The Punishments Of Hell
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“The first prose work by Robert Desnos initially appears to be a roman à clef, except that would imply the sort of conventional narrative that is here cast gleefully aside. Most of Desnos’s friends in the Paris Dada movement make an appearance, André Breton, Louis Aragon and Benjamin Péret among others; yet these young men, so well known now, but who then had barely made their mark, find themselves consigned to a ‘cemetery’ just before the end of the book, interred alongside their literary heroes. The past, it seems, must be buried, perhaps the future too.
The Punishments of Hell, or New Hebrides lies between Dada and Surrealism, looking back to the nihilistic incomprehensibility of, say, Tristan Tzara and overwhelming it with the savage lyricism for which Desnos would become renowned. The protagonists are swept up into violent journeys by train and steamship across Paris and beyond, as fabulous events consume their everyday lives and oracular voices spout verses of what may be nonsense or wisdom. All is confusion at this critical pass when the future seemed simultaneously at stake and almost within reach — a very modern sense of chaos is embodied in this vivid and breathless ‘novel’.”
an experimental novel written in Paris during the early twenties yet not published until 1978, a heady mixture of Dada and Surrealism, this rich and dreamlike text is now also available in an English translation by Natasha Lehrer and Chris Allen (verse), with an introduction by Marie-Claire Dumas, soft cover, 17 x 14,5 cm, 160 pages, Atlas Eclectics & Heteroclites 18, London 2017