Magazine article Artforum International

Raymond Roussel: Galerie Buchholz

Magazine article Artforum International

Raymond Roussel: Galerie Buchholz

Article excerpt

Raymond Roussel

GALERIE BUCHHOLZ

Difficult author; reclusive aesthete; visionary fabricator of fantastic objects literary, conceptual, and material: The reputation of Raymond Roussel (1877-1933) often precedes him. In photographs he is a pale, impeccably groomed man with a resplendent mustache. A shy smile pairs oddly with the wild energy in his gaze. His writings, allegedly incomprehensible to all but the most committed appreciators of his day, still receive less attention than his biography or, perhaps more accurately, his legend.

Galerie Buchholz's recent exhibition was the latest view into the Roussel annals. It also functioned as a housewarming: Heretofore exclusively a Berlin concern, Buchholz now has a foothold near the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Behind the robust facade of a town house of the sort normally occupied by foreign embassies, Buchholz's three-room offering of Rousselania was an extremely welcome addition to the neighborhood and felt, more generally, like a happy return to a fan favorite. Roussel's work never gets old--partly because of how strange it is and partly because so few people have actually read it.

Roussel wrote long, formally and conceptually complex poems, as well as novels. He is best known for 1910's Impressions of Africa, a novel that he published at his own expense and later mounted as an elaborately costumed play. The structure of the novel is famously based on the punning difference between two otherwise identical, seemingly insignificant phrases: les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du vieux billard (the white letters on the cushions of the old billiard table) and les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du vieux pillard (the letters of a white man about the bands of the old pillager). Beginning with the first of these two arbitrary images, Roussel concludes twenty-six chapters later with the second; in the pages between, he describes the court of an imaginary African king at which, in a fantasy of colonialism reversed, a troupe of European entertainers are detained and forced to enact various impossible tableaux.

Like the prose of Marcel Proust, Roussel's oeuvre marks the encounter of Victorian representational styles and ideas about time with those that would come to characterize modernism. Unlike the prose of Marcel Proust, Roussel's writings are not concerned with phenomenal reality. Instead, Roussel wanted his readers to consider unreal visions already mediated by writing or other technologies, not experiences but rather images of experience; he was a practitioner par excellence of the trope of ekphrasis, or description of another work of art in writing. …

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