Monday, December 27, 2010
One armed poet adventurer. World traveler. Novelist. Essayist. Playwright. Hero of the French Foreign Legion. Early independent film maker. Raconteur and friend to all.
Blaise Cendrars was a world famous and yet enigmatic writer who blazed across the globe in the first half of the 20th Century. He would make up stories about himself until those stories became true. He would forever influence the world of letters and inspire some of the century's greatest artists. He would laugh, brawl, drink, talk and travel over much of the planet.
He was born in Switzerland as Frédéric Louis Sauser on September 1, 1887, but he rose from the embers of a bourgeoisie existence to take on a fiery new name and live a life of adventure and creativity. He once commented "writing is being burned alive, but it also means being reborn from the ashes". The man who would christened himself Blaise Cendrars personified living life as art and art as life.
A yearning for a bigger, wilder world would lead a young Cendrars to mythologize himself and to claim things that are unverifiable and unlikely. At the start of his career Cendrars would, in the off-hand manner of a true story teller, claim that he'd been raised by a gypsy governess or that he'd earned his living shoveling coal on a Chinese railroad, statements for which there is no proof. These self-made myths would become the psychological training ground for the new persona and true adventures that would outstrip anything he'd ever imagined. Cendrars would later comment "No I'm not an extraordinary writer, I'm an extraordinary daydreamer. I exceed all of my fantasies- even that of writing."
Cendrars would choose France as his spiritual home even if he never stayed there for very long.
This is where he would befriend and inspire some of the greatest artists and creative minds of the 20th Century. He and Guillaume Apollinaire would create Modernist poetry together, he'd drink with Erik Satie and Modigliani would paint his portrait.
Prose of the Transsiberian and the Little Jehanne of France" describing one of his journeys was formatted on a long folded paper and accompanied by paintings by Sonia Delaunay-Terk. Cendrars termed this the "first simultaneous poem".
When World War I broke out Cendrars and the Italian writer Ricciotto Canudo put out a call to battle to inspire the ex-patriot writers and artists living in France to defend their adopted country. Cendrars himself would join the French Foreign Legion and fight on the front lines until September 1915 when his right arm was blown off at the battle of Champagne. He would later write about his war time experiences in his works "The Severed Hand" and "The Astonished Man".
Undeterred by his injuries Cendrars dubbed himself "the left handed poet" and he would continue to write, create and travel. He would embark on journeys to Africa, Central and South America and the South Seas. He would author a set of novels chronicling the globe spanning adventures of the rich eccentric Dan Yack. He would create the perverse anti-hero "Moravagine" who would lay bare the cruelties of the human animal. He would become one of the first independent film makers and he would author journalism on such diverse topics as the early American movie industry in his collection of essays entitled "Hollywood" or the history of levitation in his work "A Parcel of Sky".
Amongst this hectic and boisterous life Cendrars would always embrace the people and the world around him. He would swap stories with South American peasants and flirt with Hollywood starlets. He would drink and argue and laugh with poets and priests, mechanics and prostitutes, women and men of all descriptions. His true tales of travel and realistic depictions of life all over the globe served as precursor to the works of Hemingway. Henry Miller would state that Cendrars' work was "...written in blood but blood saturated with starlight".
Blaise Cendrars was a man of brilliant creativity and prodigious talent but his greatest work was a life fully lived.
"...the truth is few enough people know how to live and the few that accept life as it is are still more rare."