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Last Nights of Paris.

Readers of Paterson and of Williams's Autobiography perhaps recall references to Soupault, whose 1928 novel Les Dernieres nuits de Paris Williams translated after becoming friends with the French writer. Williams's translation, published in 1929 by Macaulay and reprinted by Full Court Press in 1982, is again available in a handsome paperback edition that includes a brief but informative publisher's note (which argues that Last Nights is one of the rare conjunctions of French and American modernism) and Ron Padgett's translation of Soupault's recollection of the time he spent with Williams.

Last Nights of Paris - which its author preferred to label a "testimony" - perhaps interested Williams because of its efforts to conjure the spirit of a specific locality. Soupault's Paris is a dark illusion, a city of "sex and mystery," that haunts the group of small-time underworld figures who people its pages and that finds its personification in an enigmatic prostitute who obsesses both this group of bookies, thieves, murderers, and eccentrics and Soupault's narrator, a man of means by no means introduced by chance into this little group. Chance, which Soupault's narrator praises for its ability to give to one's simple "comings and goings . . . the glamour of miracles," might be said to be the book's chief concern - that and the way we all mystify, then demystify, the events of our lives, only to find ourselves at the end of this process mystified still.

Co-author with Andre Breton of Les Champs magnetiques and co-editor with Breton and Louis Aragon of Litterature, Soupault was one of the founders of the surrealist movement before being booted out in 1926 for his "isolated pursuit of the stupid literary adventure." As a "revolution against all restraints on the free functioning of the human mind" (M. H. Abrams's definition of surrealism), Last Nights is a modest example of surrealism. It is, however, a haunting depiction of a world in which the characters find themselves both the ghosts and the spooked.

Finally, Last Nights is a beautifully designed and produced book and a fine addition to the short but growing list of books from Exact Change, which has to date published or reissued books by Gertrude Stein, Alfred Jarry, John Cage, and others and whose "mission is to reissue or publish for the first time works of experimental literature primarily from the early twentieth century and from the canon associated with Surrealism." Keep your eye on this press.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Horvath, Brooke
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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