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Locus Solus

Locus Solus

by Raymond Roussel, Rupert Copeland Cuningham (Translator)

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Locus Solus by Raymond Roussel


Locus Solus by Raymond Roussel

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Reviewed by Seth Saterlee At his expansive estate on the outskirts of Paris, brilliant and eccentric scientist Martial Canterel leads a group of visitors on a tour through seven jarring, otherworldly exhibits that combine alchemical techniques with strange objects of fascination. Originally published in 1914, Roussel’s extraordinary novel still feels fresh more than a hundred years later; John Ashbery, Italo Calvino, Marcel Duchamp, and Michel Foucault have all cited it as a major influence. Narrated by an unnamed colleague of Canterel’s, the story follows an episodic structure that feels like walking through a private museum, taking time to soak in the works, before reading a detailed program of the show. Each stop of the tour opens portals into meta-fictional worlds where Roussel makes use of his full arsenal of rhetorical gifts. An African statue stands under three colorful reliefs depicting a young girl, a one-eyed puppet, and a jester dressed in pink beside a marble slab. A complicated device that relies on weather patterns places decayed teeth into a massive mosaic. A clear tank resembling an enormous precious stone is filled with mystically oxygenated water that allows for underwater breathing; inside, a beautiful actress plays music by flicking her head to make her hairs resonate, while seven self-automated Cartesian divers plunge up and down in reenactments of seemingly unrelated historical events, and a hairless cat powers the whole show using a metallic horn. Behind glass partitions, eight recently deceased subjects—reanimated by a special a concoction of Canterel’s—go through the motions of their most important memories. Although explanations of each exhibit’s intricate mechanics can be tedious, Roussel opens up the narrative at the end of each chapter to enter the lives of Canterel’s subjects—many of these can be read as complete stories in their own right. Some tales within the tale are the product of Roussel’s imagination: an ancient French king, approaching death, melts down his crown and hides it in an enchanted cave where only his daughter will be able to go; a dwarf, afflicted with a condition that makes him sweat blood, attempts to trick the people of his town by making them think his sweating as a sign of the harvest to come. Others are references to actual people, events, or legends: Voltaire, on a walk with Frederick the Great, questions his atheism after seeing a young girl at prayer; a fatigued Atlas drops the world and, out of frustration, kicks Capricorn to create the constellation’s strange shape. Much like the writers he would influence, Roussel concerned himself with ideas that proved too expansive for straightforward techniques. Both a guide to a deranged scientist’s estate and a prism for refracting Roussel’s diverse stories, this incredible novel is somehow both Gothic and modern at the same time. (Mar.)Seth Satterlee is a reviews editor at Publishers Weekly.
Literary Hub
“"Like a retelling of Scheherazade’s 1,001 tales, but filtered through a character who fuses P. T. Barnum-style turn-of-the-century showmanship with a Dr. Frankenstein-esque mad scientist mania, these stories within a story are fascinating on their own but even more so in concert with one another. And they act as the text which shadows
(without fully obscuring) an alternative text, a treatise on obsession and innovation, which always seems to bubble just below the dreamy surface."”
Ryan Ruby - Lapham's Quarterly
“[H]e was a seminal influence on surrealism, Dadaism, the nouveau roman, and the Oulipo....Roussel could have attempted to go the way of a popular writer like Rostand or of an avant-garde writer like Breton, but, both admirably and foolishly, he remained Roussel to the end.”
From the Publisher
"Genius in its pure state."  —Jean Cocteau

"Things, words, vision and death, the sun and language make a unique form . . . Roussel in some way has defined its geometry."  —Michel Foucault

"Raymond Roussel belongs to the most important French literature of the beginning of the century."  —Alain Robbe-Grillet

John Ashbery
“There is hidden in Roussel something so strong, so ominous, and so pregnant with the darkness of the ‘infinite spaces’ that frightened Pascal, that one feels the need for some sort of protective equipment when one reads him.”
Michel Foucault
“Raymond Roussel’s works immediately absorbed me: I was taken by the prose style even before learning what was behind it—the process, the machines, the mechanisms—and no doubt when I discovered his process and his techniques, the obsessional side of me was seduced a second time by the shock of learning of the disparity between this methodically applied process, which was slightly naive, and the resulting intense poetry.”
Jean Cocteau
“Genius in its pure state. The Proust of dreams.”

Product Details

Oneworld Classics
Publication date:
Oneworld Modern Classics
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.80(d)

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Meet the Author

Raymond Roussel (1877-1933) was a French poet, novelist, playwright, musician, chess enthusiast, neurasthenic, and drug addict. Through his novels, poems, and plays he exerted profound influence on certain groups within 20th century French literature, including the Surrealists, Oulipo, and the authors of the nouvenu roman. He is the author of Among the Blacks and How I Wrote Certain of My Books.

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