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Cendrars, Blaise

Entry updated 9 January 2023. Tagged: Author, Film.

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Pseudonym of Swiss-born editor, controversialist, adventurer (though his memoirs contain a great deal of fiction), poet, film maker and author Frédéric-Louis Sauser (1887-1961), in France from around 1910, signing as Blaise Cendrars from 1912; he was in active service during World War One, losing an arm in combat. His career as experimenter, agitator, constantly restless plunger into numerous genres (which he mixed), began before the War, most of this work being poetry, his first text of sustained interest as an example of Fantastika probably being Le Panama ou Les Aventures de Mes Sept Oncles (1918 chap; trans John Dos Passos in Panama or the Adventures of My Seven Uncles, coll 1931), a surreal picaresque narrative poem whose speculative elements are (typically) spoofed; and Le fin du monde filmée par l'Ange Notre-Dame, Roman (1919 chap; trans Esther Allen as "The End of the World Filmed by the Angel of Notre Dame" in Modernities and Other Writings omni 1992), a script for an imaginary film in which God, having filmed World War One, which satiates him only briefly, now plans to create the End of the World through special effects.

His main prose fictions follow his work on films by Abel Gance (1889-1981), beginning with Kodak (Documentaire) (1924 chap; trans Ron Padgett as "Kodak: Documentary" in Complete Poems coll 1992), a kind of prose-poem collaged from the text of Le Mystérieux Docteur Cornelius ["The Mysterious Dr Cornelius"] (1912) by Gustave Le Rouge, an author he strongly admired. L'Or: La merveilleuse historie du général Johann August Sutter (1925; trans Henry Longan Stuart as Sutter's Gold 1926; new trans Nina Rootes, vt Gold: Being the Marvelous History of General John Augustus Sutter 1982) transplants elements of the classic Western into a ocean-dominated world inimical to that form: a half-told Utopia centred on the "edifice"-like New Helvetia, a domain more or less encompassing both San Francisco and Sacramento (see California), which is overwhelmed by claim-jumpers during the Gold Rush of 1849. The tale is in some ways similar to Franz Kafka's Amerika (published 1927), though there can have been no mutual influence; Cendrars clearly sees Sutter's hyperbolic life as a surreal contribution to the myth of origin of California, where America ends. The novel was filmed disastrously as Sutter's Gold (1936) directed by James Cruze.

L'Eubage, aux antipodes de l'unité (1926; trans Esther Allen as "The Eubage; Or, at the Antipodes of Unity" in Modernities and Other Writings omni 1992) combines interstellar Space Opera and deadpan philosophical musings, anticipatory of the work of Stanisław Lem. In Moravagine (1926; trans Alan Brown 1969) a Mad Scientist psychologist lets loose the eponymous serial-killer patient; they traverse the globe causing havoc, achieving dubious godhood up the Amazon, until the start of World War One takes the spotlight, and they stop. And in the Dan Yack sequence [for details see Checklist below], Yack bribes some companions to found a rule-free Utopia in Antarctica, and live there over the winter season. The phantasmagoric vaudeville that ensues puts into bodily form the tropes and topics of Modernism.

Cendrars wrote frequently about the cinema. Of some sf interest are the speculations contained in Hollywood, le mecque du cinéma; avec 29 dessins pris sul le vif par Jean Guérin (1936 trans Garrett White as Hollywood: Mecca of the Movies 1995). With age, perhaps inevitably, the trickster elements in his character and work lost their pace and humour, and he ceased work for several years before he began to publish again, at the end of his life, some works with nonfantastic content. [JC]

Frédéric-Louis Sauser

born La Chaux-de-Fonds, Neuchâtel, Switzerland: 1 September 1887

died Paris: 21 January 1961

works (selected)


Dan Yack

  • Le Plan de l'Aiguille (Paris: Editions Denoël/Au Sans Pareil, 1927) [Dan Yack: binding unknown/]
    • Antarctic Fugue (London: The Pushkin Press, 1948) [trans anon of the above: Dan Yack: hb/]
    • Dan Yack (London: Peter Owen, 1987) [new trans by Nina Rootes of the above: containing in the form of an "Epilogue" some material from Les Confessions de Dan Yack below: Dan Yack: hb/Quentin Newark]
  • Les Confessions de Dan Yack ["The Confessions of Dan Yack"] (Paris: Editions Denoël/Au Sans Pareil, 1929) [Dan Yack: hb/nonpictorial]
    • Confessions of Dan Yack (London: Peter Owen, 1990) [trans by Nina Rootes of the above: Dan Yack: hb/Juliet Standing]

individual titles

works as editor/translator

  • Anthologie nègre ["Black Anthology"] (Paris: Éditions de la Sirène, 1921) [anth: edited and translated by Cendrars: folktales: binding unknown/]



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