The American fictions of Blaise Cendrars
Ingle, Jonathan David
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Despite his continuing fame in the Francophone world, Swiss-born author Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961) remains virtually unknown in the United States, despite the fact that several of his key works are set in America and deal with American culture and history. This dissertation offers close readings of Cendrars’ poems “Les Pâques à New-York,” “Le Panama ou les aventures de mes sept oncles,” his novel L’Or, and his nonfiction book Hollywood: la Mecque du cinéma, as well as selections from other relevant writings. In investigating Cendrars’ biography, which is always clouded by his own wholly or partially fictional version of the events of his own life, I assert that because he changed his name from Freddy Sauser (his birth name) to Blaise Cendrars (the name he adopted and maintained for the rest of his life) while living in New York City in 1912, and at the very moment he composed his first great poem (“Les Pâques à New-York), it can be plausibly claimed that while Freddy Sauser was born in Switzerland, the great writer Blaise Cendrars was born in New York, and thus is in that sense American. I also examine in-depth Cendrars’ relationships and correspondences with American writers John Dos Passos and Henry Miller, both of whom consistently promoted Cendrars to English-speaking readers. I investigate film treatments of his novel L’Or written by William Faulkner and Sergei Eisenstein and argue that Cendrars’ impact on Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! is evident and profound. I trace the ongoing influence of Cendrars on American writers, including but not limited to the Beats, the New York School poets, and even rock and roll icon Patti Smith. I conclude with a call for American readers, writers, scholars, and publishers to engage with the work of Blaise Cendrars, and for his books to be translated and published in America so that a new generation can access his rich and vital body of work in its entirety.