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Blaise Cendrars on The Beauty of Language and Fortifying yourself in Love and Solitude

“The impulse to write things down is a particularly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.”

Capturing the strange desire, to document the world, contained in the heart of every writer; considered the source of our migraines, and the reason for our isolation Joan Didion spoke on the unknowable neurons that force every writer to use his imagination and define the world through his peculiar lens. No one knows precisely the reason anyone would make the attempt to recreate the world, but the act of journaling/writing is often held as a endeavor that will cause drunkenness, suicide, or drug addiction due to the pressure of finishing whatever piece popped into the imagination of the author. Anyone that sits in there room looking into the recesses of their own mind is bound to consider their occupation the most difficult endeavor in the history of man. Blaise Cendrars during an interview with Michel Manoll, included in the “Writers at Work” series for The Paris Review, spoke on the tendency of writers to hyperbolize the difficulty of writing, the beauty of language, and the importance of love and solitude–he begins the interview by saying:

To make themselves sound interesting, and they exaggerate. They should talk a little more about their privileges and how lucky they are to be able to earn some return from the practice of their art, a practice I personally detest, it’s true, but which is all the same a noble privilege compared with the lot of most people, who live like parts of a machine, who live only to keep the gears of society pointlessly turning. I pity them with all my heart. Since my return to Paris I have been saddened as never before by the anonymous crowd I see from my windows engulfing itself in the métro or pouring out of the métro at fixed hours. Truly, that isn’t a life. It isn’t human. It must come to a stop. It’s slavery … not only for the humble and poor, but the absurdity of life in general.

Blaise Cendrars

As the interview progresses Blaise captures the splendor of reading literary work, and his love shows the soul-expanding quality of diving into an authors imagination. For we only live this one life with this particular set of eyes, but anytime we read we are blessed with the eyes of another person. Writers transforms their landscapes and become associated with the cities that decide to document. Joan Didion is Sacramento. Ralph Ellison is Harlem. Kilimanjaro belongs to Ernest Hemingway. Oxford, Mississippi, belongs to William Faulkner. Speaking about the moving nature of literature Blaise says:


You have read much during your life?  


Read enormously. It’s my passion. Everywhere, in all circumstances, and all sorts of books. Everything that falls under my hand I devour.  


Reading isn’t for you, you’ve said, a means of traveling, in time or space, but a way of penetrating without great effort into the skin of a character.  


No, reading has been a drug for me—I drug myself on printer’s ink!  


Will you cite some of the unusual reading you’ve done?  


Captain Lacroix is an old sailor and his books are a feast. I’ve never had the luck to meet him. I looked for him in Nantes, at Saint-Nazaire. I was told that he is in his eighties and that he doesn’t want to give up. When he was no longer able to navigate, he became a marine insurer, and it appears that he doesn’t hesitate to put on a deep-sea diving rig in order to see for himself the state of his hulls. At his age, admirable. I imagine that the winter nights seemed long to him by the fireplace, when the wind from the sea poured down on his village of the Loire-Inférieure and blew around in his chimney, and I suppose it was to kill time that this man, who has knocked about on all the seven seas and aboard all sorts of ships possible and imaginable, began to write books. These are thick books, strongly built, full of solid documentation, sometimes a little too heavy but nearly always fresh, thus never tedious, all the less so in that the old seaman even searches out reproductions of illustrated postcards and photos of joyous ports of call of his youth, and he recounts things as they happened: his experience and all that he has learned and all that he has seen from Cape Horn to the China Sea, from Tasmania to Ushant, speaking of everything, of lighthouses, currents, wind, reefs, tempests, crews, traffic, shipwrecks, fish and birds, celestial phenomena and maritime catastrophes, history, customs, nations, people of the sea, relating thousands of anecdotes intimate or dramatic, all his life of an honest seaman carried along by the very movement of the sea and dominated by his exclusive love of ships. Ah, it is certainly not the work of a littérateur. His pen is a marlinespike, and each page brings you something, and there are ten big volumes! It’s as moving as it can be and as simple as good morning. In a word, miraculous. One touches the globe with a finger.

The interview is filled with Blaise expressing his love for reading, his relationship with authors, and how language has completely taken over his relationship to the world. Language has the potential to ease our aching hearts, and provide us with the nourishment to live presently and faithfully; when despair creeps over sullen eyes reading Rilke, Baldwin, Kafka, and Morrison is an antidote to despair. The world is renewed through the language of a dedicated author, and we are introduced to new ways of loving, of approaching fears, a new relationship with our memories, and we slowly remember the importance of continuing the fight. Blaise new that language has this transformative affect saying:

“Language is a thing that seduced me. Language is a thing that perverted me. Language is a thing that formed me. Language is a thing that deformed me. That’s why I am a poet, probably because I am very sensitive to the language–correct or incorrect”

Towards the end of the interview Blaise captures an overlooked aspect of the creative life, our need to balance, for the sake of our mental health, our solitude and the accompaniment of the people that love us. People getting lost in the busyness of life, especially creatives and entrepreneurs, spend so much time away from people that love us that when despair comes it feels like a train has ravaged the heart, but, something I discovered visiting Arkansas, is that people make life real. People that love you allow you to be you without a million dollars, they accept you even with all the failures replaying over and over in your head, and the beauty of another living person eases our despair. We must balance love and our solitude– Blaise saying beautifully and simply:


Haven’t you said that you fortify yourself in love and solitude


In truth, artists live alongside, on the margin of life and of humanity; that’s why they’re very great or very small.

The entire interview combines Cendrars’ reflections on his own work with reminiscences of the writers and artists whom he knew. Through each of these interviews there is a sense of a meaningful shared space and a common language found between each great mind and the reader.

Writers at Work