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Moravagine (1926)

by Blaise Cendrars

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6361027,169 (3.69)17
"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.""--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
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    poetontheone: Both novels detail the strange exodus of a cynical and contemptible protagonist.
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» See also 17 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
A perfect "I'd rather talk about it than read it" book, which brings home to me once and for all how impossible it is to remain 'shocking' as history pro/regresses--like Celine, in that respect. And once the shockingness is gone, there's not a whole lot left to keep this thing together, unfortunately.

It does have, however, the greatest title in literature, and really, really does make a great conversation topic. We have our 'hero,' Moravagine, and his Robin, 'Dr. Science.' Voila: the two main twentieth century paths to amorality, the nihilistic and the scientistic. They travel the globe doing moderately shocking things. Moravagine causes the first Russian Revolution. He's a daring fighter pilot. He disembowels women.

More interesting by far is the apparatus Cendrars sets up around the picaresque: Moravagine's 'manuscripts,' the very hazy relationship between Blaise Cendrars and Dr. Science, Cendrars' reflections on writing the book. And some of the chapters are worth reading. "Our Rambles in America" is a kind of inverted "Education of Henry Adams," and the closing chapters (they take place after the world has, by creating the first world war, out moravagined Moravagine) are oddly moving. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
The narrator of this novel, freshly-graduated genius doctor Raymond la Science, lands a position at a renowned Swiss sanatorium for wealthy but criminally insane patients. This is where he meets one of the inmates, Moravagine, the last and very decrepit heir to a line of Central European nobility. The rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire have put him away to solidify their hold on the throne -- but also because he’s a psychopathic murderer with a near-inhuman psyche. Raymond and Moravagine discover they are kindred spirits, and decide to break out. Joined together like a pair of parasites they travel the unstable world of the early 1900s, hiding under a variety of spy-level disguises, aliases and false passports. Wherever they are -- masterminding the Revolution in Russia, rafting up the Orinoco, witnessing The Great War -- Raymond develops his anarchistic ideas in his journal, and Moravagine leaves behind a trail of butchered girls. They feed off each other, and as their picaresque voyages become increasingly deranged, they themselves become more and more unhinged.

The first chapter was great! It hit me with an unexpected twist that boosted my confidence in having found a wild reading experience. Wild it was, but I don’t think the momentum was adequately sustained: some parts dragged too much (the Russian Revolution sections in particular), and others felt more incoherently tacked on. As the novel wears on, unity and structure become looser and cease to apply; this is particularly clear in the WWI segments and everything after. And while this is absolutely intentional, I don’t think the various sequences lead all that well into each other.

Moravagine is a very angry book: it’s furious at the mechanised slaughter of WWI and the indifference of modern technology and the kind of societies they have created. It has no faith in any of the Great Narratives either, and even raving anarchy and a primeval pleasure at tearing down society’s values are ultimately unfulfilling and hollow.

I cannot help but think that this book would translate exceptionally well to the big screen -- its story and aesthetic would be much better served in a largely visual medium. I think it would make for an awesome movie in the hands of Ben Wheatley (A field in England) or Robert Eggers (The VVitch: A New England folktale and The lighthouse). ( )
  Petroglyph | Nov 14, 2019 |
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. ( )
3 vote HectorSwell | Sep 22, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"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.""--BOOK JACKET.

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