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Moravagine by Blaise Cendrars

Moravagine (1926)

by Blaise Cendrars

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566825,913 (3.72)15
  1. 00
    Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline (poetontheone)
    poetontheone: Both novels detail the strange exodus of a cynical and contemptible protagonist.

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» See also 15 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Puzzled. My fiasco as a reader.
  alik-fuchs | Apr 27, 2018 |
Kay-ray-kuh-kuh-ko-kex : the only word in the Martian language
A young physician with nihilistic leanings helps an "incurable" patient named Moravagine to escape from a lunatic asylum. Thereafter the two men embark on a globe-trotting escapade taking in, amongst other things, the Russian Revolution and World War I.

This is a bold and entertaining novel written in a muscular style which is at once insightful, direct and, I suppose, pretty harsh in its outlook. Yes it could be said that, as a whole, it doesn't quite hang together - for instance: Moravagine's character seems to shift between Jack the Ripper, Quasimodo and Hugh Hefner, and sometimes he (Moravagine) appears to be tacked on as a freakish sideshow to the narrator's strange adventures and anarchistic thoughts.

All in all I'd define the novel as an intense, flamboyant and peculiar vision, flawed only by its untamed ambition. ( )
1 vote BlackGlove | Jan 20, 2018 |
a black-comic masterpiece

Histology, photography, electric bells, telescopes, birds, amperes, smoothing irons, etc.—this is only good for bouncing off the arse of humanity.

yeah it’s not really about a person named Moravagine. It’s fragmentary and self-reflexive in the high modernist style (but not a style): the writer’s acknowledgment that order and unity no longer pertain.

If one wants to live one is better to incline toward imbecility than intelligence, and live only in the absurd.

Where are we going? Insane asylums, the satirical American south, the Orinoco delta, an old fort. The attic of the Polytechnical Institute in Moscow, at the end of a sparkling fuse. I read Cendrars (née Frédéric-Louis Sauser) in the light of Walter Pater, whose aestheticism carried a hedonistic streak, and of Nabokov, who advised readers to pay attention to the artistry and creativity of the writer and not get drawn into banal generalizations about ‘character’ and ‘story.’ To read, wrote Pater, is to ‘follow intelligently, but with strict indifference, the mental process [of the writer], as one might witness a game of skill.’ Don’t watch Moravagine, watch Sauser. Moravagine is about Sauser’s response to the turn of the last European century, and about the presentation of that response. As he says in the fugitive pages appended to the end of the NYRB edition, ‘there is only one literary subject: Man. But which man? The man who writes.’ Sauser the prose poet has ‘Cendrars’ appear in the book as a one-armed airplane mechanic.

If one could believe him, he had seen everything, read everything, done everything. He had worked in every trade, tramped the whole world over, had friends everywhere. He had lived in all the great cities and been through several virgin countries, accompanying explorers or acting as guide to scientific expeditions. He knew houses by their numbers, mountains by their height, children by their birthdays, boats by their names, women by their lovers, men by their vices, animals by their virtues, plants by their healing qualities and the stars by their influence. He was superstitious as a savage, sly as a monkey, up-to-date as a man about town, and unscrupulous and cunning into the bargain.

How does an artist respond to the modern world, a scene of ruin? With a mad cackle. Not only is God dead, but his face was on the floor of a public pissoir, and we have stepped in it. The modern world embraced new faiths—in science, revolution, psychiatry—and those new faiths failed.

The latest discoveries of science are just sufficient enough to demonstrate the futility of any attempt to explain the universe rationally. And metaphysics belongs in a museum of folklore, says Cendrars.

Man, like music, is inscrutable. Wasting time is the only way to be free.
Our mounts died under us, and we rode on astride our own shadows. ( )
2 vote HectorSwell | Sep 22, 2017 |
Doctor helps a homicidal lunatic, the title character, escape from an asylum, then becomes his companion on a worldwide tour of revolution, violence, homicide (of course), aviation, war, and a few other things. The narrator becomes more passive as the journey goes on, but Moravagine shows himself to be energetic, clever, thoroughly evil, and completely remorseless. The fun in this book comes from the imaginative circumstances and places the pair find themselves in. This is not quite the book I expected from the description on Amazon. Despite the subject matter, the book is far from disgusting or upsetting. At times, it almost reads like a real travelogue. It isn't easy to describe what a reader encounters here--but I recommend it to anyone looking for something completely different. In translation at least, it is a joy to read. ( )
1 vote datrappert | Dec 27, 2016 |
Where do I begin? With the deranged doctor or the blue Indians? But how can I forget the orang-outang? We meet these characters in the second half of the book after reading about Moravagine escaping from a nightmarish boyhood and a strange castle in the earlier parts of the ersatz memoirs.

What we have with Moravagine (1926) by Blaise Cendrars is a novel that is difficult to summarize and, while written in the era of modern novels, seems almost post-modern in its organization. That is a structure I would compare with Nabokov's Pale Fire with its disparate sections of memoir, notes from the author, and other non-traditional bits of text, although the prose is nothing like Nabokov. Rather the prose is comparable to nightmarish narratives whether from Joris-Karl Huysmans or Franz Kafka.

The main narrative is in a picaresque style narrated by a young doctor who frees the mysterious Moravagine from an asylum where he’s been imprisoned for many years. “Moravagine” is an adopted name whose origin and meaning is never addressed, although a French reader would find a rather unavoidable pun on “death by vagina”. Moravagine himself is an otherwise unnamed member of the Hungarian royal family, a dwarfish intellectual psychopath with a bad leg who goes on the run with the doctor, first to pre-revolutionary Russia, then to the United States and South America.

The prose seems coherent only in the sense that your dreams (at least mine) seem rational until you realize that they are really absurd. The author may have been writing his narrative in reaction to his own experience of the senselessness of the Great War where he lost his right arm. He spent about a decade from 1917 to 1926 writing this novel and Cendrars himself appears as a character in the later chapters; he has his narrator lose a leg while Moravagine loses his reason altogether. At the end of the book he’s found imprisoned in another asylum where he believes he’s an inhabitant of the planet Mars, and where he spends his last months writing a huge, apocalyptic account of how the world will be in the year 2013.

This is a short novel that is in turns comedic and absurd, not necessarily all at the same time. If you enjoy experimentation in the books that you read you will like Cendrars memorable reflections on the meaninglessness of (fictional) existence. ( )
2 vote jwhenderson | Dec 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
If Cendrars felt anything steadily (beyond the urge to shift about and the compulsion to test his physical prowess) it was modern civilization pullulating all round him while he tried to wolf it down. Modernism flows into Moravagine's head like a sargasso from Hades; he cannot resist it, but, Canute-like, tries to, only to end up submitting completely to the destructive ecstasy it provokes in him. Moravagine is the man who ate Zeitgeist and died of it... Moravagine is a demented hymn to Creation, a seminal work in which a semi-gangster mentality anticipates many of the ironic-fantastic literary modes of our own day with a bumptious, carefully deployed bitingness no one has quite equalled.

added by SnootyBaronet | editBook World, Paul West
Moravagine stakes out human extremity as its subject matter. The language is pained, exacerbated. Long, telescopic sentences carry us through revolution, terror, a zone of sexual and moral nihilism. To call the book depraved is to soft-pedal the issue. Nothing on that order, excepting Lautreamont, had appeared before. Moravagine seeks damnation and extinction with a glee unequaled in literature.
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew Boston Review, Sven Birkerts
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...I shall demonstrate how this tiny sound within, this nothing, contains everything; and how, with the bacillary aid of a single sensation - always the same one, and deformed at that in its very origins - a brain isolated from the world can create a world for itself... REMY DE GOURMONT, Sixtine
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In 1900 I completed my medical studies.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0720652022, Hardcover)

At once truly appalling and appallingly funny, Blaise Cendrars's Moravagine bears comparison with Naked Lunch—except that it's a lot more entertaining to read. Heir to an immense aristocratic fortune, mental and physical mutant Moravagine is a monster, a man in pursuit of a theorem that will justify his every desire. Released from a hospital for the criminally insane by his starstruck psychiatrist (the narrator of the book), who foresees a companionship in crime that will also be an unprecedented scientific collaboration, Moravagine travels from Moscow to San Antonio to deepest Amazonia, engaged in schemes and scams as, among other things, terrorist, speculator, gold prospector, and pilot. He also enjoys a busy sideline in rape and murder. At last, the two friends return to Europe—just in time for World War I, when "the whole world was doing a Moravagine."

This new edition of Cendrars's underground classic is the first in English to include the author's afterword, "How I Wrote Moravagine."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:03 -0400)

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