Frédéric Louis Sauser Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although he later claimed that he was born in Paris, at the celebrated hotel on rue Saint-Jacques, Blaise Cendrars (sahn-drahr) was, in fact, born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, in 1887, the son of a restless, peripatetic Swiss clock merchant. Truth and fancy, fact and myth, are inextricably blended in the narratives of his life, as in his poetry and fiction. This worldwide adventurer, who was called “one of the greatest liars of all time,” a “Marco Polo of the twentieth century,” and the “Homer of the Transsiberian,” never lost sight of the fact that art is the lie that tells the truth.{$S[A]Sauser, Frédéric Louis;Cendrars, Blaise}

Before he was out of his teens, Frédéric Louis Sauser had spent several years in St. Petersburg, in the ferment of pre-revolutionary Russia. By 1911, he was in New York and had chosen the name Blaise Cendrars. His pseudonym suggests a major motif of his life and work: the combination of cendres (ashes), ars (art), and “Blaise” (which he identified as a transmutation of braise (embers) and which has a homophonic suggestion of “blaze”) encapsulates his lifelong insistence that “to write is to burn alive.” Before World War I, after the publication of Easter in New York, he was established as a central figure in the Paris avant-garde. The lyrical incantatory quality of his innovative poetry left its mark on such writers as Guillaume Apollinaire, as well as on the Dadaists, the Surrealists, and the cubists. The Trans-Siberian Express, for example, was printed in multicolored type on folded two-meter sheets with illustrations by Sonia Delaunay. With 150 copies printed, Cendrars announced, in a typical gesture, that his poem soared as high as the Eiffel Tower. Yet for all of his involvement with the various schools and “isms” of modernist art, Cendrars insisted that he stood apart from all movements.

True to his philosophy of immersion in experience and, as a foreigner, true to France, Cendrars enlisted in the Foreign Legion; in the fall of 1915 he was wounded by shell fire, and his right arm was amputated. Shattered by the war, physically and spiritually, Cendrars in his work increasingly recorded an...

(The entire section is 912 words.)