Lost Profiles: Memoirs of Cubism, Dada, and Surrealism – Philippe Soupault (1963)

Lost Profiles: Memoirs of Cubism, Dada, and Surrealism is a diminutive, stylish book that kicks off by appreciatively documenting a curiously seedy period of transition within the anti-rationalist French avant-garde: from Dada to Surrealism. Published by legendary City Lights in late 2016, this alluring collection of amiable reminiscences was penned by co-founding Surrealist poet Philippe Soupault (1897–1990) and first appeared in French in 1963 as Profils perdus. City Lights has bracketed this English translation with an introduction by Mark Polizzotti, the director of the publications program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and an afterword by poet Ron Padgett. Polizzotti’s contribution is essential, as he not only contextualizes Soupault within the Parisian avant-garde but corrects some dating errors of Soupault’s and reverses some of André Breton’s bowdlerizing, revealing the essential conceptual contribution that psychologist, philosopher, and psychotherapist Pierre Janet played in Soupault and Breton’s budding Dada-cum-Surrealist movement. (Breton had neglected the erudite Janet in his accounts.) On the other hand, Polizzotti keenly reports that ‘Soupault tends to assign himself the starring role a bit more than is warranted,’ thus advancing the thesis that every biography is a disguised autobiography. Though essentially about his experiences as a rather blissful young man, Soupault wrote this book of portraits at age 66, sparing it the typical excesses of literary juvenilia. Indeed, his generally urbane tone is neither ironic and frivolous, nor competitive and facetious. His clipped, fluid prose avoids academic stodginess with élan, and there is nothing insolent, narcissistic, lecherous, or self-protective about it.The translation by poet Alan Bernheimer has flair too, delivering Soupault’s appealingly eclectic text in delightful form to the Anglophone audience for the first time. Soupault’s sharp but sweet anecdotal memories of fellow experimental artists and antagonists include laudable short portraits of Guillaume Apollinaire, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, sad surrealist René Crevel, novelist Georges Bernanos, painter Henri Rousseau, poet Charles Baudelaire (whom he sketches as a precursor avant-gardist) and lesser-known poets Pierre Reverdy and Blaise Cendrars. Given the heroic stature of some of these audacious subjects, within their chapters Soupault seems to delight in making large small and small large, humanizing the celebrated with intimate particularization and paeanizing the obscure with encomium. …”
A French Surrealist’s Eclectic Remembrances of His Cohort, Finally in English
W – Philippe Soupault
City Lights

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