiographical novel, La Mort difficile, sixty years after its first appearance in 1926? The answer to that question may well have as much to do with a certain climate of opinion that has flourished since the Sixties as with Crevel’s undoubted talent as a writer.
‘It was in 1947 that Jean-Paul Sartre accused the Surrealists, who deeply influenced him, of being young men of good social position who were hostile to daddy. Crevel senior, however, hanged himself in 1914, and his young son was left under the domination of a mother he loathed and who is caricatured as the odious and pretentious Mme. Dumont-Dufour in La Mort difficile. Still, unlike many of the budding Surrealists in the Twenties, Crevel was indeed well-to-do and well connected. He was a great friend of the Vicomte Charles de Noailles and his wife Marie-Laure, who financed the notorious film, L’Âge d’or, by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali; and it was he who introduced the inventor of limp watches to one of the earliest of that artist’s princely patrons.
‘Crevel appears indubitably handsome in the portrait photograph by Man Ray, and in fine line drawings of the period. His looks were of a type that should have given him a role in one of Cocteau’s later films, had he survived and if Breton and Cocteau had not been at daggers drawn. One of Crevel’s friends, the Surrealists’ ally, André Thirion, remarked in his memoirs on the engaging personality and polished charm of the author of La Mort difficile. André Breton’s portrait of his associate is more somber: it stresses the disquiet and the complexity of the young man’s character.
‘In his books Crevel made no secret of his homosexuality or bisexuality. As for Breton, he wrote paeans to heterosexual love, and like most of the Surrealists he viewed homosexuality with disfavor, although the colleagues tolerated what they regarded as an aberration in their friend. It is plain from Crevel’s highly personal narrative, Mon Corps et moi (“My Body and Me”), that the young author felt deeply divided about his sexual proclivities. Moreover, he had long suffered from ill health: tuberculosis took him at frequent intervals to boredom in Swiss sanatoria, and his sickness was complicated by alcohol and drugs (opium, cocaine). The theme of suicide haunted him. In his very first book, Détours (1924), he imagined the scenario of death by gas that he was to follow eleven years later in 1935. With Man Corps et moi, he betrays his doubts about the reality of his own existence.
‘The great event of Crevel’s life was his meeting with André Breton in 1921: a strong, aggressive character under whose aegis the Surrealist enterprise often appears as a succession of insults, cuffs to celebrated heads, and expulsions. Crevel made an important contribution to the movement and yet he also figures as its victim. Having been initiated into spiritualism by an aristocratic English lady, he introduced Breton to “hypnotic sleep,” which played so large a role in the development of Surrealism and its use of automatic writing or image-making. In a deep sleep, Crevel declaimed, sang, yet apparently he had no memory of what had passed. These experiments led the young writer to try to hang himself, and Breton put an end to them. In the famous “Inquiry into Suicide,” conducted by La Révolution surréaliste, Crevel eloquently justified suicide as a solution to his dissatisfaction with his life.
‘The risks involved in Surrealist practices, such as the debate on suicide and the rehabilitation and simulation of madness, are obvious. The extravagant declarations of Breton—that “living and not-living are imaginary solutions,” or that the distinction between true and false, good and evil, is “absurd”—must have had a harmful effect on one like Crevel, whose hold on life was so precarious. The whole objective of Surrealism was to undermine reason and logic. Crevel could write a book paradoxically entitled L’Esprit contre la raison (“Mind against Reason”), but he valued highly his own critical intelligence and, having worked on a thesis on Diderot while at the Sorbonne, he never lost interest in the eighteenth century as the age of enlightenment.
‘Meanwhile, profoundly loyal to André Breton, he was among those who “gave proof of ABSOLUTE SURREALISM,” as Breton’s first Manifesto has it. Only too well known is Breton’s concept of absolute Surrealist revolt: to go down into the street with a revolver and to fire haphazardly into the crowd. Time and experience have not been kind to such irresponsible language, and too much real blood has been shed in the streets for Breton’s words to be regarded as mere ink. One difference between words and paint is that words have meaning and, however “poetic,” cannot be totally divorced from reason and logic. Perhaps that is why some Surrealist art tends to make a greater impact than a good deal of strictly Surrealist literature. Certainly, the confusion in Crevel’s mind between unreason and reason must have been acute.
‘A way out of the impasse appeared to be at hand for intellectuals in revolt: adherence to the Revolution and membership in the Communist Party. Crevel discovered Marx and dialectical materialism, and he began to quote chunks from Engels and Lenin in his writings. He was among those who wrote for the periodical Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution, doubtless believing with Breton that to propagate the idea of revolution would hasten the advent of the great cataclysm. In 1927 the author of La Mort difficile joined the French Communist Party; he was expelled in 1933 and readmitted in 1934. None worked harder than he did to try to reconcile the mistrustful party hacks and the would-be revolutionary Surrealists or, as it was then put more grandly, “Communism and Culture.” His efforts to establish harmony during the preparations for the Communist-inspired First International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture in 1935 were thwarted by the exchange of insults and slaps between Ilya Ehrenburg and André Breton, which led to the author of the Surrealist Manifestos being denied permission to speak. This Congress proved to be one of the early successes of Stalinism in the international cultural sphere. There was in fact no way of reconciling such fundamentally opposing attitudes to free thought and free expression.
‘Crevel’s failure to secure agreement between Surrealists and Communists is thought to be one contributing cause of his suicide. Shortly before his death, the former Communist André Thirion had expounded privately—much to Crevel’s surprise—his own conviction that Stalin represented as much of a threat to culture as Hitler. When Crevel stayed with Dali at his home at Port-Lligat, the painter could not have been very helpful when employing his “paranoia-criticism” to provoke “the maximum number of hopeless antagonisms in every situation.” Meanwhile, Crevel was becoming more critical of Andre Breton, and was losing faith in Surrealism, as his letters to Tristan Tzara of 1934-35 reveal. An adverse medical report prompted the young novelist to write: “Please have my body cremated. Disgust,” and to take his own life.
‘There is a certain irony in prefacing Difficult Death with Dali’s memoir of 1954, as David Rattray has done. Crevel would have hated Dali’s support for General Franco: he himself was keenly opposed to fascism, having helped to create a committee of anti-fascist writers at the time when the French fascists almost overthrew the government in February 1934. It is equally ironic to find Ezra Pound’s essay on Crevel, with its laudatory reference to Mussolini and its refrain on usury, being used to preface a reprint of Crevel’s satirical novel, Les Pieds dans le plat (“Putting One’s Foot In It”). Crevel forcefully expressed his hatred of anti-Semitism and Hitler in that novel, and his detestation of Mussolini elsewhere.
‘With La Mort difficile, written in the year of his mother’s demise, Crevel probes the conflict within the mother-fixated Pierre. The protagonist is torn between his ambivalent regard for the self-sacrificing Diane and his passion for Arthur Bruggle, an equivocal American modeled on the painter Eugene MacCown, to whom the author was devoted. Dreamlike elements and a rather mannered insistence on repetition betray the work’s Surrealist connection. Black humor merges with self-pity. David Rattray’s translation is at times ingenious. However, Pierre’s mother admires slim legs as a token of breeding (signe de race), not of “race.” In her prejudiced vocabulary, “foreigner” is too anodyne a word for the pejorative métèque. A reference to the poet Lamartine, hero of the Second Republic, is eluded: Crevel liked to satirize the liberal “Lamartinian current,” otherwise graciously qualified as “the dustbins of liberalism.” To find an equivalent for the American’s amusingly painful misuse of French genders looks impossible. One realizes how skillful, witty, and idiosyncratic Crevel’s use of language can be. He had no small talent as a punster, satirist, and polemicist.
‘After the événements of May 1968 there was a revival of Crevel’s work in France in the Seventies, when several of his books were reprinted. One admirer went so far as to declare: “The explosion of May  places the figure of Crevel, that dark archangel, in the forefront of those who refuse to live divided against themselves.” A curious observation, surely, since in Crevel’s case that refusal meant self-immolation. The rebellious author of Babylone could serve as model for a new generation of rebels. He, too, was opposed to religion, family, country (in whose name so many had perished in the 1914-18 War), and all existing institutions.
‘High among his pet hates were liberal parliamentary democracy, capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. His terminology sometimes recalls that of fashionable theorists of the Sixties and after. When he excoriates the privileged swine (salauds) or invokes “oceans of wrath” to drown the bourgeoisie and all its works, he sounds like a precursor of Sartre and his heirs. Crevel’s heady combination of revolt, homosexuality, and drug-taking doubtless remains in vogue in certain circles even today.’ — Renee Winegarten
Portrait of René Crevel, by Dora Maar
Andre Breton (l) talks with Rene Crevel (second from right), while Salvador Dali (second from left) and Paul Eluard (r) look on.
by Man Ray
Tristan Tzara and René Crevel, 1928
by Gertrude Stein
Front row: Tristan Tzara, Andre Breton, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Man Ray. Back row: Paul Eluard, Hans Arp, Yves Tanguy, Rene Crevel, 1933.
René Crevel et Marie-Laure de Noailles, Paris, ca 1930
Yves Tanguy and René Crevel
by Christian Bérard
Jacqueline Chaumont (Mouth) and Rene Crevel (Eye) in dadaist play ‘Coeur
(Top L-R) Georges Malkine and Rene Crevel. (Bottom L-R) André de La Rivière, Robert Desnos, André Lasserre. Photo by Man Ray.
Rene Crevel @ goodreads
René Crevel, dandy révolutionnaire
‘ALL ABOARD FOR RATAPOILOPOLIS’
Lettre de René Crevel à Gertrude Stein
Elle ne suffit pas l’éloquence, René Crevel
RENÉ CREVEL AU SOMMET DE SA MONTAGNE MAGIQUE
Book: ‘A Fantasia on Voice, History and Rene Crevel’, by Peter Dubé
RC’s ‘Babylon’ @ 50 Watts
“Si je ne réussis rien, je me tuerai”: René Crevel inédit
‘Notes en vue d’une psycho-dialectique’, by Rene Crevel
‘Freud de l’Alchimiste à l’Hygiéniste’, by Rene Crevel
Des nouvelles de Crevel
René Crevel: un po’ angelo, un po’ boxeur
René Crevel: Las hermanas Brontë hijas del viento
René Crevel, risposta all’inchiesta sul suicidio e frammento da “Il clavicembalo di Diderot”
Rene Crevel’s grave
Buy ‘My Body and I’
trailer for LA MORT DIFFICILE starring Brandon Slagle. From the book by RENE CREVEL
SuRReaLismE:::reNE crEveL :: anTi – obsKURantIsMUs(tEil1)
René Crevel – L’Esprit contre la raison / Écrits sur l’art – Artracaille 02-10-2012
teporingos bubonicos “Rene Crevel” video 00836
Is Suicide a Solution?
by Rene Crevel
A solution? Yes.
People say one commit suicide out of love, fear, or venereal disease. Not so. Everyone is in love, or thinks they are. Everyone is frightened. Everyone is more or less syphilitic. Suicide is a means of conscious choice. Those who commit it are person unwilling to throw in the towel like almost everyone else and repress a certain psychic feeling of such intensity that everything tells you had better believe it is a truthful and immediate sense of reality. This sense is the one thing that allows a person to embrace a solution that is obviously the fairest and most definitive of them all, the solution of suicide.
There is no love of hate about which one can say that it is clearly justified and definitive. But the respect (which in spite of myself and not withstanding a tyrannical moral and religious upbringing) I have to have for anyone who did not timorously withhold or restrain that impulse, that mortal impulse, leads me to envy a bit more each day those persons who were hurting so intensely that a continuing acceptance of life’s little games became something they could no longer stomach. Human accomplishment is not worth its weight in horse mucus. When personal happiness leads to even a modicum of contentment, this is more often than not a negative things like a sedative against me. The death that tempted me several times was lovelier by far than this downright prosaic fear of death that i might also quite properly call a habit the habit of timidity. I wanted to open a certain door, and I got cold feet. I feel I was wrong not to open it. I not only feel, I believe, I want to feel, I want to believe it was a mistake not to, for asI have found no solution in life, notwithstanding a long and diligent search, I am not about to attempt to pull myself together to give life another try unsolaced by the thought of this definitive and ultimate act in which I feel that I have caught a glimpse at least of the solution.
‘René Crevel, a youth amongst his artistic peers, was a handsome, tragic figure full of passion, creativity and nostalgia. Crevel exercised his diverse skills when he collaborated with Paul Follot to design modernist tapestries for the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Moderne in Paris. Tragically, Crevel took his own life just before his 35th birthday, and left behind only a small number of masterworks in the disciplines of tapestry design and the literary arts.’ — collaged
René Crevel My Body and I
‘In My Body and I (Mon Corps et Moi, 1925), René Crevel attempts to trace with words the geography of a being. Exploring the tension between body and spirit, Crevel’s meditation is a vivid personal journey through illusion and disillusion, secret desire, memory, the possibility and impossibility of life, sensuality and sexuality, poetry, truth, and the wilderness of the imagination. The narrator’s Romantic mind moves from evocative tales to frank confessions, making the reader a confidant to this great soul trapped in an awkward-fitting body. A Surrealist Proust.’ — Archipelago Books
p.s. Hey. ** Kiddiepunk, Michael! Thanks a billion, buddy! Is all well in the land of waiting? Let’s talk pronto. ** H, Hi. Cool, interesting. I neither like nor dislike Proust. I’ve never read him. Yeah, the moving thing sucks. But I’m on it. I’m not going to wait, so I’m already looking at a possible new place today. Thanks! ** New Juche, Thanks, man. Yeah, it seems to have been a very popular post. It’s interesting, when I’m putting together the thematic posts, I can never tell which ones will hit homes and which will just seem overly nerdy of me or something, ha ha. I found the Mae Nak shrine just while I was searching. No, I knew nothing about it, and I only read just a little background, which I then apparently forgot to include in the post. I remember it was a very curious story. But the story I read wasn’t anywhere as interesting as it is now that you’ve filled me in. Wow, fascinating. I could have done a whole just about that shrine. The Elizabeth Fraser shrine: very nice, thank you! Have a good one, Joe. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Yeah, grr, about the move, but now I’m in pragmatic mode about it since there’s nothing I can do. I’m looking at a possibility today. I think the Dazed & Confused interview goes online this week. I’ll let you know. Oh, you met with your cameraperson friend? What was his or her advice? I’m very curious. My weekend was really just mostly a lot work catching up. I can’t even really remember what happened, it was such a blur of working and taking occasional work breaks. But it was good enough, I think. And how did yours pan out? ** David Ehrenstein, Thank you. It’ll be fine, I would imagine. The Ronnie Tavel and Castro connection is curious. ** Nemo, Hi, Joey. Thanks. The Pettibon retrospective? You mean the one at the New Museum? Since it’s in NYC, I would guess that I won’t see it, no. ** Tosh Berman, Thank you, T. Yeah, I guess it was a pretty good post. The big response is a lovely surprise though. Ha ha, king of Paris, thank you. No, I certainly can’t afford to buy it or any apartment, and I fear I am without wealthy gigantic fans here, apparently. It’ll be fine. It’s just between the instability stress and the physical hassle and the costs of moving, it sucks. Bleah. ** TomK, Hey! Man, it’s a wonderful piece! I love those long, winding, hurling sentences. They’re like snakes shedding their skins or something. It’s like you get lost in them and simultaneously rushed pell-mell towards clarity. And the piece has such a strong and interesting forward energy, and the writing is beautifully suited to the story and to its complicated dream build. Yeah, fantastic piece, Tom! Really loved it and was very impressed, man! ** Bill, Hi, B. Yeah, RIP Pauline Oliveros, a real loss. And she was still very at it. Oh, you have caught one of those gigs, cool. I’m excited by what’s going on in that realm. I’m interested that there’s enough going on that the activity has garnered a collective name, or rather two names, I guess: Performance Cinema and Live Cinema. Really makes me wish I was in SF to see what’s going on. I hope your weekend rocked in some manner. ** B, Hi, Bear. Thanks much about the shrines collection. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been feeling low. Are you breaking through and on an upwards swing now, I hope? I didn’t see that article, but I know that Zadie Smith assigns ‘My Loose Thread’ to her classes, which, of course makes me very happy. She’s very cool. Take care, my friend, and I hope perkiness invades you asap. ** Steevee, Hi. No, I walked right near there, and I thought about the fact that the explosion had happened right there, but I neglected to actually go look at the spot. Good old rent stabilization. Good that your home situation is solid. Hopefully next time mine will be too. ** Marilyn Roxie, Hi, Marilyn. Wow, I really, really like that video you made. It’s crazy weird and good. Actually erotic and complerely spooky/mind-fucky at the same time. I’ve never seen anything like it. Fantastic! Have you done more work like that? It seems like a very fruitful area. Everyone, You are strongly advised to click these words and go watch a pretty amazing and also spookily sexy video by Marilyn Roxie, a music video for a track by Neurotic Wreck called ‘Tell Me What To Swallow’. You will not regret doing what I just encouraged you to do. For real. Yeah, really impressive and super fresh work, Marilyn. Big kudos. xx ** Jamie, Hi, Jamierooni. Or something. I think your idea of printing the novel episodically in zines is a really interesting idea. Exciting context, and it doesn’t stop the novel from coming out in a more traditional way in the future, if that becomes an option. Thanks about the shrines post. I kind of had a feeling that it was an especially good one maybe, but the big response to it is cool and wild. What happened to you this weekend after you commented? I mean, if it’s interesting. Finest of Mondays! Love, me. ** Sypha, Thanks, James. Poor Lady Gaga, but she had a good run. I read a portion of ‘Weaveworld’ back when. Yeah, really long. When I interviewed Clive years ago, he was pumping me to find out how I could write such a short novels. I don’t think he’s a minimalist. I don’t know where the gif came from. It was in my giant file of unused gifs. I was looking for one to put at the top of the blog, and I thought that one could be looked at a million times, but I don’t remember where I found it or what it is. You could try doing a google image search using it as the source. Maybe that would solve the mystery? Oh, if you haven’t watched Marilyn Roxie’s video, I think you might like it. ** Jeff Jackson, Hi, Jeff. Thanks, man. Yeah, I guess I’ll find a new place. Just have to be practical about the whole thing. No choice. When I saw ‘Innocence’, I thought it was very interesting but had a problemmatic last part. After seeing ‘Evolution’, which is much better, I realize the problem I had with the first film was more widespread than I’d thought, so that film seems more troubled to me now. But I think she’s a very interesting and talented and dedicated director, and I’m definitely curious to see what happens in her work. I’m a fan of Broodthaers, for sure. I don’t know Alejandra Pizarnik, but I’ll check out the work. I just finished reading a very interesting book (fiction) that New Directions published: ‘The Attraction of Things’ by Roger Lewinter. ** Morgan M Page, Hello, Morgan. Welcome! I know, right, about the shrine makers’ commentary. I got really lucky that so many of the shrines’ builders actually tried to put words to their reasonings and efforts. Exactly: what you wrote. You put it really well. Thanks again. Please come back here anytime. ** _Black_Acrylic, Thanks, Ben. No, I don’t know ‘Penda’s Fen’. Yeah, it sounds extremely interesting. I should do an Alan Clarke post. I’ll do that. ** Chris dankland, Howdy doody, Chris. Thanks, buddy. Hm, yeah, I made shrines. Let me think. I made a big, messy shrine to The Monkees when I was pretty young, for instance. And I have a shrine to George Miles in my LA apartment. It’s pretty austere. You should surely do something with the condom shrine idea. What a fruitful mindblower of a thing. Tons going on inside and behind it that begs for fiction and, more specifically, for yours, maestro. Writing as much as possible is awfully good news, man. Interview with you! I’ll go there the very second that this thing is out of the birth canal. Everyone, mighty writer and person and d.l. Chris Dankland has been asked five questions by the fine fellow and writer Andrew Duncan Worthington, and I think you would like to know what those questions and answers are, wouldn’t you? Here. Yeah, take the time you need on the book. Don’t sweat it. Books’ perfecting tempos are unpredictable and intractable. Submitting is so hard. I just stopped doing it at a certain point. I guess it’s worth it, though? I don’t think there is some classical route to publishing your work that has to be adhered to. Well, I mean there is one, but that model is like a horse and carriage or like fossil fuel or something. I think it’s there to be utilized to the degree that you think you can use it. It’s an angle. I guess it’s the central stream, but its fixation on the goal of money and conventional respectability and fame and the way it thinks it can identify failure or marginality and stuff is gross. Eventually, you’ll end up there to one degree or another. Like clockwork. Don’t worry about it now. Just write and publish where you’re interested to publish and keep at it. That’s really all the whole thing is about. Obvious advice, I know. Publishing work on social media and doing more eBooks like ‘Weed Monks’ sounds swell to me. Visabilty is important, not where. Anyway, … I have not seen Alex Ross Perry’s films. I will rectify that. Super great to see you, pal. ** James Nulick, Hi, J. Thanks about the post. I’m surprised and happy about the huge response to it. I don’t own that apartment in LA. It’s a rental, and I’m still paying its rent, which is ridiculous, but I am. I haven’t seen ‘Channel Zero’, no. I never watch TV. I like Nick Antosca though. No idea who the guy in the boxers in that shrine is. Some guy who likes literature, I guess. All I know about that shrine is what wound up there. Love back to you! ** Polter, Polter! Holy moly! You found my blog’s new location! Wow, it’s super cool to see you! It’s been ages. Yay! I was just thinking about when we hung out in Oslo the other day. Strange. I really don’t like stress. I think I have a high tolerance for it, but I don’t like when it takes over. I guess there are people who like it. Or not ‘like’, … what’s the word they use … thrive. I don’t thrive on mine. I can thrive on having too much to do, but not on worrying. I’m good and older too! That’s a very beautiful and sad and even mysteious story about your heart’s translation into special things like that stone. And that bus. I’m scared of buses. I hate riding them by myself. So the bus part of your story was very powerful. Oh, my goodness, thank you, and it’s so lovely to see you! I’m so happy that you’re still out there in range of here and of me. And my dream that we will get to hang out again somewhere, somehow is undiminished. Take very good care of yourself! ** Misanthrope, Hi. What does rich even mean, I wonder. I mean David Lynch and John Waters are probably ‘rich’ compared to people like you and me, but I guess they’re probably considered small fry by the Gateses and Koches and those level of money makers. I don’t think there’s a shrine out there to me, but thank you for thinking there would be. Oh, watch Marilyn Roxie’s video. The link’s up above. I think you’ll like it. Correct me if I’m wrong. ** Right. The other day Tosh Berman mentioned Rene Crevel, whose work I like a lot and whose work I haven’t devoted a post to here in years, so I made a new one re: his work and him. See you tomorrow.