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Vian, Boris

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Theatre.

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(1920-1959) French engineer, translator, jazz trumpeter, singer songwriter, playwright and author, his copious collected works amounting to more than fifty volumes; he was Transcendental Satrap of the Collège de 'Pataphysique, and a fine dramatist of the absurd (see Fabulation) who will be perhaps best remembered for his eloquent advocacy of American jazz, for his 400 songs (see Music) and for such plays as Équarrissage pour tous (1950; trans Simon Watson Taylor as The Knacker's ABC 1968), which savagely mocks the military mind and military punctilio, and Les Batisseurs d'Empire ou le Schmurz (1959; trans Simon Watson Taylor as The Empire Builders 1962), a surreal excursus upon pain. One of the main personalities of the post-World War Two French sf scene – though sf made up only a small part of his activities – Vian translated A E van Vogt's The World of Ā (1948) as Le monde des A (1953), as well as shorter works by William Tenn, Henry Kuttner and Ray Bradbury, and was himself a writer of speculative fiction years ahead of his time.

Vian's first novel, J'irai cracher sur vos tombes (1946 as by Vernon Sullivan; trans Vian and Milton Rosenthal as I Shall Spit on Your Graves 1948 as Vian) [for further vts see Checklist], pretended with some success to be a US tough-guy detective novel, its noir savageries extending peripherally into the fantastic; it was filmed as J'irai cracher sur vos tombes (1959). It was followed by two similar tales, Les morts ont tous la même peau (1947; trans Paul Knobloch as The Dead All Have the Same Skin 2008) and Et on tuera tous les affreux (1948 as by Vernon Sullivan; trans Paul Knobloch as To Hell With the Ugly 2011).

The stories assembled in Les Fourmis (coll 1949; trans Julia Older as Blues for a Black Cat 1992) were far more deeply indebted to sf and Surrealism, as were his later novels, particularly L'Écume des jours (1947; trans Stanley Chapman as Froth on the Daydream 1967; new trans John Sturrock as Mood Indigo 1968; further new trans Brian Harper as Foam of the Daze 2003), filmed as Mood Indigo (2014) directed by Michel Gondry; L'automne à Pékin (1947; trans Paul Knobloch as Autumn in Peking 2005), set in a desert Utopia called Exopatamie in a Parallel World, which is visited by several investigators whose findings exorbitantly fail to mesh; L'herbe rouge ["Red Grass"] (coll 1950), containing a surreal tale which mixes Time Travel and nostalgia; and L'Arrache-Coeur (1953; trans Stanley Chapman as Heartsnatcher 1968), a fable of metamorphosis. Throughout his career, Vian used sf devices to articulate a sense of the world's violent impingement on the self, though sometimes his characters transcended their shackles; in the 1960s his work was particularly influential on writers of the UK New Wave. [JC/MJ]

see also: France.

Boris Vian

born Ville-d'Arvray, Hauts-de-Seine, France: 10 March 1920

died Paris: 23 June 1959

works (selected)



works as translator

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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