Late Night Surrealism

Theme: Paris!

Philippe Soupault’s Last Nights of Paris is a surrealist homage to the city of Paris itself.  Soupault was on the movements original founders, along with Andre Breton, and in this book we see those Surrealist elements – non-sequitor, automatism and surprise juxtapositions.   But mostly, this book is anomaly.  It’s technically a novel, yet at times it reads like one.  At times, it reads like personal essays or reflections of a traveler.  It’s poetic and pulsing with the late night energy of walking the storied Parisian streets.  Interesting that Soupault chose a nameless narrator.  It makes Paris seem much more important, as if it is the protagonist.  

The rue de Medicis along which we were strolling at a fair pace is sad around ten-thirty at night.  It is the street of everlasting rain.

Is is said that along of side of it is the meeting place of masochistic bachelors.  A modest and silent club.  Here umbrellas take on the appearance of a flock. 

“You know,” she said,”that here are places where you can get coffee with cream.”

 As its very start the rue de Vaugirard stinks of books.  The odor comes from every side.  Its friend and neighbor, the rue de Tournon, is more inviting.  So much so that I was prepared for the a proposal and the address of a comfortable hotel.

He leads through the Parisian night as he follows Georgette, a lovely prostitute has a symbiotic relationship with Paris at night.

Georgette resumed her stroll about Paris, through the mazes of the night.  She went on, dispelling sorrow, solitude or tribulation.  Then more than ever did she display her strange power:  that of transfiguring the night.  Thanks to her, who was no more than on of the hundred thousands, the Parisian night became a mysterious domain, a great and marvelous country, full of flowers , of birds, of glances and of stars, a hope launched into space….Slave of my impressions, I thought of a velodrome.
Soupault’s writing is so musical, no wonder he went on to pen a libretto.  He also was prominent as  a surrealist screenwriter.  But this book epitomizes his ability to make the abstract present, to make what seems untouchable, touchable.  After he follows Georgette, he begins to follow her brother, Octave, a strange, quiet yet primal man.  Octave is as mysterious as Georgette because our narrator doesn’t know really why the walk where they walk, he just follows them and never unveils any answers to who they are.  This next passage has our narrator walking with Octave on the outskirts of Paris and it exemplifies Soupault’s ability to use metaphor:

The night clung to the trees, then, lying in wait in the shadowy spaces or crouching in the long, narrow and somber streets, it seemed to spy upon us as if we were emerging from some dive.  The least noise was a catastrophe, the least breath a great terror. We walked in the eternal mud.  Step by step we sank into the thickness of the night, lost as if forever.  I turned around several times to look at the way we had come but night alone was behind us.  When we came upon a small light in a dead house, instantly it went out, as if frightened by our passing
Don’t expect a book filled with a seamless plot – not much actually happens.   But there is so much happening with the way Soupault’s writes what the narrator sees, as if we were right alongside him.  There is a murder.  There are  last minute confessions.  Obsession and danger.  But that’s not what keeps you reading.  It’s finding out what Paris has waiting for you right around the next dark corner.  This book is what Paris is and was.

Last Nights of Paris
By Philippe Soupault
Translated from the French by William Carlos Williams(yes, THE William Carlos Williams)
Exact Change
179 pages
ISBN:  9781878972057

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