Since this blog began I have been a constant visitor to the wonderfully erudite and always informative Litlove. She has taught me much about literary criticism and about the post-modernists and existentialists.
It was through her essays that I became interested in the post-modern French authors who were major influences upon the Beat Generation on the other side of the Atlantic. Subsequently those influences which originated in France helped to inspire the Hippies and now the Goths. Even now their influence continues with the philosophy behind the blogging and writing style of both the Raincoaster and myself . This is a fore-runner of the soon to be recognised Pre-Global Warming Hysteria movement of the first quarter of the twenty-first century.
So I rejoiced, when an English translation of this book by the fictional French boxer turned author, Lucien Choufleur who was strongly influenced by both Satre and Camus, didn’t cross my desk. As it wasn’t written in 1947, I felt impelled to plagiarise a review from Tad Tuleja.
Raymond Salaud is one of those rare works of art – like Goethe’s Werther or Mariachi’s Etudes Mexicaines – that are more significant for what they generate for what they are in themselves. This is an ironic thing to say about Choufleur, for he presented his novel as an acte gratuit, and would have been astonished to find that his influence, since his death in 1956, extended to such “contingent” arenas as popular movies and modern fashion.
A professional boxer up to 1946, Choufleur, in that year, discovered existentialism and immersed himself in the writings of Satre and Camus. Within a year he had become a café intellectual, building on the tradition of such pugilistes cartesiennes as Robert Cohen to ingratiate himself with the Deux Magots crowd and to earn a reputation (in the words of Gigi Sombreux) as “the only counter-puncher Jean-Paul feared.”
It was not enough. In the latter part of 1947, feeling still a “sometime member of the club,” he began a work of fiction that would amalgamate the basic Left Bank theories with (in his ingenuous phrasing) “those images that have made me what I am.” For Choufleur, this meant American film noir, subway billboards, and boxing newsreels. As a result, his need to impress the “big heads” battled constantly with naïve wonder at “low class” creativity, and the novel he wrenched out of this tension offended Hollywood no less than his café patronizers.
Choufleur’s character, Raymond Salaud, is a freelance detective, very much in the Spade and Marlowe mold. But his impulse control is leaner than theirs; he justifies his frequent outbreaks of “gratuitous violence” by invoking Camus’s Meursault as a patron saint, and taking as his personal First Commandment the Dostoyevskian notion that “without God all is permitted.” Thus, when he suddenly punches a stranger in chapter 1 – blessing her with “fortuity” – his justification is, first of all, Meursault, and then the honour which must be paid to one’s own feelings. In his words, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
The café crowd, recoiling at this “abuse” of the current cant, eased Choufleur out of the favoured circles, and he ended up in Marseilles, boxing for brandy. But the reverberations of his work were widely felt. Mickey Spillane first and then the Dirty Harry and Death Wish writing teams, acknowledged Choufleur as an influence on their dramatic styles, and Spillane has gone so far as to admit that “If that froggie hadn’t whacked that little old lady, Mike Hammer mighta thought twice about plugging broads.”
Choufleur’s other claim to fame lies in the fashion field. Salaud’s standard costume is not a trench coat but “black on black”, and his female companion, the lustrous Cherche Femme, also dresses exclusively in “midnight magic”. The vogue for “basic black” during the 1950’s – in the haute monde as well as in the demi – has been traced distinctly to the Choufleur fad, and modern bikers parisiens also acknowledge his influence. No doubt this would have pleased the struggling author. His personal motto was Je suis moi (I am me); after his shabby treatment by the Paris set he changed it defiantly to “Paint it black.”