Fous Littéraires: Some examples from a non-cannon — No. 3

Raymond Roussel (1877–1933): Part 1 — Life and influences

Raymond Roussel, with Star

Rich, gay, habitually solitary and a cross-dresser, or better, simply an inveterate dresser-(upper), Raymond Roussel is, along with Antonin Artaud, by far the most well-known fou, if not necessarily its most beloved, at least not by those who consider themselves serious students of the genre. That honor I would argue goes to Jean-Pierre Brisset, of whom more later.


                     Roussel as a boy                                                      Roussel as a man


                  Roussel as a chambermaid                              Roussel as a...


Born into the Parisian beau monde, as a child Roussel had Proust for a neighbour. As an adult, he befriended Cocteau in rehab. When travelling abroad he used a private custom made car with its own miniature suite of rooms; Roussel may possibly be considered the inventor of the RV.


                          Roussel's travel car, images from a postcard

He was a prolific writer, penning numerous novels, often in verse, including La Doublure, Locus Solus, and Impressions d'Afrique (Impressions of Africa), later turned into a theatrical piece, as well as plays, and the Nouvelles Impressions d'Afrique (New Impressions of Africa)–a poem of four cantos with 59 drawings. While different from each other, each of these works appears as a "succession of mind-curlingly complicated, nonsensical, self-referential events, a closed world adhering to its own internal logic where tortures, ecstasies, trifles and miracles are all served up in the same crisp, affectless prose," (James J. Conway,

The utterly unique and bizzare nature of these works meant that during his life his work was ignored by all but a handful of the avant-garde, who adored him. André Breton named Roussel, along with Lautréamont, " the greatest magnetizer of modern times,” Marcel Duchamp, called him “he who points the way”, (ibid.). Dali also worshiped him, creating a film, Impressions de la Haute Mongolie (subtitled Hommage à Raymond Roussel), in which he "works through his unrestrained hero worship," (ibid.). But Roussel's greatest impact seems to have been on Duchamp, who acknowledged his work as the inspiration for The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even. "Even Duchamp’s premature abandonment of art for chess was apparently inspired by witnessing Roussel playing the game in a Paris café," (ibid.). In 1962 John Ashbery, Harry Mathews, James Schuyler and Kenneth Koch founded a literary journal named Locus Solus after Roussel’s novel, and the following year Foucault wrote a book-length study that ignited scholarly interest in his work. Since then Deleuze and others have continued the legacy. 

Recently, numerous visual exhibitions have been devoted to both his life and his influence. For instance, Locus Solus: Impressions of Raymond Roussel, held in 2012 at Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofia, featured not only personal artifacts such as his beloved star cookie enshrined in a glass box,