Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Each parenthesis is the cue for a series of prolonged, elaborate embellishments and digressions on the poet's original "impression" and each functions rather like a link in a hypertext document. Monk devotes some space to a discussion of the poem's intricate structure without coming to any definite explanation of how Roussel conceived of it. My own guess, for what it is worth, is that he was trying to recreate the structure of an annotated chess game. Typically, this will contain the moves of the game itself and, within the annotations, variations and sub-variations (which often, incidentally, are set out within parentheses) relating to the moves played. These variations give the thoughts behind the moves, the moves that might have been played but weren’t. Roussel was, we know, a keen chess player and a friend of the Polish Grandmaster Xawier Tartakower, and invented a new method of checkmating a king with just bishop and knight. So he would surely have been familiar with chess literature. It seems important to note here that in chess the moves not played, the "unheard melodies", are often of greater import than the moves actually made. They may give a better indication of the underlying logic in a game.

Reviewed by Paul Kane New Impressions of Africaby Raymond Roussel


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