I just read -- and was astonished by --Novels in Three Lines by Félix Fénéon. Like so many great things, I happened on it randomly and then wondered how come I never knew about it before, so perfect a thing.

Fénéon lived one of those lives you would be hard pressed to make up:

"Félix Fénéon (1861–1944) was born in Turin (his father was a traveling salesman), raised in Burgundy, and came to Paris after placing first in a competitive exam for jobs in the War Office. He was employed as a clerk there for thirteen years, rising to chief clerk, and was considered a model employee. During this time he also edited the work of Rimbaud and Lautréamont, reviewed books and art (he helped to discover Georges Seurat), and was a regular at Mallarmé's Tuesday evening salon. Fénéon was active too in anarchist circles, and in 1894, after the bombing of a restaurant popular among politicians and financiers and the assassination by an Italian anarchist of the French president, he and twenty-nine others were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy—though in the subsequent so-called Trial of the Thirty Fénéon and most of his co-defendants were easily acquitted. Soon after, Fénéon became the editor of the Revue Blanche, where he featured Debussy as his music critic and André Gide as his book critic and published Proust, Apollinaire, and Jarry, as well as his own translation of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. After the Revue Blanche folded, Fénéon went to work as a journalist, first for the conservative Le Figaro, then, starting in 1906, for the liberal broadsheet Le Matin, for which he composed the pieces collected in Novels in Three Lines. In later life Fénéon sold paintings at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery and for a while ran his own publishing house. In response to a proposal to publish a collection of his own work, he remarked, 'I aspire only to silence.'"

Well, I have apsired to many things, but thus far silence ain't been it.

I've been thinking about Fénéon's work this weekend since I've been buried deep in reading Mexican writings about violent border events along the Rio Grande in the 1870s and 1880s. I just keep coming across some stunning lines. The stories are always interesting, but it is easy at moments to admire the language and cadence. And, to a lesser extent, the punctuation, which is odd and makes you want to break them into verses. Some of these lines could easily also just drop right into a corrido. And maybe have, or, perhaps, will.

a small sampling of what I mean:

These lines describe the random murder of a blind man named Antonio Muñoz by Mexican soldier named Zeferino Avalos on the Texas side of the Rio Grande in 1879.

"The circumstance of the murdered man being blind, imparted to the crime a character of notable atrocity." M. Ruelas, April 29, 1879

The following come from the Superior Tribunal of Coahuila final sentence January, 29, 1879:

"That while in the middle of the river he drew his pistol and fired two shots toward the Mexican side in the direction of several women washing.

Being rebuked for this by the boatman, he replied in a haughty tone that 'when he wished to kill a man he killed him.'

"Having crossed the Rio Grande, he went toward an unfortunate blind beggar, who, guided by a boy about twelve years old, was six or eight yards from the water's edge, and Avalos, having drawn his pistol, pointed it at the unhappy blind man at a yard's distance from him, when he tired, the victim falling to the earth, dying instantly."

"That from the evidence of several witnesses it appears that Zeferino Avalos, while intoxicated, is a provoking, quarrelsome, and cruel and treacherous man, which detestable qualities caused him to be feared by the people.

That on the other hand, the unfortunate blind man, Autonio Mufioz, was of a prudent and peaceable character, and having an unimpeachable name."

"When Avalos approached he said he wished a prayer said, to which Muñoz replied, refusing, saying that he did not know how to say prayers; that he lived by his work, so as not to ask alms; and that as he said this the murderer fired the shot which deprived him of his life."

this all really begs to be sung by Los Alegres de Teran, no?


Popular posts from this blog