Louis Aragon

Last updated
Louis Aragon
Portrait Aragon.jpg
Born3 October 1897 (1897-10-03)
Paris
Died24 December 1982 (aged 85)
Paris
NationalityFrench
Notable worksLes Lettres françaises, Pour un réalisme socialiste

Louis Aragon (French:  [lwi aʁaɡɔ̃] , 3 October 1897 – 24 December 1982) was a French poet, who was one of the leading voices of the surrealist movement in France, who co-founded with André Breton and Philippe Soupault the surrealist review Littérature . [1] He was also a novelist and editor, a long-time member of the Communist Party and a member of the Académie Goncourt.

Poet person who writes and publishes poetry

A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poetry, or may perform their art to an audience.

Surrealism international cultural movement that began in the early 1920s

Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, and is best known for its visual artworks and writings. Artists painted unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision, created strange creatures from everyday objects, and developed painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself. Its aim was to "resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality".

André Breton French writer

André Breton was a French writer, poet, and anti-fascist. He is known best as the co-founder, leader, principal theorist and chief apologist of Surrealism. His writings include the first Surrealist Manifesto of 1924, in which he defined surrealism as "pure psychic automatism".

Contents

Early life (1897–1939)

Louis Aragon was born in Paris. He was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, believing them to be his sister and foster mother, respectively. His biological father, Louis Andrieux, a former senator for Forcalquier, was married and thirty years older than Aragon's mother, whom he seduced when she was seventeen. Aragon's mother passed Andrieux off to her son as his godfather. Aragon was only told the truth at the age of 19, as he was leaving to serve in the First World War, from which neither he nor his parents believed he would return. Andrieux's refusal or inability to recognize his son would influence Aragon's poetry later on.

Forcalquier Subprefecture and commune in Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur, France

Forcalquier is a commune in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department in southeastern France.

Godparent person who sponsors a childs baptism

A godparent, in many denominations of Christianity, is someone who bears witness to a child's baptism and then aids in their catechesis, as well as their lifelong spiritual formation. In the past, in some countries, the role carried some legal obligations as well as religious responsibilities. In both religious and civil views, a godparent tends to be an individual chosen by the parents to take an interest in the child's upbringing and personal development, to offer mentorship or claim legal guardianship of the child should anything happen to the parents.

Having been involved in Dadaism from 1919 to 1924, he became a founding member of Surrealism in 1924, [2] with André Breton and Philippe Soupault under the pen-name "Aragon". In the 1920s, Aragon became a fellow traveller of the French Communist Party (PCF) along with several other surrealists, and joined the Party in January 1927. In 1933 he began to write for the party's newspaper, L'Humanité , in the "news in brief" section. He would remain a member for the rest of his life, writing several political poems including one to Maurice Thorez, the general secretary of the PCF. During the World Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture (1935), Aragon opposed his former friend André Breton, who wanted to use the opportunity as a tribune to defend the writer Victor Serge, associated with Leon Trotsky's Left Opposition.

Dada avant-garde art movement in the early 20th century

Dada or Dadaism was an art movement of the European avant-garde in the early 20th century, with early centers in Zürich, Switzerland, at the Cabaret Voltaire ; New York Dada began circa 1915, and after 1920 Dada flourished in Paris. Developed in reaction to World War I, the Dada movement consisted of artists who rejected the logic, reason, and aestheticism of modern capitalist society, instead expressing nonsense, irrationality, and anti-bourgeois protest in their works. The art of the movement spanned visual, literary, and sound media, including collage, sound poetry, cut-up writing, and sculpture. Dadaist artists expressed their discontent with violence, war, and nationalism, and maintained political affinities with the radical far-left.

Philippe Soupault French writer

Philippe Soupault was a French writer and poet, novelist, critic, and political activist. He was active in Dadaism and later founded the Surrealist movement with André Breton. Soupault initiated the periodical Littérature together with the writers Breton and Louis Aragon in Paris in 1919, which, for many, marks the beginnings of Surrealism. The first book of automatic writing, Les Champs magnétiques (1920), was co-authored by Soupault and Breton. In 1927 Soupault, with the help of his then wife Marie-Louise, translated William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience into French. The next year, Soupault authored a monograph on Blake, arguing the poet was a "genius" whose work anticipated the Surrealist movement in literature.

The term fellow traveller identifies a person who is intellectually sympathetic to the ideology of a political organization, and who co-operates in the organization's politics, without being a formal member of that organization. In the early history of the Soviet Union, the Bolshevik revolutionary Trotsky coined the term poputchik to identify the vacillating intellectual supporters of the Bolshevik régime. Likewise for the political characterisation of the Russian intelligentsiya who were philosophically sympathetic to the political, social, and economic goals of the Russian Revolution of 1917, but who chose to not join the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Moreover, during the Stalinist régime, the usage of the term poputchik disappeared from political discourse in the Soviet Union, but the Western world adopted the English term fellow traveller to identify people who sympathised with the Soviets and with Communism.

Nevertheless, Aragon was also critical of the USSR, particularly after the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1956) during which Joseph Stalin's personality cult was denounced by Nikita Khrushchev.

The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was held during the period 14–25 February 1956. It is known especially for First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev's "Secret Speech", which denounced the personality cult and dictatorship of Joseph Stalin.

Joseph Stalin Soviet leader

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was a Georgian revolutionary and Soviet politician who led the Soviet Union from the mid–1920s until 1953 as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1953) and Premier (1941–1953). While initially presiding over a collective leadership as first among equals, he ultimately consolidated enough power to become the country's de facto dictator by the 1930s. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin helped to formalise these ideas as Marxism–Leninism, while his own policies became known as Stalinism.

Nikita Khrushchev First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev was a Soviet statesman who led the Soviet Union during part of the Cold War as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964, and as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Premier, from 1958 to 1964. Khrushchev was responsible for the de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union, for backing the progress of the early Soviet space program, and for several relatively liberal reforms in areas of domestic policy. Khrushchev's party colleagues removed him from power in 1964, replacing him with Leonid Brezhnev as First Secretary and Alexei Kosygin as Premier.

The French surrealists had long claimed Lewis Carroll as one of their own, and Aragon published his translation of The Hunting of the Snark [3] in 1929, "shortly before he completed his transition from Snarxism to Marxism", as Martin Gardner puts it. [4] Witness the key stanza of the poem in Aragon's translation:

Lewis Carroll English writer, logician, Anglican deacon and photographer

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, was an English writer of world-famous children's fiction, notably Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. He was noted for his facility at word play, logic, and fantasy. The poems Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark are classified in the genre of literary nonsense. He was also a mathematician, photographer, and Anglican deacon.

<i>The Hunting of the Snark</i> book

The Hunting of the Snark is a poem written by English writer Lewis Carroll. It is typically categorised as a nonsense poem. Written from 1874 to 1876, the poem borrows the setting, some creatures, and eight portmanteau words from Carroll's earlier poem "Jabberwocky" in his children's novel Through the Looking-Glass (1871).

Martin Gardner recreational mathematician and philosopher

Martin Gardner was an American popular mathematics and popular science writer, with interests also encompassing scientific skepticism, micromagic, philosophy, religion, and literature—especially the writings of Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, and G. K. Chesterton. He is recognized as a leading authority on Lewis Carroll. The Annotated Alice, which incorporated the text of Carroll's two Alice books, was his most successful work and sold over a million copies. He had a lifelong interest in magic and illusion and was regarded as one of the most important magicians of the twentieth century. He was considered the doyen of American puzzlers. He was a prolific and versatile author, publishing more than 100 books.

Gardner, who calls the translation "pedestrian" and deems the rest of Aragon's writings on Carroll's nonsense poetry full of factual errors, says that there is no evidence that Aragon intended any of it as a joke.

The Commune (1933–1939)

Apart from working as a journalist for L'Humanité, Louis Aragon also became, along with Paul Nizan, editor secretary of the journal Commune , published by the Association des Écrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires (Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists), which aimed at gathering intellectuals and artists in a common front against fascism. Aragon became a member of the directing committee of the Commune journal in January 1937, along with André Gide, Romain Rolland and Paul Vaillant-Couturier. The journal then took the name of "French literary review for the defence of culture" (« revue littéraire française pour la défense de la culture »). With Gide's withdrawal in August 1937, Vaillant-Couturier's death in autumn 1937 and Romain Rolland's old age, Aragon became its effective director. In December 1938, he called as chief editor the young writer Jacques Decour. The Commune journal was strongly involved in the mobilization of French intellectuals in favor of the Spanish Republic.

Journalist person who collects, writes and distributes news and other information

A journalist is a person who collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information to the public. A journalist's work is called journalism. A journalist can work with general issues or specialize in certain issues. However, most journalists tend to specialize, and by cooperating with other journalists, produce journals that span many topics. For example, a sports journalist covers news within the world of sports, but this journalist may be a part of a newspaper that covers many different topics.

Paul Nizan French philosopher, politician, writer

Paul-Yves Nizan was a French philosopher and writer.

The Association des Écrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires (AEAR) was a French association of revolutionary artists and writers active between 1932 and 1939.

Director of Ce soir (1937–1953)

In March 1937, Aragon was called on by the PCF to head the new evening daily, Ce soir , which he was charged with launching, along with the writer Jean-Richard Bloch. Ce soir attempted to compete with Paris-Soir . Outlawed in August 1939, Ce soir was re-opened after the Liberation, and Aragon again became its lead, first with Bloch then alone after Bloch's death in 1947. The newspaper, which counted Emile Danoën among its collaborators, closed in March 1953.

World War II (1939–1945)

In 1939 he married Russian-born author Elsa Triolet, the sister of Lilya Brik, a mistress and then partner of Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. He had met her in 1928, and she became his muse starting in the 1940s. Aragon and Triolet collaborated in the left-wing French media before and during World War II, going underground for most of the German occupation.

Aragon was mobilized in 1939, and awarded the Croix de guerre (War Cross) and the military medal for acts of bravery. After the May 1940 defeat, he took refuge in the Southern Zone. He was one of several poets, along with René Char, Francis Ponge, Robert Desnos, Paul Éluard, Jean Prévost, Jean-Pierre Rosnay, etc., to join the Resistance, both through literary activities and as an actual organiser of Resistance acts.

Otto Abetz was the German governor, and produced a series of "black lists" of authors forbidden to be read, circulated or sold in Nazi Occupied France. These included anything written by a Jew, a communist, an Anglo-Saxon or anyone else who was anti-Germanic or anti-fascist. Aragon and André Malraux were both on these "Otto Lists" of forbidden authors. [5]

During the war, Aragon wrote for the underground press Les Éditions de Minuit and was a member of the National Front Resistance movement. His poetry was published along texts by Vercors (Jean Bruller), Pierre Seghers or Paul Eluard in Switzerland in 1943 after being smuggled out of occupied France by his friend and publisher François Lachenal. [6]

He participated with his wife in the setting-up of the National Front of Writers in the Southern Zone. This activism led him to break his friendly relationship with Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, who had chosen Collaborationism.

Along with Paul Éluard, Pierre Seghers and René Char, Aragon would maintain the memory of the Resistance in his post-war poems. He thus wrote, in 1954, Strophes pour se souvenir in commemoration of the role of foreigners in the Resistance, which celebrated the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans de la Main d'Oeuvre Immigrée (FTP-MOI).

The theme of the poem was the Red Poster affair, mainly the last letter that Missak Manouchian, an Armenian-French poet and Resistant, wrote to his wife Mélinée before his execution on 21 February 1944. [7] This poem was then set to music by Léo Ferré.

After the war

At the Liberation, Aragon became one of the leading Communist intellectuals, assuming political responsibilities in the Comité national des écrivains (National Committee of Writers). He celebrated the role of the general secretary of the PCF, Maurice Thorez, and defended the Kominform's condemnation of the Titoist regime in Yugoslavia.[ citation needed ]

Sponsored by Thorez, Aragon was elected, in 1950, to the central committee of the PCF. His post, however, did not protect him from all forms of criticism. Thus, when his journal, Les Lettres françaises, published a drawing by Pablo Picasso on the occasion of Stalin's death in March 1953, Aragon was forced to make excuses to his critics, who judged the drawing iconoclastic. Through the years, he had been kept informed of Stalinist repression by his Russian-born wife, and so his political line evolved.[ citation needed ]

Les Lettres françaises (1953–1972)

In the days following the disappearance of Ce soir, in March 1953, Aragon became the director of L'Humanité 's literary supplement, Les Lettres françaises . Assisted by its chief editor, Pierre Daix, Aragon started in the 1960s a struggle against Stalinism and its consequences in Eastern Europe. He published the writings of dissidents such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Milan Kundera. The monetary loss caused by Les Lettres françaises led to its ceasing publication in 1972. It was later re-founded.

In 1956, Aragon supported the Budapest insurrection, provoking the dissolution of the Comité national des écrivains, which Vercors quit. The same year, he was nevertheless granted the Lenin Peace Prize. He now harshly condemned Soviet totalitarianism, opened his magazines to dissidents, and condemned show trials against intellectuals (in particular the 1966 Sinyavsky-Daniel trial). He strongly supported the student movement of May '68, although the PCF was skeptical about it. The crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968 led him to a critical preface published in a translation of one of Milan Kundera's books (La Plaisanterie). [8] Despite his criticisms, Aragon remained an official member of the PCF's central committee until his death.

The publisher

Beside his journalistic activities, Louis Aragon was also CEO of the Editeurs français réunis (EFR) publishing house, heir of two publishing houses founded by the Resistance, La Bibliothèque française and Hier et Aujourd'hui. He directed the EFR along with Madeleine Braun, and in the 1950s published French and Soviet writers commonly related to the "Socialist Realism" current. Among other works, the EFR published André Stil's Premier choc, which owed to the future Goncourt Academician the Stalin Prize in 1953. But they also published other writers, such as Julius Fučík, Vítězslav Nezval, Rafael Alberti, Yánnis Rítsos or Vladimir Mayakovsky. In the beginning of the 1960s, the EFR brought to public knowledge the works of non-Russian Sovietic writers, such as Tchinguiz Aïtmatov, or Russian writers belong to the Khrushchev Thaw, such as Galina Nicolaëva, Yevgeny Yevtushenko's Babi Iar in 1967, etc. The EFR also published the first novel of Christa Wolf in 1964, and launched the poetic collection Petite sirène, which collected works by Pablo Neruda, Eugène Guillevic, Nicolas Guillen, but also less known poets such as Dominique Grandmont, Alain Lance or Jean Ristat.

Back to surrealism

Free from both his marital and editorial responsibilities (having ended publication of Les Lettres Françaises L'Humanité's literary supplement — in 1972), Aragon was free to return to his surrealist roots. During the last ten years of his life, he published at least two further novels: Henri Matisse Roman and Les Adieux .

Louis Aragon died on 24 December 1982, his friend Jean Ristat sitting up with him. He was buried in the parc of Moulin de Villeneuve, in his property of Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines, alongside his wife Elsa Triolet.

He was and still is a popular poet in France because many of his poems have been set to music and sung by various singers : Lino Léonardi, Hélène Martin, Léo Ferré (the first one to dedicate an entire LP to Aragon, with his 1961 breakthrough Les Chansons d'Aragon album), Jean Ferrat, Georges Brassens, Alain Barrière, Isabelle Aubret, Nicole Rieu, Monique Morelli, Marc Ogeret, et al. Many of his poems put into music by Jean Ferrat have been translated into German by Didier Caesar (alias Dieter Kaiser) and are sung by his Duo.

Conclusion

Aragon's poetry is diverse and varied. He favoured equally poetic prose and fixed-form verse, to which he brought a renewed sensibility. After a very free early period, marked by surrealism and its subversive language, Aragon returned to more classical forms (measured verse; rhyme, even). He felt that this was more in keeping with the national emergency during World War II. After the war, the political side of his poetry gave way more and more to lyricism for its own sake. He never went back on that embrace of classicism. He did however integrate a certain formal freedom with it, sometimes recalling the surrealism of his early days.

Countless poems by Aragon have been set to music and become popular as songs.

As a novelist he encompasses the whole ethos of the twentieth century: surrealist novel, socialist realism, realism, nouveau roman. Indeed, he was one of the founding personalities of the novel of his time.

He was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature four times between 1959 and 1965.

In 2010, La Poste (French Post Office) issued three stamps honoring Louis Aragon.

Bibliography

Novels and short stories

Poetry

Essays

See also

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References

  1. Martin Travers (2001). European Literature from Romanticism to Postmodernism: A Reader in Aesthetic Practice. A&C Black. pp. 176–. ISBN   978-0-8264-4748-7.
  2. Arana, R. Victoria (2008-01-01). The Facts on File Companion to World Poetry: 1900 to the Present. Infobase Publishing. p. 71. ISBN   9781438108377.
  3. La Chasse au Snark, Pierre Seghers, Paris 1949
  4. The Annotated Snark, edited by Martin Gardner, Penguin Books, 1974
  5. Moorehead, Caroline. 2011. A Train in Winter. Pages 21-22.
  6. Livres hebdo (in French). Éditions professionelles du livre. 1995. ISBN   9782877302500.
  7. Mélinée Manouchian: Manouchian, EFR, Paris 1954
  8. French: « Et voilà qu'une fin de nuit, au transistor, nous avons entendu la condamnation de nos illusions perpétuelles... »

Further reading