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Modernities and Other Writings.

In certain respects this may be the finest, most evocative volume of prose that Cendrars has written, though it consists mostly of nonfiction works. Some of the pieces were written in 1917 and collected in 1931 into a volume called Aujourd'hui. These demonstrate Cendrars's immense enthusiasm for the scientific and technological breakthroughs of the early twentieth century: aviation, moving pictures, huge buildings, steam-driven cranes, phonographs.

He writes about them in staccato, machine-gun bursts of words. His love of machines and the new, fast-paced life is reminiscent of the Italian Futurists, as is, at least in a piece entitled "I Have Killed," his attitude toward war: "The two of us now. Face to face ... Merciless. I jump on my antagonist. I slash him terribly ... I've killed the Hun. I was faster and more alert. More direct. I was the first to strike. I have the sense of reality: me, the poet. I acted. I killed. Like someone who wants to live." Note his effective use of short sentences and sentence fragments during this savage narration.

Cendrars was involved with several art forms; in the 1920s he worked in film production. Included here is a treatment for a movie entitled The End of the World Filmed by the Angel of Notre Dame. It begins, "It is December 31. God the Father is seated at his American executive desk. He is hurriedly signing countless pieces of paper. He is in shirt sleeves with a green lampshade over his eyes. He gets up, lights a large cigar, glances at his watch, walks nervously through his office, pacing up and down as he chews his cigar." This film project was never produced, unfortunately; it could've resulted in one of the most unique movies of all time.

Following this we get "The Eubage; or, At the Antipodes of Unity," a novella describing a trip through the universe taken by Cendrars and his crew in a space ship of his design. This colorful piece can also be interpreted as a trip through the modern mind, with colorful, hallucinogenic effects.

The final works in the book are devoted to painters, many of whom, like Robert Delaunay, Cendrars knew well. The essays range from technical (on Survage's experiments with color) to lyrical (Cendrars writing a prose poem inspired by Chagall's work) and all are engrossing, full of enthusiasm.

Ms. Allen, assisted by Ms. Chefder, has done a fine job of translating, producing a consistently engaging English text.
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Author:Pekar, Harvey
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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