Benjamin Fondane Criticism - Essay

R. M. Stanton (review date 3 October 1980)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stanton, R. M. “When Logic Turns Lethal.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4044 (3 October 1980): 1109.

[In the following review of La conscience malheureuse, Faux traité d'esthétique, and Rimbaud le voyou, Stanton notes that Fondane's philosophy and criticism were highly original, and anticipated later French intellectual debates.]

Benjamin Fondane's work contains the aspirations and defeats of a lost generation of refugees. His life took the same course as those of so many hundreds of thousands of others—flight from his native land, Romania; an uncertain interim existence in Paris, expecting the worst; and finally, arrest by the Gestapo, deportation and death in the gas-chambers of Birkenau-Auschwitz in October 1944. The anonymity, though, the banality of the suffering, freed him from old ties to polite formalities, academic manners and artistic “savoir faire”. Once exiled, no holds were barred. Beautiful illusions, neatly constructed thought-systems, were swiftly axed. Awkward emotions—anger, despair and frustration—were no longer censored. The result, as the three volumes now reissued show, was some of the most controversial and original poetry, philosophy, and film and political commentary of the period.

Fondane's major objective was to expose the uses to which academic discourse was put in modern society. He believed that ideal, rationalistic political systems masked extremes of violence, that complex terminology, with narrow, fixed definitions, concealed powerful prejudices. “I call ‘idea’”, he wrote in 1933,

all that has pretensions to unique certainty, infallibility, authority, all that commands, constrains, oppresses and kills, defines truth once and for all, unique truth that forbids doubt, research, abstention, subjugates exceptions to the majority, judges the abnormal by the normal, the individual by the crowd. I call ‘idea’ all in the name of which one makes whites kill blacks, Germans kill Jews, bourgeois kill communists, communists / kill Trotskyists … I don't know an idea which hasn't got at least 100,000 murders on its conscience.

Fondane's basic strategy was to illustrate how logical hierarchies mirrored political and social ones. In some cases he juxtaposed serious arguments with absurd examples. Husserl's eidetic abstraction (epoché), for example, the method by which philosophers were supposed to move from experience to secondary objective meaning, was related to the later view that “primitives” were inferior precisely because they could not perform such a process, that is, they had no philosophers to advise them (cf, Husserl, Der Krisis...

(The entire section is 1134 words.)

Leonard Schwartz (essay date spring 1987)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schwartz, Leonard. “The Forgotten as Contemporary: Benjamin Fondane and Roger Gilbert-Lecomte.” Literary Review 30, no. 3 (spring 1987): 465-67.

[In the essay below, Schwartz discusses how the relatively obscure surrealist works of Fondane and Roger Gilbert-Lecomte are newly relevant to contemporary French writing.]

Literary activity and literary history need not be divorced from one another. Why include two writers from an earlier epoch in an issue devoted to contemporary French writing, if the relationship between the contemporary and the historical were not significant? Indeed, one of the most striking aspects of writing in France is the way older texts...

(The entire section is 1283 words.)

Peter Christensen (essay date 1987)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Christensen, Peter. “Benjamin Fondane's ‘Scenarii intournables.’” In Dada and Surrealist Film, edited by Rudolf E. Kuenzli, pp. 72-85. New York: Willis Locker and Owens, 1987.

[In the following essay, Christensen examines three of Fondane's film scenarios in an attempt to place them within Dadaist and Surrealist film theory of the 1920s.]

In 1928 Benjamin Fondane published his Trois Scenarii—Ciné-poèmes in Brussels through Esprit Nouveau. These scenarios were not reprinted until they appeared in 1984 along with five essays on film in an edition, Ecrits pour le cinéma, edited by Michel Carassou, the chief instigator of the Fondane...

(The entire section is 7252 words.)

Eric Freedman (essay date spring/summer 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Freedman, Eric. “Benjamin Fondane: Philoctetes and the Scream of Exile.” Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature 6, no. 2 (spring/summer 1994): 51-62.

[In this essay, Freedman traces Fondane's history and influences and examines their impact on his dramatic poem Philoctetes, which was not published in his lifetime.]

In his preface to Philoctetes, Fondane wrote that “after all, better it should appear now than in the form of a posthumous work, with an introduction and critical notes. At least, dear reader, this edition has neither introduction nor critical notes—that's something anyhow.” However, Philoctetes, a dramatic poem...

(The entire section is 4473 words.)

Michael Weingrad (essay date fall 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Weingrad, Michael. “The Exodus of Benjamin Fondane.” Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought 48, no. 4 (fall 1994): 470-80.

[In the essay below, Weingrad warns against classifying Fondane merely in terms of his Jewish faith or his status as exile, preferring to note the power of his surrealist poetry and its reflections upon the World War II era.]

if the cries of human beings fall like chestnuts
to the earth, at the mercy of the wind,
without altering the peace of Angels,
then what is Exodus?(1)

When I began to translate Fondane's L'Exode: Super Flumina Babylonis, Pedro Lastra, the gracious Chilean homme des...

(The entire section is 3387 words.)

William Kluback (essay date 1996)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kluback, William. “Fondane Found His Jewishness.” In Benjamin Fondane: A Poet in Exile, pp. 113-26. New York: Peter Lang, 1996.

[In the essay which follows, Kluback discusses Fondane's role as a poet in exile, closely examining the biblical influence on his work.]

In February of 1944, the poet Benjamin Fondane gave the writer Jean Grenier a manuscript, Le Lundi existentiel et le dimanche de l'histoire (Existential Monday and the Sunday of History). Fondane never read the proofs. He was betrayed by his concierge; he was denounced to the Nazis. At the same time, “his sister Linie was arrested by the French police and transported to the camp at...

(The entire section is 6097 words.)