The story unfolds in luminous, poetic writing that is a total joy to read, and in the end leaves the reader fully satisfied, yet still longing for more. A book to be read again and again. Wonderful.
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Also included are a number of poems and letters, which combined with the prose pieces present a great picture of the author's whole work. It seems like the best place to start for anyone who has not read Nerval before, but I'm sure that dedicated enthusiasts will find new pleasure in the excellent translation and the lucid editorial expositions that Richard Sieburth provides throughout the text.
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Evidently fond of exotic locales, customs, women, drugs, etc, it only follows that this nineteenth-century Frenchman would find himself magnetically drawn to the "Orient," to the fabled meccas of Beirut, Cairo, and of course the "font of drug-taking" itself, Constantinople, where he could liberally sample the world-renowned hashish and slave-girls without fear of reprimand from neurotic Europeans obsessed with "propriety." (Indeed his descriptions of such phenomena are just as offensive to the ultra-PC postmodernist of today as they were to his bourgeois contemporaries - and for essentially identical reasons.) He is very much the chauvinist white guy who feels entitled to indulge when among "inferiors."
The pedantic intricacy of his descriptions is surely a literary reflection of the action of the drug. "Journey to the Orient" is no ordinary travel-journal; it may be doubted whether half the events recounted ever actually transpired; but the details are consistently rendered with hallucinogenic clarity. In fact, only a few fragments of the original massive tome are included in this translation, but the entire second portion consists of a tale supposedly overheard in a Constantinopolitan coffee-and-hash house, a re-telling, with florid embellishments, of the Masonic legend of the building of Soliman's (Solomon's) Temple and the murder of the architect Adoniram (Hiram Abiff) - yet the narrative never looses the conviction of first-hand experience. I picked the following passage at random - it gives an idea of the baroque style of the book:
"Darkness suddenly falls and the sky is muffled by black specks which grow bigger as they approach; flocks of birds tumble into the temple, divide into groups, form circles, jostle together, arranging themselves finally into a sumptuous, shimmering foliage; while their wings unfold into opulent bouquets of green, scarlet, jet-black and azure."
It's easy to see why Gerard de Nerval was such an icon for Surrealists like Joseph Cornell. One can open the book to any page and find such immediately visceral passages; the context is almost unimportant. Life is a dream, a sequence of fantastic images, and the best literature can do is to embody the existential experience. If this sounds like your cup of hashish-paste, then dig in.
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this edition by Exact Change Press is also worth remarking upon: the paper feels great, the design is perfect... hmm, running out of synonyms for "good."
all in all, a great volume by a lesser-known master.
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